Goodnights Comedy Club, Raleigh
Because Michelle Wolf is not a Maybelline salesperson, she never thought she’d get famous for any kind of “smoky eye.”
She is a comedian, though, and while hosting the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, her joke about White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders’s makeup was perfectly cutting: “She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like, maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”
Even for an event organized to roast an assembly of political and media figures, Wolf’s performance was unflinching. It vaulted the Daily Show with Trevor Noah contributor into a heated spotlight; the White Correspondents’ Association released a statement criticizing her.
Wolf responded to the disavowal by tweeting, “The @whca are cowards. The media is complicit. And I couldn’t be prouder.” The performance rankled the WHCA so much that in 2019, it skipped a comedian host altogether. (Alexander Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow took a turn, instead.)
Other performers might have ducked away from the dangers of that kind of attention, but Wolf has kept up a tremendous pace. In 2018, she also worked as a staff writer and featured correspondent on Late Night with Seth Meyers; created and produced her short-lived talk show, The Break with Michelle Wolf, on Netflix; and ran an ultramarathon at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
This year, Wolf’s been getting back to stand-up, touring new material and taping a new special, Joke Show, which Netflix will release on December 10. (Wolf’s first special, Nice Lady, was released by HBO in 2017.)
We caught up with her ahead of her upcoming stand at Goodnights Comedy Club to learn more about the power of being impolite.
INDY: So, you just taped your second special?
MICHELLE WOLF: I did. I taped in August, and it’s coming out in December, so everything that I’m going to do in Raleigh is brand new. My theory is, once you tape a special, you have to scramble as much as possible to get new stuff, because once it premieres on TV, you’re not allowed to use it anymore.
I’m actually in a nice little groove right now, and I was able to come up with a new hour pretty quickly. I’m not saying all of it’s great. It definitely needs work. But that’s why you go on the road, and hopefully, the audience feels like they’re part of it, too. A lot of these jokes, it might be the first time I ever say them out loud. It’s funny to me, but I don’t know if it’s funny to everyone else. I literally need you to laugh or not.
What has 2019 been like for you?
2019 has been almost entirely stand-up. It’s the first time I’ve ever gotten to just do stand-up. It’s my favorite thing to do, and it’s been great. I have this whole thing where I like to do a hundred shows before I tape my special. I think I ended up doing almost a hundred and thirty in four different countries and a bunch of different states. And I like to go everywhere when I do stand-up, too. I think some people think that you should either live in New York or LA or stay on the coast, but wherever they’ll have me, I’ll go.
What ’s on your mind right now that you find yourself writing comedy about?
It seems like a lot of my things right now are starting with, like, “I like the progress we’ve made, but …” You know? “I want women to be ahead, but …” It’s a lot of me just talking through some of the issues we’re having with moving forward. It’s also about how people like to define things in black and white. I’m having a great time exploring the gray area.
Something people are commenting about in comedy is how things are happening at a pace and in ways that, if we wrote them, they would be like, “That’s not real.”
One of my favorite things—I mean, it’s not my favorite thing that it’s happening, because I don’t like anything that’s happening—but it’s the way that people will be like, “You have to show this thing,” and the administration is like, “Actually, that’s not a law. People were just kind of doing it to be nice.”
We were just being polite back then.
Right? So much for gentlemen’s agreements.
Politeness is something that you have a fearlessness for calling out.
Oh, yeah. I was talking to someone the other day, and they were like, “You don’t seem to care if people get mad at you.” I really don’t. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that not everyone’s going to like you, so you might as well just get comfortable with that and say what you want to say. You can try to be as nice as you want. Someone will find something wrong with what you said or did, so you might as well just stop being polite.