Some comedians start their careers in their hometown, then move to the big flashy lights of New York or LA. Others launch in NYC and cut out the middle part. Then there’s Carmen Lagala, who started her career doing open mics in Burlington, was pivotal in fomenting a comedy scene there, and in time left for the Big Apple.
In her first year of comedy, Lagala became a co-owner of Vermont’s first comedy club. Eight years later, she’s heading to Boston, a town that’s been good to her over the years, among other places, to headline. Ahead of her performance at Zone 3 on Western Avenue in Cambridge, I asked about her humble Green Mountain beginnings.
What sparked the move from Vermont to New York?
I wanted to leave Vermont. I had been there for most of my life, but I was looking for a big change. I was looking to do comedy every night, multiple times a night. And you can really only do that in New York City. You can’t do that in Vermont.
How did you start doing comedy in a place where there wasn’t comedy to begin with?
It was very rare. I was doing it maybe three times a month at first. By the time I moved I could get up seven times a week. I would do music open mics and just sign up as a comedian. … I think my first year of comedy in New York City was about equivalent to four years in Vermont. Even though that was crucial to forming who I am as a comedian.
Did you find the constant New York grind to be daunting?
Definitely. I really enjoyed doing it, though. I think what is crucial to not quitting is you kind of have to enjoy it and be masochistic. A lot of times you’re just like, How can I make a joke? All of these people hate me. It’s all about making friends. That is legitimately most of it, just making friends and getting booked by your friends. Your friends are the only ones who will help you in this industry.
One of the common downfalls of comedians happens to be social anxiety and being afraid to talk to other people. Was that something you had to learn to get over?
Yeah, I have a lot of anxiety currently. But even before I did comedy, I wouldn’t talk in class. I would have panic attacks. I wouldn’t even raise my hand in a classroom full of people. … But I’ve always wanted to perform. … It took me seven years before I even approached a stage and tried it.
You co-owned and operated a comedy club when you first started comedy. What was the process of going from doing comedy to owning a business?
At that point, I just needed like a big change. I got an interview for a job at a newspaper. I was an English major, and I got that job at the same time that my friend was like, Hey, do you want to open a comedy club together? And I was like, I’m a year into comedy, that sounds great. I know everything. It’ll be perfect. I turned down the job with the newspaper. … My friend from New York City who had the money to do a startup business had a full-time job working for the state, so he could never help out. I would Google, “How do you get the rights to serve alcohol?” Like I had no idea.
What was the daily routine of trying to keep it open?
It was mostly selling paninis and iced coffees. I really wanted to do the comedy side of things, but all the money was made on this fucking iced coffee. It takes like five minutes-plus to make this stupid stupid coffee. I would just sit behind this thousand-year-old register that would constantly make mistakes and dole out the coffee as well as trying to figure out the finances. We were losing hundreds of dollars a day. It sucked.
Do you feel like you came out like more knowledgeable, or was it that was a complete waste of everyone’s time and efforts?
Definitely more knowledgeable, but it was a place born out of ignorance. If I had the chance, I would never do it again. It was a huge nightmare. It sucked so much. I was just getting blamed for things I couldn’t help. It was terrible.
Last year you made your network television debut. What was the experience from when the booker said, We would like you to do Stephen Colbert?
Before they even told me that they wanted me to do this show it was at least a two-and-a-half-month preprocess. And then once they wanted to work with me, it was another for four months until we taped and then another month or so until it aired. So it was almost a year. I met with the booker, and we picked out a set, she had three jokes she had in mind for me. … I asked if I could say “vulva” on stage and they didn’t answer me, so I was like, “I’m just going to say it and if they bleep it out, that’s fine.”
Have there been any incidents that separate you from other comics solely because of gender?
That was something I didn’t even think about as much at first.When I first moved [to New York], it was a lot of just being on guard constantly. Other comics would be, Oh yeah, I thought about this while I was on the train. I couldn’t think about my jokes walking home, I was thinking about that group of three guys on the corner, and how I should behave right now so I don’t draw attention.
What is Puppets Presents?
It’s a show Kelsey Caine and I came up with. We pretend the ghost of Jim Henson turned us into puppets, then we have to perform as puppets. We would interview comedians for as long as we could hold our hands up, which was usually two and a half minutes. It’s very fun and silly, it’s a lot of hard work. I’m always really, really sore afterwards ’cause puppeteering is hard.
I love puppets. I own puppets. I would love to own all the puppets in the world. I am obsessed with puppets. It’s more of like a creepy obsession that nobody knows about. … I think they’re hilarious.
CARMEN LAGALA. ON COMEDY PARTY AT ZONE 3 IN ALLSTON FRI 3.22. TICKETS AND MORE INFO AT COMEDY-PARTY.COM.