Rising Comedian Michelle Buteau Gives Advice To Female Comics & Shares Her Trick For Making People Laugh
A 15 year career in comedy is pretty impressive, but, as Michelle Buteau puts it, she's just "scratching the surface." However, her scratch is leaving a sizable mark in the standup world. Earlier this year she landed a coveted spot in Comedy Central's The Half Hour , in which 14 comics selected by the network are given a national platform to showcase their talent, and, after spending more than a decade in the industry, Buteau says she's definitely seen a change for the better in the way women comics are regarded. "I love that females are kind of defining their own role in society," she explains. "It’s not about being someone’s girlfriend or being someone’s wife or being married at this age. It’s about coming into their own and owning their sexuality and doing what they want and being expressive. I really love what’s happening at all ages."
Buteau's excitement is palpable as she describes the rising talent who aren't "waiting for someone to give them money or tell them 'yes'." "There are female comedians out there working in the streets that you don’t know about yet, that have like three or four kids [and] they’re going off to college. Most people have the empty nest syndrome and they take up like Zumba class. No, these b*tches are like, I’m going to take a comedy class because I’ve been the funny mom in the PTA room for so long. Let’s see what happens."
Her advice for rising female comics is summarized in one concept: "There’s nothing wrong with a slow simmer." She encourages aspiring comedians to cultivate their act in the same way that a singer refines his art. "Don’t be in a rush if nothing happens," Buteau adds. "Your only job is to get onstage and have an amazing time and make people laugh. That’s your only job. And I swear — and I tell people all the time — things will follow. As long as you’re easy to work with and you’re cool and you make people laugh, people want to work with you. Also, don’t tell yourself no before other people tell you no."
Buteau strikes a more serious note as the conversation turns to Internet bullying, something that has affected her and other comedians. "I’ve had a fully-functioning adult life without the Internet, so I know how it works and I can put it away, but these poor young comedians, who are out there just saying whatever they want to say or just trying to be so edgy, just working through their process," Buteau says. "These people who act like they’re Siskel and Ebert with a nasty cause, that’s how people really get depressed and often suicidal because they get Internet bullied and they don’t know how to take it because they think it’s real. I would just say, fans of comedy and people who think that they 'know' stuff, just think twice about what you send. Because it’s hurtful, and, if you don’t like it, just don’t watch it."
One of the most intimidating aspects of standup comedy is the fear of a tough crowd. Buteau notes that she has a lot tricks up her sleeve for getting an audience to loosen up. "I feel like being single for so long really has made me a better performer because I had to go on all of these terrible dates," she says. "When I had to act interested or make it fun for me so I could get through it or whatever, that has been a proper sounding board for me being onstage."
A key strategy she employs is yelling at the audience. "I don’t know what I look like when I yell at people, but people laugh. I feel like, maybe I just look crazy," she laughs, adding, "I remember I went on this audition one time for this Will Smith movie where he was the only person who was human or something. Everybody was dying in the world. I had to be this person who was doing an interview on the street with New York 1 and all of the sudden I started crying and blood came out of my eyes. I had to roll around and cry, and, when I got up from that scene, the casting director was laughing so hard. I was like, I just cried like I was going to die in that moment because that’s what was being called for, and people were laughing."
No matter how she's cracking up her audience, Buteau's infectious energy is apparent in her performances. You can check out a clip from her appearance on The Half Hour above, and you can catch Buteau co-hosting on VH1's Big Morning Buzz Live.