A Comedian with Plenty of Notable Acting Credits
Erica Rhodes has been acting professionally since she made her first appearance on A Prairie Home Companion at age ten. Since then, she’s appeared on Prairie numerous times, performing with, among others, Meryl Streep, Martin Sheen, and Allison Janney. Since arriving in LA nine years ago, Erica has booked numerous TV and film roles, including the cult horror film Plague Town. She also starred in the hit web series Upstairsgirls, which garnered 250,000,000 views. Her TV appearances include Comedy Bang Bang, New Girl, and Comedy Central’s Why? with Hannibal Buress. Most recently she guest starred on Modern Family.
Coast-to-Coast Stand-up Resume
Erica is also a respected stand-up comedian who has performed all over the country, including Sketchfest (San Francisco), and the Boston Comedy Festival. Erica also appeared on Howard Stern’s Wrap Up after his website named her one of the top nine comics to watch.
1st Amendment Media (1AM) sat down for a chat with Erica – an attractive, warm, cheerful, and very funny young woman – over coffee and traffic on Sunset Boulevard to discuss her career and the challenges women face in the stand-up comedy and acting worlds.
1AM: What are the expectations these days for a female comic?
Erica Rhodes: It’s changed a lot. But many female comics still think they have to be like a guy, you know, ballsy and brassy and tough. And now there’s this thing where, supposedly, feminism means talking about your vagina a lot. How is that feminism? It’s almost going too far. The difference between Sarah Silverman, for instance, and so many of today’s female comics is that, if you look at the structure of her jokes, she’s a really really smart writer. Sometimes female comics go, “Oh, she just works dirty,” but it’s not just that. It’s the writing. So I have a little issue with leaning towards the blue just to get an easy laugh. I try to go against that.
1AM: Tell me about your approach to comedy.
Erica Rhodes: It’s funny. People who know comedy compare me to young Woody Allen or Mitch Hedberg, so I don’t really get compared to other female comics, which I actually like. I like being compared to smart writers. I started writing short jokes, one liners, and now I’m trying to branch out and make it a little more cohesive, more story-like.
My manager says that comedy is going in a stupider and stupider direction; people are writing dumber jokes, and audiences want easier humor. If you look back at early Woody Allen, his stuff was so smart and people appreciated that. And now it’s a little bit hard to be a smart comic. It’s actually harder to be a smart comic than a female comic. (Laughs)”
1AM: Also being a very pretty girl…
Erica Rhodes: I have such a weird relationship with that because people tell me that, but I never felt that way. Whatever makes you confident or makes you feel good about yourself, I’ve never felt like a “pretty girl.” I’ve always felt kinda awkward and not quite comfortable in my skin. When I first moved here [to Los Angeles] and they’d send me out for pretty girl roles, I wouldn’t ever book those. I was more quirky, my voice is quirky, and once you get to know me, there’s more going on than that. So it’s irrelevant because I don’t identify that way. It’s not what I value about myself.
At the same time, it’s detrimental with comedy. They [the audience] see a pretty girl, and they immediately discount me. They think, “She can’t be funny.” So in my act, I play with the audience’s expectation of what they think I’m going to be. They think I’m not going to be that smart, but then I am smart, and smart audiences get that I’m playing with that. There’s a lot of meta in my act. The stupid audiences are like, “I don’t get it. Why isn’t she talking about her boobs?”
On Why Erica Started Doing Stand-up
One of the reasons I started doing stand-up was that the acting just wasn’t going anywhere and I thought, “I just can’t keep doing this. It’s not rewarding.”
1AM: Let’s talk a bit about your acting career. What was your most rewarding Hollywood experience?
Erica Rhodes: A thing that no one will ever see: this independent film called Big Sky. We worked on it for two years: me and this other guy would meet once a week for a year and improvise to find these characters. Then we did a road trip from LA to Montana, we filmed all the way as we went. No script. No structure. And when you watch it on [director Marco Capalbo’s] website, it never plays in the same order. (Laughs) But at the end, I had this amazing emotional reaction. I was sobbing and sobbing, which wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t gone through the whole process.
1AM: You have 90,000 Twitter followers. How important is it for a performer to develop a social media presence?
Erica Rhodes: Very important right now, especially for a stand-up. I work on my Twitter an hour or so every day. The Internet is a necessary evil, but I don’t love it. What I love about stand-up is it’s really raw. You have to show up somewhere, you have to be in front of real people. It’s the opposite of all the Internet stuff. It’s more pure.
1AM: Talk about Prairie Home Companion.
Erica Rhodes: My mom introduced Garrison [Keillor] to my aunt, and they ended up getting married, and then they all came to see me in Boston in The Nutcracker when I was ten. Then we all went out to dinner and I was very shy, I don’t think I said anything during the whole meal other than, “Pass the salt.” And I remember very clearly Garrison looking over at me like, “What just came out of her mouth?” Because I had a very tiny voice, people called me Squeaky when I was a kid. So I ended up doing the show – I played his conscience – and it went really well. So I’ve been on since I was ten years old.
Garrison has been a mentor and a lifesaver – anytime I’ve been in a really low place in my life, anytime I went through a break-up or something he’d say, “Come do the show.” So now I almost feel like when I’m doing well he doesn’t have me on. (Laughs) I remember the first time I did stand-up in New York: I just totally bombed. Garrison said, “Well, go to sleep, wake up, and do it again tomorrow.” It was really good advice – just keep doing it.
We also co-wrote the “Dear Diary” scripts, which he invented for me. But I also learned I wanted to make my own thing – I wanted to make my own world in stand-up comedy, which is what he did on his show.
1AM: What’s your advice to someone coming to LA with similar aspirations to yours?
Erica Rhodes: I would say definitely don’t just be an actor. Make your own projects, don’t just wait around. The more control you have over your career, the better. And don’t let the industry decide who you are. You figure out who you are first, or the industry will peg you as what they think you are. Like the pretty girl thing.