Aisha Tyler Bringing Outsider Insight Inside Empire

The inexhaustible Aisha Tyler has a schedule so packed, she only finds time to do stand-up on rare weekends off. One of those is tonight through Sunday at Paris’ Empire Comedy (8 p.m., $39.99-$59.99). She’s catching time from her daytime chat show, The Talk, which is just one of three shows she does — along with Canadian sci-fi joint XIII: The Series and FX’s Archer, the best show currently on television. (Bring it on, Breaking Bad and Mad Men.) And all of that ignores her weekly podcast Girl on Guy and turns like she just took recently, where the avid gamer presented at Ubisoft’s E3 conference.

We caught up with Tyler to talk her turn on the show as superspy Lana Kane, Adam Carolla’s recent “women aren’t funny” comments and her foodie side.

Was it a deliberate choice to come here less than a week before ComicCon, to get the polar opposite experience of what you’ll get in San Diego?

I wish all of my decisions were as strategic as you just made them sound. No, normally I find a free weekend because I have so few. Originally when I had the offer I was like ugh, Fourth of July weekend, I’d like to take it off. But I have family in Vegas so I’ll be able to see my family. I have a rare week off from my daytime show, so I’m going to take a couple days of vacation and then do some shows and my next free weekend is like November. So it becomes a catch-as-catch-can situation.

When you’re at ComicCon, how many people do you expect to try to get you to do “Lana, Lana, Lana, What?

Well, I try to avoid interacting with human beings as much as possible while at ComicCon to avoid precisely such a scenario. No, I love ComicCon and I usually try to go for the entire con. This year I can’t get in on Wednesday night because of the ESPYs, but I’m going first thing on Thursday and I’ll stay through Sunday. I’m lucky because people know me from so many things, that I don’t get a litany of just stuff from one show, which is nice.

But I love my Archer fans. They’re incredibly loyal. We never think anybody’s watching our show anyway, so we’re so excited when we walk into – every year it’s been a bigger panel. The first year we didn’t have a panel. The second year we had this little 500 seat room that ended up being standing-room only. Last year we had 3,000 people. We couldn’t even believe it. We were like “If this is all of the people in the world who watch Archer, this is still totally awesome.”

But I only do it once. I usually do it during the panel. People yell it from the audience. Or they’ll get me and Jon [Benjamin] to do it as a team, which we’ve also done. We’re just stoked people are watching the show, for sure.

It’s the best show on television right now.

It is extraordinary. I would say that even if I wasn’t on it. It’s super unique. I don’t imagine anything like that. It’s hard to describe to people when they ask you what is it. I kind of was doing James Bond meets The Office if everyone could curse and get drunk and have sex with each other. I’m so proud of it. I would love the show even if I wasn’t on it. It’s not the hugest thing I do, but it’s definitely my baby for sure. I love it and I love Adam Reed, the guy who created it. And I love everybody who’s on it. It is a love fest. It’s pretty disgusting.

One of the thing that’s great about the show is this weird elasticity it has. Normally in animated shows, there’s a static consistency to everything resolving by the end of the episode — and The Simpsons has done meta-jokes about this, certainly South Park, but Archer plays with that where you have situations like Ray getting paralyzed, and that sticks for a few episodes until suddenly it doesn’t, with almost no explanation.

First of all I love your use of the word elasticity. You already win for best use of an SAT word in an interview. I think that the aforementioned elasticity is built into a greater self-selective creative fog that Adam’s created for the show. You don’t kind of know what time the show is, what year it is. We’ve got modern technology, but the cars, the settings look like it could be the ‘60s, the ‘70s.

There’s also a moral elasticity to this show. I think that there’s something that knits all of these people together. I think you only see glimpses of the emotional or the character undercarriage. That allows us to be comediaclly flexible and to go to where the comedy is funniest. We’re only on I think [episode] 404 right now so I’m trying to think if anybody learns anything. I don’t know that they will. I don’t know that anyone will learn their lesson or grow as a person. I don’t think there are any defined character arcs on Archer. They remain as undisciplined, ill-tempered, selfish and self-destructive as ever. Which is the only way that we would like them. They’re very human, the characters on our show, which I like best about them. They’re not entirely perfect. They’re all just super-flawed, and they kind of act on pure – Archer is the purest id on the show. Everybody else is a little bit more grounded than him, but everyone is just acting on impulse constantly. Total impulse satisfaction at all times. You’re never going to learn when you’re just putting things in your mouth, just putting things into your body constantly by a variety of orifices.

How much input in the show is there for the cast? Is it ad-libby at all, or is it tight to the script?

The scripts are hilarious when they come. They’re really well-written. Adam is just – it’s really overused, the word genius, but he’s an extraordinary talent. That being said, he loves comedy. When we’re all together, it’s just a swordfight the whole time of who could be funniest. Who could tag the other guy’s jokes, who could slam the other person. When you have a whole bunch of people who love comedy, we do all try to tag, or throw our lines in, because we want to make the show as funny as possible. Adam will often go “Hey, take a crack at this. Take a run at this.” My whole goal is to make him laugh.

I’ve been a stand-up for 19 years, almost 20 years now, and I delight in comedic jousting. I delight in great conversation. Every comedian at their core, they love a great story. Also, I’m one of those comedians who, I say this all the time about the things I do, a point for the other guy is a point for the team. If I’m in the company of somebody, and I’m helping them be funny, that’s as good. I’m going to get my licks in, but if everybody’s funny, if everybody’s winning, then I’m winning. I’m about just how can we make this the funniest thing it can possibly be.

You came up in the San Francisco scene in the early ‘90s, right?

Yes. With Patton Oswalt, Blaine Capatch, Brian Posehn, Tom Rhodes, that group of guys who were all kind of doing stand-up at that time in San Francisco.

You see these kind of scenes, like a legend develop around them like Boston in the early ‘80s, down in Texas in the later ‘80s. Do you think there’s any kind of scene like that right now other than New York and L.A.?

That scene when I was starting was like the cresting of the wave of alternative comedy. Marc Maron was actually there in that scene for a long time. People were coming in like Mary Lynn Rajskub, Janeane Garofalo and Dana Gould. All those guys were in San Francisco or coming to San Francisco in a regular basis. I would never in a million years count myself as an alternative comic. I was alternative maybe because people expected me to be Def Jam, but my comedy is a lot more kind of languid than that.

God, I wish I was plugged into the comedy scene now. There are great alternative rooms in L.A. Even though Upright Citizen’s Brigade is more of a sketch-driven theater, they do stand-up shows there. There’s a downtown show called Frolic here. People are trying to push a little bit. But it’s always easy to define a scene from the outside, but when you’re in it you’re just trying to be funny. I don’t know that anybody playing music in the ‘90s in Seattle was saying they were making grunge music. They were just trying to make good music. It hink we tend to want to try to qualify a movement just because it’s easier to make a website or be snarky about it. Which sounded dismissive of your question, and I’m not. But I think when you’re in it, you’re just doing it. You’re finding random people who are doing something that’s similar to yours. Unfortuantely here in L.A., a lot of comedy is driven by people trying to get on TV, so it’s not as cohesive a scene. I have no idea what the hell is going on in other places, because I don’t think about other people. I only think about myself.

Well I think what happens is you see some of the osmosis that goes on. A lot of the people you mentioned share a similar approach with reductio ad absurdum, and very smart analogies – especially Dana Gould, who’s like the king of this just pulling out examples of stuff in a million years you’d never consider, the perfect analogy.

He’s brilliant. He’s just an incredible mind. I hate to do this, I apologize in advance. I guess if there’s a coalescing scene here in L.A., it would be around Nerdist and Comic Meltdown. There’s kind of this affirmation of the outsider comic. Alternative comedy was really about being cool and hip I guess. Kind of the Nerdist scene is more about how much can you embrace your otherness and your outsidership and your lack of cool. That does seem to be a trend. I just sound like some awful fucking blogger. I do feel like right now – my comedy has always been about outsidership. I do think there’s something about the concept of outsidership being everything and nothing. We’re all alike and we’re nothing alike. These guys who kind of get up and they’re not cool and they’re not hip and they’re a little deconstructive. That’s definitely happening.

Speaking of outsidership, you had a big throwdown with the gamer community recently. What’s going on there?

Just interior family violence. Who needs cops? We’re going to resolve this on our own. No, what it was is I’ve been a gamer for a very long time. I hosted a press conference at E3, which is something I go to eveyr year. I was super excited about it because I’m a huge gamer. The response to it was pretty positive. On the Internet, if you get a 6 out of 10, you pretty much got an A-plus. Including a lot of people saying Ubisoft won E3 this year. But there were just some people who said some negative things, because that’s what you do on the Internet. You eat Cheetos and write evil things about people you never met before. When you’re a comic you get used to some people thinking you’re funny, some people thinking you’re not funny. That’s the nature of things. It’s a subjective art form. If you please everybody, you probably weren’t that funny to begin that.

It wasn’t that, and it wasn’t the really racist stuff or the really sexist stuff. That usually makes me laugh out loud. It was the people saying I’ve never held a controller in my life. That I had never played a video game. That was what stuck in my craw. Say whatever you want about me. Say what you want about my family. Call me ugly, call me stupid, call me unfunny, but don’t say I’m not a gamer. I stewed on that for three or four days. I just wanted to write a response. I was just going to put it on my Facebook page. Then the next day it was like the No. 1 story on Reddit, which was not my expectation or intention. But it was great because the response to that letter was incredibly positive and incredibly supportive.

This is a group of outsiders who have become as cliquey as the people that they claim to shun. You’ve got to prove that you’re quyalified to be a gamer. You’ve got to prove you’re a real gamer. It’s all total bullshit. I’ve been playing since I was 7. I just felt the need to get it out. Then it got 3,000 comments and 7,000 hits and got translated into Spanish and French. My friend was like “Where did you post that? Did you send it out the Huffington Post?” No, it was a note on my Facebook page. Which is great. You give voice to the people who go on Xbox Live and hear the worst possible things coming through their headset. As abusive and destructive as any other experience you might have, and these were the same kids that were probably teased mercilessly when they were young and they’ve turned into the people that were once the ones who treated them terrible. It really struck a chord and it was really super positive turning into this crazy manifesto thing.

You’re a foodie, where do you like to eat when you’re here?

I just had a buddy come back and he said the Jose Andres Jaleo is great. I’m going to go there for sure. I go to a couple of very boring places. I really like Nobu at the Hard Rock. I always go there. It’s not particularly exciting I know. I used to go to Aureole a lot. I don’t even know if it’s still there. And I like SW Steakhouse at the Wynn. That’s a great place. I was at the Wynn once and ate there three nights in a low. I’m literally like an old lady. I went at five. I always have the Caesar salad. It’s delicious.

Everyone was freaked out about the Adam Carolla comments. I saw you tweeted about it. Was that a firestorm out of nowhere, because it seems like a little schtick he might do or something.

It’s hard for me because I’ve known Adam forever. I would definitely consider him a friend. I was a guest multiple times on Loveline. I was like his second or third guest he had on his podcast. He was one of my first guests on my podcasts when I started mine. He’s always been incredibly supportive of me. He wouldn’t have had me on his shows if he didn’t think I was funny. He’s a comedian. He says things that he knows are going to get a reaction. It’s funny because I don’t want to be – I’m not a Pollyanna, I’m not a prude. I’m a comic and I’ve also been a staff writer on a show. I’ve pretty much heard everything anybody could ever say about anybody, three or four times in a row with curse words inserted. So nothing really offends me. But I found myself in the position of having to defend him without defending what he said.

He has his sidekick on his show, [Alison Rosen], and he produces her podcast. I think he was just talking. More than that I don’t have an opinion. I make a living regardless of whether Adam or anybody else says in the media. I like the guy. It’s not just that he’s been nice to me, he’s been actively supportive of his career, so I have a hard time believing that’s what he was really saying.

Is there any parallel between women in comedy and for women in the nerdy arts?

Oh sure. Of course. I was raised to really not worry too much about what people think about me and just do the work. The thing that bums me out in the nerd arts, like when I read those comments, the stuff people said that was sexist or racist was just typical. It’s like ugh, no imagination. Come up with new words. It does bum me out sometimes when I’m playing on like Xbox Live and people say crazy stuff into the earphones. Again, not particularly imaginative, not particularly hurtful either. Just pathetic. It just bums you out. Now I sound like a hip-hop song, but haters are going to hate. The Internet is just a haven for hateration. People are going to stay stuff even they don’t believe, because they’re agitants. But the world’s full of assholes, right?

With your podcast you went in a little different direction – it’s not a lot of the same people you see on the comedy podcast circuit. Was that a conscious decision or was it a function of the people you knew?

It was a conscious decision that I wanted to do something that was different. That I wanted to throw my net wider. I was watching friends of mine who have great shows cannibalizing the same list of guests over and over again. We were all going to be facing an inevitable comparison to Marc’s show and I didn’t wnt people to say this is just like Marc’s show. I really wanted to carve out a piece of territory that was my own and that I felt was like my personal areas of interest were broader than just talking to other comedians. When you do that, when you limit yourself in that way you’re going to do a super deep dive. You’re going to run out of names. There was stuff I was interested in that was just broader and more diverse. I love comedians, but now I get to have the comedians on that I’m interested in rather than it having to be a comic every week. It’s been great, because the feedback I get is “I love your show. Sometimes I don’t know who you’re even talking to, but it’s always really compelling.” That was my goal to expose the people who listen to the show to a wider array of people that I find interesting rather than just relying on names, or having to rely on names and then being frustrated like “I can’t get Jim Carrey this week, so I’ve got to get my buddy from the open mic to come on.”