Sheridi Lester Has A Reputation As A Clean Comic, In Spite Of Her Truly Dark Humor.
Welcome to Humor Us, our column in which Dallas comedian Alex Gaskin interviews other area comedians about the ol’ funny business in order to help introduce DFW at large to the burgeoning comedy scene blooming right under its nose.
Sheridi Lester aims to keep her comedy true to herself. She’s frank, wickedly sharp and willing to open up to audiences about some of her darker aspects. She keeps act-outs and movements to a minimum — her excellent material deserves the crowd’s full attention. She’s impossible to replicate, and she’s intimidatingly funny (I’ve performed with her on several shows and, honestly, “intimidating” might not say enough about how it feels trying to follow her act).
Last year, she spent time on both coasts, as she attended three prominent comedy festivals — the Burbank Comedy Festival, the Boston Comedy Festival, and the Laughing Skull Festival in Atlanta. She’s mostly stuck closer to DFW so far this year, making several appearances at local clubs like Hyena’s and Backdoor Comedy Club. You can catch her this weekend (Friday and Saturday night) at Backdoor Comedy Club.
Last year you did several festivals — the Burbank Comedy Festival, Boston Comedy Festival, and Laughing Skull Comedy Festival. Can we talk about those experiences?
Laughing Skull was the first one; that was in Atlanta. It was interesting meeting different comics and seeing different styles. That was my first time performing outside of Texas, and so I think my nerves got the best of me. I feel like it wasn’t my best performance, but at least it was a learning experience. I did Burbank, and that was a lot of fun. Everybody was just more supportive. It wasn’t a contest-type festival. For most of the comics I’ve spoken to, whenever there’s a contest, there’s a part of you that just…it gets the best of you. So, luckily, Burbank was not that; it was really just a big party celebrating comedy. It was my first time in L.A., so that was really cool. And then there was Boston, which was a contest. That one broke my soul.
Yeah. A lot of people who’ve done that one said that one got to them as well, because all it is a contest. And it’s a big competition.
What was it that got to you? Was it the intimidation factor?
All of it. You think you’re doing well, then you see this guy who, y’know, you didn’t think did as well, and you see him advance. Or in my case, at first I was happy, you have to draw numbers to pick the order, and I got a middle spot. I was like, “Yes!” But then the guy I ended up following was a guy in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy who was just filthy. It was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” And honestly, since then I have not applied to any more festivals. [Laughs.]
What goes through your mind when you’re watching that kind of act, thinking, “I have to follow this?”
I just hope it’s not silent, honestly. You know how it is when somebody just kills, and you’re next and they’re just not interested.
In the best of circumstances it’s tough, but that’s a lot of hurdles to clear.
I feel like I’m starting to get over it. There’s a few [festivals] I’m gonna submit for soon, but that one crushed me for a while.
I know you’ve performed in Funniest Comic in Texas, have you done any other local festivals, like the Dallas Comedy Festival, or the East Texas Comedy Festival?
I did the Dallas Comedy Festival back in 2013. I did the East Texas festival two years in a row; I don’t remember what the years were, but I’ve done those.
What was your impression of the local festivals?
As far as the Dallas Comedy Festival went, it was a lot of fun, but I was performing with people I already know. I’m still glad I did it. The first year [at East Texas] was a lot of fun, but the second year — it was still a contest then — I remember quite a bit of comics getting upset because a particular comic was getting a lot of attention, so it was basically like they were promoting her when it’s like, “Wait a minute, this is a contest.” That comic came in second place. Then another comic that’s not really respected but does well ended up doing well and actually won first place. And, ironically enough, after that year they didn’t do a contest anymore.
You’re performing at Backdoor Comedy Club this weekend — Friday and Saturday.
For those who don’t know, I’ll say that Backdoor is a little different in how they construct shows. They don’t bring in different headliners every weekend, they have a showcase. You’ll see more people doing shorter sets. Can you talk about your experiences at Backdoor?
That’s actually where I got my start. It was the first place I ever saw a real comedy show at, and I just loved it. I loved the fact that it was a showcase, that’s what made me want to go in the first place. Eventually I started going up. Luckily, early on, Linda Stogner instilled in me that if you’re cleaner, you’ll get more work. I mean, I cuss here and there, but I’m glad I got my start there, because I feel like my material is sharper, and I feel like that’s what’s really…If we’re being honest, comedy’s bullshit, and a lot of it is sucking up. That’s how a lot of people — and I don’t want to look like an asshole — but that’s how a lot of people get work, is from sucking up and kissing ass, and I’m just not gonna do that. But luckily [Backdoor] has been a place where I can build my material and know that it’s good, so when I do have an opportunity, people see, “Alright, she’s legit.”
Do you still get an odd reaction or push back when you talk to other comics about clean comedy?
That’s the thing, though. I think clean comedy is subjective, in the sense that a lot of people say that I’m clean, which is true-ish. I cuss here and there, but at the same time it doesn’t mean that my material is appropriate for a clean show. Anybody who’s seen me knows that I’m more on the sarcastic side. And apparently — and I’ve come to live with it — but some people consider me a dark comedian. So when I get asked to do a show in front of high school kids, or at a family-friendly show where people are allowed to have their kids there, and I talk about not liking kids, it’s always a little awkward. As far as Backdoor goes, I know it’s considered a clean club, but my opinion is it’s not as strict as people make it out to be. Yeah, they don’t want you to drop any f-bombs or do anything graphic, but you can still cuss, you can still be edgy, you can still talk about sex. Just [use] common sense. And I feel like comics who don’t want to perform in that environment just aren’t trying.
You also do work with the different Hyena’s Comedy Clubs. Are you featuring now?
When did you start featuring?
My first time featuring for the full weekend — let me count back. I think February [of this year] was my first full weekend.
What was it like transitioning from opening act to feature?
It was the most stressful thing that’s ever happened to me. [Laughs.] I was supposed to feature in Fort Worth in February, then Plano in March and Dallas in April. By the time I finished my sets in April, I just had a total meltdown and stayed in bed for a week. As a host, you do 15 minutes most of the time. And I know I’ve got 15 minutes with ease. I know which jokes work, what’s my best — I’ve got this. I don’t feel intimidated hosting, I know I’ve got it under control. But the thing is, as a feature, with the exception of Fort Worth, they want you to do 25-30 minutes. And I can do that, but my problem is I don’t want to tell bullshit material. I don’t want to do that. I would rather go short than tell a bullshit joke, but at the same time I don’t want to be unprofessional and leave the stage early. I stressed every time. And that’s another great thing about Backdoor; after I got my dates, I had time to prepare, and I just wrote and wrote, and tried it out at Backdoor and was able to come up with material. Each time was a learning experience. By Hyena’s Dallas I felt really good, and didn’t have any issues with the time. I felt at ease. But I also feel really comfortable at that club. It was a great weekend and I had a great time, and now I look forward to it.
Going back to the “bullshit jokes,” what’s your definition for that? At what point are you comfortable saying that a joke is worth putting into your act?
I think we all have what we consider our A jokes and B jokes — and some people even C jokes. I think for me, if a joke gets more of an A response than a B most of the time, then I’ll go ahead and keep it. But if it’s mainly a B, or even goes into a C, I don’t want that.
Say you have a joke that you personally love, but it doesn’t break out of that B level. How do you approach that situation?
I either come to terms that it’s not going to work, or I do away with it for a while. It could be a month, even a year later, and I’ll have that moment of, “Hey, this is how I should do it.” I mean, I’m either gonna make it work at some point, or I’m just gonna drop it.
How did they let you know you’d be moving up to the feature position?
Randy [Butler, the owner of Hyena’s Comedy Club] was actually the one who brought it up. It was actually not too long after I started hosting. He was really nice, which shocked me, because I’d heard that he could be intimidating — and he can be. But he was really nice and said that I was different and that I was good, and he didn’t see me emceeing for too long. He was the one who brought it up.
Speaking of different, your style has a…patience? That’s not the right word. You’re very good at constructing jokes. Would you say you have a different style than a lot of people?
I don’t know. I mean, the way I see it, I don’t even know what to say my style is. For me, I feel like I’m just talking, really. A lot of my material does stem from things that have happened in real life. Basically, the way I always do a joke is it’s always very wordy at first, and nobody knows what the hell I’m talking about, but eventually I’ll tell the story over and over, and I’ll be able to hear what gets laughs and what doesn’t, and finally pick out the pieces and make it work. I’ve also noticed for me, because my material is more on the sarcastic/mean side, it’s kind of like a challenge — I have to make them like me. Order makes a big difference. I try to make it all connect so that [with] each joke they know a little more about me, so by the time I get to the meaner stuff, instead of looking like an asshole it’s like, “Well that’s just how she is.”
Does a longer set as a feature help with that?
Oh, absolutely. I think we all have bits that work, but for whatever reason we just get scared to tell them. Even though they work, there’s that fear there. And I think for me, some of my longer bits that are more story-oriented, I had a fear of telling those. When you’re doing a shorter amount of time, if you tell this long story and it leads to nowhere, well that’s a waste of time. But it feels like with featuring it really helps to make those bits a lot stronger.
You’ve seen different comedy scenes and met different comics in those scenes. What’s your perspective on comedy in DFW?
I think as far as talent goes, it’s really good. Not about everybody, but the comics you see going up regularly and really trying, I feel like there’s a lot of talent there. I feel like there are a lot of comics here who’re great, and don’t get attention they deserve. I do think — and I think every group of comics says this about the following groups — but it does feel like there’s a lot of egos around. And it feels like it’s always the people who don’t deserve to have one that have one. And for me that’s what makes open mics a little harder to go to, because it’s like, people walk in like, “I’m king or queen of comedy,” and it’s like, “Get the fuck out of here. You’ve been doing it how long? Six months?” I don’t like undeserved egos. That bothers me.
Have you thought about making a jump to another scene at some point?
I know that eventually I’ll need to leave if I really want to pursue this. But I think right now I’ve been in this phase where I’m trying to figure out what it is that I want to do, actually. And I’m just trying to kind of — without sounding all weird — I’m trying to figure out life right now, if that makes sense. [Laughs.] I’ve talked to you a little bit in the past but, y’know, I did have — and I’m not ashamed of anything, but I do have depression and anxiety, and I did have a pretty bad meltdown a while back. I’m doing a lot better now, I’m on meds, I’m meditating, [doing] yoga; I’m that weird person now. And that’s why I’ve held off on festivals and stuff. I will say that part of my material stems from feedback from the crowd, and one of the things I’m proud of is when somebody tells me they like me because I’m real. I like that. And I feel like I went through this phase where I became angry and depressed, and just wasn’t myself. These last few months, I’ve really just been trying to focus on being happy and figuring out who I am. I mean, I know who I am. I’m just trying to get that person back. I think for a while I was giving off — and maybe I still do — but for a while I was giving off this angry, bitter, unhappy vibe. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t like everybody, but I do like some people, and I want them to feel like they can come talk to me. So really these last few months have really just been about self-discovery, I think.
So for someone starting comedy, do you have advice?
Advice for new people? Without sounding cliche, I would just say do what’s funny to you. It seems like comics who start out tell the kind of jokes they think they should be telling, rather than who they are. It does feel like the audience can tell when you’re being you, and when you’re being fake. So do what’s funny to you. Be humble. Don’t have an ego. Don’t get too dirty. If you want to cuss, if that’s who you are, then by all means do so. But don’t be too dirty. You’re not going to kill all the time and, honestly, for a while you’re gonna eat it. You’re gonna go last at the open mics. You’re gonna get there super early and you’re gonna get bumped, but don’t take it personally. I see open mic-ers get pissed off all the time; it’s just part of the business. It sucks, but we all have to pay our dues. If you don’t pay your dues you’re gonna be a hated comic and it’s gonna backfire. [Laughs.]
Sheridi Lester performs at Backdoor Comedy this Friday and Saturday night. For more info head here.