What makes for good comedy?
"Honesty," says comedian Lisa Curry. "Honesty over everything."
The Los Angeles-based stand-up comic is preparing to hit the road with three of her colleagues on a nationwide tour they've dubbed the "Walk of Shame." They'll be crossing the country from Portland to Wichita, Atlanta to Dallas, working the room for laughs and shooting footage of their road trip for a TV docu-series pilot.
Tonight, Friday, Nov. 21, "Walk of Shame" comes to Stanford.
Though the name of the tour suggests R-rated content from a female perspective, Curry explained in a phone interview last week that the reality is a bit more nuanced than that.
"I actually don't have any sexual material at all," she said. "The others have some, but their material is a fresh take on that theme."
Curry added that the title of the tour arose when the four women decided to create a visual riff on the Beatles' "Abbey Road" album cover.
"It's provocative and memorable," she said of "Walk of Shame." "It's easy to hashtag."
For a woman who lives to make people laugh, Curry is dead serious about the honesty thing. In stand-up, she said, there's no room for the inauthentic.
"If you're doing something that you think is funny but it's really contrived, the audience may not pick up on what it is that's off, but they'll know it's just not as good," she explained. "What's real is always the funniest thing, because people are inherently ridiculous."
Originally from small-town Indiana, Curry knew early she wanted to be on the stage. Dreaming of a career as an actress, she moved to L.A. -- the heart of the entertainment industry -- only to discover that she hated acting. Luckily, she found stand-up. She's never looked back.
Now in her early 30s, Curry has told stories with The Moth, performed at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, blogged for MTV and joined the house ensemble of Second City Hollywood: the world's largest comedy improv training center. Among her recent bits are a story about her childhood kitten she did for the LA Moth's "Love Hurts" StorySLAM ("I'm holding it and it's dead. ... It's definitely dead"), and a riff on the idea that people want their loved ones not to mourn their deaths but to celebrate their lives instead.
"I'm calling bull---- on that," Curry said. "If you were able to look down on your own funeral and people were having a good old time, you'd be devastated."
The same streak of darkness that characterizes Curry's stand-up colors the way she speaks about her emerging career as a comic.
"It's just you on your own," she said of stand-up. "You don't have to depend on anyone else, which I always found to be a problem. Even the most dependable people are going to let you down once in a while."
Though Curry's comedy isn't pervaded by themes of sex and romance, her stand-up sometimes alludes to the tricky territory of male/female relations.
"I want to be dominated physically, but I'm going to dominate you intellectually," she mused in an appearance at the Ventura Comedy Club last July, sniggering at her own revelation as the women in the crowd offered appreciative whoops in response.
Google "Lisa Curry," and you'll come up with the Australian Olympic swimmer of the same name; well-aware of the issue and always on the lookout for a joke, the comedian has devoted a portion of her website to a running list of other "Lisas Curry."
If Curry's humor tends toward cynicism, fellow performers Dana Moon and Becky Robinson come at their comedy from an angle many 20-something women will find familiar: adventures in dating, drinking and the endless complications of sex.
"I'm working on a bit I call 'YouTube,'" Moon explained last week. "I never knew how pushy single guys could be until the date ends and they insist I come over to their house to 'watch YouTube videos.' Like, when did 'YouTube' become slang for 'd--k?'"
Moon shares Curry's belief in the importance of honesty to successful stand-up.
"What makes for good comedy is anything that is truthful and makes the comic laugh," she noted. "If you're having fun on stage sharing real life truths, the audience will feel it and laugh with you."
Like many comics, Moon said she's had her share of hecklers.
"The worst was at a bar show I did on top of a Hooters on Hollywood Boulevard," she recalled. "It was close to midnight, I went up last, and everyone in the audience was drunk and foreign -- not paying attention. One man in the front row did not let me speak; he kept calling out words or repeating what I was saying. It was a nightmare."
Were it to happen today, Moon said she hoped she'd be better prepared with a smart comeback. Her response at the time?
"I went home that night and ate my emotions -- five pounds of cookie dough -- and immediately felt better."
Meanwhile, Robinson had a set at the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard last summer called "Early 20s are the Worst." In it, she bemoaned the awkwardness of the morning after a one-night stand ("You guys wake up; you've been downward starfish all night and had a great sleep. ... We've spent the night in the corner, curled up, no covers, being chased by wolves in the tundra...") and yearned for middle age: "I feel like 40-somethings have one-night stands and they wake up and they're like, 'Peace. I don't need your number.'"
Robinson sometimes takes on alternate personas, including one she calls Deb: an Aspy, khaki-wearing Midwesterner with a bad bowl cut and a penchant for catcalling younger men.
It's out here on the goofier end of the spectrum where much of Jessica Michelle Singleton's comedy lies. Check her out on Twitter (@JMScomedy) for a sampling of her humor in 140 characters or less.
"You say 'tomato,' I say whatever I think will make you like me most," reads a recent Tweet.
Another declares, "My step dad is way too much of a Republican for someone who lives off of his wife's income."
Among Singleton's fortes are sweeping aside political correctness in pursuit of humor.
"I'm not a lesbian," she announced in an appearance at Crackers Comedy Club in Indianapolis earlier this year. "I just like sweaters more than I like brushing my hair, and I'm aggressive, so it can be confusing."
Having cleared that up, she continued: "I do date men, in theory. In reality, I spend most of my time watching 'Game of Thrones,' wearing dirty sweatpants and drinking wine -- straight out of the box."
Despite their sometimes gendered thematic material, these comedians don't think of themselves as "female comics," and tend to take offense when a host introduces them as such.
"When someone introduces you as a 'female,' it's a disclaimer, not a compliment," Curry said. "You wouldn't say 'female doctor' or 'female lawyer.'"
Neither do they seem particularly worried that their genre has historically been male-dominated. Given the 21st century success stories of seriously funny women who've made their way from improv and stand-up to prime time comedy -- among them Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler and Amy Schumer -- the Walk of Shamers aren't short on role models. At the same time, having funny women to look up to sometimes presents its own challenges. When asked if she experienced stage fright, Curry answered quickly, then backpedaled.
"No," she said. "You know what? I get nervous afterward, like, 'Oh my god, what did I just do?' But every once in a while, if there's someone I really admire in the crowd -- like a comic I think is good -- then I'll get nervous. One time I did a small show and Maria Bamford was there, who I love. I ended up having a really bad set, and I almost threw up after that. I really wanted her to think I was funny."
Ultimately, "Walk of Shame" isn't about achieving overnight fame or overturning gender stereotypes; it's about the hard work of carving out a career as a comedian. Curry, Moon, Robinson and Singleton are hitting the road eager to meet audiences across the country, and to share their experiences as honestly as they can.
"We're filming the tour because we want to show what's it's like to be on the road as struggling comics," Curry said, adding, "We're no different from male comics. Really. The only difference is when we're on the road we have to bring blow dryers."
What: The "Walk of Shame" Comedy Tour
Where: Ray's Grill, 750 Escondido Road, Stanford
When: Friday, Nov. 21, at 8 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.)
Cost: $10 at the door
Info: Go to facebook.com/walkofshamecomedytour or call 650-724-7851.