Feb. 5 2020
If you watched A Little Late with Lilly Singh last night, you might already know the name Ali Kolbert. But in case you don’t have cable (and let’s be real, does anyone have cable?!), allow us to introduce you: Ali is a 26-year comedian living in New York, with previous gigs at the Comedy Cellar and on The Tonight Show. We sat down with her to discuss her stand up journey.
When was your first “big break?”
The obvious answer, to me, is when I booked The Tonight Show. That was like, “Okay! Clearly I’m doing something right.” It was my network debut; I was being acknowledged on a larger scale; it was a clear pat on the back. That was in July of 2017. There are other milestones like getting into the Comedy Cellar, and you always feel like you’re building toward something.
What first attracted you to comedy?
I always wanted to do it. I have home videos of myself doing stand up when I was really young. My dad would give me jokes, and have me tell them to relatives or strangers on the street, and I became addicted to the feeling of making people laugh at a very young age.
How old were you when you did your first stand up comedy set?
I was 17. I came to New York for college (I studied film at NYU) and I started doing stand up during my freshman year; I’ve been doing it ever since. I don’t really know anything else about myself beyond my identity in comedy.
What were the first couple gigs like?
Definitely scary. Especially because the open mic scene can feel very cliquey. And at first, I wasn’t going with a set friend group in place. Also, it’s mainly dudes, so you’re going there on your own and thinking, “Are they judging me?” [When you’re starting out], you’re not good at all so it’s very nerve wracking. But you make a community for yourself in comedy.
Do you have a day job?
I guess I’m doing this full time. I have other work coming out… For a couple years I hosted a show on Verizon’s BUILD Brunch during the day. I’ve worked as a writer’s assistant and a contributing writer at The Onion. So you do that during the day, and stand up at night. But right now, I don’t have another job during the day.
Did you ever want to give up?
It was never a question for me. I knew I had to do this and that it was what I wanted… Comedy is my life sentence; it’s my disease… I love it so much, but every day I wake up and pray the clubs will shut down. It’s amazing but I hate that I feel obligated to do this. I wish I didn’t need to do it.
In your stand up, you joke a lot about your family. What’s that dynamic like?
They know it’s all fun and games. And I think they agree with me. My family has a really good sense of humor. I’m fortunate they’re into it and laugh along with me. They’re not an obstacle… if anything it brings us closer together. My sister signed some sort of disclosure agreement for [one of my sets] so I could berate her on live TV. So they’re clearly good sports.
How has your comedy changed from when you first started telling jokes to now?
I think I just got to a place where I felt more comfortable being more honest about myself, and I leaned into those jokes.
Any advice for someone who wants to do what you do?
I really, really feel like people who are meant to be in comedy will just be in comedy. If you know you want to do comedy, just go out there and do it. There’s nothing to do beyond going to an open mic and getting on stage. That’s it. You need to just get up.