When Netflix drops its previously announced collection of 15-minute stand-up comedy specials later this year, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend season three addition Emma Willmann will be among them. The Blue Hill, Maine native also popped up on the latest season of Pete Holmes and Judd Apatow’s HBO show Crashing this year, all while co-hosting the popular Inside the Closet podcast with fellow comic Matteo Lane. While Willmann’s star is fast on the rise elsewhere, she remains one of the country’s most innovative and enjoyable comics, which she’ll prove again at this year’s Women in Comedy Festival in Boston.
Ahead of her headlining show at the Brattle Theater on April 20th, I spoke to Willmann about how her comedy career has flourished so quickly in the past few years. Much of her success, she tells me, has to do with the time she spent cutting her teeth in the Boston comedy scene, then later at New York’s Comedy Cellar and other established clubs. That being said, Willmann can’t shake the thought that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is already affecting her comedy. “She’s inspiring,” she said of Rachel Bloom. “From a writing standpoint, it’s inspiring that someone’s creation can be that smart and that good, especially since there’s a home for it.”
You were just in the new Comedy Cellar location in Vegas. How was it?
I actually loved it. I have never been to Vegas before. I opened for Louie Anderson at a casino in Reno. We did like a 4 pm show and 7 pm show. It was either for the high rollers, or I think what it was actually for was the people who had lost so much money and got a free comedy show. They had a name for them. Before I went out, Louie goes, “These people, they’re trying to distract them because they lost a lot of money.” So I did that and didn’t really think one way or another about it. But doing the Comedy Cellar in Vegas, I just really liked it. I didn’t even want to come back to New York.
I don’t know why it liked it. I try to eat healthy, but that’s not the Vegas way. It’s all gluttony, but I liked it. The way the comedy show was set up is, they set up a room just like the Village Underground back in New York. It has low ceilings and similar lineups, and the comics aren’t changing their acts. It’s the audiences who are different each time. It’s definitely a different type of crowd than the ones that go into the rooms in New York, but I really liked it. I really hope it’s successful.
You’re going back in May, right?
Yes. They’ve got it booked out for a little bit. I mean, the room is awesome. They even have one of the main Cellar staff members there, the general manager, Liz Furiati. She’s living in Vegas right now. I was like, “Are you alright?” She was like, “Yeah, but I’m not living out there forever.” The thing is, what makes the Cellar the Cellar is they do all the little things to treat the comedians really well. I definitely felt the same care I’d felt in New York out there in Vegas.
I was curious, because the Cellar is a famously small and intimate setting, which seems antithetical to Vegas.
Have you been to the Village Underground location in New York?
It’s like that. They set it up like that and not like the one on MacDougal. It’s more like a showroom. It’s still a showcase club, which is why I think it felt more like a vacation. That’s nice because normally when you’re on the road, you’re doing 45 minutes to an hour. When I’m doing 45 minutes to an hour, I really have to think about it. And if you’re doing one after the other, it’s like, “What did I say already?” It’s a real emotional undertaking. But doing 15 minutes with four or five other people is awesome. I was there with Julian McCullough, Emmy Blotnick, Greer Barnes, and Rich Vos. It was a great mix, and plus it’s still the Cellar brand, so it’s not like your name is on the show and the crowd size is totally up to you. The responsibility is spread out.
Does it feel that was with larger festivals, like Boston’s Women in Comedy Festival? You’re co-headlining it, but as you say with the Cellar, it’s not all on you.
It’s definitely more like a community, because there are plenty of people that go to festivals like Boston’s every year. Especially with the way Boston does it, too, because they have a lot of panels, events, and after parties in addition to the shows. It was neat because in New York, and pretty much in Los Angeles now too, whenever I go I’ll see the same 50 comedians around. It’s similar to going to Boston, because I’ll see a lot of the same Boston comics around. You just get familiar with people’s sets and all of that. But the two times I’ve done the Women in Comedy Festival, I saw a bunch of people I had never seen before. That’s always fun. It’s nice to see new stuff.
You’re originally from Maine, and you did stand-up in Boston before moving to New York. Does performing in Boston feel like coming back home?
I love it. It’s like my favorite. Also, the thing with Boston is — and I was surprised that Portland, Oregon was similar — it’s a mix of blue-collar people and visitors who are out to have a good time. There are definitely the splashes of San Francisco yuppies and similar types, too, but then there are people from Southie. It’s a real mix. Boston isn’t known for being the most racially diverse place, but class-wise, there’s a real mix of people there. Boston is pretty blunt, and Boston likes comedy.