Comedian Emma Willmann Slays In Both Stand-Up And TV

Willmann spills the comedy tea in this exclusive interview.

Comedian, Emma Willmann first came to my attention about three years ago. I was working on an Elite Daily video called “Lesbians Explain Why They’re Better Than Men At Picking Up Women.” One freezing-cold afternoon we were shooting at LOT 45 in Brooklyn when I caught my first glimpse of Willmann. My first thought (because I’m super deep) was: Oh that sporty bomber jacket number she’s wearing is cool. And then I watched her perform in front of the camera.

I was floored! Not only were Willmann’s words hysterical, smart and relatable, her delivery is what struck me. Willman’s hand movements, her timing — her rhythm was something completely and entirely unique! You could tell she wasn’t just another witty wordsmith, she was a talented actor! A performer in the *purest* sense of the word, dahling. She just like, lights up with that glittery, infuriatingly-effortless charisma that is super rare and seems to only exist in the genetic makeup of the real stars, babes.

“She’s fucking good!” I said to my friend, a producer on the project.

“She’s going to be huge.” She whispered back. I nodded in solidarity.

Ever since that lovely little shoot not so long ago, Willmann seems to be everywhere. On TV (she has a Netflix 15 coming out and is on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”!), on the radio, on a bevy of podcasts (including her own), touring the country, making the masses laugh with her fierce comedy prowess.

We at GO are collectively ~thrilled~ by Willmann’s success. I mean lezbehonest, honey, has there ever been a time in history when the need for funny gay women was more drastic than it is right now? No. The world is falling apart! We need Willmann to not only make us laugh, but use her wit to help us process the shitshow that is everyday life, amIright?

Lucky for you, GO Babes, we decided it was due time we interviewed Willmann (rather than merely fangirling from afar) about everything she’s been up to.

GO Magazine: SO, I personally *love* your comedy and think you’re brilliant. Please. Enlighten us. What do you do to “prep” before going on the big, bad stage? DO you “prep” at all before going on stage? Or does the brilliance just FLOW out of you, organically?

Emma Willmann: I really appreciate that! Comedy is pretty subjective so — thank you. In terms of prep, contrary to how it may appear, a lot of advance work does go into each set. In comedy, you are striving to make everything sound spontaneous, so comics work to combine rehearsed stuff with the new ideas. I am constantly changing up my content and trying to keep it fresh.

My general pre-show prep is writing out the setlist — there is usually just a word I associate with each “joke.” Setlists, out of context look pretty crazy — if you find a scrap of paper that looks like a crazy person’s grocery list of memories — it might just be a comics set. If it’s a big show — I pace around and think about the energy or intention behind the words since people often remember how you said something as much if not more than what you actually said or sometimes I will drink and think what am I doing with my life? Recently to be healthier I’ll try and jump around — and also… I’ll listen to DMX or Backstreet Boys. Just to be totally transparent.

GO: Recently you’ve been on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” among other TV shows (Yas! Love!). What’s that experience been like? Do you like doing TV?

EW: I love it! It was crazy timing too! I filmed 8 episodes of a talking head show for a network, we had an air date then the whole production just went out the window, then it was back— but I was not recast. The day after I found that out via Instagram, the host of an AM show I regularly co-host got let go from the facility, so the contracts we had all just signed for the next year were… void.

I got the audition for Crazy Ex about two weeks after that whole clusterfuck of being fired/rejection, etc. It all happened very quickly —I found out on a Monday night while I was doing a show at a college in New Jersey, then took the first flight out to LA the next AM and was in a wardrobe fitting Tuesday afternoon. I personally love the Crazy Ex show and can’t express how talented and KIND all the people involved with it are.

Also, as a side note, the craft services were glorious. I’m used to smaller productions and am down for whatever so the first day on set at about 10 AM people took a break and went to a snack station where there were snacks and hot dogs laid out — at lunchtime I went back there and thought “oh same snacks at lunch, okay” no biggie, but noticed no one else was really around — then someone saw me (after I talked myself into eating another hot dog) and said “Emma you know lunch is outside, right?!” I went out and it was like the holy grail of lunch.

GO: Which was more challenging for you, TV or performing your own original stand-up, live? Does one come more naturally than the other? What strikes your ~nerves~ as a performer the most?

EW: Great question! It’s so different. With TV, if it’s a show not shot in front of a live audience you do a lot of takes which of course takes away the immediate pressure of having only the “live moment” in stand-up.

Another major difference between TV and stand-up is that with TV I am not writing and directing my own content. With TV I am just one piece of the puzzle, so you really do feel the support of the team built-in.

Whereas with stand-up, I am writing my own content, directing the scene (with my movements, hands etc) and performing the content. While stand-up might feel like it comes more naturally, it also feels more stressful in certain ways — not even the live shows, it’s more everything else around it. The actual stand-up is the least stressful part of stand-up.

So short answer stand-up! Hands down! Every time! If people come that listen to the radio show or podcast, it’s totally different then if it’s people seeing you for the first time — but I’ll get nerves either way. It’s like going on a blind first date each time, you just hope that the person thinks you’re as good looking as your photo.

GO: On the outside, it appears as if you’ve garnered big success very quickly. Is this perception accurate?

EW: Just being so in it, it doesn’t feel quick per-say since it’s always a grind. With work, I’m big on scaling problems — or trying too — there will always be “problems” but as long as they’re scaling to other levels in career stuff that is good. If one year it’s “I don’t have a manager”  then the next it’s “I have a manager but need an agent!” Then it’s “my manager and agent and I need the right production company!” As long as the “problem” reflects growth… that’s how I’ll measure forward movement — so my work stuff has scaled relatively quickly, but boy, while I’m running around, doing live shows in god knows where while trying to smoosh lines for an audition into my brain… it doesn’t always feel that way! It’s quite the process (one I am grateful to be a part of too).

GO: When did you start doing stand-up comedy? What kind of blood, sweat, and tears does it take to do comedy on a professional level? What advice would you give funny baby gays who want to make it in stand-up/comedy/TV?

EW: I would say try and be balanced and well-rounded. If you don’t balance yourself, care for your friends or your spiritual and mental health, you’ll just crumble — so try to be balanced and then give it everything you’ve got. No stone unturned, but try to be smart about it, to be easy to work with, never think you’re not replaceable, but also always make sure you are irreplaceable too.

Also know it’s hard, lonely, and really great. In that order!

GO: As a writer/over-sharer I’m always trying to strike the balance of protecting the people in my life, but also still being super honest — Do you struggle with this at all in your work? How do you speak the truth without ruining all of your friendships, family-dynamics all the while STILL making yourself dateable/able to maintain a relationship (asking for a friend, aka ME)? 

EW: Hahaha! If we can figure out how to do that, we will have struck entertainment gold! Man! It is NOT easy! It’s hard! I have so much to say on this. Also, it’s asking a lot of a person you are dating — they have to be very secure too. There are things I’ll share within the first five minutes of a comedy show, I wouldn’t open up about within the first bunch of months dating.

Especially with the podcast, it’s a very personal and real time — it’s also a cheat — if someone just wants to hear more than they ever needed to hear, they can listen to the podcast, so that makes actually getting to know one another off balance. Basically, my journal is always out there — but it isn’t my real journal it’s a show journal. Asking someone to understand that not just in their head, but in the feelings department — is a lot. I totally understand the conflict there.

It is hard… I would never want to hurt anyone in my family’s feelings and I try to make myself the butt of the joke, however, I talk about my mom a lot. I’ll run things by her but it’s such an exaggerated version of her, it isn’t really personal to her anymore. There are a few family things I think I would get in trouble for so I just kind of suck it up and do not go there — don’t test me though! Kidding.

It’s a god damn struggle, and please, tell your friend to call me to commiserate! But, I do think a relationship in some form is possible. Oof.

GO: What was your first ever job? Not necessarily creative job, but job, job.

EW: My first office job was recruiting construction executives in Boston. I had just graduated college and was totally lost. I wanted to be an inventor and took the first “day job” I was offered. I did that and went to a young inventors meetings around Boston and actually tried to get a product prototype and patent. I sent the parent to a scam developer and then around that time is when I started getting interested in comedy.

GO: What are you working on next and what projects are you the most excited about?

EW: My Netflix 15 comes out this summer (date TBD). I also have tour dates and live shows up on my website and will be in LA this fall filming for a TV thing that I’ll announce, via social media, or my website, when I am given the thumbs up to do so! I also do a podcast with Matteo Lane that might be of particular interest to the GO community it’s just very mega super gay to the gills — gay queer whatever descriptor it’s just maximum capacity homosexual).

GO: Where can people find you? Online, Social media, TV and IRL? GIVE US LINKS!

EW: Instagram and Facebook are my favorites: EmmaWillmann for both! When I am in the city I am usually doing shows at the comedy cellar in the West Village or other spots around town.

GO: If you could tell 15-year-old Emma ONE thing, what would it be?

EW: Stop looking at porn on your parent’s computer and not deleting the URL. It’s weird and also have the sensitivity that your parents don’t need to know your porn habits, it is rude.

GO: What’s your favorite city in the world to do comedy in? Why?

EW: Portland, Oregon! It was a toss-up between Portland, Boston, Philly, and DC… Portland has the same blue-collar vibe as Boston and is smart but still has a good sense of humor about it. Portland is a great mix of all the things I like about every other city. I opened for Louie CK in Portland, and he said it’s the city where he gets recognized the most. It’s a real comedy spot!

GO: And lastly, how do you deal with the pressure of the industry? Are you wildly competitive like most performers? How do you shake off the day?

EW: NOT WELL. No, no, I am kidding.

No, now I try to take everything in the same way; If something good happens great! And if it’s a rejection or other thing, it’s also okay.

There is a lot of rejection and I have to just be competitive with myself. I love the phrase “compare and despair!” Other people are great to learn from, and sometimes, when I see the person selected for the role I wanted, I realized that when someone’s great you don’t hate, you appreciate. No one is going to tell Wanda Sykes she can’t do a show cause Chris Rock is there.