By Nathan Alexander
Described in the New York Times as a “sly young comic,” Ariel is a regular performer at the famed Comedy Cellar in New York City. She has performed as the warm-up comedian for the set of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and was selected as one of the 2021 New Faces of Comedy at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal.
She brings her witty observations and unique perspective to comedy clubs all over the country.
Ariel was kind enough to answer some questions for Louisville Laughs.
Louisville Laughs: You grew up in Kentucky. What’s it like coming back to perform?
Ariel Elias: “It’s a little disconcerting looking out into the audience and seeing my Sunday school teacher and the parents of the kids I babysat. But I love coming home. The second my car crosses into Kentucky I feel relaxed, like OK, I know where everything here is and I understand how this place works.”
At what point did you know you wanted to be a comedian?
“The first time I did standup was sort of on a whim in college. I just wanted to see if I could do it. But as soon as I got my first laugh, I knew that was it. That was the high I wanted for the rest of my life.”
Your website says you “made everyone laugh during your bat mitzvah, and the rest is history.” Do you remember any of your jokes from that day?
“The only one I remember, and this makes me sound like a real brat, was when the Rabbi gave me these two books on Judaism, and I said, ‘does this mean I have to write MORE thank you notes?’ It crushed.”
What was it like working as the warm-up comedian for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?
“I did warm-up for Maisel a handful of times. There were a few scenes that required hundreds of extras, so in between takes while they were resetting, I would go up on stage and perform.
“It was wild, because I had no idea how long I’d be up on stage. It was just someone handing me a microphone going, ‘Here, talk until we’re ready.’ And when they were ready, it didn’t matter if I was in the middle of a joke or what, I just had to get off stage.”
In addition to stand-up, you’re also a contributing writer for As Goes Wisconsin, a digital media initiative that makes state and local politics more accessible and fun while celebrating all things Wisconsin. How does your versatility as a comedian and writer inform your stand-up?
“I find it really hard to sit down and write standup. Like you know how sometimes, the harder you try to remember something, the more it slips away? And you realize, I need to focus on something else, and then it will just come to me.
“So having an assignment, or a specific goal, like writing a three minute piece about how the labor movement in Wisconsin got started, allows me to use the funny muscle, the part of my brain that figures out set-ups and punchlines, without feeling any pressure about standup. Which, oddly enough, then allows me to write standup.”
Becoming a regular at the Comedy Cellar is a goal for comedians all over the country. What was that experience like?
“Intimidating but also typical. It’s one of those goals I’d had written down for a couple of years, and finally I felt ready to go for it.:
What’s on your comedy bucket list? Who are some people you’d like to work with in the future?
“Everything. I’m really greedy. I want late night sets, I want specials, I want to be in writers rooms, I want my own fanbase, I want to keep getting better at this. I don’t have a specific person or list of people I want to work with, because I’ve found that I end up working really well with people I never would have imagined, people who are so different from me.
“But that said, I’ve been in love with Jon Stewart since I was 12. So if I had to pick someone, it would be him.”
What is the best advice you ever got that you actually used?
“Eat shit in the dark for as long as you can. In other words, don’t be too hungry for the attention parts of this business. Take advantage of the obscurity. Use it to get better. It’s easier to make mistakes when nobody is watching.”
What is your comedy horror story?
“Oh god, there are many. One that comes to mind was performing for a German chapter of a Free Mason Society at their annual banquet. I was told I’d be performing after dinner, but nobody told me that dinner was after 4 hours of an open bar.
“The organizers didn’t tell anybody that I’d be doing stand-up, so I just ambushed a bunch of drunk old Germans with a lot of Jewish material.
“The cherry on top was that everyone was seated off to the side, so the only thing in front of me was a wall of mirrors. Which meant that for 15 minutes, I just watched myself bomb.”
What is your comedy highlight?
“Oh god, there are many. Performing on the set of Maisel was really cool, JFL was really unique, but really what sticks out in my mind are the tiny moments on stage when I’ve thought of a funny line on the fly, or the first time I really comfortably headlined a show, when I feel settled and calm. There really is nothing better than that feeling.”
Don’t miss Ariel Elias at Planet of the Tapes on August 25th and 26th. Get your tickets here!