Comedian Aisha Tyler Talks About Flipping Off Failure
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Let's hear, now, about some heartwarming tales of epic humiliation.
They are funny because they are told by comedian and actor Aisha Tyler. She's beloved by sci-fi nerds and stay-at-home moms alike. And NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji sat down with Tyler to talk about her most embarrassing moments on the road to stardom.
SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: Aisha Tyler brews beer, plays video games, tells dirty jokes and drinks fancy booze.
AISHA TYLER: Are we rolling? Cheers.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CLINK)
TYLER: I think there's nothing better than drinking scotch out of an NPR mug, by the way.
MERAJI: We didn't have any glasses.
TYLER: Some vegan somewhere is rolling over in the back of their Prius. Mmm, it's delicious.
MERAJI: I thought Tyler might need a bit of liquid courage to talk about her epic humiliations with millions of NPR listeners. Or maybe I needed it. I don't talk to celebrities very often. And Aisha Tyler's been doing the Hollywood thing for a while.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL BE THERE FOR YOU")
THE REMBRANDTS: (Singing) So no one told you life was going to be this way. Your job is a joke, you're broke, your love life is DOA.
MERAJI: (Singing) Your job is a joke, you're broke, your love life's DOA.
Sorry, I couldn't help myself. Aisha Tyler played Ross's paleontologist girlfriend on "Friends." She was the six-foot tall black woman. So if you were into "Friends," you know who I'm talking about.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "ARCHER")
(SOUNDBITE OF A RINGING PHONE)
TYLER: (as Lana Kane) Ooh, I'm sorry. One sec, please.
MERAJI: That's Tyler as the voice of the bodacious international spy Lana Kane in the hit animated comedy, Archer on FX. Kane shoots semiautomatic weapons while wearing lingerie and rolls her eyes at partner Sterling Archer's antics.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "ARCHER")
TYLER: (as Lana Kane) Hello.
H. JON BENJAMIN: (as Sterling Archer) Lana you have to come down to Ron's dealership. He's got a chimpanzee in a little samurai suit slashing prices.
TYLER: (as Lana Kane) Archer, I can't talk right now. I'm doing the interview thing.
MERAJI: Aisha Tyler is also a daytime TV star, waxing poetic about the day's news and gossip on "The Talk." That's the show with Ozzy Osbourne's wife, Sharon, and Sara Gilbert, the angsty brunette teen from "Roseanne," who's all grown up now. They sit around an oval table and discuss.
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TYLER: Let's get started with Michael Jackson's children being forced to speak about their father's death.
MERAJI: Tyler slides easily from daytime talk to nighttime comedy.
TYLER: I married a white guy. Honestly I had to because my credit was (bleep) up.
MERAJI: And that's not all. She also hosts a popular podcast called "Girl on Guy."
(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "GIRL ON GUY")
TYLER: This is "Girl on Guy."
MERAJI: She interviews chefs, actors, comedians, athletes to find out how they made it. And in each episode, she makes them share one of the most humiliating moments on their path to success. And that leads us straight to her new book, "Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation."
TYLER: On my podcast, "Girl on Guy," every guest tells a self-inflicted wound story. It's like the way that the show culminates.
(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "GIRL ON GUY")
TYLER: Shall we do a self-inflicted wound? I've given you so much time to think of something.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I - you know, I want to give you like literally...
TYLER: Self-inflicted wound story.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Let me see...
TYLER: OK, self-inflicted wound. So you feel like something has gelled for you?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I thought of one thing where we did a...
TYLER: So I just felt like it was unfair for me to ask a person every week to humiliate themselves on my show, without me just humiliating myself in return.
MERAJI: Aisha Tyler starts the book with very early memories of humiliation. And reminds her readers that sticking out didn't help.
You call yourself a giant black girl in this book...
MERAJI: ...so many times.
TYLER: I do, 'cause I am. I'm enormous. I'm huge.
MERAJI: Tyler describes herself as nearly six feet tall in junior high, wore thick glasses, was obsessed with science fiction and dressed in clothes from the free bin.
TYLER: You know, so I was such a weird kid. My parents were into meditation, and they didn't believe in television, and I was a vegetarian and we were poor.
MERAJI: She writes about being that weird kid and all her weird kid mishaps. Nearly cutting herself in half playing on an abandoned hobby horse at five, setting the house on fire while making French fries at seven, numerous failures trying to trade veggie lunches for bologna sammies at school, and ruining her chances with the high school crush.
TYLER: Drinking too much and getting hungover and vomiting all over him and his car and myself, that wasn't a good look at all.
MERAJI: The book may sound super depressing but it's funny. And the footnotes provide hilarious asides. In the section where she writes about the tribulations of being a vegetarian in elementary school, she talks about eating kids' leftover processed meat, Dorito bits, and Boston Baked Beans. Here's an example of one of her footnotes.
TYLER: It's on Page 36 of "Self-Inflicted Wounds." And it has some beautiful annotations from Shereen, including, yes exclamation point and must read.
(Reading) Boston Baked Beans is the worst name for a candy since Nut Milk. Yes, there is a candy bar called Nut Milk. Let it wash over you. Well, not literally. Eww.
MERAJI: Tyler said she had an entire list of off-colored candy bar names for that one, but Nut Milk was the only one her editor would grant her. This is Aisha Tyler's humor: it's dirty and really nerdy all at the same time. It's hard to explain because she's hard to explain. And when she decided not to utilize her Ivy League degree in poli-sci and environmental studies from Dartmouth, and become a comedian, she stuck out all over again. This time as the six-foot-tall black woman who didn't fit the "Def Comedy Jam" mold.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "DEF COMEDY JAM")
MARTIN LAWRENCE: Welcome to the "Def Comedy Jam," where we present the young, baddest comics of all over the country. We're having a good time. I'm so glad we're here doing it again. What's up, black people? What's up?
TYLER: God, I just had so many people tell me what you're doing doesn't work. You know, I used to have to apologize. I guess I'd have to get up on stage and essentially apologize for talking the way that I speak. You know, 'cause like I think people kind of assume because I talk the way that I talk, that I grew up with money. And then I'd have to say no, no - I grew up poor. And then I'm like, why am I playing this game where the only black experience that's authentic is the one where you grew up in poverty. I mean, it's ridiculous.
MERAJI: There is a theme in Tyler's book: It's authenticity. And she says being that black whitewater-rafting guide for deaf teens in high school, playing "Halo" for hours as a grown woman, and letting it all hang out on stage has misfits around the world sending her notes of gratitude.
TYLER: Thank you for making me feel OK about this thing that I was made to feel ashamed of; that I'm a girl who likes videogames, or that I'm an Asian kid who listens to punk rock, or that I'm a black guy who likes heavy metal, because all my friends make fun of me all the time for that. And now I know I'm not the only one.
MERAJI: I know, it sounds corny but the moral of "Self-Inflicted Wounds" is be you, follow your dreams, and don't let failure and humiliation hold you back. If you do that, you might just make it. Aisha Tyler is proof.
TYLER: Oh, if only I knew that this morning I knew I'd be drinking scotch in the NPR...
TYLER: In the NPR studios.
MERAJI: Out of an NPR mug,
TYLER: ...out of an NPR mug. This is living, ladies and gentlemen. This is class.
MERAJI: Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News.
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MONTAGNE: You are listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And I'm David Greene.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.