Let’s talk to G.L.O.C. NICOLE SHABTAI about her successful solo show CITIZEN ROTHSTEIN currently running at UCBT NY. Oh yeah!
Where did the idea for Citizen Rothstein come from?
CITIZEN ROTHSTEIN is about Ava Rothstein, a 13-year-old Socialite on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. However, we never see Ava— we learn about her through the people in her life in the week before her epic and highly publicized Bat Mitzvah. Until very recently, I worked as a Bar Mitzvah Dancer (the P.C. term is “Party Motivator”). Basically, my job was to mingle with the kids during cocktail hour and then get them on the dance floor once the party started. I would say that fifty percent of the time, the kids were rude, kind of mean, and definitely entitled. I think thirteen is a really hard age no matter where you live— but there are different pressures in that world that have nothing to do with being a kid. So their struggles are both funny and a little heartbreaking to me. Full disclosure— I grew up on the Upper East Side and went to New York City Private School. So the show is a mix of things I witnessed growing up, my own experiences, and things about that world that I was reminded of while working as a Stripper for Children.
What do you hope people take away from your show?
It’s really my sense of humor— so I am putting myself out there in that way. I think the show is fun, but also dark and definitely twisted. My characters are not self-aware at all, and a lot of the things that they do or are going through wouldn’t necessarily be considered funny. So inviting people to laugh at things that might make them sad otherwise is very much the goal.
What are your future goals with the show?
This show is my greatest happiness. I think there is potential to adapt it into something else, but for the moment I am just so grateful to Anthony King and The UCB Theater for allowing CITIZEN ROTHSTEIN to run. I will also be doing the show at UCBT LA on January 20th. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world, who also happened to work her ass off.
What past projects of yours are you most proud of and why?
OOOPS. See above. When I say that doing CITIZEN ROTHSTEIN is my greatest happiness, it’s because developing it was a long a winding road. I was scared to death to write this show. I wasn’t a performer at UCB yet, and there was that voice in my head that just kept saying, “Why are you doing this? Who will care? Give up. This is dumb.” Caitlin Tegart, the director of CITIZEN ROTHSTEIN, helped me so much to overcome that fear. We met for ten months before I put the show up as a SPANK (a show that is an audition for a run at UCB). Caitlin always pushed me to do my best and not make excuses. I work shopped these characters for three months at stand-up shows, open mics, Liquid Courage at UCB…everywhere and anywhere. But even that took me forever to get the balls to do. What I realized is that everyone is scared, but that’s when you HAVE to go for it. On the other side of fear is probably something awesome. I say this all of the time, but have no idea where I got it from, “Everything you could ever want is just outside of your comfort zone.” So I am most proud of this project because it was a lesson in getting out of my own way.
BUT ALSO I am the very proud producer of Vag Magazine, a web comedy series by Caitlin Tegart and Leila Cohan-Miccio. We shot the first five episodes of that series in a marathon weekend. The main cast is so incredibly talented. We were all in the trenches together, and it was so worth it. I love everyone involved in Vag Magazine.
Can you talk about your involvement with Landline TV?
LandlineTV was founded and created by Paul Briganti, Saj Pothiawala, and Jared Neumark. They are the funniest, kindest, coolest, hardest working dudes that you will ever meet. They turned a sketch group into a company in under two years. I was lucky enough to meet Saj two years ago (in a UCB improv class), and was an extra in an early Landline video. I knew nothing about production really. But these guys knew their stuff even then, and I wanted to learn as much as possible from them. So I started helping out on shoots because I believed in what they were doing. I was brought on as a full LandlineTV player last January when we got our office in Dumbo. Now I am a writer/ producer with the company, and I am really proud to be a part of it. We work our asses off, but our work is our fun. I’ve co-produced around 30 videos with Landline. However, one of the main things that I do is co-write and produce the “Kids Reenact Series,” which has five year old kids reenacting reality shows (The Jersey Shore, The Hills, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, etc), and most recently, Kanye West’s Tweets. I get to work with Mike Antonucci, who does the animation and is one of the funniest, most talented people you will ever meet. Andrew Ford, who is a brilliant director and writer. Steve Levine, who is a great DP and editor. Susan Casey, who does marketing, writes, and helps with production. And of course, my home girl, Laura Willcox, who is an amazing writer, producer, and performer (She’s on UCB Harold Team The Opera.) LandlineTV is small, but were mighty.
What do you hope to see in the future from women in comedy?
I think that in this little world of the NY comedy scene, what I am seeing is that talented, funny women are really supportive of each other. We cheer each other on and by doing so make each other and ourselves better. I hope to see more of that.
Do you feel a divide between men and women in the comedy world?
This question comes up a lot. Sure. Sometimes. I certainly have thoughts about it, but I try not to concern myself with it too much. There are moments when someone might say, in a public forum, “Why aren’t there more women in comedy?” and in the moment, I will get annoyed and want to comment. But I choose to make a statement by continuing to perform, write, and produce comedy instead.
What advice would you impart to ladies just starting out in the comedy world?
No one has what you have. Be true to your own voice and don’t try to be like anyone else. Learn as much as possible from wherever possible. Play. And don’t be mean to yourself or others.
Who are you inspired by right now and why?
Caitlin Tegart. She is among the hardest working and most talented people that I know. She doesn’t only want to be good, she wants you to be good too. Shannon O’Neill is incredible. I saw her show Prison Freaks when I was feeling challenged with my own show, and I was like, “That’s it! You just have to put what you think is funny out there and commit to it.” She seems fearless. Leslie Meisel is a powerhouse. I’ve seen “Love Can Suck a Dick” [her show written with and directed by Megan Neuringer] three times. She never ceases to amaze me. Pam Murphy’s “The C Word” is so good. She is an electric performer, and I’ve learned a lot from watching her. D’arcy Erokan (Carden!), Abra Taback, and Mackenzie Condon— [improv group] MAD. When they are together, its magic. Abbi Jacobson and Illana Glazer are some badass chicks. I not so secretly like to pretend I’m in an episode of Broad City when I hang out with them. I could literally name so many people right now. I am inspired by people who are not afraid to be themselves.
Who would you like to hear from on the blog next?
Ellie Kemper. I think she’s amazing.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I wish I could find pizza that tastes as good as Ninja Turtles pizza looks. Thanks for asking me to be a part of this! It’s an honor.
Now watch the brilliant opening to her show [shot and edited by PAUL RONDEAU] here.
Then catch NICOLE in CITIZIN ROTHSTEIN at UCB NY on Thursday, December 9th at 9:30pm. [She’ll be appearing with PAM MURPHY’s show THE C WORD! Read Pam’s G.L.O.C. interview here.]
You can learn more about NICOLE and watch more of her videos on her site.