Having helped launch the careers of Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart, and Hannibal Buress, the Just For Laughs (JFL) comedy festival’s New Faces of Comedy showcase has become a coveted career milestone for young comedians internationally. Each year, comics selected are given six minutes to showcase their best material for audiences in Montreal and prove themselves to be future comedic legends. Following this year’s festival, The McGill Tribune chatted with Blair Socci and Christi Chiello—two New York-based stand-up comedians and New Faces—about their careers, and what keeps them going back onstage every night.
For Blair Socci, attending JFL as a member of the first New Faces cast was the cherry on top of a wild year. Over the course of her fifth year as a stand-up comic, Socci wrote and published a cartoon titled Rodney Loves Blair, celebrated the third anniversary of her monthly show Nacho Bitches, which she hosts with Guys We [email protected]#ked’s Corinne Fisher, and started her own podcast, How to Be A Beefy Woman.
Socci was a fan and follower of stand-up comedy for some time before trying her first set, after a former boyfriend introduced her to it. Looking back, she admits to showing all the signs of a wannabe comedian, without recognizing it in herself.
“I was working at W magazine, I was an intern in New York, and I pitched an article on Michael Che, who had just had like one week at Saturday Night Live,” Socci said. “And I interviewed him, and I was asking all these questions about his first time on stage, and […] I didn’t understand that I was like, asking those questions because I wanted to start [stand-up].”
It wasn’t until leaving that relationship that it ultimately dawned on Socci to try her hand at stand-up. Counterintuitively, the numbness she felt while going through her breakup gave her a sense of fearlessness about going on stage.
“My legs shook the first like, eight times I was on stage,” Socci admitted. “But considering, I was pretty uninhibited because I was so upset about the breakup. My attitude was kind of like nothing can hurt me more than I feel right now. So, yeah, and then I started comedy and now it’s been like, five years.”
Since starting in comedy, Socci has written for humour publications like Reductress and Splitsider.com. In 2016, she was cast on MTV’s feminist prank show LadyLike. More recently, Socci started her own comedy podcast, titled How To Be A Beefy Woman. The idea for the podcast came from Socci’s own experiences with feeling masculine, or ‘beefy’—a topic she touches upon in her stand-up comedy with similar candor.
“I grew up with a bunch of […] older brothers, and they had all their friends around and it was just like, a very masculine environment,” Socci said. “I think of [the word ‘beefy’] as just like, all the things I’m interested in. Like, I always had a super athletic body, […] I have a lot of jokes in my act about like, red meat and steak […] how I judge men by how they eat their steak cooked [….] So that’s kind of what that’s about, but we talk about food, we talk about embarrassing stories, and we talk about how to live real large.”
Many comedy podcast listeners tune in with the expectation of laughing—a reality that can feel like added pressure for the hosts. Yet, Socci tries not to get caught up in feeling the need to be nonstop funny on How To Be a Beefy Woman in the same way she would during a stand-up set.
“When you’re interviewing your friends and they’re comedians, [being funny] just kind of happens naturally,” Socci said. “I don’t need to have a laugh every moment, like there’s gonna be real moments where you’re just talking normally, but usually it gets pretty crazy naturally without having to even worry about like, making it too performative.”
As she recovers from a busy week at JFL, Socci is now turning her attention towards writing new material. Achieving milestones like being cast in New Faces leaves many comedians overwhelmed by the prospect of “what’s next.” But Socci feels exhilarated, rather than anxious, by the idea of working toward growth and improvement in the future.
“I’ve never stuck with anything the way I’ve stuck with comedy,” Socci said. “I do feel so connected to it, and it’s something that like, you could never be done with or master, there’s always work. Even people 25 years in, you know, are still like, trying to get better. And I love that because it keeps me so engaged every day.”
Christi Chiello’s upbeat nature is contagious; her comedic style is sharp and witty, and her naturally quirky voice draws the audience in from the minute she puts her mouth to the mic. After a successful year that included facing Jimmy Carr in Comedy Central’s Roast Battle and the advent of her podcast Talking Funny with Christi, the New York-based comic charmed Montreal audiences at JFL in late July as a member of the second New Faces cast.
Chiello’s positive energy conveys a natural comfort onstage, which she has developed ever since starting theatre in her early childhood. In fact, she moved to New York City immediately after high school to pursue a career on Broadway. While studying various fields in acting, Chiello came across improv theatre, and soon after, stand-up comedy—and soon fell in love with the format.
“My dream was to be on Broadway, and when I moved to New York, […] in acting school we had to take these improv classes, and I really enjoyed doing that, and I found myself just wanting to do comedy,” Chiello explained. “I started taking classes at [Upright Citizen’s Brigade], because I liked doing improv in acting school, and then I realized that I don’t like improv, I just like standing on my own, talking.”
Chiello admits to having a slow start to her career, when she would perform at open mic shows no more than once per month, yet still called herself a comic—something she laughs at now that she goes on stage almost nightly. Looking back, Chiello also recognizes the integral role that her unique voice played in guiding her jokes at the start of her career. In fact, Chiello attributes much of her success in Roast Battles to the comedic value behind her sweet, non-threatening disposition. But as she grows as a comedian, Chiello is learning to write jokes that are more authentic to who she is, rather than the image of herself that she projects onstage.
“I realized really early on that I have an interesting voice, and if I say dirty things and bad words, the shock value is present,” Chiello said. “When I first started I just relied on that way too much, and you know, I’m just now learning like what I should be writing about. Like, it took me years. And I still don’t know. I think that a big [thing] I thought to myself all the time [was] ‘What should I joke about?’ I just always looked at myself as an outsider looking in, being like, ‘Oh what would that type of girl talk about, instead of just thinking like, ‘What do I want to talk about?’”
As she searches for her comedic voice, Chiello heavily employs trial and error to perfect new material. Even after years in stand-up comedy, she performs in open mics frequently in order to test out a joke she’s just written in a low stakes setting.
“I’ll just have a thought [of] like, ‘Oh, that’s something I should talk about!’ and I’ll make a note of it in my phone, and I’ll be like, ‘Ok well I gotta go to an open mic tonight and try it out,” Chiello said. “It’s just like, kind of having an idea, and then going on stage and riffing, literally just talking for three minutes to see if anything funny is coming out of my mouth. And then I record every single set I’ve ever done, I record the audio on my phone, so I’ll go home, listen to it, and listen and be like ‘I can hear when people laugh,’ and be like ‘Oh ok, I should keep that part and then lose the other three minutes,’ so I kind of write a lot as I perform too.”
Chiello’s love for performing has ultimately kept her in the stand-up world despite its plethora of challenges.
“Even at its worst day, I love stand-up more than I could love anything else,” Chiello said. “They always say like, if you are happy doing something else and you also do stand-up, you should do the something else. If something else makes you happy, do that. Because […] choosing this career is so challenging and it, you know, has so many hurdles […] But my life would be so empty without it.”