Interview: Comedian Katie Rose Leon

Editor Shenyah Webb, Interview, April 15th, 2013

"I can talk to people, in like, human sentences, and not just like, throw up all over myself."

comedian Katie Rose Leon

Nailed Magazine conducted a series of interviews with comedians for the 2013 Bridgetown Comedy Fest in Portland, Oregon.

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NAILED: You grew up on the east coast and made your way to the west upon finishing your BFA in cartooning and illustration. When did you decide that standup was a calling?

KATIE ROSE LEON: I have always been a fan of standup and I am a lifetime ham. When I was in art school I used to pull these all-nighters on a fairly regular basis. Usually around 5 a.m. I would have an existential crisis about my life choices, and because I considered it too stereotypically ‘art school’ to see a counselor, I would let whatever was on TV dictate my new career path.

Once it was an Animal Planet special called “Growing Up Moose.” It was about these women who were raising baby moose on a large wildlife preserve in Canada. I spent the next two hours typing into Google things like, “professional moose care taker” and “how to be a moose lady.” After awhile I lost interest and went back to drawing buttholes on dogs or whatever it was I was doing. Then one night during my regularly scheduled trip into the void of despair, “The Comedians of Comedy” came on to the late night rotation on Comedy Central. I was already pretty enamored with the comedians in that special (Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Zack Galafinakis, and Brian Posehn), and because anything seemed better than confusing what I was doing (probably a drawing composition that contained more than one sad bunny), I tried to write some jokes.

Jump forward about four years later and I am living in Portland and have long forgotten about the list of jokes I had written in a sadness spiral in a dorm room when I was nineteen. The then-boyfriend and I were trying to figure out some activity we could do in the outside world, a task more difficult than it seems, seeing as he worked from home and we had done everything in our power to make our apartment a black hole of social anxiety and the nerdy comforts that both soothe and perpetuate it. We came up with checking out an open mic.

We went and and I was overwhelmed with the sensation of being antsy. The thought keeps repeating in my head, “I am definitely funnier than the worst five people here.” Soon after, I do my first open mic at the Helium comedy club and astonishingly I do okay. Having immediate positive feedback was new to me, and I loved it, a little too much. I had never been so immediately good at anything in my life. I spent almost 10 years trying to learn to draw well, and here I spent three minutes talking into a microphone and have gotten ten times more of a positive response than I have ever did from drawing comic books.

The next week I go to some different open mics and get the traditional comedy newcomer greeting from the audience, silence and the occasional grunt. But this time instead of falling into grips of sadness and turning to the TV for a new direction, I kept going. I just enjoyed the feeling too much. I have never felt more like myself.

NAILED: Did you explore this performance art in NYC where you studied, or did it begin in Portland?

KATIE ROSE LEON: When I was living in New York I was still balls-deep in contemporary illustration and comic culture. Performing standup just wasn’t on my radar, I was too busy trying to find the next James Jean on livejournal, or crawling up and kissing David Mazzucchelli’s asshole. Like, Gary Panter was my portfoilo instuctor, I couldn’t be bothered to think about anything but comic books.

I had mediocre mini-comcis to print and Criterion DVDs to watch; I could just go be funny at parties later. I moved to Portland because I was sad and because the guy I was with had friends there and when you live in one place your whole life, your perspective gets messed up. Where I moved to felt arbitrary, at the time I just felt like I had to leave. I’m glad it ended up being Portland. Sort of. Most of the time. Yeah it’s fine. Right. Okay I mean, no restaurant delivers here. What the hell is up with that?

NAILED: You are an artist of many media and all seem to have the thread of humor. Your illustration and comics, your music, and of course, your standup. Do you ever intertwine your musical projects or illustrations with your standup performance? If so, how did that work out? If not, do you have that desire?

KATIE ROSE LEON: I have always been into being funny, be it whatever creative outlet I choose. However, I find the idea of combing these other things, drawing, music etc. for the most part overwhelmingly shticky. It’s my personal feeling that If I need a tiny accordion to make you think I’m funny, maybe I’m not just funny in the first place. That is not to say people who do choose to use other creative elements in their standup aren’t talented.

Some of my favorite acts do this but it’s not for me. Maybe once I get to the point in my comedy game where I am totally confident, I will break out my drum machine. Honestly some of my comics are humorous but most of them are, like, about my abstract feelings of anxiety. I need to work that stuff out on paper so when I go out I can talk to people, in like, human sentences, and not just like, throw up all over myself.

NAILED: When was the last time you nailed it?

KATIE ROSE LEON: Two days ago I had a burrito for every meal. That’s three burritos. I am pretty sure that is considered “living the dream.” Except they weren’t delivered.

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Better known locally in Portland as a stand up comedian, many are surprised to find that Katie Rose Leon also has a B.F.A in cartooning and illustration from School of the Visual Arts, located in Manhattan (and by surprised I mean you can figure it out within thirty seconds of conversation with her). Raised on Long Island, Katie likes kaiju monsters, baseball, plastic animals, burritos, new wave, and mid century modern furniture.

This interview was conducted during Portland’s annual Bridgetown Comedy Fest, which takes place on the weekend of April 18 – 21, 2013. Click here for information on shows that feature Katie Rose Leon during the 2013 festival. [Photo Via: vimeo.com]

Shenyah Webb

Shenyah Webb is originally from Detroit; she studied Psychology at Michigan State University, and later finished in Industrial Design with an Art Therapy minor at The College of Creative Studies. She lives and works in Portland with her husband and son. She is a visual artist, and musician under the name Lithopedion. Her self-titled EP was released in 2013. Shenyah is the Arts Editor and a Contributing Editor for Nailed Magazine.