Interview: Sharon Spell
Women & Body Image
Sharon Spell has been doing comedy in NYC for over a decade! Her quick wit and invitingly warm Southern charm have helped her gain a steady and loyal following throughout her career. Outside of killing it at the gazillion standup gigs that she’s done over the years, she’s also hosted long standing shows at UCB, writes and stars in her acclaimed webseries “Sad Marriage,” and has a weekly podcast, “The Sharon Spell Show” that recently hit 100 episodes. BanterGirl was lucky enough to catch up with the woman known for having “the best hair in the biz” and talk to her about how she found her career in comedy, what’s changed in the scene over the years, and how overcoming loss has helped her to find her true self.
How did you find yourself pursuing a career in comedy?
My family is funny, so I got a healthy dose of it as a kid. My parents even let me watch SNL when I was little, so some of my earliest memories include a desire to pursue a career in comedy. But, when puberty hit, my shyness got the better of me, and I became really introverted. I was a nerd and unpopular, which I get now: I was a weirdo in South Mississippi. Fortunately, that taught me empathy and patience—two things that go a long way in showbiz (or any biz for that matter). But, I had a dream, and I still thought it was worthwhile to follow. Comedy prowess doesn't happen overnight (I'm working on it!).
Your webseries “Sad Marriage” is fantastic! What do you think it takes to make a successful and on-point web series?
“Sad Marriage” is loosely based around tense moments from my own sad marriage which ended in divorce. This is a peek into those relationships that we all know: these couples don't have children, have barely shared property. They're not wealthy, but not in debt. You don't know why these two people are still together (and neither do they). People can connect with that in their own lives. Misery loves company. We all know that couple, and if we're lucky we have been that couple (and successfully walked away). This series is a love letter to the end of bad times.
As a comedian, you’ve done stand up, sketch, improv, podcasts, webisodes, one-woman shows, and storytelling. What’s your favorite medium?
My favorite is the one with the nearest deadline. Sometimes my ideas are visual, sometimes they're wordplay. If something makes me laugh, I want to share it. Overall, I'm working smarter not harder, so I'm doing fewer live shows and focusing on podcasts and webisodes. I still get overextended at times. I wish my system were a little more automated.
As a longstanding member of the NYC comedy scene, how have you seen it change over the years?
One different thing is that we no longer have to submit Betamax recordings for auditions, AMIRITE?
I don't know that the scene has changed as much as what I want from the scene has. The scene still feels pretty transient. People hop on and hop off at any point. I produced, booked, and hosted a show for 6 years, and a lot of people I've met here have moved or quit. Sometimes I feel like I did a lot of work for nothing. It can feel like people aren't watching or listening, but they are. It's not for nothing. It's worth it to keep plugging away.
I've had some recent conversations about, "when do you quit?" I know a lot of people who've quit. I've slowed down at times, but I never quit. I have a tendency to be the last one at the party. I love laughing and making people laugh, and I want it to go on and on. I always want to be at this party.
Your parents’ untimely death has influenced a lot of your work. Do you feel like incorporating that into your performances has helped you heal?
There's a balance between processing and wallowing. Wallowing is part of the process, but if you process too long, you start to wallow. I watch that balance as best I can.
The Spells' motto is "Don't embarrass the family." And while I don't want to embarrass my siblings, they're more understanding of my humor than my parents were. Their passing has freed me to become more of my own person. The downside is that I wanted them to be around for my next successes. I definitely keep plugging away because of them.
You don't ever get over the death of a loved one, but you learn to walk with it. I'm more comfortable with it now, so blurting out to an audience, "My parents are dead," is a bit like flashing people a surgery scar. I'm mostly healed but their reactions are new.
Having lived with and worked through grief, what has been the most eye-opening realizations for you in regards to love and loss?
Love bigger and burn bridges where you need. Say the things you need to say today. Do your best and be kind to yourself and others in this moment. Needing other people led me to learn who my friends were. At a certain point, you grow at peace with it and move forward.
What does the future hold for Sharon Spell?
Lots of conversations I want to have. More parties. Maybe more things with a conveyor belt.