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Comedian Fortune Feimster: 'People want to laugh more than ever'

Matt Misisco

Comedian Fortune Feimster performs at Wichita's Orpheum Theatre on Friday, Oct. 1.

Comedian Fortune Feimster's popular Netflix special, Sweet & Salty, exemplifies the North Carolina native's knack for storytelling and autobiographical comedy.

In addition to her career as a stand-up comedian, Feimster was a writer and panelist on the popular show Chelsea Lately and has appeared on a range of series, including The Mindy Project, and as voice talent on The Simpsons, Bless the Harts, and Summer Camp Island.

She has a range of projects in the works for 2021 and beyond, including more film and television work in addition to her ongoing stand-up tour.

Feimster recently spoke with KMUW from Los Angeles, where she lives.

Interview Highlights

The pandemic provided a lot of new opportunities for performing artists. But I would have to think with comedy, it's a little more difficult because you can't really do a live stream in the way that a musician does a live stream, you can't hear the audience laughing or anything like that. So how did you deal with the onset of the pandemic as a performer?

I took a good chunk of time off in the very beginning of the pandemic, just because people hadn't really figured out how to pivot. It just seemed like a time to shut down and just sort of focus on life and not like get so worried about work stuff; taking a little time off was really nice. And then people started coming out with a lot of those car shows where you would perform outside to cars, that was fun to get to do something. But it certainly wasn't the same as a regular show. Then I put on the show virtually. I did things like that, to just keep that motor going, to just speak honestly, so I wouldn't get too much out of practice.

If you're a comedian, and writing comedy and thinking about the world and reacting to it, since early 2020, there have been a number of things that one could draw upon. But I also get the sense that you're walking a delicate line there with everything that's going on. So how have you viewed the world in that time as it's reflected in your comedy?

The hardest challenge after putting out an hour special is coming up with a whole new hour. It takes a long time to build, and I was worried about, "What am I going to talk about? What do I want to say?" I was worried about where that inspiration would come from, especially when the world is shut down. We're in a worldwide pandemic; things don't feel funny.

So there was definitely a while there where nothing was coming to me, which is why I think I took that break; but it ended up being really good for me because I think, as a performer and as a creative person, you need a break, you need your brain to shut off, and just live life. So I think that time away just helped me reset.

And I started writing again [in], I would say, early spring. I was shocked at how much I was writing, and how much the jokes were coming to me in a way that was not the case in 2020. If there is a silver lining for me personally, it was just having a moment to rest my brain, my body and just to get to a good place wherein I want to make jokes and make people laugh and have it come from a very natural place.

So I would guess after that time off that it might be a little bit strange to be in front of an audience. What have you sensed from the audiences that you've performed in front of since coming back to the stage?

I do this radio show for Netflix, so I talk to a lot of comics. It seems that a lot of comics agree that audiences right now want to laugh so much. They're craving comedy and laughter in a way that I've not seen in a really long time, and I do think that comes from having been stressed out of their minds for so long. Levity is what people want, so for comedy right now, the bar seems low. Like people are coming to the shows and just already feeling good because it feels like there's some normalcy by being at a show. They are already laughing and smiling and that takes a lot of pressure off of us because they're already in the place, you know. We try to get them to feeling light. So, right now it is a comedian's dream to perform because people want to laugh more than ever.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.