Emily Heller

Comedian, Writer, Protagonist

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It’s a little late for a top ten of 2011 list, but this is one that nobody will even care about, so who cares!

Like most people who do stand up comedy, I perform a lot. I tried counting on my calendar how many times I performed last year; it said 168, though that number doesn’t include open mics or last minute shows. Granted, I’m no Sammy Obeid (who performed for 365 days in a row, probably somewhere around 1000 sets. I don’t know the exact number but he’ll tell you, if you give him some stage time). But still, I spent more nights onstage than off, and it’s easy to forget individual shows. But I had such a fun year, and I’m so grateful for all the opportunities I had, that I felt compelled to publicly and self-indulgently count my blessings here and review some of my favorite shows of the year. My top ten comedy moments of 2011, after the jump.

1. Iron Comic (January / April)

Nato Green first invited me to compete in Iron Comic in November of 2010, and it’s one of the most nerve wracking shows I’ve ever done. I competed a second time as part of SF Sketchfest in January and won the thing, which was an absolute surprise. You can read a review of the show here.

Later on, in April, Nato asked me to compete in the Bridgetown Comedy Festival’s Iron Comic, against Baron Vaughn, Doug Benson, Hannibal Buress, and Kyle Kinane. Competing against those dudes in extemporaneous comedy, much less in a 700 seat theater, is fucking terrifying. The first minute of our first 10-minute writing stretch I stared at my paper and had nothing. Absolutely nothing. I seriously thought, “This is the end.” Of what, I don’t know. My comedy career? My life? Eventually I broke through and (I think) held my own, despite coming in last (I’m pretty sure). Lumping into this the entire Bridgetown experience, which, as usual, was the best festival I’ve ever had the pleasure of participating in.

2. Slumming It (March - August)

Slumming It was a podcast/radio show I ran with my friend Marcello back in San Francisco. We were on for two hours every Monday for about five months and it’s one of the things I miss most about my life back in California. We got to interview some absolute sweeties, and the absolute highlight (for me, at least) was our interview with Karina Denike of the Dance Hall Crashers, my favorite band when I was in high school. It also got us a decent amount of attention from some local blogs.

We also had a regular listener named Mr. McQueef who would comment on the website, email us during the show, and in general queep us out a bit. The whole thing came to a head on our father’s day episode, when not one but three Mr. McQueef’s made an appearance, with the real McQueef using a fucking voice modulator. We were all thoroughly terrified.

The website that was hosting us took it down, but I’m gonna start reposting the mp3s here as soon as I get a chance.

3. Girl Talks 1, 2, & 3

photo credit: Ameen Belbahri

Janine Brito and I produced both of our first-ever Punch Line shows this year. A lot of all female shows fall victim to cheesy, insulting marketing like “The Hot Bitches of Comedy!” or “Flatulent Moms on the Mic!!” We just wanted a chance to showcase smart, funny ladies and give them a context where they didn’t have to talk about their pussies onstage unless they really wanted to. The crowds came out in a big way, every line-up made me so giddy, and we got to bring in some out-of-towners for both shows that did so great. In all three shows combined, we had a crazy amazing list of comics: Chris Burns, Beth Stelling, Aparna Nancherla, Marcella Arguello, Caitlin Gill, Phoebe Robinson, Erin Judge, Natasha Muse, Mary Van Note, Marga Gomez, Karinda Dobbins, Ali Wong, and Emily Maya Mills. Damn, baby. Plus Ameen Belbahri took these sweet pics of us!

4. Israel! (March)

Good luck finding me in this picture.

I took my longest break from comedy all year (2 weeks!) to visit Israel for free on Birthright. Aside from the somewhat vile, racist political rundowns that our tour guide spouted in broken English on most of our hikes, it was a pretty wonderful trip and worth taking the time off for. Halfway through the trip I helped organize a talent show with former MTV True Life star Daniel Dickey (!!! Wait, what?). I did a ten minute set for my fellow American Jews and also about 10 Israelis. We held the thing in a classroom, which is why in this picture I am performing in front of a white board.

I honestly didn’t expect to come out of the trip with any material about Israel, but as many of you know I now have about 10 minutes on it.

5. 7x7 Magazine (June)

Photo by John Lee

Me and some of my best comedy buds (Caitlin Gill, Chris Garcia [pictured], Alex Koll, and Janine Brito) got some love & a sweet group photoshoot for San Francisco’s 7x7 Magazine. They unscientifically dubbed us “the 7 funniest people in town.” I’LL TAKE IT! Fun day and great pics!!

6. Hosting at the San Francisco Punch Line for John Mulaney & Joe Mande (June)

Talk about hilarious, great dudes to work with! I learned a lot and had so much fun onstage and off. John continues to be one of my absolute, all-time favorite comedians to watch. Everybody: watch his new special!

7. Comedy Central’s Comics to Watch (November)

I moved to New York in August of 2011. Starting over in a new comedy city, especially such a competitive one, was a really daunting but exciting prospect for me. Getting picked to be one of Comedy Central’s 8 Comics to Watch (and also being the only woman) was the first big, exciting thing to happen to me here. The show was really fun and exciting and terrifying and all the other comics are real class acts that I am totally gaga for. I can’t find any pictures of the night, unfortunately!

8. The Afterlife

Also this fall, I helped co-create a new comedy show in NYC called The Afterlife.

photo credit: Mindy Tucker

Me and some pals started a new weekly at the Sidewalk Cafe on the Lower East Side. The Sidewalk is actually the first bar I ever went to in New York, back when I visited my sister many many years ago. So, to be doing a show there feels really special. I fell into a great group of other comics & producing partners in collaborating with the hilarious Erin Judge, Josh Gondelman, George Gordon, and our tireless producer Chenoa Estrada. It’s so fun to have my own regular show again. It makes me miss Slumming It just a little bit less.

9. I resolve to DANCE!!

My brother Nate is such a funny, talented, positive, creative dude. I always love collaborating with him on stuff. Moving to New York meant our new age band Rainbow Chair was on indefinite hiatus, but he and I were able to write a new dance jam before the year ended! It’s a New Year’s Eve song and a followup to our 2-year-old hit Thanksgiving Jam. I wrote the lyrics here in New York, Nate made the beat in Oakland, we recorded vocals at his house the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and filmed a bunch of my funny friends dancing their butts off that Sunday.

I Resolve to DANCE! from Emily Heller on Vimeo.

10. Hosting for John Oliver at Cobb’s

What better way to end the year than with a week of sold-out shows in my hometown with one of the funniest people alive?

Let’s do this, 2012. Thank you to everyone who came out in 2011, especially my parents, and my sister, who have come to way more shows than family obligation dictates.

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