Anna Currell, Contributor
Meet Melissa Diaz, a New York born and bred comedian with musical roots. She performed with a band for years before discovered her knack for stand-up comedy and hit the ground running, keeping a busy schedule playing at several clubs in New York such as Caroline’s on Broadway regularly and hosting a podcast called “What’s New w/ Melissa Diaz.” She’s placed in Laugh Your Asheville Off and Devil Cup competitions, appeared in New York Comedy Festival, and has been named one of NYC’s comics to watch. Melissa made some time to talk with us about finding inspiration, avoiding burnout, and finding her passion in stand up.
WICF Daily: What inspired you to pursue comedy?
Melissa Diaz: Comedy was always something I’d felt was unattainable to me for some reason, mostly because I’d never seen women perform stand up. I don’t know how that happened, I just hadn’t. When I was a kid my dad would record late show sets on his VHR player and we’d watch them as a family, but the neighborhood I grew up in wasn’t really aware of stand up comedy like that. It was an immigrant community in the Bronx, mostly West African, South/Near East Asian and Puerto Rican working class neighborhood. Stand up didn’t really exist in the collective consciousness up there. I’m not a trailblazing kind of person, I just assumed it wasn’t for me and moved on with my life. But no matter what sort of performance style I tried it never seemed compelling enough for me to continue on with. I wasn’t passionate about acting, singing or dancing, but I enjoyed the stage. I sang with a band for a few years, I was always goofing off when all the other singers in the group I was onstage with were trying to look hot and alluring. It was weird. I was always a goofy person but it never clicked. When I went to college I was in an International Affairs program that really took away any chance at performing at all and I got really depressed. I’d binge comedy specials non-stop or go to comedy shows, to try and cheer myself up and get through the semester. That’s when I started finding more and more female comics that really resonated with me personally, Carmen Lynch, Marina Franklin, Maria Bamford, Rita Rudner, Paula Poundstone, Joan Rivers etc., and I started playing with the idea of giving it a shot. I found out about open mics, but I went in thinking this wouldn’t amount to much. When I got onstage to do my first set at an open mic all I could see was the lights in my face and I was sweating from how nervous I was. I remember trying to do a weird running-in-place act out that made no sense, some supportive chuckles, mostly silence and then it was over. I remember thinking right after, that was so awesome, I must do this again. I just kept coming back every night. I gave myself a year to try this out and see how it went, and I ended up finally finding something that I feel I’m perfectly suited for and really does something for me. It just fits who I am somehow. Haven’t looked back since.
WICF: How did growing up in New York have an influence on your perspective of comedy?
Melissa: Well, overall New York City tends to inspire pretty high octane cultural/social experiences, both positive and negative ones. You grow up and think of those experiences as normal; annual topless women’s marches, people high on the streets, people playing congas at the park, witchcraft, crazy tourists, other cultures and subcultures colliding with each other. I think it’s given me a sense of levity or equanimity in the face of experiences that are extreme or weird, and it makes me feel strange and alien in mundane circumstances, I don’t know how to respond to people just sitting around having a normal exchange where nobody’s screaming or something. So I tend to find strange things normal and normal things strange.
WICF: How did you find your comedic voice?
Melissa: I don’t think I have exactly, I’m still figuring things out. I just try to be as authentic as I can as often as I can. Hopefully I’ll start to pick out a pattern eventually.
WICF: Where do you find inspiration to write?
Melissa: I write down ideas as they come to me, I’m always daydreaming and in my own little world so there’s always something floating around in my head. I find inspiration in music, art galleries and museums, in books, a great conversation, a long walk, really any experience has potential for humor. I love sharing thoughts and experiences to see whether it resonates with an audience, and whether I can find a way to communicate an idea that is compelling and joyful.
WICF: Where are some of your favorite spots to perform in New York (or anywhere else!)?
Melissa: Oh man! All of New York has great places to perform, where you can find different styles of comedy. My personal favorites at the moment are Greenwich Village Comedy Club for its classic downtown comedy club vibe, Old Man Hustle because it’s a very small venue and feels like a speakeasy where I usually experiment with darker material. I love all of Brooklyn, the Cobra Club, Starr Bar, Friends and Lovers and Pine Box, as well as the Creek and the Cave in LIC and QED for giving us the gift of a community that loves alternative, odd-ball, strange, smart, sensitive material. There are jokes I love that I can really cut loose with in Brooklyn, they’re awesome.
WICF: You keep a busy schedule of performing! How do you keep yourself from avoiding burnout?
Melissa: I absolutely do experience burnout! It’s so important to know that we all do, no one should ever feel that they “don’t have what it takes” if they sometimes feel completely chewed up and spit out on some nights or even weeks. It’s perfectly natural and the reason why self-care is so important in comedy. What helps is to remember to drink lots of water, some exercise, prioritize eating vegetables every day, and make sure to keep at least one night a week free to decompress. Every once in awhile I like to take a few days to a week off, stay in bed, drive upstate with my boyfriend, call my mom or just walk around in big old clothes and eat pizza all day. Watch horror movies. Do whatever works for you.
WICF: What advice would you give women pursuing comedy professionally?
Melissa: Just do it every day, no excuses. Get onstage and spill your guts every night. Focus and consistency are very difficult to develop but the most important. Disregard this advice if you’re suffering in some way emotionally, mentally, spiritually, or any other personal issues you might have. Always take care of yourself.
WICF: How can people keep up with your work / find you online?
Melissa: At melissadiazcomedy.com, you can sign up for my email list I’ll send you specific updates or you can just go check out my show schedule. IG melissadiazcomedy Twitter @meldiazcomedy. Or just live your life and maybe we’ll run into each other sometime.