Corinne Fisher : Interview 44
Corinne Fisher is a stand-up comedian, writer, and actor in New York City. She’s also half of the comedy writing and performance duo Sorry About Last Night with Krystyna Hutchinson. The pair host Guys We Fucked: The Anti-Slut Shaming Podcast which is hugely popular and monstrously hilarious.
Corinne was kind enough to welcome me into her Harlem home where we chatted about being wanted versus being needed, her high standards she sets for herself, her approach to collaboration in an individualistic career, dealing with a romantic partner on the other side of the political spectrum, and finding her life’s purpose in her work. Lots of other whimsical and insightful stuff as well. Meet Corinne.
How do you define being “in love”?
Being in love is really based in trust. If I feel like I can trust you with telling you anything including the weirdest thing about me, the most fucked up thing about me, everyone I hate, my fears—telling you my fears without fear that you will use those things against me, even if we break up. I have such a deep trust with the people I’m dating. My current boyfriend, I feel like I can tell him bad stuff about me and even if we break up in the future, I don’t think he’s going to come back and use that against me. So that’s the main thing. And then that we’re partners in crime. It’s very cheesy.
Me: What does the partners in crime look like to you?
Corinne: I like collaborating with the people that I’m in love with a lot. I know some people are vehemently against that. I mean I basically only date comedians anyway, or like a chef, someone artistic, because I want someone who’s better or more talented than me so I can rise up instead of overshadow them. I have no interest in that. I have to have a deep level of respect for whoever I’m dating because, oh god, if you don’t have respect, you just end up walking all over people. Or using them to admire you until you’re done with them. Maybe that’s just me. That’s not a great quality. I just do it and it’s not good. I test people so hard, like how far can I push you. But I try to get people to let me push them around, but I don’t want them to let me because if I succeed then they’ve failed.
Me: Because you want them to be their own person.
Corinne: Yes, yes, yes! So that’s what love is. Usually I have a pretty fucked up version of love. I’m not an easy person to date.
Me: Why not?
Corinne: Because I don’t need someone. I just finished a book about relationships so I spend a lot of time by myself thinking about it. The main problem is that I’m not someone who really needs a partner. Wanting someone and needing someone are two very different things. And people can sense that and people want to feel needed. People want to feel needed and wanted, but a lot of people in relationships really need to feel needed and they’re not going to ever really feel that from me because I don’t need them.
There’s something that terrifies most partners about having a partner who they know if they left me, I’ll be totally fine, and perhaps if I left them, they would not be totally fine. That’s an imbalance of power. I also really expect a lot from people. I expect the best from myself, but I also expect the best from other people. Which is unfair because I shouldn’t really hold people to my own personal standards, but I really can’t. I’ve tried to work on it. I was single for four years and in that time I did a lot of work on myself, but that’s one thing I just can’t get past. If I can’t have someone who’s up to my standards then I could just hang out by myself. I don’t need money, I don’t need someone to constantly be with me, I can find sex when I need that, I don’t want to have kids. So I don't really need anything from anybody else. When I have a mate I just need them to pay attention to me. [Laughter] But that’s pretty much it. Pay attention and be thoughtful. You never have to buy anything for me. That’s never necessary.
Me: You sound pretty easy, honestly.
Corinne: Mmm… Material-wise I’m super easy.
Me: But even beyond that, that’s a great experience because you’re around someone because you want them to be there. The necessity, I get. I want to have kids, so there’s a necessity in a partner, she has to bear them, I can’t do that myself.
Me: But the idea that for your partner, he’s there because you want him there. What’s better than that? I don’t know.
Corinne: You would think. But it’s never enough for people. The need to feel needed, that’s so weird to me. Because for me the need to feel wanted is far more important than the need to feel needed. I need myself. Alfred [Corinne’s dog] needs me. That’s OK. But I wish he could get his own water. I just like him because we can hang out and I love dogs. He’s like his own little person.
What’s your greatest fear?
Clowns. [Laughter] I really don’t like clowns. But honestly, failure. I don’t even know what that looks like anymore because—right now failing for me would mean never being happy. I work really hard, and I achieve the things that I want to achieve and I’m still not satisfied, so I’m concerned that maybe achievements aren’t the answer, but then what is the answer? I don’t know. Fuck. I’m a really big Debbie Downer. I feel like my agents hate me because they’re like, “You got into Montreal Just for Laughs” and I’m like, “But not the part I wanted to get into, so I’m still not happy about it.” I just never feel satisfied and I always feel like I could have done better. Basically anything. I did a 30-minute special submission and I sent it to my manager and I was like, “I think this is pretty good.” And then he was like, “This must be phenomenal because you never say anything is good.”
Me: Have you ever had anything in your career or your life that you’ve looked at gone, “Fuck yeah, that’s the best.” Not the best thing ever, but “I did that thing as good as it could get.”
Corinne: When we did Guys We Fucked I knew just from the concept—I was like, “This is a really good idea and I know it has legs.” Because that was an idea that just sat in the notes section on my iPhone for a good couple of months while I convinced other parties to make it happen. And the first thing where I was like, “Wow, I think I could be good” was when I did a one-woman show in 2010 called Corinne Fisher: I Stalk You. I just did it with myself and a guy who works on the podcast who’s a big Moth winner, his name is David Crabb, he’s the author of this great book called Bad Kid based on his one-man show. And he had never directed before, but I just knew from seeing him tell stories, I was like, “You have an interesting way that you see the world and you can find humor in a lot of gnarly situations.” So we worked together. I feel like I wrote a good show and I brought David on and he made it a great show. That first time that I finished performing it, my friends gave me a standing ovation, which was unnecessary—so many people stand nowadays and it doesn’t mean anything anymore—I only stand if I really mean it…
Me: Me too. Or if I have to see beyond the guy in front of me.
Corinne: Or if it has my favorite actors in it. I once stood for Tim Curry in a Christmas Carol because I was like, “I fucking love you!” I was the only one standing for that one though.
So that was when I was like, “I know what I’m doing and I can do it by myself.” Because so much of the entertainment business is waiting for other people to see in you what you’ve always seen in yourself. I hate that. So I was like, “Why am I waiting for other people?” Especially in the age of the internet, you can really make things happen for yourself, you don’t need to wait for other people. And it’s stupid to do that because you’ll be waiting all damned day. You see so many instances of other people not seeing in people what they see in themselves—Broad City is another great example of that. Those two girls were constantly overlooked at the UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade]. I was there at the UCB when they were there at the UCB constantly overlooked for these “House Teams” like what the fuck do they mean? And then they were like, “OK, we’re just going to make our own web series and show you that we’re as talented as we’ve been trying to tell you we were the whole time.” And now they’re these huge stars bigger than almost anyone out of the UCB. That’s the funniest show I’ve ever seen.
Me: Being a musician, it’s the same type of deal where nobody’s going to book you until you can do it all yourself. So once you can do it all yourself and you’re self-contained then that’s when everyone’s like, “Oh yeah, come on in!” And some people don’t get that, they think they have to get approval from someone else. I was an acting major in college and I loved it and hated it at the same time. I loved it because it was fun to be other people, but I hated it because you had to wait for someone to give you a job. You couldn’t just act on your own. This was the 90s so there was no internet really happening back then.
Corinne: Licking envelopes, putting your headshot in.
Me: Exactly! Stapling, gluing…
Corinne: What a pain in the ass that was.
Me: I had always been a musician, so I said, “Fuck acting. I’m just going to do music.” And my band just bootstrapped it. We weren’t necessarily looking for help, we just did it. And it was great.
Corinne: It’s more satisfying too.
Me: It is! And you learn a lot about what those other people are doing for you when you get them. And they do a lot of work. It’s not that easy to do the boring, the management side. It’s a lot of work and a lot of heart. So it’s a good experience to do it so you can see all angles.
Corinne: And appreciate the people who will be working with you later, for sure.
How do you approach collaboration?
It’s so funny because my whole life, my goal has been to work alone as much as possible. That’s why I’m a stand-up comedian. The best part about being a stand-up comedian is that it’s one of the few jobs where you really don’t need anyone else. You work as hard, and as much or as little, as you want to. Krystyna and I have been working together for so long that we both figured out the kinds of things that we’re good at, so now when something comes in, we automatically know this is a Krystyna job or this is a Corinne job and we organically do what we need to do. And as far as writing…it’s just a very natural flow.
I try not to approach things too rigidly with too much structure or rules because I don’t like that. I’m the kind of person—when I had roommates and someone tried to make a fucking checklist of things to do or who bought toilet paper last—It’s like! Just! And if I find that I’m the only one buying toilet paper, just say, “Oh hey, Kim, can you get some toilet paper.” We’re not children, everything doesn’t have to be like that. My household bringup was not like that. If something was messy and I saw it, I cleaned it up. I wasn’t like, “Well that’s Chris’s mess.” You take care of your own shit—we’re responsible for cleaning our own rooms and then everyone pitches in on the communal areas. It doesn’t have to be like that.
So I think collaboration is very natural. And just knowing, realizing, what your skillset is, your strengths and using those for the best of the team. The key when you’re working with collaboration: don’t think what is best for me, think what is best for us.
Me: I always quote Office Space, “Is this good for the company?” It’s tongue-in-cheek, but it’s true in certain areas.
Corinne: It’s true! Last night—this is just a small example—but we were doing a segment together in the show and there was a really good place where there was room for a really great R. Kelly joke that we could use together, but I had a quick panic because I have an R. Kelly joke in my set, if I use it now…you can’t have two R. Kelly references in 90 minutes in 2017. So I was like, “You know what this is the best thing for now, it’s for the team, I’m going to use it now, I’ll trash the joke later, not a big deal, I have other jokes.” So it’s just stuff like that.
Me: You talked before about collaborating with a partner. I have that same desire, I’ve never been able to achieve it in a relationship. How do you do that?
Corinne: My boyfriend James and I are working on some stuff now. He’s a comic and we have a very interesting relationship. He’s a die hard Trump supporter.
Me: [Audible gasp]
Corinne: Yes, I know. It’s been a huge thing. I’ve talked about it on Guys We Fucked, people have stopped being fans because of it. I was dating him before I knew that, before the election was a thing. And at that point you’re already in love with the person. Everyone’s like, “Dump him!” I was like, “Ya know…I’ve been single for four years, I know what’s out there.” And honestly, nothing he’s said bothers me. None of the reasons that he gave were racist reasons. I’m a huge feminist, obviously he knows that, and he wasn’t trying to infringe on my reproductive rights. Obviously he’s pro-choice because he doesn’t want me to keep it. I mean, if you can get through the election of 2016 with a partner who is on the opposite side of the political spectrum, you can get through anything.
So yeah, we’re trying to work on some stuff together. It’s hard because the most difficult part is knowing when to talk about business and when to just be a couple. Because there’s nothing less romantic than talking about business all the time. One of the things I say the most to him is, “We cannot talk about comedy today.” A couple weeks ago, we went to Crown Heights and volunteered to bring old women flower arrangements and then we went to an Outback Steakhouse and a gun range in New Jersey.
Me: Three things that I’ve always thought should go together.
Corinne: I wanted to do the charity work and he wanted to go to the gun range. And we both wanted to go to Outback. [Laughter]
Me: Outback’s the middle ground!
Corinne: He’s from Ohio so he knows how to do all this outdoorsy stuff that he can’t believe I don’t know how to do. He’s like, “You’ve never skied? You’ve never snowboarded? You’ve never shot a gun?” “No! I’m from New Jersey! We went to the mall! I was at Sbarro’s!” When you live in New Jersey only rich people were going skiing. I spent so much money on our ski weekend, that was not cheap.
But the most important part is not letting it get too far into business. Isn’t Kate Winslet married to a director? And I think they had a big problem because she kept asking about a role she auditioned for or what she was supposed to be doing in a film when she got home and it was draining him.
Drop it. Alfred drop it. I’m trying to train him and obviously it’s not working.
Me: How do you collaborate with Alfred?
Corinne: Ugh. He’s a crotch licker. Dirty underwear is his favorite thing. He’s knocked over my hamper like thirty times.
Me: I do the same thing!
What's one thing you don't know now, but feel compelled to know before you die?
True happiness. I’m not even that sad all the time, but I’m like, “Is this it?” With every achievement or success or relationship—I sound so shitty because I have so many wonderful people in my life—but is this it? What is the purpose? Isn't that what everyone’s looking for? What’s the purpose of life? I mean, I read The Alchemist so obviously…
Me: You’re tapped in.
Corinne: But finding one’s purpose—I think I’ve gotten farther than I think a lot of people will ever get. I truly feel like my purpose is to be a comedian, is to make people laugh. And that’s such a huge weight lifted when I figure that out. I always knew it was something in entertainment, but everyone thinks they’re entertainers and we’re not all entertainers. But when I specifically found stand-up comedy, I was like, “This is the thing.” I didn’t think I was an actor so much. I was like, “Oh, I’m a stand-up comedian. There ya go, it all makes sense.”
So maybe if I’m doing life right. It doesn’t even matter if there’s a god or not. I have, at times in my life, believed in God. I don’t right now, but I’m not vehemently against the concept, it’s just not for me right now. Whether or not God exists, I would be leading my life in the same manner. So that’s what I need to know: Am I doing this right? But that’s such a weird thing to live by because I guess the answer is there is no right or wrong. That’s what I think the answer is.
What will you miss the most when you’re gone?
Taco Bell? As far as worldly pleasures—I don’t know if you can eat in the afterlife, and I would be very hungry and annoyed when I got there—I love food so much and it’s such a big part of my life, that’s what I would miss. I really hope I can see all my dead dogs. I’ll be devastated if I can’t see them. I really thought that was going to happen, but I don’t know.
Me: What if there is a heaven. Let’s just say the Christian heaven is real. What if you were perpetually satisfied food-wise? That would be terrible for you, right?
Corinne: Yeah, that would be sad for me.
Me: What if it was the opposite where you can always eat and never get full?
Corinne: If I can always eat and never get full and never get fat, that would be—This is heaven! A hundred percent! Heaven would mean so many different things to so many different people, I feel like you’d need a customized heaven. Everyone has a heaven cubicle where different things happen for you. Everybody’s heaven would be very different. I’m sure some people’s heaven would just be a bunch of naked chicks.
Me: The heaven cubicle. That’s interesting! You still have access to the other—not the other cubicles, necessarily, but the water cooler.
Corinne: Everyone can hang out. But everyone’s working on their own projects.
But I also have a lot of things I need to do, so I keep thinking if I die before my life’s to-do list is not all yet crossed out, I’ll be very irritated. I don’t like leaving things unfinished, it really bothers me. So I have all this other stuff left to do and I can’t die yet. But then I think of people who I read about that have died so prematurely and anyone’s ripe for the picking at any time.
Me: Does that motivate you to live life in a certain way?
Corinne: I always work really hard at full speed except for a couple hours a day when I just stare at a wall. I have a very bipolar way of living in general. I bipolar eat—I’ll either eat kale and smoothies or Taco Bell, Wendy’s, McDonald’s and all in the same day. Or I’ll work super hard and stay up all night or I’ll just spend the day doing—and when I say nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, not even watching a movie, just sitting on my couch, just staring out. I’m also afraid of the actual, physical pain of death. Any time I’m on an airplane, if the plane crashes, I’m emotionally ready to handle it, but I just don’t want it to hurt so much. So I hope I can pass out. I don’t want to feel my body tearing apart. That’s not necessary. I’m a little on edge because Andy Warhol described being shot as the worst pain he’s ever experienced because you can live through a gunshot.
Me: The pain. I’m actually a stroke survivor. I had two strokes.
Corinne: Oh my god.
Me: Yeah, when I was 33. Five years ago, almost. It was a scary experience and painful as hell.
Corinne: What does it feel like?
Me: You’ve been hungover before?
Me: You’ve had headaches.
Me: It’s the worst headache you’ve ever had times infinity and the worst hangover times infinity. Because I tore an artery in my brain. It was a very weird case. I tore an artery—I have no idea how I did it—and then the tear clotted and my brain died in two places.
Corinne: Oh my god! What can't you do now?
Me: My vision went down to a pinhole for a few days and it came back, but now I have a permanent blindspot. The first stroke was on my occipital lobe.
Corinne: You’re still OK being a photographer?
Me: Yeah because it’s not center and it doesn’t affect my driving, but it’s always there. It’s never really in the way.
Corinne: And it doesn’t drive you crazy?
Me: No, I got used to it pretty quickly. One of the reasons was when I was in the hospital and a neurosurgeon came in and I said how the vision was messing with me pretty badly, the blindspot kept moving around my field of vision at that point, and it finally rested into what it is now. But I said to him, “This is crazy. I can’t handle this.” And he said, “Have you ever seen The Diving Bell and the Butterfly?” Have you seen it?
Corinne: I know of it, but I have not seen it.
Me: It’s a guy who has a stroke and he’s locked in, but his brain is perfectly fine. His body’s paralyzed but he can’t communicate except for blinking one eye. So the doctor says to me, “You were millimeters away from that. So shut up and deal with it.” And I was like, “OK! Sounds good!”
Corinne: Always nice to say something way worse that could’ve happened!
Me: Yep! And it’s fine, it’s manageable. But I don’t know what your pain threshold is.
Corinne: My pain threshold is pretty high.
Me: I can only speak to tearing an artery and having two strokes because that’s my only experience. I was conscious the whole time and they wouldn’t put me on pain meds because they needed me to tell them where it hurt and that sucked.
Corinne: I get migraines and headaches and those are the worst. Because it’s a pain that’s so bad you actually can’t think.
Me: And you can’t escape it. The pill, shutting your eyes, nothing works.
Corinne: That’s the only time I can’t do stand-up is when I’m hungover. I can do it drunk, I can do it sick, I can do it when I’ve lost my voice, but when I’m hungover I can’t even think to make the words come out. My worst sets are always when I’m hungover. I never do this, but if I got trashed, I could still do a pretty OK set.
Me: I couldn’t do it as a musician. I’ll have a beer before the show and a beer on stage that doesn’t get drunk.
Corinne: I know comics that drink 12 beers before they go up.
Me: How do they remember anything? Or where they just came from? Unless you’re so rehearsed that it’s just like boom.
Corinne: Sometimes you just know your set so much. Then there’s also that scary area that you can get into when you realize you’re funnier when you’re drunk and that’s very dangerous for a comedian. So you never want to do that. At my monthly show I’ll drink because it’s an 11:30p set on a Friday night called Nacho Bitches, and it’s my show, so I feel like I’m not letting anyone down but myself if I fuck it up, which I don’t. But that’s the only kind of show I get drunk at. I don’t drink during the week. It’s a rule I have. It’s also so I don’t get too fat. You get paid in booze and food as a comedian for the first five years. It’s not good.
Me: Easy to go down the rabbit hole.
Corinne: For sure. It’s not coincidence that so many comedians have killed themselves through their liver.