Venessa Peruda | Comedy Writer + Stand-up Artist
“At this point, I’m just trying to throw shit at the wall and see what sticks."
What do you do?
I am a comedian and comedy writer.
How long have you been at it?
Since I moved to New York, I’ve been hardcore and taken it full on…so almost two years in September. But I moved to LA in 2007, and I got my BA in Theatre. I’ve always loved comedy, always been the class clown and enjoyed making people laugh…so that’s been a life-time passion.
Where did you grow up? How would you describe that place and its people?
San Diego, California. It’s a very laid-back, big sleepy town where nobody cares about professional sports and everything is just whatever.
How do you think that played into who you are…or did it?
Sometimes I don’t believe I’m from San Diego. A lot of people think I’m from the east coast. San Diego is not really known for anything, unlike LA or New York or San Fran or even Portland. It’s so generic and has great weather and is just cool. When I left for San Diego, people were like “you’re crazy,” and I often argue that 77 and sunny every single day can drive you mad. You want change. You want something different. How do you know what time of year it is? It’s boring.
How would you describe yourself as a kid?
A good kid. Well behaved. I was really into team sports, made friends easily. Family was really important to me ,and I was extremely loyal to my family. It wasn’t really something my mother really instilled in me, but I guess when my family started to fall apart, I put it on myself to keep everyone together. Always goofing around is a way to appease everybody and a way to get attention.
Did you and your family have fun traditions?
We had a lot of animals. We always had pets – all of us kids. Dogs, cats, birds, hamsters. I really wanted a pet rat because my kindergarten teacher had one. You name a pet, and we’ve had it. I guess that’s our tradition- animals!
Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do when you grew up?
Acting. I took drama in middle school and my older sister was in local community theatre. I was into that, but I was a terrible, awful singer and so I didn’t try out for those things. But I kept going to drama class, and then in high school really started loving acting – and comedy is just putting my best foot forward because it’s a natural thing
How old were you when you first left home?
18. I graduated in spring 2001. I moved in with a friend for the summer and moved into the dorms in the fall. I was ready to go…like, “Let’s do this!” At 18 you’re technically an adult but still feel like a kid, and there’s some things you’re not going to be prepared for no matter what.
How did you end up in New York? Why New York?
I came out here originally because I directed a friend’s pilot, a half-hour political comedy. Her script got in as a final contestant into the New York Television Festival and she needed a buddy to go with her, so I came and went to the festival. I was going to different panels and discussions, and I went to one that was on writing and producing sketch comedy -- where you should be, what you should be doing to work on it, making the move from amateur to professional work,and the path you should take to do that. I found out I was very much on track -- I was writing and producing my work in LA and submitting to festivals.
I got a really specific feeling that New York had a lot more to offer. It was a really innate kind of feeling...there’s a very exciting buzz when you’re here. It can be draining. That same buzz that’s going to attract you is going to suck the life out of you later. New York has been very trying but just as rewarding. As much as it takes, it has also given back, if not even a little more at times. I’m still happy to be here. It’s the mecca for comedy which is a big pull as to why I’m here – 3x the clubs and opportunities and possibility. A lot of people think Chicago is a great place for comedy, but my path took me here.
New York is more open to cultivating, growing, and recognizing individuality and original artists. I feel a bit more inspired here and I feel a bit more enabled - it’s more possible here. It’s the same gang but a different group of people, and I’m good with people. I’ve felt not only progress, but my work, my writing, and my stand up performances have just exponentially grown since I’ve moved here. I don’t know if it’s because it s a different city or crowd, or if I’m just naturally progressing. Could be both.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Wake up. Have coffee. Open email, Facebook, Twitter. See what’s happening in the world. I like to be well informed, but it’s also fodder. For comedy you need to be pretty up to date with what’s going on in the world. I think there’s a certain level of responsibility, and I like to be well informed and aware. So I’ll go through the news and Facebook, and that’s just my pop culture dosage, seeing what trending on Twitter and making jokes if I can.
I usually have a to-do list of sorts. They vary in size and difficulty level. Sometimes it’s just like “look back through your packet and see if there’s anything you can fix.” And other times I have a sketch and two pitches to write for my class on Tuesdays. Submitting to certain festivals, double checking on workshops.
There are all these different opportunities to get involved, to progress. There’s a late night writer’s workshop I’m trying to get into, which they basically groom you for Fallon and Conan. But it’s so sporadic and not well posted. Upright Citizens Brigade is the place to be right now. It used to be Second City and Groundlings, and now all progressive clubs and comedy are like The Pit and The Magnet. However, UCB is so terrific and that’s where I train. I’m trying to get into their Maude writer and performer auditions, and they’re really cryptic. They post it at like midnight and say “Maude auditions tomorrow.” So many people want classes. Classes fill up in 10 minutes. I have to write myself notes for stuff like that. You never know when they’re going to post them. You have to check each site. You just have to keep checking or you’ll forget, and you’ll have to wait another year.
I read a lot of articles about comedy and subscribe to a couple websites and newsletters and useful podcasts…just to get as much information about the business as I can. Just to see what kind of routes people are taking. There’s no big flashing signs that say “Hey, comedians, come this way and come get a writing job!” It’s really confusing, and it’s a lot of word of mouth. You talk to other comics and see how they got this job or how they got here. I don’t feel like there’s any one right way to go about it. At this point I’m just trying to throw shit at the wall and see what sticks, see what I get responses from, what I get progress from, and just head in that direction.
It’s challenging because it’s not like other jobs where there’s this natural progression. There’s no one right way to get in and a lot of people are trying to get in, but you have to outsmart everyone else because people are coming up with the new road all the time and when they do people are all “Ooohh you’re a genius! Why didn’t I think of that?”
I feel like there has been a trend of writing your own work. There’s a movement of actors who are getting tired of waiting to be handed roles and to be cast for the right thing. Instead of relying on these gatekeepers, people are now creating their own work and submitting to festivals and producing their own work – Kickstarter and all that stuff. And it hasn’t necessarily leveled the playing field but it’s given a lot of opportunity for anyone to put the work in to create your own content and produce it well. You’ve got to get it to the right people. So I’ve really started to focus on that - writing and producing my own work.
What lessons would you say you’ve gained or learned from doing this?
My biggest thing I remind myself, or I would impart upon another comic, would be that there isn’t just one way to go about it. It really is just about “out creating” everyone else. And staying true to the work that you’re doing – don’t just make another twerking video because it’s hot right now and it might get the most hits. Don’t make work that’s shit. Make work that you’ll be proud of years down the road and is more rewarding. There’s a residual life to art. Things can be created and then years later, people will be like "that’s genius!" Everyone jumps on board, and it’s like “I made this ten years ago.” But then I think, “Am I thinking too far ahead? Am I writing for the future or in the future and it’s taking awhile for the masses to catch up?” I do believe there is that residual effect of art and what you make. Don’t let it be something you’re not proud of.
Keep making content. I think about that a lot. Stop thinking about why no one liked this. You made it. Now move on and make the next thing. The more you do it, you’ll get better at it. You can’t sit there wondering why people don’t like it- you’re wasting your valuable time and you’re never going to get the answer. And why does it matter? It doesn’t. It is a numbers game. Obviously you need to make good content, but to get it seen...it’s a numbers game. Keep putting content out there and then someone will think that’s cool and say, “Let’s talk.” And you better be ready.
What’s something you’ve struggled with trying to achieve this dream?
I have all these things and I’m working on all sorts of projecst and trying all sorts of things to get there and I’m really distracted. And this person over here is doing this…and I’m like “I should do that…” but then it’s like no, stop doing that. Stop comparing yourself to others. I do it all the time – every week is a new list of top ten comedians, and it makes my blood boil. Maybe I want it so badly that it drives me crazy to see other people have what I want. I want it so bad. And another part of me is like, “No, I’m funnier than that.” But no one has noticed that yet.
Maybe I’m not ready yet and maybe I do have more work to do. Maybe I need another 5 years of doing comedy before I’m actually ready. Maybe I think I’m ready and I’m not. I feel like I am, but you need patience. This is a long game. It’s not going to happen over night. This is what I’ve dedicated my life to. I have to be patient. I can’t pour over every festival I didn’t get into. I won’t sustain that way. To remember to be patient and that I love what I do. I love being clever and presenting certain ideas in a funny light because a lot of it’s social commentary and a lot of it is absurd because I love ridiculous humor.
Do you have a mentor? Who inspires you?
I wish I had a mentor. That would be awesome. I don’t have a mentor. I’d like that because maybe it’d give me more direction because right now I just feel like I have this big mess in front of me.
I look to a lot of women – I look to Chelsea Handler just because she doesn’t give a shit. She really doesn’t. Sometimes I feel like I don’t give a shit…but I do. I feel like she does not care. I appreciate that. She’s just courage. I look to women like Tina Fey or Chelsea Handler or whoever and look at the ways they’ve gone about it, but I feel like I’m so different from them. Like, “How can I do that?” I love to read about their process and their journey and how it relates to me. I have other favorites: Jim Carey, Mike Myers – physical comedians. Just like character stuff.
What does the word authentic mean to you?
Authentic is such a delicious word. And I feel like I’ve only grown an appreciation for authenticity in the past four years of life and really truly understanding what that means to be authentic. I’m flattered you say I fall into that category. Authenticity takes discipline. To stay true to something can be challenging, but I feel like if you’re not doing it, it doesn’t feel right. It’s like wearing ill-fitting clothing. I’m not comfortable. I don’t feel like myself. It’s not going to serve you or anyone else if you’re not remaining true to what it is you want or need or want to do. But I think it’s hard to not be distracted, to not let other people change your opinions and ideas just because you do want to fit in or you don’t want someone to think something of you. But it can be rewarding.
A friend of mine once said “Life is hard no matter what, so, you might has well do what you love.” I think she was right. Life is hard. It’s shitty, and there will be shitty moments and you might as well be doing what you love.
Do you have any personal affirmations or visualizations that you would share with us?
I have a lot of visualizations about my career and goals. My career visual is the Cliffs of Insanity in the Princess Bride. Sometimes when I look at my career, I ask where am I on the cliff. Sometimes when I feel like I’m stuck or in a specific place, I’ll visualize what it would look like on the Cliff of Insanity. There’s no rope though.
And then also the affirmation “I soar to tremendous heights of success.” It makes me think of an eagle just so high up. That’s what I want. I also have affirmations about being a good person, that I’m talented, and great things will and are happening to me.
I do believe the human brain is an extremely powerful tool. I believe in the metaphysics of thinking in specific way to create your own reality. I think it’s kind of a tricky practice because it seems like such bullshit. You feel like you’re lying to yourself, but you’re reprogramming your brain. It’s possible but you have to be really persistent and consistent and positive.
Is there a specific thing you’re trying to achieve through your work? A specific message you’d like to get out?
I’m more of a lens. I gather all this information and put it through my brain and the outcome is typically comedic. It’s most often social commentary. I don’t really impose a lot of strong opinions – I just put things in a comedic light to provoke thoughts in other people in whatever topic I’ve chosen. I’m not very preachy, I just want to introduce several ideas and see where that takes people’s thoughts.
Is there something you would want to do if you weren't doing this?
A lot of my family is just like “…as long as you have a fall back career,” which is just death. My family wants to love me and support me, but they’re also concerned. Whenever someone mentions the fallback, it’s like a knife to the heart.
I’ve had conversations in my head about possibilities. And I don’t know what else I would do. I minored in costume design, and I designed costumes professionally as a junior designer my senior year. It was fun. I was good at it. And I love Halloween. I guess I could go back, but the entire time I was at the company I would spend my break online looking for acting and comedy jobs!
It’s what I want to do. At this point, I’ll just die trying.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Working professionally, writing for a great show. Or writing my own, whether it’s a talk show or some sort of sketch variety show.