Comedian Michelle Wolf Is Taking Brooklyn By Stand-Up

(All photos by Dani Zorzy)


Michelle Wolf isn’t the kind of stand-up comedian that makes telling jokes seem like a chore, not the haunted lone wolf stereotype you might get from, say, an overload of listening to Marc Maron interviews. When she gets on stage, she seems happy to be there, barely able to suppress a smile. On Saturday night, in the basement of Union Hall, Wolf started in with a riff on catcalling. “I’d rather make a fuss about getting paid the same as a man than make a fuss about men yelling at me. If you get a bad steak, you have every right to send it back,” Wolf quipped. “But if you get a bad steak on the Titanic, you’ve got bigger problems.” And on Kim Kardashian’s recent bare-it-all photos: “I’m glad Kim Kardashian does what she does. Because what if she was a doctor? What if she was your doctor?” It’s this brand of humor that has earned Wolf a following in the New York comedy scene, and landed her a gig as a writer on Late Night With Seth Meyers. (Parts of Wolf’s set made it into a bit that aired on Late Night later that week.) But when she first came to New York five years ago, Wolf had no designs on comedy at all. Instead, she started working on Wall Street, just before the financial collapse. “I started at Bear Stearns in 2007, which was the worst time to start there. And I hated it, immediately,” Wolf told me. “A friend came to visit me and we went to a taping of  Saturday Night Live. Afterwards I was like, ‘I want to do this! How do you do this? I Googled every member of the cast, and everyone more or less started in improv. So I signed up for an improv class, and I loved it, and it started from there.”

For a time, Wolf was working on Wall Street by day and doing shows by night. “I hundred percent felt like I was leading a double life,” she said. “I would get up at 7:30 in the morning to have calls with Asia. I’d be wearing a suit, and I don’t know, dealing with a ton of spreadsheets and numbers and mutual funds. And then I would go out at night and do shows.”


From her improv shows, Wolf moved into stand-up gigs, and found that she liked the process of stand-up even more.”I remember the one time when I knew I really had to get out of improv was after I did this great show with Matt Hobby. We did 30 minutes, and it was so fun, and then afterwards I realized, ‘Oh we’re never going to be able to get to do that again,'” Wolf said. “That’s part of the appeal of improv, but it’s also sad. I really love improv, and I love doing improv but I’m so glad that I do stand-up now. Stand-up I have some control over.”

Comedy had never even seemed like a possibility for Wolf, who majored in kinesiology at Williams and Mary. “I didn’t go out much in college. I was on the track team and I worked in a cardiovascular physiology lab, where I would do experiments on rats,” Wold said. “When I started doing stand-up, my friends were all super surprised. They were like, ‘But you’re so quiet and you don’t like hanging out with people!'”

Wolf brings to her comedy the same discipline and diligence that she did to her studies. On an average day, she works in the Late Night writers room from 8:45 or 9 until around 8:30, after the show tapes. Then she heads out to do a show, up to three of them a night. “But I’ve always had a very structured life,” Wold said. “I like the speed. And doing stand-up after work, there’s no better release. I love working at Late Night, but I also like writing for myself. When I first started working there, I had a hard time because I’d been writing all day. But now I’ve hit a stride where I’m able to do both, so I want to do both all the time.” 

Working for Seth Meyer, a relatively new talk show host despite his years of experience on Weekend Update at Saturday Night Live, provided Wolf with encouragement and room to experiment. Wolf’s first on-camera bits were on Late Night; now she appears on the show semi-regularly. “Some things don’t work; some things work amazingly,” Wolf said.”Every one of us has had something on the show where we’re like “Oh yeah, we’re not going to do that again.” Nothing has gone terribly; it’s just one of those things where you learn and move on and try something else. It’s fun to be able to play around and know that it’s OK because you’re new.”


Her jokes are also constantly on display on Twitter, where she has a healthy 17,000+ followers. (Sample tweet: “Calm down spikes on pineapple. You’re protecting a decent-tasting fruit. Not a bank with lots of money.”) Wolf often turns her Twitter musings into larger riffs on stage; the social media platform is a like a joke-telling gym of sorts. “I stare at my computer a lot, and I’m constantly thinking ‘How could this be a joke?’ Twitter is really great because it allows you to get immediate gratification and think, ‘Well maybe this would work on stage.’ A lot of my best jokes have started as tweets.”

Wolf, who’s currently working on taping her first half-hour stand-up special, is intoxicating to watch on stage, and part of it is the obvious joy that she has in her work. If it seems like she’s happy to be there, it’s because she is. “I feel like since doing stand-up is the first time I’ve really been able to say, ‘Oh these are my opinions. I have opinions!'” she said. “Because I was always quiet and shy and kind of reserved. Now that I’ve been doing stand-up, I’m finally saying, ‘No I don’t like that.’ Or, ‘Yes, let’s do that.’ I feel like it’s helping validate how I think. That it’s Ok for me to think a certain way about things. It’s really made me into a more confident person. I feel like for the first time in my life that I’m doing something that I really like, and that I’m good at. And I’m having fun.”

Follow Margaret Eby on Twitter @margareteby.



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