But I had just learned that sometime between writing the book and its publishing date, Shlesinger had gotten engaged. Naturally, I set to Googling “Iliza Shlesinger fiance.” His name wasn’t on her Wikipedia page. She didn’t mention him in interviews. A sad website called Whosdatedwho.com listed her as single. This is where a normal person would plug in their phone and sleep, but those people didn’t spend four years convincing their parents that journalism school was worth the money. So I didn’t rest until I had found my way to what appeared to be Shlesinger’s wedding registry. She has lovely taste in cutting boards.
It was surprising that someone whose book cracks open childhood anxieties, sexual experiences and even the abortion she had at age 21 would decide to keep such a major part of her life to herself. And while getting married is a monumental shift in any person’s life, I wondered what being engaged feels like for Shlesinger — whose comedy is so intimately tied to her experiences of being single.
When we talked the next morning, she was walking her iconic dog Blanche around New York City. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jessica Contrera: You have stand-up and Netflix specials, a TV show, a web series, a podcast and now a book. What was it that you wanted to say that you felt you couldn’t do on other platforms?
Shlesinger: Apparently, expounding on stage for two hours a night wasn’t enough. I really wanted to do a deep-dive into the idea that women are always called “crazy,” and we are painted with such broad strokes because it’s so easy to stereotype women and write them off. I got tired of that and I wanted to explain: We are not crazy. There’s a method to our madness. What lies behind that is that women are expected to be so many things to so many people, often all at once.
We are constantly taking in all this unwanted feedback, process it and try to figure out what’s best for us. It’s not as simple as: “I’ll just have that piece of pizza.” Because we have to decide “Am I wearing something tight? Did I work out today? How am I feeling about that?” It’s this endless spiral of: Did it happen before? Could it happen again? Being a woman is about navigating all of that. If you put all of this out, as I just did, it sounds a little nutty, But really, it’s just survival.
You often delve into the neuroses and anxiety of women, and display it on stage with characters, like a goblin, hunched over and cackling and screaming.
There is a lot of goblin posture.
How do you make jokes about women, and our inner thoughts, without doing it in a way that is demeaning to women?
It’s tough. It’s all about intention. You’re never going to please 100 percent of women. I believe in choosing your words very carefully. It’s funny, I’ll get comments like, “Oh I love you, you don’t care you have no filter.” On the contrary, I absolutely have a filter, because I understand decorum and my objective is not to upset people. It’s to make people think and make some of the girls in my audience feel included.
In the book you dive into some pretty personal stories, and that’s certainly not something you’ve shied away from on stage. Have you always been comfortable talking about those things to strangers?
No. It takes years to get to a place of introspection and self-analyzation, to get to a place where you’re saying things intelligently versus blurting them out. The fact that I had an abortion and things like that, I was never ashamed of it, it just never seemed like the right platform. The book felt like a very comfortable, appropriate place to do that because I had so much more to say about confidence, women’s safety, Planned Parenthood. Somehow it would feel wrong in a comedy club. It’s not exactly my brand.
Was that part of the book particularly difficult to write?
For some women, [an abortion] might be the biggest deal ever. There’s so much hype around it. It was weird, and it wasn’t my favorite thing in the world, but writing about it, it just came out. The challenge was more writing about it tactfully, because I didn’t want to write off how impactful something like that can be to someone. It just so happened that for me, it was a very “Let’s get this done and move on.” It wasn’t hard to write about. I wasn’t sitting there by candlelight crying.
There’s a chapter on how to text a man. How to interpret “Ok!” vs. “Ok” vs “K…”
That was hard to write. That was painstaking.
It struck me that joking about that, if you were someone who had been married for a few years, it might come off as a little weird or disingenuous. It got me thinking about how so much of your comedy has been about being single, going out with your friends and dating. How do you think getting married might change who you are as a comic?
There was a bit of mourning for me personally and artistically when I got engaged, because I was like: Oh, I’m not part of that tribe anymore. I can’t speak with any present knowledge about being single and dating. I almost felt — this is so stupid — I felt like I had abandoned them. But my heart is still the same, and I still believe we treat single women like lepers in America.
My comedy will definitely change, and I look forward to seeing how I view marriage.
It appears you haven’t named who your fiance is. Are you trying to keep this part of your life private?
A girlfriend of mine, when she was dating and getting married to her guy, she had a pseudonym for him: “Handsome gentleman.” She would post pictures of him, but she never posted his name. I always thought that it was such a cool way to keep a little bit of yourself that you give so much of publicly, to keep it private.
So when I started dating the guy I’m dating, I came up with a nickname for him. He is a chef, and he’s around barbecue smoke a lot. And he has these really intense, light-blue, White Walker eyes, like a husky. So he became “Smoky Husky.”
Initially, I didn’t post his face at all, then I would post, like, half of his face, and now, I never give his name. I just decided that this was something where, I didn’t need the feedback. No matter who you date people are going to make fun of them, jealous people are going to say stuff, people get creepy, all the things that come with the public eye. If I could just carve out a little bit of anonymity for him, and for myself, that was something I wanted to do.
There will come a day when we are photographed and they get his name and it becomes a thing. And if it happens, it happens. But I’m not going to contribute to that. My priority in life is not making sure you know my fiance’s name so the public can go and be weird about it.
That being said, I’ve had him at plenty of my shows, and it’s so touching, fans will make him presents, and make us engagement gifts. I had one fan make him an apron that says Smoky Husky. So I presented him to the world as Smoky Husky, and the world embraced him.
I hope he opens a restaurant named Smoky Husky one day.
Me, too, because I want to eat for free.
Shelesinger will be performing at DC Improv on Nov. 16, 17 and 18.