Issue July 21, 2010

Wizards, fart jokes & Hyland

Sarah Hyland is a Louisville native who is returning to town this weekend to perform at the Comedy Caravan with comedian John Fox. After graduating from Assumption, she attended art school in Chicago, where she worked at legendary comedy spots Second City and Zanie’s. With the encouragement of many of the comics around her, Sarah made the leap to Los Angeles, where she was eventually cast on Ashton Kutcher’s celebrity prank show “Punk’d.” There’s also a bevy of clips on Funny or Die and YouTube where she plays whacked-out characters like La Sarah (a rapper), Kentucky Lightning (a mullet-toting athlete) and Paris Hilton. Don’t be misled by her adorable, blonde exterior, though: “I don’t look like I’d be counter culture,” she says. “But on the inside … I’m dying … dying! There’s wizards and shit in there, believe me.”

LEO: So how does the Catholic school girl become a dirty comic?

Sarah Hyland: It was get pregnant or become a “Fart Joke” comic; they said take your pick, and I was like: I’ll take fart jokes — I don’t even know how to tie my shoes yet.

LEO: What made you wanna do comedy?

SH: I didn’t do a lot of theater in high school — that would require attention, and reading scripts, and shit — and I was not in the mood for that. So they would always ask me to host the talent shows, I could improvise those, and that kinda became my thing.

LEO: And that led you to Chicago?

SH: I went to art school, for visual arts, in Chicago, and there everyone told me I had to go to Second City. So I went to Second City and waited tables in the main stage. I’d be so hungover, I’d eat all the cherries and oranges they had left on the bar, and every now and then I would go down and sell T-shirts.

LEO: So what instigated the move to Los Angeles?

SH: I worked at a smoothie shop next to Zanie’s (in Chicago) where all the comics would come in because they were hungover from the night before, and we would banter back and fourth. And I met Doug Stanhope there. Then I started working at Zanie’s and hanging out with all the comics who were still like: “You should write, Hyland.” So I moved out to L.A. and slept on Stanhope’s couch for the first nine months without a job.

LEO: What were you picturing for yourself when you went to L.A.? Was it to be a comic, movie star, a celebrity, what?

SH: It was gonna be a blackout for the first nine months, is what it was actually gonna be. When I was 11, I told my dad at Applebee’s that I was moving out to L.A. He was like, “Oh, no shit? Why don’t you at least get your driver’s license first?” So I always had an idea I was going to L.A. — I didn’t know what was over there; I just knew I had to get there. Then I got there, and it’s a lot of beauty queens trying to out-beauty the other queens.

LEO: You’re not implying that people in L.A. are self-centered, are you?

SH: It’s the nature of the beast out there. You don’t move to L.A. to help people. But I still consider myself Kentucky; when I’m out there I feel like a retard, I smile and shit, I hold doors open for people — they don’t do that. You learn to be a dick … it’s not engrained in you.

LEO: What would you say about your style of comedy?

SH: People don’t expect me to as odd as I am. A lot of people compare me to Lily Tomlin because I do a lot of characters, but I kinda base my show on exactly who’s in the audience. It’s a lot of improvisation. I’m not an offensive comic, I don’t go up there to offend people — I’m not Stanhope. I’m very much a light person — I leave the heavy stuff to the big burly motherfuckers, the guys that can take a punch.

LEO: Is a woman’s experience in the comedy industry different than a man’s?

SH: Yeah. Definitely in L.A.; you have to kinda fight a little bit to convince people that this is actually happening. It’s like, “Yeah, this is a comedy club, I’m really here, I got the mic — so we’re gonna either hold hands and do this or we’re gonna have a really rough fuckin’ 20 minutes.” But ultimately it’s still the same thing, if you’re funny you’re funny; if you’re not … well you’re fuckin’ not. Either way, female or male, you have to work your ass off.

LEO: Any horror stories from the stage?

SH: It was really all the first times, I mean you’re barely making it just living, and then they put a microphone in front of you — and you think this is going to be so harsh. But it’s breakin’ the cherry, and it’s painful, it’s bloody, nobody likes to go through with it, but you’ve gotta get in there and break it out.

LEO: Being alone on a stage with nothing but a mic puts you in a vulnerable position. Is there a masochistic tendency that goes with doing stand-up?

SH: You’re making me think I shouldn’t do it anymore. Like Whitney (Cummings) says: it’s a lot of dysfunction that comes out in different ways. That’s all it is. Some people drink a lot, some people do a lot of drugs … I do this for pain. It’s like cutting but more obvious. Comedy … it’s the new cutting. 

LEO: Do you still like doing open mics?

SH: Yeah, you always learn something, ya’ know what I mean? I’ve been to open mics where literally it’s just a homeless man in the front row wearing earmuffs and drinking his own piss. I’m pretty sure it was his own piss; it’s a Gatorade bottle, but definitely not Gatorade. But every time you get behind a microphone, bad or good, three or 300 people, you always learn something.

LEO: What can we expect from your show at the Caravan?

SH: I love playing here; a lot of my family will be there. I’ll be doing some stuff I’ve never done before so it might fail it might not. That’s the fun of doing this. And if it fails, I’ve gotten really good at failing; I’ve gotten amazing at recovering. I’m really excited to see how it goes.