Let’s hear from scintillating duo, MARGOT LEITMAN & GIULIA ROZZI about their sexy storytelling show, STRIPPED STORIES, their tips on producing a hit show and a successful working relationship between friends. Hot!
Where did you grow up?
MARGOT: I grew up in central NJ, right by the beach. (I am avoiding using the phrase “Jersey Shore,” oh no I just said it).
GIULIA: Belmont MA, a suburb right outside of Boston.
Was comedy in your blood at a young age?
MARGOT: YES! I was obsessed with reruns of Laverne and Shirley (specifically Penny Marshall) and the Carol Burnett Show while all the other kids were watching Mr. Belvedere.
GIULIA: Yes! I was raised with a bunch of laughing fools! One of my earliest memories is our downstairs neighbor asking my family to keep it down cause we were laughing too loud (what aholes! my neighbors not my family, although my family can be a bunch of aholes, but likable and funny aholes not aholes who complain about laughter. Who does that?) My mom, dad, sister and me make fun of everything and each other, it’s how we loved and healed. For example, when my older sister was devastated after hitting a deer shortly after getting her licence, instead of comforting her I made a pair of antlers out of pipe cleaners and a headband and chased her around the house. After crying she eventually thought it was funny. My family also always had comedy shows on in the house: Benny Hill, Sanford and Son, Mama’s Family, Three’s Company…we especially enjoyed naughty humor thus creating the classy lady I am today. I knew early on I wanted to make people laugh because sharing laughter is one of the best feelings in the world (unless you’re my ahole downstairs neighbors).
How long have you considered yourself a performer?
MARGOT: Always. In high school I was never cast in speaking roles in plays, always as a dancer. I would be so devastated over it. I knew if I cared that much I must really want it.
GIULIA: I’ve always put on shows for family and friends, I’d say my first moment of ” I want to be a performer” was in 3rd grade at my elementary school’s Puttin’ On The Hits show. I wowed everyone with a powerful lip sync performance of Whitney’s “Greatest Love Of All,” only to be out shined by my 4th grade lip sync performance of “Come on Baby Let The Good Times Roll” in which I was dressed as half man/half woman so that I could play both singers. The shows mcee/my gym teacher said to the crowd “this isn’t a contest, but I think if it were we’d all agree Giulia Rozzi would be the winner!” and the crowd went nuts. It was as if Oprah had just given everyone a new car, but no, they were cheering for me! That was the moment I was like “wow I feel good and all these people feel good, this is awesome.” To this day my mom refers to that performance as her proudest moment. (Just in case it wasn’t clear, I WAS LIP SYNCING)
What was your first performance like? Where was it?
MARGOT: My first performance was at my parents’ friends house. They had a daughter, older than me, who was in The Sound of Music. She performed “Do a Dear” for all the grown ups and they ate it up. I was so jealous– I was only about five. Then I stood up and improvised my own lyrics to “Do a Dear” in an over-dramatic way. I remember singing, “Do, and so I cannot breathe…” and pretending that I was out of breath.I guess you could say it was a parody. I was a Weird Al in the making. Everyone laughed, and I was hooked on that feeling ever since.
GIULIA: That third grade lip syncing show I just mentioned was the first solo performance, then I figured out I wanted to do comedy specifically my senior year of high school. My high school mostly did musicals and I wasn’t a good singer (too bad I couldn’t lip sync like I did in 3rd grade). Then we had a new director come to our school who really tried to include more people in plays based on individual talents beyond vocals. During auditions for our senior class play I was introduced to the idea of improv when the director asked up to team up and improvise a scene, I was great at it! My director told me that I had a knack for comedy and should focus on that. A few months later at our drama dept talent show I did stand-up. I have no idea what jokes I told except I remember one that I’m pretty sure I swiped from a TV comedian, it was like “Mr. Brady was a terrible architect, he made a house with only 2 bedrooms for 6 kids!” Regardless of being a thief, I was so comfortable and happy telling jokes. It was scary, fun and so gratifying.
How long have you been running your show and how often do you do it?
MARGOT: Our show will be running four years in January!!! We do it every month religiously. Even when work, in my case right now, has taken me across the country, I fly home to NYC in time to do it. If we tour, we do it more than once a month.
What has been your biggest performance/guest to date?
MARGOT: Recently, I told a story about my childhood obsession with a Bobby Brown video. I don’t know what it was about that night, but the next day I was on a high all day. I kept laughing to myself about it and re-living it. I was really happy with that performance. Biggest guest is a weird one…we’ve had people who have never been on stage before knock it out of the park. Like Giulia’s old boss Katy Chevigny who rocked it and my friend Rachel Fleit who brought the house down! But of course seasoned comics and storytellers like Brian Finkelstein, Jessi Klein, Nick Kroll, Adam Wade, Ophira Eisenberg, Tom Shillue, Peter Aguero, Jim O’Grady to name a few all tore it up.
GIULIA: I honestly don’t have a favorite performance or guest, it’s all been so wonderfully educational, emotional, and entertaining. I guess if I had to pick it would be our very first show back in January 2007 because we didn’t know what we were doing but at the same time, deep down, knew exactly what we were doing cause we haven’t changed the show formula or vibe since. Basically Mo Pitkin’s had an open slot and wanted to fill it with a show, Margot called me and said “I booked us a spot at Mo’s in two weeks let’s make up a show, fast!” We basically designed and booked our very first Stripped during a 15 minute phone chat. We decided we wanted to make the show more of an event by dressing up, interacting lots with the audience, and encouraging post show hanging out. Show #1 was a hit, and we haven’t looked back since. I guess why it’s my favorite is cause we just did the show to have fun and play, and that fun playful attitude has remained in our show and has kept us going for this long. For us there’s not bitterness or obligation with producing and hosting Stripped, we look forward to it and love it.
As far as biggest guest, I agree with Margot that the non-performers have blown my mind. Katy was so nervous to do the show and then boom! Was funny, charming, and so memorable. Everyone who has done the show, with the exception of three people ( I will never name names) who decided to drop their story last minute and do (bad) jokes even though we are not a stand up show ( and this is why we ask you see the show before doing it), has been amazing. I mean that. Our guests open up so much on our show and often surprise themselves with how open and honest they get. I especially love seeing some of my favorite comics who tend to do topical jokes come on our show and after a little of Margot’s magical coaching, they get super personal, poignant, and serious.
What prompted you to want to produce and host a show?
MARGOT: We have so much fun together as friends we thought it would translate well to the stage. And it did!
GIULIA: Me and Margot have always worked really well together both business wise and on stage chemistry wise, so a show made sense. And we wanted to created something a little different than another stand up show where performers can take their time to tell a funny story without worrying about how punchlines per minute they have.
Why did you specifically choose a sexy storytelling show?
MARGOT: At the time it was a no-brainer. We thought it was always a fun topic at parties why not try it onstage?
GIULIA: Sex is one of the most universal topics with so much humor attached to it. both of us are very fascinated with the subject and we aren’t judgmental of sex so it helps us create a dynamic in which people feel comfortable spilling everything to us. And me and Margot talk a lot about the subject off stage so we figured it made sense for us to talk about it on stage.
What are the most difficult aspects of running your own show?
MARGOT: Choosing between the many many submissions we get all the time. I want to make a statement to anyone who has ever submitted— we get submissions almost every day, and we have only two storytelling slots a month. So if you don’t hear back from us it is nothing personal. I often wonder if there are dozens of potential guests out there secretly cursing us for not booking them. We try and do the best we can. Also, it’s difficult when guests disrespect the show. It doesn’t happen much, but when someone runs way over, or does a different story than the one we approved, or disrespects our amazing audience, I take that very personally.
GIULIA: I agree with Margot on her replies for this one. Disrespecting a show you’re booked on (all shows, not just ours) is heart breaking. Considering the fact that we only have 2 spots to book a month, for someone to come on and insult our audience, talk for 20 minutes, or not tell the story we booked them to do, is really upsetting. I would never get on stage at Gotham and do a 45 minute tap routine when I was booked to do a 15 minute stand up set. Again this is why I encourage people to always go see shows that have specific themes (ie: Stripped Stories, Dream Role, Rejection Show, Mortified, etc) before asking to do them so you know what to expect and know if your material is a good match. I think people sometimes think I’m suggesting they come so we can fill seats, no offense but we usually fill all our seats anyways and if I were looking to sell tickets we wouldn’t offer a comp ticket to any interested performers, we do it so you know what our show is about so you can have your best experience on our stage.
Plus I’d add in another difficult aspect is when people make assumptions about our show without ever having seen it or even taken the time to read the f-ing description of the show. Like when some jerk says “so what do you guys do like strip at the show?” Yup, yea we strip at UCB. Moron.
The most rewarding?
MARGOT: Where do I begin! The cheers when we enter the stage. The people that have seen the show dozens of times. The emails we get telling us how happy the show made someone. People telling me that they were moved by our show. To emotionally move someone during a comedy show is unbelievably rewarding. You’ve taken the show across the country and back.
GIULIA: So many things! I’m repeating myself but seeing our guests be so open and honest on stage is so rewarding. There’s a beautiful mutual respect and appreciation between us and our guests, we love having them on the show and people love doing our show. Yup it’s a love fest! Also rewarding are people we’ve met thru the show, our audience members are awesome! And so diverse, we draw men and women of varying ages, sexual orientations, and ethnicities. It’s the best when an audience member emails us or comes up to us after a show to tell us what a fun time they had or that our show inspired them to share stories (or even how our show got them laid!).
You’ve taken your show across the country and back, what were your favorite/least favorite venues and why?
MARGOT: We love doing the show at UCB NYC and LA. The crowds are always big and they are patient with the storytelling. We loved our first home, Mo Pitkins in the Lower East Side. It had a nice homey feel. We LOVED the Punchline in San Francisco. The crowds are wild there and that club is a well oiled machine. I won’t name names, but one venue did nothing to promote, didn’t even put us on the website schedule. Before the show no one was in the audience, so I went backstage and panicked. Giulia hit the streets and barked people in. She really saved that show. Another city we went to just didn’t get it. They were like, “Where are the jokes?” They were really taken aback by storytelling as opposed to stand up.
GIULIA: Honestly I liked most of them, everyone has been really welcoming as hospitable. The one where I had to bark was annoying, part of it was I didn’t know the city well so I didn’t know how to get an audience in, but yea it would’ve been helpful for the venue to help.
What should people look for/be wary of when finding a space for their show?
MARGOT: A space with a quiet area for the show (not in the middle of a venue mixed in with people just there to eat and drink who will definitely talk during your show). Also, a place with some foot traffic. A bar in the venue always helps.
GIULIA: Look for a space that compliments your show. We tried doing Stripped Stories at a large club and it didn’t feel right, our show works best in an intimate space because it’s an intimate show. Make sure you have a relationship with the owner/Booker/management. The worst is when you have no communication with the person in charge, when they forget to put your show on the site or accidentally double book two events. You want the venue to support your show not ignore your show. UCB has been great about communication and helping us promote. Agreed with Margot on finding a space with a separate quiet area for the show so you aren’t battling with a jukebox or washing machine. Why force your comedy on people? Sorry but that non English speaking woman washing her linens isn’t your ideal audience member.
What tips would you give to anyone wanting to put up his or her own show
that we haven’t covered?
MARGOT: Have a hook. If your show is “Someone you have never heard of’s Comedy Show,” you will have a hard time getting a crowd. But if it’s something like”Afterschool–A Monthly Show of Teachers by Day, Standups by Night,” people will be more intrigued. Also do your work! Don’t expect any press or audience just because you think you deserve it. We worked our butts off to develop a fanbase for this show, and you should to. Promote, but don’t annoy. Make a professional looking press release. Don’t just post it on Facebook and wonder why the NY Times didn’t come. It sounds stern, but I wish someone had said all of that to me when I was starting out.
GIULIA: Be sure to give yourself the stage time you want if you’re a performer. lf you just want to produce then disregard this advice, but if you’re producing to create performance opportunities be sure to perform! Margot actually reminded me of that when we first started Stripped. I asked if I should not tell a story so we could have a third guest on the show and she said “why are you going to put in all this work to produce and not give yourself a chance to perform?” And she was right.
Produce cause you love what you are producing. Don’t start a show just to have a show. there are too many shows in the city already, a show will only survive if there is passion behind it. If you’re producing a show just so you can swap spots with people or just fill the line-up with “name” guests so you look cool, it’s bound to fail and it won’t be fun. You should feel excited to do your own show, not feel like it’s an obligation or a chore.
Work hard to promote (not annoy like Margs said). So many people look for the easy was to success, they want the glory of a successful show asap without the doing the work and letting things grow organically. Stripped Stories has gotten some great press over time, not overnight. Our buzz came from putting together quality evening of entertainment time and time again, and because I work my ass off every month to get our info out to every magazine, newspaper, website, and person willing to read my emails. It’s not that hard to spread the word (just open a magazine, look for the editors email and wahla! email them!) but some folks are lazy or entitled, they expect someone else to do their work. i’ve gotten emails from comics I don’t even know asking me how I can get a magazine to write an article about their show. I’m like #1 who are you? And #2 NO! I’m not a publicist, I’m a comedian working on my career not yours.
I hate that whole “how’d you get that?” question. As if anyone in this business was just “given” anything. You don’t get, you earn. If you’re my friend and want to ask “what do you think the best way to contact press is?” or even “can you recommend me to that booker or agent” that’s fine. But when a stranger (and this also happened) emails me and says “I saw you on MTV can you get me on MTV?” I want to write back “DON’T YOU THINK IF I COULD GET YOU ON TV I’D BE WORKING MORE MYSELF!!?”
Sorry, I went off topic eh/ What’s the question again? Oh tips: don’t be a jerk and follow your heart!
Do you work a day job? Can you talk about running a show, performing, working and how you balance everything?
MARGOT: I don’t really work a day job. I teach people how to tell stories for a living, which really is a dream job for me. I am lucky enough to not work too many hours a week, so I may not be the prime person to answer this question. That being said…I always make sure to have one night a week to just go home, sit on my couch, order Chinese food and watch re-runs of my secret lover Dr. House, MD. It keeps me sane. And being married helps balance me. My life with my husband is separate from the mayhem that is being a performer. We have a rule at home, “Shop closes at 8:00.” After 8:00 PM no more talk of “the business” is allowed. And computers are shut down.
GIULIA: I mostly work as a freelance writer, I recently wrote for MTVs Silent Library, l blog for Lemondrop.com and just started writing copy for Living Social. Freelance writing is great as far as flexibility with auditions, shows and time to write and work on my comedy projects but it’s inconsistent which can suck. Other than that i rely on paid stand-up spots and paid acting gigs for money. When paid writing and performing gigs are slow, I spend my days obsessively applying to focus groups.
Not having a guaranteed paycheck can be really stressful. When i’m not making money my confidence is low and I know I walk into an audition or show with an air of desperation, it’s the worst. The way I deal with money/career/life balance is surrounding myself with supportive people and really taking time for myself. It’s easy to be obsessed with your career cause you feel like you can always be working on it “why am I watching a movie at 11pm on a Sunday night!? I could be writing a screenplay!!!!!” But if you don’t give yourself a break you will burn out. I try to treat work like any other normal career person would, I have office hours and time off. I put in my 8-10 hours a day and then spend my off time enjoying my loved ones I go away as much as I can, mostly to Boston where I hang with my family and try to stay off the Internet. I try to meditate daily, I go for walks, I exercise, I get cheap $10 chair massages at nail salons, I do yoga, I talk on the phone for an hour with my sister, I just veg out. I have to do those things to be kind to myself or I will not function.
I find that when I go go go nonstop I’m really just go go going to look busy, my work quality is low as I scrabble to create quantity. I work much better when I create a realistic to-do list for the week and when i complete all my work tasks I treat myself to something relaxing (usually laying in bed with hours of DVR’d programs, my boyfriend, my dog and maybe/hopefully a pizza).
What are some of your other favorite places to perform in the city?
MARGOT: I just performed at BB Kings and it was a major rush! So is the Highline Ballroom. I always have fun at Comix. And I also like Pacific Standard in Brooklyn, Under St. Marks, KGB Bar, the Belleville Lounge, of course the UCB Theatre (where our show is), and Housing Works. I also love doing Moonwork.
GIULIA: Gotham Comedy Club, Comix, Moonwork, UCB, Hanks Saloon (home to me & Brooke Van Poppelen’s new weekly show every Weds 8pm! Shameless plug!) and countless bars all over NYC. I like that places that like me, and that like comedy.
What else are you working on right now?
MARGOT: This is a crazy exciting time for me. I am finishing up revisions on my book which gets shopped around to publishers in January. I am having a huge party when this sells; that’s a promise. It has been a long process, and the biggest project I have ever taken on, and I really can’t believe it’s almost finished. And I leave for a month long storytelling gig in Perth, Australia in January. I’ll be working for a theatre company out there and performing as well. I am so excited I can’t contain myself!!!
GIULIA: I’m in the midst of a memoir book proposal that I’m very excited to complete. I’m always working on my stand-up, I want to travel more doing shows. I’d love to open for someone I admire. Making more web content: videos and more writing. I also wrote a sitcom this year, I want to get that circulating and maybe even shoot a pilot.
What ladies are you watching right now? Who do you think has a strong comedic voice?
MARGOT: Up and coming ladies?? It’s hard for me to answer about up and comers, because I teach classes at UCB and don’t want to single anyone out. But… Jessica Delfino, Jessi Klein, Shayna Ferm, Mindy Raf, Adira Amram, Christina Gausas, Rachael Mason (I recently discovered she is also a hilarious storyteller in addition to being a great writer), Shannon O’Neill, Tami Saeghar, Ophira Eisenberg always make me laugh as seasoned pros. And there are a lot of ladies in my classes that are really talented. And I am lucky enough to be close friends with the funniest group of gals on earth Sara Jo Allocco, Brandy Barber, Katina Corrao, Sarah Burns, Glennis McMurray, Giulia Rozzi, Alison Becker, Michelle Buteau…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood with friends like that.
GIULIA: Again, Margot already mentioned so many good ones. Margot is an awesome storyteller, she had really mastered that art and is so fun to watch. I’ve been working with Brooke Van Poppelen a lot this year and we have very similar point of views. I really enjoy her. Jamie Lee’s “Anne Frankly” series is hilarious and she is a Tweet genius. Katina’s “Good neighbor Minute” makes me squeal with laughter, she did a great job of creating the role she wants. Sara Jo Allocco and Brandy Barber are absolutely one of the best comic duos I’ve seen (they need their own sketch show). I love Michelle Buteau’s persona and charisma on stage (she needs her own talk show). I’m so amazed by Livia’s character work. I admire and adore all the great musical comedy acts like Shayna Ferm, Mindy Raf, Adira Amram and Jessica Delfino. I like how strong and fearless comics like Alison Castillo, Rachel Feinstien, Veronica Mosey, Ophira Esienberg and Ilana Glazer are. Gawd, this list could go on forever! I’ll stop here or else people will be reading names for days. As for comedic women I don’t know well personally I’m a fan of Margaret Cho, Joan Rivers, Jill Soloway, Chelsea Handler, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristin Wiig, Maria Bamford. I know I’m forgetting so many!
Anything else you’d like to say?
MARGOT: There are many forms of comedy. Figure out what form works for you and stick with it. Don’t be a jack of all trades a master of none. Find your strength and see it to its full potential. If someone had told me just three years ago I would make my entire living in storytelling I wouldn’t believe it. But it happened, and so can whatever you want to make happen. With the support of each other, anything is possible. Thanks for starting this blog Glennis!
You can catch MARGOT and GIULIA in STRIPPED STORIES [theme: Low Points] on Thursday, December 16th at 9:30pm at UCBT NY for only $5. Guests include Ted Alexandro, Brooke Van Poppelen and music from Tom McCaffrey.