Working hard never guarantees success, but it certainly puts one in a better position to achieve it. Veteran stand-up comic Erikka Innes has a work ethic that makes her success as a comedian almost a foregone conclusion. She forces herself to write every day, and usually not on topics that are comfortable for her. Granted, this material typically doesn’t make it into her act, but it’s evidence of her rigid determination to keep honing her craft, and it automatically puts her a cut above most stand-up comics. Innes also tries to put out a new comedy album every year, emulating the practice of successful comics. Her latest is Smells Like Nerd Spirit, but she confessed to Working Author that she’s already hatching plans for a third.
Erikka Innes began her career as a stand-up comic seven years ago, but the seed was planted long before. “I think it was just because as a kid, my mom loved stand-up comedy and comedy so much,” she explains. “It was on all the time, and she was so into it. And then I’d be like, ‘I want to do that!’ You know, as a little kid you don’t realize all the effort that went into being the person on TV and how hard it is.”
Most people who want to do stand-up typically test themselves very early on by doing short sets at open mikes. The experience can be brutal. Innes went a less conventional – but infinitely more sensible – route: She took a class. “It’s like multiple weeks, but it’s not like a whole course,” she says. “Although I’m sure you can sign up at a university and come up with constant things to do that would make it a major.” In the beginning, Innes was terrified of being on stage, and books were an attractive way for her to learn the skills of stand-up comedy. “So I was just like, ‘Hey, I’ll take a class and learn how you do it, and then I’ll go to the mikes.’”
In the beginning, she wanted to be like Steven Wright. Now, seven years in, she can’t be sure what influences are obvious in her style. She rattles off several big names that affected her early on, like George Carlin and Robin Williams, but highlights Margaret Cho. “I would say that Margaret Cho was like a big hero of mine, because I felt like she was so honest about her life when she was talking. And it would be hilarious; people would be dying laughing.” Refreshingly, even after having experienced a national tour and the rigors of traveling as a stand-up comic, Innes still enjoys the profession. “It’s been more fun lately because I’ve reached a point where when you tell jokes you’re not struggling to come up with a way to say something funny; you can say something from your life and then make it funny. You don’t have to work the other way around.”
For the uninitiated, Innes describes her comedy as “nerdy, quirky, smart, and a little bit dark, a lot of biting, dark undertones.” So while she’s happy to work in a bit about the early video game Pong and her childhood pet rock, she’ll just as easily make observations about how similar therapists are to prostitutes, or how pirates would make for poor rapists. “I’ve always been pretty nerdy,” she says, and she works her life into her act, always striving to just be herself on stage. She’s even gone so far as to take out funny bits from her sets because they didn’t reflect her as a person.
“Whenever I do anything I try to take it from personal experience. When I started I would be like, ‘Oh, what are people going to connect to that’s part of my life? Let me really think about what they relate to, and I’ll write a joke about that!’ And then I was like, ‘It’s too hard.’ Because you never really know what people think.” So she decided on just doing what she cared about. But while she is the self-proclaimed Commander of the Nerd Legion, non-nerds discovering Erikka Innes shouldn’t worry that her comedy will be too esoteric. “Whenever I do nerd stuff, if I’m making a reference, I try to be careful and pick a reference that everybody is gonna get, because I think it’s lame if you go to a show and you paid to see somebody and didn’t know who they were, and half their act is references to stuff you don’t get.”
As a professional stand-up comic, Innes understands that she’s paid to make people laugh, and sometimes that means tailoring her sets for different audiences. But that doesn’t mean that there are topics that should never be joked about. “I feel like if you’re a comic, you want the space to be able to do stuff…and I do think the Internet and how accessible it is…people can go home now and blog about what you did and it’s big news now.” She finds it silly that a simple stand-up comic doing his or her set is news at all. “We’re talking (about) comedians; they’re supposed to entertain you. And if they didn’t, part of me is like, ‘Then don’t go to their show again.’ Are some of them over the line? Maybe there are on and off. I’ve definitely heard stuff from comics where I’m like, ‘I really don’t like what you’re saying.’ But, it’s also part of the art. The whole thing with comedy is if you can make it funny and sell it on stage, it’s a go.” She admits, however, that the topic is tricky to unravel, because sometimes a joke can be funny to everyone in the room except one person who is deeply offended. Does the problem lie in the joke, or the person’s sense of humor? “I think if you’re a comic though, you’re hoping for freedom of speech and not ‘I’m going to come to a show and blog about what a shit you are.’”
Are men funnier than women? Innes doesn’t flinch at the question and simply replies, “Some of them are.” Then she qualifies her answer by explaining how the reverse is true as well, but if purely going by who makes it, then men are more successful. On the other hand, more men attempt to get into the business. “I think we’re more comfortable with certain types of people doing comedy.” But she also thinks the industry is changing, and that women are creating comedy that men can enjoy, like the film Bridesmaids. The logical conclusion for Innes is “You don’t have to be a man before you can be funny.”