Iliza Shlesinger isn’t wasting any time. That’s why, just over two minutes into her new Netflix special, Elder Millennial, the 35-year-old comic playfully insults the audience members who “were so quiet” when she categorized herself as a member of Gen X’s successor. It’s also why she surprised me with a phone call a few minutes before our scheduled chat. “I’m always a little early,” she says before teasing me. “Are you surprised? You weren’t going to the bathroom, were you?” For the record, I was not.
Not that it matters, because Shlesinger is more than ready to keep working in a career that traces its lineage to NBC’s Last Comic Standing reality competition series, which she won in 2008. The comedian continued hitting the stand-up circuit on and off late night television, with appearances on shows like Chelsea Lately and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, before becoming one of the first performers to debut a special exclusively on Netflix in 2013. Shlesinger followed War Paint with Freezing Hot and Confirmed Kills in 2015 and 2016. Now it’s Elder Millennial, which she taped inside an aircraft carrier after Netflix said they “[wanted] higher production value” in future specials.
“I do a lot of USO tours,” she explains. “We did a show on the USS Stennis out in the Persian Gulf a couple of years ago, and I remember how special that was, so I thought it’d be cool to do something like that. We looked for retired aircraft carriers and we found one that felt right, was available and it was the right time of year for it, too. There was one in New York, but it would’ve been too cold and as it is, the USS Hornet is basically in Oakland. It’s in Alameda, and it was February in San Francisco, so it was freezing. I was freezing my tips off. It was the only time in my career that the stage lights didn’t make me sweat.”
Lower temperatures notwithstanding, Shlesinger made the most of Netflix’s directive and set Elder Millennial aboard the USS Hornet Museum near Old Alameda Point. What’s more, the USO regular also inadvertently created one of the more striking visual juxtapositions in recent stand-up memory: a decidedly feminist comedy set in the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up performed in front of a collection of vintage warplanes. “I hadn’t thought about it that way,” she says when asked about the image. “This special is less about that. Confirmed Kills was a strong thesis and this was more a retrospect. I felt I had the experience and the wisdom to look back at the life I’d led up to that point.”
That’s not to discount the planes’ placement behind the stage, however, as the arrangement was intentional from the start, though for other reasons. “They had all of these vintage World War II and Korean War planes there. I just thought it was very special, and the production design did a great job. The museum let us move around a couple of the planes and decorate the stage with some of the maritime flags the U.S. Navy uses to communicate via semaphore. If you look at the set, there are two rows of flags, each flag represents a letter and they spell out two different messages. So if you’re versed in maritime linguistics, I encourage you to figure out what the flags say.”