If You Can’t Be Funny, Just Be Interesting
Photo Credit: Amin Hasani/Unsplash
Getting in front of an audience can be nerve-racking for some, but for Ophira Eisenberg, a Canadian-born standup comedian and writer, it’s just part of the gig. Eisenberg hosts NPR’s nationally syndicated comedy trivia show Ask Me Another, where she interviews, jokes, and plays games with celebrities and notable figures such as Sir Patrick Stewart, Awkwafina, Roxane Gay, Terry Crews, and more.
Eisenberg is a regular host and performer at the popular storytelling event The Moth, filmed her comedy special Inside Joke when she was 8-and-a-half months pregnant, wrote a comedic memoir about dating and relationships, and was selected as one of New York Magazine’s Top 10 Comics that Funny People Find Funny.
But like most people who work in an artistic field, Eisenberg didn’t start out as one of NPR’s most well-known program hosts. To learn more about how she got to where she is today, CircleAround asked Eisenberg to bestow some insight, wit, and wisdom.
1. Rejection Is Inevitable
Most actors, musicians, and other performers agree: in this industry, you’ll be met with more no’s than yes’s. However, these experiences make you stronger every time and lead you to bigger things.
She auditioned to host NPR’s Ask Me Another seven years ago and landed the job. But she knows she couldn’t have gotten there if she’d been discouraged by the rejection process. It can be challenging and emotional, but perseverance can pay off. Eisenberg tells CircleAround that now, she goes into every opportunity hoping to make a connection, but knowing there’s a chance of rejection is an ingrained part of the process.
2. So, Focus on the People Who Do Like Your Stuff
One way to keep your mindset positive is to surround yourself with people who believe in you. Eisenberg knows having a solid support system is key, but that it’s also vital to take advantage of professional networks of people who have your back.
“I would say the biggest challenges are: staying focused, not comparing yourself, your progress, or accomplishments with anyone else,” she tells CircleAround. Keeping active with your support network will help encourage you to keep going. “[Hold on to] the feeling that your work impacts people's lives in a positive way — either by making them laugh, think, or simply just [helping them] to connect and not feel so alone in this world.”
3. The Truth Is Always the Best Material
“If you can’t be funny, just be interesting,” says Eisenberg. She studied cultural anthropology and theater in college and feels it provided a unique foundation for the work she does today. But mostly, she doesn’t let her experiences hold her back from performing. If anything, she knows there’s a power in sharing them with others who are likely going through the same things.
“A well-told personal story requires vulnerability,” she tells CircleAround. “Reaching deep inside to tell the truth of what happened, and the courage to not hide behind a character or a better version of yourself.”
Discovering The Moth was a game-changer for her. “These storytelling stages allowed me to find my voice, and that profoundly influenced my writing, stand-up, and storytelling.”
4. It’s Important to Be Nimble and Flexible
“I am definitely a ‘say yes to everything’ kind of person, and I do think it has served me well both working for myself and a large organization,” Eisenberg says. But this year, her real-life performances, storytelling events, and other opportunities have all been modified as a result of the global pandemic.
“As a stand-up comedian and storyteller, I formally performed live and toured all over the country – now I do it all from Zoom, plus the occasional outdoor show.”
Ask Me Another used to be recorded in front of a live audience in Brooklyn, but Eisenberg and her team didn’t let that stop them from continuing to produce the program — they just had to get creative. They were able to figure out ways to record the show from home, creating an entirely new way of presenting their material.
5. Hard Work Really Does Pay Off
Eisenberg firmly believes that, at the end of the day, even despite the constant flow of rejection, working hard in a field you love definitely pays off.
“This is now my career, but for years I just wrote material and got up on any stage that would have me (think corner of a bar) so I could practice my act, see and hear how my jokes went over and find my voice. It took me years and years to make some money at it, let alone enough to feed myself,” Eisenberg explains. “Sometimes that hard work has to continue for years and years and years. I know no one who has found a workaround.”
Eisenberg never gave up and continued honing in on her craft. She's continuing to do what she loves, even within an unconventional setting.