The Funny Business: A Conversation with Ashley Kechian | Los Angeles, CA
This interview originally aired on The Fem Word Radio show on Rukus Avenue Radio, a Dash Radio station.
Natasha: Hey guys, you're listening to The Fem Word on Rukus Avenue Radio. We're here in the studio today with a friend of mine, Ashley Kechian. Ashley is a comedy writer, content producer, and standup comedian. What else am I missing from this triple threat? That pretty much sums it up. She's a funny lady, an alien fanatic and enthusiast.
Monika: Are you really? I didn't know that.
Ashley: I am an alien enthusiast.
Natasha: Welcome to the studio, Ashley!
Ashley: Very happy to be here.
Monika: I love Ashley.
Natasha: Also, can I just say she looks super like a celeb right now. She's wearing a black t-shirt. She has her hair down and she's like, swiveling in the chair.
Ashley: This is my cool outfit. I wore it for you guys.
Monika: Living the life in L.A. L.A. lady.
Natasha: So Ashley tell us about yourself. Start at the beginning. I know everything because we share a wall in our apartment.
Ashley: Jeez, you might know too much. All right, let's go back. I'm from New York...
Natasha: She's interviewing her herself. I did say start at the very beginning. Page one. Haha.
Ashley: So I grew up in New York, Long Island, and the family moved out here. I knew I wanted to do film, producing. I started out acting in high school and figured out I don't really want to be in front of the camera necessarily. I want to be creating the content behind it. So I always knew I wanted to go for film. I finished school out here in California and it's funny, in college you're trying to figure out what you're doing, like what internships to do.
I did have the opportunity to work for a comedy producer in college, but I didn't do it. Instead I worked at a more serious Oscar Award winning production company. But honestly it's weird because I always loved comedy. Growing up, I was always kinda shy, but also I was kinda like the class clown, joking around in class, just being silly, making silly videos in high school with my friends. I loved all that. And I would joke when I was really young, oh I want to be a comedian. I grew up watching Jerry Seinfeld with my parents and we loved that.
But it was always a joke. Like I never really thought I would actually pursue comedy. It wasn't until after college that I decided I really wanted to do comedy, and I went to UCB and I did some sketch writing classes with Groundlings and really just decided to learn about comedy and pursue that. I wrote and produced and co-directed a web series. It was all sketch comedy and I acted in some of those. I do like to act in things that I write for myself, that kind of character that I created for myself.
Ashley: And then, you guys know, online is so crazy...it just has changed the game for everything.
Monika: The exposure that you can get pretty quickly.
Natasha: And what comedy can be. Ashley has a funny account, “Laughs in 15 Seconds,” that concept is so smart. Whether you’re still active on the account or not, it's the idea of, “oh, you want to laugh? Here's a laugh.
Ashley: Those are my favorite. Those were so fun.
Natasha: Before Instagram, how could you make a 15 second comedy snippet? No one would invest in the production.
Ashley: Now it's all over YouTube, it’s all over Instagram, Facebook, and even shorter clips than 15 seconds now are going viral.
Monika: What I want to know though is that moment, that pivotal time in your life when you were like, “wait a minute, I actually make people feel good, through laughter.” That moment when you thought, “oh, I am a comedian. It's just that I have this knack for making people laugh.” What came about that made you realize that?
Ashley: Well, I always say if I think it's funny, other people think it's funny and I always like to make myself laugh and my friends laugh, you know? And that's really where it started. I like feeling good and laughing and making my friends feel good and laugh, and if they find it funny, other people will too. But it is hard to stay true to yourself and what you think is funny, and not just telling jokes that you think people want to hear. Like, talking about something happening in the news and having a point to say about it.
Natasha: It's definitely an art form. It's like finding that balance and having an awareness of people's reaction to what you're saying.
Natasha: So that's also what I was going to ask you, are you talking about this in terms of writing a script for something that you're developing or are you talking about writing your stand up set?
Ashley: Well, I think it's a bit of both. I started stand up because it was like a relatively free way [to get exposure]. I mean, you do have to pay for some open mics and that's the grind. But it was a quick and free way to just get up and tell jokes and get immediate feedback of what people like and don't like, and develop my persona as a comedian and point of view. And you can do Instagram videos quickly. But I was also doing more heavily produced things and standup was definitely a way to get it out quicker and work on it.
Monika: I mean, all of us can sit around, have a drink with our friends and make people laugh cause we'll say something silly or funny and it just worked at that moment. But if I had to sit down and write comedy thinking, oh this is going to make people laugh, it probably wouldn't. There's such a skill involved in this. What's your mindset when you're actually writing this stuff, and then what happens when you're there and you're like, “this was supposed to work” and it didn't? Give me that idea of how you actually stay relevant and funny when you're up on that stage and you've planned those jokes.
Ashley: Sometimes what you're saying actually does work. That joke that you told your friend at dinner? People do want to hear that sometimes. But when you're doing standup, you have to tell the audience a little bit about yourself. Because you're talking to a room full of strangers and they don't know you and they don't know what your point of view is. Especially as a new comedian, you kind of have to establish that and tell jokes just about where you're coming from and how you see things. And so I do that with a little deprecating humor about how I'm Armenian or the way I look. Just little jokes like that. And then you can go forward and do observational stuff. And talking about relatable stuff, I think I did one joke in my set that was a total throwaway joke. I was like, you know, “people in L.A. are so beautiful. Even my pedicurist is hotter than me. I should be doing her toes.” And my best friend really liked that joke. It made me think, it's almost friendly and something that maybe your friends would make.
Natasha: Why wouldn't more comedians just be like that friend that would tell the jokes. I understand, to a degree, the acting that goes into it. So you're doing the same set again and again and again and again. You repeat your set. What's really cool about L.A., is we actually see big comedians when they are rehearsing for bigger sets. I think that that's always really interesting, because you can see them working through their jokes. And even to make it seem effortless like they had just thought of the joke is a skill and takes rehearsal. And doing the audience work, that’s also another skill.
Ashley: People ask if you're doing the same jokes, how can you bomb one night and not bomb another night. It's because different audiences have different points of view, and you kind of have to read the audience. But also, it's your delivery. If I'm bored of a joke and I don't deliver it like it's a new thing, that affects how people perceive it and that can totally make people be on board or not. People say you have to do standup for seven years, at least, to really hone in.
Monika: Wow, seven years! Let me ask you...I have a little theory -
Natasha: It's honestly not that different than songwriting. It's like, oh, that's a concept. Let me write that down.
Monika: I think that comedy is harder than tragedy. Do you know what I mean? To make people cry is actually somewhat in my mind, easier than to make people laugh.
Natasha: Because we all know how to be negative and mean. There are so many ways to make someone cry and people are also just depressed.
Monika: Is that the truth of life?
Ashley: Or it's just showing them, there's a different perspective on the dark stuff. It's showing them the humorous way to look at even a tragic situation and be like, this is life. This is funny. We all go through these things and let's laugh about it. It's being able to find the joke in a terrible thing.
Monika: And also culturally, when I watch comedians a lot at home on TV, a lot of times it's those people who can be self-deprecating, who talk about their cultural issues. Maybe living in the U.S. and the funny things that happened. So many people can relate to that, and I love when they can incorporate that real life situation.
Ashley: Oh, definitely, I agree. I mean, everyone wants to relate. And you can bring people together just by making fun of your own heritage. Who you are. And even if they're not [from the same background] that they can relate to that.
Natasha: It can also be educational if it's done right. Like Hasan Minhaj. To me the is the epitome of being funny and educational, sticking to the point not making anyone feel shitty about themselves.
Monika: He can connect on such an amazing level.
Natasha: Who do you feel inspires you in the comedy world? Who do you draw inspiration from today?
Ashley: I love Sarah Silverman because I've seen her around town trying out material and stuff and she just has this aura. Anything she says, even if it's not a joke, is funny. You just want to laugh with her and you want to hear what she's saying. That is that special sauce that you strive for. And then there’s some people like Whitney Cummings. She talks a mile a minute. That's her style though, it works for her. But that necessarily might not work for me.
Monika: It's interesting that you just brought up two women comedians, because I did a little research. I was like, hmmm we don't hear a lot about female comedians. And so last year, 2018, the top comedians in the Forbes list were all men. All of them. It looks like it's something to do with sales.
Ashley: It's probably the highest paid person for their special.
Natasha: Probably, if it's Forbes.
Monika: Yes, I agree. But it's true though, right? We don't hear about the females.
Natasha: I think in general, and maybe my vision is skewed because I live with you, but I feel like comedy is having this kind of new wave where everyone's really interested in comedy. There's a lot of exposure, comedians are becoming more mainstream celebrities, and people are experimenting with comedy. Almost like you just said, Whitney Cummings has a style. Sarah Silverman has a style. They're very different. I keep comparing it to music because that's what I know. But it's like your favorite artists. You can like a rapper, and you can like a pop star, and they're both great and they have their own style. They have a different voice. They have different way of delivering the same thing.
Monika: I compare it to storytelling, and I think women are storytelling through comedy and that's so relatable - our experience. Do you feel like you're here at the right time doing this? Is it an exciting time?
Ashley: I do. There is a big push for diverse female content and creators, whether it be stand up or even [television] shows. There are so many new shows celebrating women. I do find that funny about those stats when we have Amy Schumer, who's like one of the most mainstream comedians, and she's not on that list. But again, Amy Schumer's one of the most criticized comedians.
Natasha: Is it because she's just as crass as a man would be?
Ashley: That's the thing. And you know what, anytime I tell anyone I'm a comedian, just because I'm a woman, people will say, “oh, what do you think about female comedians being really sexual? Do you tell sexual jokes?”
Monika: Come on...
Ashley: Yeah, I get this question all the time! This happened to me the other day, and I was like, “well, I don't know that women talk more about sex than male comedians.” I think maybe it's more shocking to people, or maybe they go overboard for the shock value because it's the sense of “I don't care. I'm going to say whatever I want.” Kind of overdoing it to just show...
Natasha: To show I can do that.
Ashley: And I don't personally love sexual humor or rely on that, but like if something's funny and relatable and it happens, then I go for it. But don't be sexual just to be sexual.
Natasha: Unless that's your thing.
Monika: Unless that's your shtick. That can be your shtick. But who made that word? It's a terrible word!
I mean I think it's fine as long as there's a joke in there about it, or there's something relatable about it, and you're not just doing it for the shock value.
Natasha: So what's the biggest challenge that you faced so far? You started doing stand up comedy two years ago. Do you feel like it's positively influenced your writing?
Ashley: Definitely...I think they kind of go hand in hand. If something doesn't work as a punchline joke for standup, it's something I can put in a script. If something's more of a personal thing that I went through that I can talk about it in my standup versus putting in a script, then that's a win-win. Getting audience reactions is really great. Then you know what kind of things people respond to, and you can go ahead and write about it. It's been really great for me, a great outlet, and there's a whole community of comedians that you can get involved with and grow and help each other. There's so many open mics, and you get feedback from other comedians and it's so great.
Monika: So you've been doing this for a year and a half, two years, how do you think you've changed in your approach to comedy when you get up on that stage or when you're writing?
Ashley: Well, I think when I first started I thought, “I'm just going to get up and talk about stuff that's funny,” but I didn't necessarily have a punchline or a joke - and that's fine when you're an established comedian, but when you're first starting out and you have to kind of be precise with your joke and have a punchline. That's definitely been something I've learned over the years and helped hone in on what makes something funny.
Natasha: I think that it's been really cool to watch your journey. And I'm really proud of you.
Monika: I'm proud of you too.
Natasha: Should we say shtick on three? Ready? One, two, three, shtick!
Natasha: We like to end on a high note on The Fem Word.
Natasha: What does it mean to be powerful? I like to ask everyone this.
Ashley: Oh man. I would say standing your ground on something, and sticking it out. Even if something is taking longer than you thought, or there's disagreement either creatively or just...whatever it is, it's standing your ground, and knowing that if you just stick with it, things will work out and be positive about everything.
And laugh. You know, it's powerful. It's powerful to laugh about everything. Laughter is power.
Natasha: My grandmother in India does laughing yoga every morning. They stand in a circle and they laugh - like crazy, scary belly laugh. I can't even do it at the mic.
Ashley: I think I've seen videos of that.
Natasha: It keeps you youthful. It's really healthy. It releases the right chemicals in your brain to make sure things are still functioning. It's really important.
Ashley: Laughter is medicine.
Monika: Laughter is the best medicine.
Ashley: But are you...let me ask you something. Are you really laughing? It's like fake laughing?
Monika: You actually, literally from deep within your belly, start laughing.
Natasha: Like you're hysterically laughing.
Monika: And these are 75 year old people at seven in the morning. You should lead that here.
Natasha: If anyone wants to join in Ashley's laughter circle message her.
Natasha: All right. Thank you Ashley, for coming in today. It's been so nice to chat with you.
Ashley: Love this. So happy to be here. You guys are amazing. Love you.