A few years back, New York based stand-up comedians Nikki Glaser and Sara Schaefer stepped out into the world of podcasting together, co-hosting their own podcast called “You Had to Be There.” They quickly generated a strong friendship with one another as well as a great co-host dynamic on the show that earned them quite a following. Schaefer, the former two-time Emmy winning blogger for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and Glaser, a former contestant on Last Comic Standing, took this dynamic to MTV last year with an idea for a talk show, which the network swiftly picked up. They premiered their show Nikki and Sara LIVE, a mix of monologue-style jokes, sketches, interviews, and man-on-the-street segments, on January 29th. I caught up with Nikki and Sara recently to talk about this new chapter in their careers.
So you’re three episodes deep into the season; going from episode three to one were there any big adjustments that you made?
Sara Schaefer: Well I think the biggest change has been just Nikki and I’s comfort level. The first show was so scary in terms of just, “Oh my God, can we do this?”; the nerves of live TV and like, “Don’t screw it up,” and once we went through that, it was all about, “Ok, now how do we make it better each week?” And we’re incorporating feedback from all kinds of people – it’s interesting how the script goes from one place on Friday to being basically completely rewritten three or four times by the time we get to Tuesday. So, it’s been really fun.
Nikki Glaser: Yeah, exactly what Sara said. The nerves have subsided and we’re able to inject more of our dynamic that we have on the podcast that kind of got us this show in the first place. So it’s a process of just being more ourselves on our show and kind of going off script a little bit more, feeling comfortable with the format to what was in the script.
The big difference between your show and most others is that you’re actually doing it live on air which, besides SNL, there really aren’t any in primetime. Did you have any reservations about doing it live?
Nikki: We thought they were kidding at first, ‘cause they bought the show and ordered episodes as a pre-taped show, so it was only a couple months ago that we found out it was going to be live. We got the call and they kinda just told us, “The show’s changing, now it’s Nikki and Sara LIVE.” It was The Nikki and Sara Show before, and it was exciting. I think that we’re both live performers by nature, and that’s what [we’ve] been working on for the past decade or so, so it’s a natural fit. It is extremely scary, but we’re used to it as stand-ups, not being able to say cut in the middle of our set.
Sara: I agree, I think just in the beginning, with the live thing, I was really afraid of something going wrong and us not knowing what to do, ‘cause we just never done it before. You know, nothing can prepare you for it other than doing it… but now, it’s almost like we want things to happen because it’s really magical when things unexpected happen. Nikki might say something that I didn’t know she was going to say, and it’s really funny to me, and I’m hoping something crazy happens on the show at some point, because I would love to see how we deal with it. I mean, I don’t want something horrible to happen, but like a guest saying something crazy, or something falling – I think it could be a fun moment.
Nikki: Everything’s been running so smoothly so far. We all have been looking forward to things kind of falling off the rails, which inevitably will happen. It is a live show, so it adds an element of excitement to the show for us and the viewer.
In stand-up and with your podcast, there’s no limits. You’re not being censored in anyway. How have you adapted to being on TV where you have to have all your jokes run by somebody else and cleared for air?
Nikki: We’ve honestly been really lucky with MTV. You always hear about networks holding you back, but they kind of let us do what we want – and we don’t want to offend our viewers either, we know who we’re dealing with, the demographic that is watching our show, MTV’s demographic. We don’t want to over-sexualize or expose them to things they’re not ready for.
Sara: Yeah, MTV’s been great – they’ll give notes that don’t make sense you know, just be like, “What? You think that’s offensive, but you don’t think this other thing is offensive?” And that’s funny, but you know, Nikki and I still have a dirty dark side to us, and we still have an outlet for that in our stand-up and in the podcast, so I feel like it doesn’t —
Nikki: And we put in the show.
Sara: We do.
Nikki: It’s so much fun to do it that way, because stand-up is so no-holds-barred, and our podcast is really just anything goes. It’s nice to have limits, because it makes you have to go a little more creative with your presentation, and for me thats been really fun, to work clean, because I’ve never done it. It’s a whole different kind of comedy that I really feel like I’m thriving in for the first time.
Sara: Yeah, we like scaring our executives in the re-write meetings and just say, “This should say this,” and they’re just like, “No!” [Laughs.] And we’re like, “Just kidding!”
So you two are co-hosting this show together, and have been co-hosting together on your podcast for long time, how do you think having a writing partner has affected you guys as solo performers in general?
Nikki: I never thought that I would ever find someone else that I would want to work with in comedy. I mean, to me that’s always been something that’s like, “It’s mine and no one can mess with it,” and, “I am the way I am and no one’s gonna change that,” but I learn so much from Sara, and she’s encouraged me to do so many things, to take my comedy in so many different places. Like I’ve never been really a goofy kind of performer and taken chances in terms of looking silly and she’s so good at that, and embracing that side of herself, and I’ve really learned to do that, and that is totally reflected in my stand-up. She just encourages me and makes me feel safe when performing with her to do things that alone I wouldn’t have felt secure doing, and then by doing them with her I learn that they are fun, that I can be funny that way, and I can take it into my solo act. So I’ve learned to be funny in a different way, and working with someone is great, because when you get good news you get someone to jump around with and hug and celebrate, and then the bad times I get through because we have each other.
Sara: I agree with that, and thank you Nikki for saying those nice things.
Nikki: You’re welcome.
Sara: Nikki has not inspired me in any way. [Laughs.]
Sara: No, Nikki has definitely had a major effect on my solo career. She’s encouraged me to try things I wouldn’t have done, she’s helped me figure out parts of this world that I wouldn’t know about otherwise, and most of all she’s made me feel like I’m a legitimately funny person which is what you’re always looking for. [Laughs.] There’s very few people who will tell you, “I think you’re really funny,” – well, fans and audience members, but like another comedian to really give you that kind of respect. It’s sometimes hard to find sincere stuff like that, and it’s been really good for my confidence level as a stand-up for her to validate me in that way.
So now with the show, how do you feel like you’ve adapted to writing comedy with a whole staff of comedy writers?
Nikki: That’s been great.
Sara: Been awesome.
Nikki: To have a staff, you can come up with an idea that involves ghosts… and paint… and all these elements that like in your head – like some kind of an idea, and suddenly it materializes in front of you, and someone gives you a script, and then you can look at that and punch it up. I thought it would be hard to give up power to someone else, or with my ideas and my comedy, but working with other people has been the most rewarding experience of this entire thing, ‘cause I learn so much from my staff and I trust them so much, and a lot of comedians are not very trustworthy with their own material. I’ve found that giving into other people’s ideas and letting it guide my own has really been humbling. I love having a staff.
Sara: I agree, I think that my favorite part is collaborating, ‘cause what you would think of by yourself cannot be as good as what a group of people who are really talented would come up with. I just think that comedy written by a group is, at least, so much more exciting to do.
I have to say I really admire that you had an open call for submissions and did it blindly. That really gave a lot of people a chance that I assume they don’t get very often. What were your thoughts on that process of opening it up and making it very inclusive?
Nikki: Yeah, I wanted to give people an opportunity that I would have loved to have had when I was in their position, and because we did that – three of our writers we didn’t even know before we hired them, and I don’t know that we would be able to say that had we not done it blindly, and so we truly got the best talent that we could. And yes, we had them in for interviews, and we gauged their personalities: were they a good fit, did we like them as a person; but it was nice to be able to give people that opportunity just to submit and to have the same opportunity as everyone else.
Sara: I didn’t want to look back and say, “I wonder if we could have found someone funnier?” It just gave us that confidence, especially since there’s two of us and we have our showrunner and other people who had a say in who we hired and – I didn’t want to be arguing over “Well, this is my friend,” “No, I want my friend.” I wanted it to be like, well clearly these are the best people.
Between the podcast and the recent essays on Sara’s website (SaraSchaefer.com), you two give out a lot of great advice for people who want to get into the comedy/entertainment business, more so than a lot of people I find. With comedy in general, do you feel like it is more of a competitive scene or is it a more inviting, friendly environment?
Sara: I think it’s both. I think that when you start out, you find friends and everyone’s very friendly, but then I think as you start to grow in your career and you’re competing, the competitive side definitely… it’s like year 5 or 6 I think [Laughs.] where people start to get a little more cutthroat. It’s just like any business; you’re going to meet people that are really shady and don’t show their true intentions, but then you’re also going to meet some great friends who you can rely on and go through it together. You just have to be aware that there are people who maybe aren’t so trustworthy, and just sort of protect yourself from that and – I just think going into it with an open heart is better than being mistrusting of everyone, but at the same time, be aware.
Nikki: Yeah, when I first started stand-up I was bullied by a person in my comedy community in St. Louis, really more so than I’ve ever been bullied in high school or middle school, by someone who tried to pretty much keep me out of the business and discourage me from going on [with comedy]. I think that it would have shaken me, it would have made me quit had I not loved it so much, and to have had people that truly knew what my intentions were and that I wasn’t just in it for whatever. My point being, if you love comedy enough, and you love what you do, and you are in it for the right reasons, all that other stuff doesn’t matter. And there are people that will try to hold you back ‘cause they’re jealous, or insecure, or whatever, but the need to do it and the love of the game – you just gotta stick through it. I think that there are good people in this business, more good people than in a lot of businesses, but there are also bad ones too, but you just gotta try to cope with it.
Thanks to some serious comedic chops, and some asshole in St.Louis’s inability to push people out of the business, you can check out the very funny Nikki Glaser and Sara Schaefer’s new show Nikki and Sara LIVE Tuesdays at 11/10c on MTV. Follow Nikki and Sara on Twitter @saraschaefer1 & @NikkiGlaser. Download and listen to their podcast on iTunes or at youhadtobetherepodcast.tumblr.com