Stand-up's Sara Schaefer on comedic endurance, cross-stitching and online trollsBy EMILY REILY
Special to the Union Leader February 14. 2018 12:42PM
If you go...WHO: Sara Schaefer
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: The Music Hall Lost, 131 Congress St., Portsmouth
INFO: 436-2400; themusichall.org
It wasn’t until nearly the end of NHWeekend’s conversation with stand-up comedian Sara Schaefer that she mentioned her cross-stitch.
After getting some positive feedback, Schaefer, a writer and producer who’s set to perform at the Music Hall Loft Saturday night, plans to open a store with her handmade creations.
“People are like, ‘I would buy this. These are great.’ So I’m gonna put together a little shop and see what happens. See, my life goes back and forth between working on comedy and cross-stitching. I always have my hands in a bunch of different buckets,” says the Richmond, Va., native.
But her stand-up is not going away anytime soon. Last year she brought her straightforward, no-frills comedy act to 39 U.S. cities, as well as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, where she performed each night for a month.
“It’s really hard for me to say no to stand-up gigs. I love that stage time. I love performing in a new place. I love meeting new people,” she says. “I’ve worked so hard on my stand-up for a really long time.”
Schaefer’s constantly adding to her list of accomplishments. Her first big break came in 2006 when she hosted an AOL online show, “The DL,” where she interviewed hundreds of musicians and celebrities, including Amy Winehouse, Sammy Hagar and Pete Townshend.
“This is like when Facebook was just starting and Myspace was a thing. It was a real Wild West kind of thing,” she says.
The experience taught her skills in interviewing people, writing, producing and performing on camera.
She then blogged for “Best Week Ever,” a VH-1 show, and later for “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” which won her two Emmys.
She says this early work online opened up more opportunities.
“Because I took a step into these new worlds, new media, it put me in the running for jobs that other people didn’t have experience in,” she says. “I think at the time a lot of people were like, ‘Oh, that’s the internet, that’s stupid. I don’t wanna… I wanna be on TV. I wanna do real stuff.’ Obviously now, it’s all the same.”
She’s also collaborated with comedian Nikki Glaser on the podcast “You Had To Be There” and co-hosts “Nikki & Sara Live,” an MTV late-night talk show. She’s acted on “Inside Amy Schumer” and performed on John Oliver’s comedy showcase, “New York Standup Show.”
Plus, she’s spearheaded other online shows, including her digital series “Woman Online,” which navigates the joy and pain of being a woman on the internet. In one episode, Schaefer reads aloud messages she’s personally received from online trolls — in particular, “Jeff.”
“You know what it’s like when you lift up a rock and you look under it and it’s a bunch of maggots and you’re like, ‘Dear God, no’? That’s what this experience has been like,” she says about self-appointed critics who love to stir up upsetment and controversy.
Other episodes examine “secret lady Facebook groups” and trying Tinder for the first time.
For her 2014 comedy Web series “Day Job,” Schaefer culled from her past experience as a law firm data analyst. Even though she pokes fun at the 9-to-5 grind and sidestepping well-meaning co-workers, she was grateful for the experience.
“(It) kept me alive in New York while I was trying to figure out comedy,” she says.
But Schaefer is done making excuses for bad workplace behavior she’s experienced.
“I had a boss that was a little sexual harass-y.” She pauses before continuing), “I mean, he straight up sexually harassed me,” she says, adding that women are still subconsciously explaining away things.
“I’m not willing to admit it. I’m like, ‘No, he was just joking.’ I love how women just make excuses … They apologize. Like, ‘No, I was … I asked for it.’
And she has plenty to say when it comes to the #MeToo movement.
“In comedy, when a man wants to behave in a predatory way or make women feel uncomfortable, he can always try to ... fall back on, ‘I was just kidding. It’s comedy. Why can’t you take a joke? You must not be a good comedian if you don’t have a sense of humor,’ and so there’s that layer to it.”
Schaefer says it’s OK to stand up and say a comment is hurtful.
“Comedy’s subjective. I’m allowed to not think that’s funny, but I also think it’s damaging and can make women feel unsafe at work. It can lead to other abuses of power and whatever.”
She’s hopeful that the recent influx of women speaking out about workplace harassment will lead to real change.
“I do think that men in my business are thinking twice about their actions in a way that they haven’t before. I wish it was just like, ‘Oh, because now we respect women as our equals and we care about their humanity.’ (But) it’s more now out of fear. There’s also a business concern, (like) ‘I don’t want all this to come crashing down.’ But it does give us a little more power right now. So I’m all for it,” she says.
While the climate online has changed, so has the comedy-club circuit, according to Schaefer, who says a premium is now put on star quality.
“It used to be, before my time, that if you went and did a set on the “Tonight Show” or “Letterman,” boom, you were in. You’re making six figures, touring the country, because there were so many comedy clubs back then. It was such a thriving business,” she says.
“Now it’s a little different. People don’t just go to a comedy club a lot of times. They want to have heard of the person. So there’s more of a premium set on ticket sales, and are you a draw, are you famous?”
Even with those guidelines, she says working in comedy has never come with a set of directions.
“There’s no real rulebook or guide on how to do it. You have to fumble your way through in the darkness for a long time. And even now there are times where I’m like, ‘What am I doing’? Because on one hand, it takes a very long time to get good at stand-up comedy. In the beginning, you’re not getting paid for a really long time. So it can be a bit of a bumpy ride,” she said.
Surprisingly, Schaefer says while it’s crucial to have a thick skin to weather critique and rejection, she doesn’t possess one.
“I’m actually pretty sensitive. You have to have a delusional level of resilience, which is a good skill to have. Almost every time you perform there’s one moment that you’re like, ‘Well, they didn’t laugh as hard as they should’ve right there’ or ‘They didn’t at all.’ And it’s hard not to take it personally,” she says.
She calls her time in the entertainment business “a ride.”
“A lot of times in comedy, it truly is who is still standing. It’s such a hard business to endure that some of it is longevity and an endurance test. If you stick around long enough, something will come to you.”