By Taylor Smith
Name: Mallory Cruz
Occupation: After-school counselor/nonprofit worker/comedian
Hometown: White Plains, NY
Current Neighborhood: White Plains, NY
College: Wesleyan University
Like a lot of young postgrads, Mallory Cruz has cycled through a few jobs in the quest to actually pay rent by working at her dream career. After brief, harrowing stints at Dunkin’ Donuts and a local daycare, she now pays the bills with part-time work as an after-school counselor and a volunteer-turned-paid gig with the March of Dimes. Now awaiting news on extending that job, she hopes to continue to build up experience and make the move from White Plains to NYC. All the while, Mallory is pursuing her true passion: comedy. I sat down with the aspiring comic to chat about everything from the challenges of being a woman on the open mic scene to how a dirty diaper fueled one of her best bits.
So, why comedy?
Thinking back I can’t quite remember when I decided that I wanted to really do standup as a career versus just as a thing that looked fun, but I was into comedy, that’s a whole story — I have Asperger’s Syndrome, so when I was little, it’s not that I didn’t have any friends but I didn’t have friends the way people expected you to, so while people were out Friday nights, I wasn’t. I was at home watching cartoons. I didn’t like what was on TV so I just went channel-surfing and I came across a comedy special, and it was really funny. I loved it so much, and I remember it was Denis Leary, “No Cure for Cancer.” I’m not a big fan of him now, but at the time, because it was the first comedy that I’d seen, I loved it. So every Friday night I kept watching Comedy Central to see it, but I didn’t understand [laughs] that they wouldn’t show it the next Friday again. But because I kept coming back, I kept watching more standup, and it influenced me so much. It shaped my sense of humor, it shaped how I interacted with people. It actually gave me skills, if I didn’t know how to talk to people, I at least knew how to make them laugh — not at my expense, but because I could say funny things and be funny.
So when I got to college and found out that Wesleyan had a standup group, I realized that this might be something that I’d want to do. Especially because my major didn’t work out. I was an East Asian studies major, and the thing about that is when I tell people they’re always like, “What can you do with it?” And it’s like actually if you look into it, you can do a lot with that. I just didn’t [laughs]. I think part of the problem with that was I had issues with depression in college and it affected how I did my work, so I wasn’t learning everything because I wasn’t at my peak… Can we just stop for a second?
At this point, two comics walk into a bar… Well, not quite, but another comic did enter Starbucks. “Are you Shannon O’Neill?!” Cruz called out, clearly thrilled. We paused our interview so Mallory could tell O’Neill, of UCB and Broad City fame, how much she admired her work.
So you brought up going through a rough time in college, which I think a lot of people can relate to. Were you doing standup at that time and did that help at all?
Yeah, absolutely … like when I go job hunting and it doesn’t go well I spiral into depression, but if I do something for standup where it does not go well, I don’t get depressed I just get motivated to do better, and it’s like “Alright, what could I have done better in this set? What would have worked, what could I have said that would’ve been funnier?” And it takes my mind off of being depressed because it’s just something I enjoy doing so much.
So comedy’s really difficult as I understand it, especially standup. What have been some of the biggest challenges or obstacles for you?
I think as a woman, sitting through an open mic is really hard. Having to sit through sets, sets, of people talking about how awful women are, it’s just, ugh. That’s actually tiring. That’s more discouraging to me than actually bombing. Because you can bomb in a room where people are being misogynistic. If you bomb in that room it’s like, good, I don’t want you guys to like it, but to have to sit through it is really hard.
What keeps you at it then?
What keeps me going is just the fact that I know I’m funny. I’m successful at shows where my sets are done, and I kill. I know I’m funny, and I don’t get to come out that much, and I know I’d do better and be better once I get the chance to do it every night.
So now more to nuts and bolts, what’s your process for writing a set or a joke?
For writing a joke the inspiration has to come, if I see comedy in something or if I’m talking about something. Then it’s something I hold on to and I try to remember it. Once I find something that I found funny or a friend found funny, then I start working that into a story I can tell. And you keep working on it and then you bring it to an open mic and you see what worked. For me it’s like, did it even get a laugh? And then I bring it to another one to see if it got a laugh at the same thing. And then at that point you just keep working on it. One of the best examples I can think of is when I was working at the daycare. One of the kids had pooped and I smelled it and I recognized, because you change them everyday and they [each] have their own [distinct] diets, so I recognized who pooped before I actually checked. And it was the right baby… And I was like, “Wait a minute.” And then I said to my coworker, “I’m really upset.” And she was like, “Why?” And I’m like, “Because I knew Charlie pooped! I knew this, like this is not what I want to know I’m good at!” And she started laughing, so I wrote it, and now that’s a joke that I do and it does really well.
Do you have a favorite joke that you’ve written?
I actually have one joke that I haven’t fit into a set yet. Somebody said ‘jungle fever’ which is — it’s a bad word — but I was like, my mom’s white and my dad’s black, so I was like, “Oh yeah, my mom’s got jungle fever. It’s pretty serious, she’s probably gonna die.” [Laughs.] And I think it’s my favorite joke because it’s just one where I have to deliver it like that, I always say it like that [deadpan] and it just sounds serious, and I just deliver it deadpan serious. That’s my favorite joke, just because of how it came about.
So after you go to an open mic, what’s the process of trying to get booked?
That’s more like knowing people. If you go to open mics enough… I’ve been going to improv jams. Open mics are more like rehearsal space, improv jams are just like working on improv, doing it. So I’ve been doing those, I’ve been trying to keep fresh, I’ve been trying to be funny online… So it’s really just networking. You can do a bringer show, but those suck.
A bringer show?
Yeah, so what you have to do is you have to bring your audience and you have a minimum of five people. And it sounds easy because it’s just five people, but it’s five individual people with their own lives. So you learn first that you have to over-invite people. So it’s just about knowing people, like now I have a friend who’s on an improv house team, and knowing him has been better for me, in terms of improv, than anything else. And I performed with another friend from Wesleyan who also has their own show at UCB, Joe Firestone. You can find groups on Facebook where people are always booking. You go to open mics to make friends or connections and then they will book you.
And what exactly is an improv jam?
So an improv jam is when you go to a stage and then there are hosts running the show and what they do, at least at UCB, the ones I’ve gone to… they put your name in a bucket and then they pull like five names, so it’s just five random people plus some of the hosts, and you just do improv together. But what makes it a jam versus a rehearsal is, in my head, a rehearsal is like, you know these people already. A jam could be anybody.
What is it that you like about improv?
I like improv because I mentioned that I’ve been depressed and it affects my ability to stay focused and work on written stuff, but improv you don’t need to bring any material, you just have to be fresh mentally, which I can do. You just bring your body and skills and you can have a good set. And at the very least, if I never take off in improv, it helps a lot with sketch-writing and joke-writing because you learn how to heighten jokes so they get funnier.
Cool! So you’ve been doing this for a little while now. What would you say has been the best part?
I think the best part is actually doing a show and just seeing all your hard work pay off. Seeing people laugh, and for me it’s not just little chuckles or laughs, they’re like flat-out laughter. I went to a talent show two weekends ago and I did standup. And I ended up winning it, but I remember specifically the judge losing her shit, like she was all over the place laughing, she was leaning out of her chair. That’s the best part for me is actually performing for people I don’t know, like I hate open mics but I love when I actually get to perform, and when I’m killing it it’s just like, this is what I’m doing it for. And even though I always feel like I’m behind all my friends… it’s very nice to see them succeeding at least. One of those friends has been so nice and really helpful. He’s actually been trying to help me get on indie improv teams and finding rehearsal spaces for me and he does not have to do that at all. He could just be like, ‘Oh, well good luck!’ and then just leave me in the dust but he’s been actually helping me and I know he’s been helping other people. That’s also one of the best things is meeting people like him, who’s really trying to help everybody get to where he is.
To finish up I wanted to ask, where would you like to be in 10 years?
I would love to be, I don’t have a very clear goal or a very clear vision of what this is, but at the very least I obviously want to be living in the city. I want to be doing something — I don’t have to be famous, that’s never been the thing, but I want to be working regularly in comedy. I don’t want to find out that I’m working a regular job, unless I really gave it my all and something happened or I just couldn’t do it, but I really would like to be seeing myself in the comedy scene, I want to at least have my name be recognizable. Again, not famous, not that I’m not shooting for that but I want to be realistic in a way, and just — I want a recognizable name. At least have had run one of my own shows.
Comedians Mallory Cruz likes:
“Now, I’m having some issues with him… but he actually helped me speak better, because he was an English major and it shows in his standup, and so he was such a big influence on me, not just in terms of standup but just how I talked. In real life.”
“I have a lot of friends with mental illnesses and they always mention her as being a great comedian who talks about their mental illness. … I don’t think she does it in any way that’s offensive, I think it’s just honest.”
“I think his delivery is more like what I go for… Listening to him helps me work on my delivery of things and how I tell stories.”
“I also like Hannibal Buress for that same reason, which is working on my delivery.”
Looking to break into the New York comedy scene? Cruz recommends checking out Badslava, an excellent resource for finding open mics throughout the city.
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