ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Ahead of her show at Photo City in Rochester Sunday, August 8, Rochester native Abby Feldman sat down (virtually) with our own Dan Gross (who was ironically standing up), about her show called “Self Evolution Express.”
She says the show pokes fun at the seriousness of modern spirituality, with her own brand of quirky humor.
In this conversation, Feldman discussed Rochester, “newsbrain,” writing for Netflix, and her latest chart-topping song “Soft to Get.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me about growing up in Rochester trying to figure out comedy.
I just tried to do as much as I could, that felt “performancy,” but there weren’t a ton of opportunities. So I did cheerleading, I did JCC theater camp. I started the broadcast journalism club at my school, and I just made the A/V kids follow me around with cameras. And I would be like, “here’s where the asbestos is getting removed.” And like just strive to like, make things around the school. (It’s) exciting looking back.
They probably shouldn’t have, let me near the asbestos, but honestly that probably explains a lot.
I did pageants. I was a cat in the Lilac Festival play and, dancing, singing… just all the things… talent shows, making my mom make us costumes and dancing to spice girls as little kids. All the cool stuff.
Can’t say I usually associate cheerleading and pageantry with being a comedian. How did you know comedy was for you?
I think I always loved comedy. I just didn’t know that it was a job that people could do, and make money doing. My parents would probably argue that it isn’t okay. We would always go to Comics’ Cafe when I was growing up… I don’t know how I don’t today.
I don’t see kids in my shows, but when I was like 11, 12 years old… I was going to comedy clubs whenever that was an opportunity. And I just loved it. And then I went to school for broadcast journalism.
I think my parents kind of convinced me that I could be a journalist and that would be like performing. But the problem with being a journalist, as you might know, is you have to be like “fair” and “balanced.” And that was like not sitting with me.
So I was like “maybe I should do something where I won’t get in trouble if I have a big opinion or say something crazy.” I mean, I still do get in trouble, but yeah.
How did growing up Jewish affect your comedy, and your outlook on life?
I think growing up in a Jewish household… Jokes are kind of how we cope with things. And I think everything that they teach you every moment:
“Oh, and then, you know, we were slaves in Egypt” and all the (terrible) things they talked about, but there’s always like a little bit of levity. Otherwise you’re telling kids about this horrible stuff, it’s going to go over like a ton of bricks.
There’s always levity and my parents are hilarious. My niece who I’m hanging out with right now is hilarious. She’s seven, she’s always cracking jokes. I just think life is better with jokes. It’s like, otherwise it’s… It’s really a bummer.
Telling me about writing for Netflix.
So for Netflix, the first thing I did for them was this web series (that) I wrote a bunch of years back, put it up on YouTube, and it did really well in Latin America. It was a bilingual mockumentary series called “Gringolandia.” It blew up in Latin America.
We happened to be at a party in LA years ago, and some executive there was Chilean. He had seen the show, loved it and was like, “we got to get this on Netflix.” It was like one of the first web series that they put onto Netflix.
Then I ended up writing for a show called “The Fix” with Jimmy Carr on Netflix, which is like a comedic news show where we come up with funny solutions to the world’s problems.
That’s kind of my favorite… Well not my “favorite favorite,” but I love doing the comedy songs. But if I’m writing and doing TV stuff, I love doing the comedy news. I think that’s super fun.
You talked a lot earlier about how when you were younger you were focusing on performing… But not so much writing. How did you get into that?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid. When I was a little kid, I would write weird stories. My mom just showed me a book I wrote in kindergarten that was like, “Mr. Winkle Worked His Head Off.”
I always wrote, and then when I started performing, I realized that I could kind of wait for people to hire me and go on auditions and things like that, or I can make my own content. So I created a web series on YouTube.
I wrote for that show, Gringolandia as well, and also had an improv background and would just improvise stuff and then write it down. Now I’m writing these songs and yeah, I think writing for myself… No one else is gonna write in my voice better than me, you know? And so also writing my own standup and, and being able to write something today and perform it tonight is such an exciting, gratifying feeling.
Not even sure we can this song because of its more adult themes, but I have to ask about your song “Soft to Get.”
I wrote that song in the middle of lockdown with my friend and, it’s like, we don’t know what’s going on with the world. There isn’t time to play games. I’m not playing hard to get, I’m soft to get. If I like someone, you know, what are we doing? We’re going to pretend with “no, I like you,” no, let’s get on with it. I’m soft to get.
The inspiration for the video was kind of interesting. This friend of mine, a great performer and I we’re just going to play it. Like I’m super going after you. And then there’s a twist ending.
So people have to watch the, watch the video if they want to see it on my Instagram. I like turning tropes on their head and playing around with what’s expected of women. What’s expected of society in general social stuff, but like make it really silly. So people almost don’t notice that there’s a commentary.
Tell me about this show, “Self Evolution Express.” It has such a phenomenal abstract:
The show is a musical spiritual one-hour 12 step program perfect for anyone who owns multiple crystals but isn’t ready to commit to the Deepak Chopra 21 day abundance challenge.
I love a little self-deprecation. The show is very different from anything I’ve done before.
In my personal life, I am a meditator. I go on yoga retreats. I bless all my food before I eat it. I’ve got crystals when I’m traveling.
I got stopped at the airport yesterday, and they were going through my bag and I was like, “what would have set off the, you know, suspicions?” And he points to this little container I have. And I’m like, “it’s full of my crystals.” That’s my real life.
I think I want people to know that you can be spiritual, and it doesn’t have to be this super serious self-righteous thing. It just is what it is. And so it’s kind of like a self up.
It’s a one hour, I’m going to change your life, make your life better. And just one hour, you don’t have to fill on all the retreats that I got. I’ve done that work for you. I’m going to download all of my knowledge into you in one hour.
Earlier you said studied broadcasting, and you talked about the silly news show. Do you still have “newsbrain?” Do you find that training helpful?
I.think it’s super useful. I mean, I shoot and edit and do all my own stuff, all my own content. I did an Instagram live show where the pandemic was a dating show that I hosted from my parents’ house. I went on a world tour over the pandemic from my parents’ house, doing Instagram live.
I’m very comfortable talking and talking to people and all that stuff. I think I definitely have broadcast journalism brain as far as keeping it concise, cut the fat. When I’m talking to people, when I’m interviewing or talking to people, I’m like: “okay, like, let’s wrap it up. Let’s get to the point. What are you trying to say?” Use what I asked in a sentence, you know, like repeat the question back to me, that kind of stuff.
And definitely in stand up. I think something I’m actually trying to break away from is being too formal because I’m trying to be more vulnerable and be more like who am I really, what am I really trying to say. I think I’m trying to keep everything polished and presentable. And I think some of the beauty of comedy is unraveling and being raw now let’s do it.
Let’s get to our Big Three questions. What makes Rochester a great place for comedians and performers to thrive?
I think growing up in upstate New York is a really beautiful, unique experience. We have nature, we have space, but we’re also close to New York city. We’re close to the center of the universe. And so we’re cultured, we have Kodak here, we’ve got Eastman, we’ve got all these universities and museums and Lilac Festivals. And my mom’s an artist. So I grew up going to all these art festivals with her and the clothesline festival and downtown. I just think it’s been a great place to grow up.
And I think also a lot of self-deprecation, a lot of like, “oh my God, it’s so cold here. It’s so miserable.” Like you have to kind of, you kind of have to learn to keep things positive, and you need an outlet, growing up when it’s snowing all the time, like you gotta get creative.
(So) let’s write stories, let’s do funny videos with dad recording or whatever. So, yeah, and I think people from upstate New York are funny in general.
We’ve talked a lot about what you have done, but what’s the next big accomplishment you’re looking at?
The first thing that comes to mind is I would love to have a Netflix special. I would love to do musical comedy and stand up. We don’t see a ton of that. I would love to have the next “interesting avant garde everyone’s talking about it” Netflix special.
I also (woudl) love to have my songs reach a bigger audience. “Soft to Get” did reach number one on iTunes comedy charts. I would love to release an album. I would love kids to grow up listening to this album, like I grew up listening to Adam Sandler and Weird Al and Lonely Island.
I would love kids to have a really interesting, funny album to listen to start, (to) just start writing, start writing jokes.
I thought I was late to the game starting at 23, and I wasn’t, but I just think the earlier you start the better. Start performing for your neighborhood, for your classmates, and don’t get into too much trouble.
Any advice for aspiring comics and performers?
Speaker 1: (15:45)
I feel like I meandered, doing a lot of, partying and doing lots of things that… You know, it’s all part of it. You still have to have life experience to be able to write about — so do that — but observe the world around you: travel, talk to all the people, have all the experiences.
I would just love to add for people to follow me and support the song, and come to the show on Sunday and tell all their yoga friends and their meditator friends. Because I’m doing shows kind of all over the country now. So if you’ve got friends in Chicago, Denver, I’m going to be going to back in LA New York city, tell everyone wherever come.