Ronn Vigh: Hey Shawn! How are you? It's been a long time!
Shawn Pelofsky: (singing) Reunited and it feels so good.....
Before I continue on, let me tell you that I've known Shawn for many years before this interview. I ran a comedy show at a gay bar for 10 years that Shawn would regularly perform at. We've shared stages and a few after-show drinks together where I would stare at her perpetually flawless hair as we would discuss all sorts of things. One night, a big topic Shawn fixated on was how I was in a two year relationship and still had not seen my boyfriend's apartment. Cut to 2018, that same boyfriend now lives with me and I never did see his apartment. After a week-long game of phone tag and email exchanges, we are finally on the phone together to chat about her upcoming shows at Punch Line.
RV: Let's start with the basics. How did you become a working comedian?
SP: I didn't have a choice but to become a standup comedian because I grew up Jewish in Oklahoma.
RV: So, was it your upbringing that cultivated your sense of humor and dictated your career choices?
SP: My father went to medical school at Oklahoma University and my mother is from Brooklyn. My family had a good sense of humor and I was always an extrovert. I loved performing at a young age and making people laugh, watching SNL, the different characters and I really loved watching Bette Midler. She inspired me and made me want to be an entertainer.
RV: You perform for a variety of audiences but you're straight and have developed a very large gay following. Why do you think that is?
SP: You too can break your nose three times and look like Barbara Streisand and the gays will flock to you!
RV: Yea, but you just don't perform for a bunch of gay men. You really seem to be a part of the community.
SP: Well, In sixth grade, I became friends with the only guy who came out in class. I was always fascinated by gay men. Growing up, every Sunday in Oklahoma, my dad would pack up the Mercedes wagon and we would all go to the Chinese restaurant as good Jews do. There was a guy there named Sean which was weird because he was a "Gaysian." He managed the restaurant and loved my dad and would always float out to greet him as Dr. Pelofsky. I was obsessed and loved everything about him and his energy. I figured out early on the magic and honesty and loyalty that gay men and the community as a whole have. They don't pass judgment, anything goes, you can say anything and they will listen and laugh at a time where people are so sensitive. It's a time where you make the wrong step and say the tiniest wrong thing and people hold that against you forever. The gays don't judge, well at least they don't judge me.
RV: The hardest part for a comic sometimes is to figure out what their crowd is and often they will unfairly get pigeonholed into a one dimensional label such as "gay comic," "urban comic," "Jewish comic" and so on. That really hasn't happened to you though?
SP: I'm lucky that I really do a lot of different gigs for different people. Yeah, I've performed for a lot of gay men and women on cruises and I really enjoy it. You get to travel in style and have fun and great experiences like none other. It's very different from other types of gigs I've done. I performed for our troops in the war zones. That's what I love about my life, one minute I'm performing for the military and the next I'm at a bear convention. People are people and you just need to assimilate to what person you are standing in front of. Cancer patients. Children. Masons. You've just got to be fast on your feet.
RV: You mentioned that you're Jewish. Do you do a lot of Jewish shows?
SP: To be honest, I try not to. I'm pretty sure they are all waiting for Shecky Greene and Mort Sahl to come out and I will just be a big disappointment.
RV: From what I've seen, you have a very loyal following and when someone sees you for the first time, they too quickly become a loyal follower. However, have you had any instances where an audience member wasn't quite as hospitable toward you or your comedy?
SP: Oh yeah, many times. I was performing at a base in Japan, entertaining the troops and within 20 minutes of my routine somebody pitched a cherry right at my face and it hit me hard. I went right out into the audience and threatened a six foot man's life while wearing Manolo Blahniks. They were drunk and rowdy and didn't care that I traveled 18 hours to perform for them after 9-11 but that's just another crazy experience.
RV: Good job! Despite all the successes, isn't it funny that sometimes it just takes one show like that to make you question all of your choices as a comedian. I used to get really down after a shit show like that would happen but now I just look at my comedic influences and some situations where they overcame adversity as an inspiration to keep going. So, is there anyone like that for you? Who are your current comedy crushes?
SP: Oh well, there's a few. I love to watch Vicki Barbolak. She is someone who I really admire and was just a finalist on America's Got Talent. She's incredible. Not only is she off-the-cuff funny and a great joke writer but she's a very beautiful person and someone who I aspire to be as good as. Also, Bobby Lee because no matter how the room is going, he will be that one person that brings everybody to their feet. Oh and Bryan Callen too because he's eccentric, random and different. He can do characters and voices and morph into a different person and make you believe that character is standing in front of you. It's hilarious.
RV: You do characters too, don't you?
SP: Yeah, my biggest character is playing a 25 year old woman. Ah, Ronn, really I think I'm character enough. These days on stage, I'm into improvising with the audience more than I have been in the past and I just like to test myself and see how I can work on my feet. In comedy, bringing everybody together is the real art form.
RV: Since I have known you for a while and follow you on Facebook, I do know that you have had a lot of highs and lows recently. For instance, you got married but your mother also passed away.
SP: Is marriage really a high Ronn? That sounds like two downers to me.
RV: Well, I ask this because when major life events occur I pretty much notice that comedians do one of two things. They either shut it off and ignore it and just do comedy as usual. Or, such as Laurie Kilmartin did with the illness and death of her father, they really incorporate it into their performances and find comedy through tragedy as a way to cope and entertain. I was wondering how these experiences have affected you as a performer?
SP: Comedically, it doesn't keep me from saying what I want to say. Thank God I had comedy during a time when my mom felt very ill. The only solace is getting on stage and finding the funny in those dark moments and I will never hesitate to talk about the experiences I've had. When your parents get older- it's really hard to see. And then there's my marriage- who knew that I would be married and to a Brazilian. Also so many people are surprised that someone actually married me. I proved everybody wrong. It's been such a juxtaposition, from my mom getting sick and passing and now feeling even more pressure to do well because she was my #1 fan. My special just came out and I shot it when she was alive. She actually opens it up. My mom is the funniest thing about my special and I'm so happy that she will always live on that way and the world gets to see her.
RV: By the way, your special which is available now on ITunes, Amazon, OnDemand and more is called Stretch It Out. I've heard you say that so many times in your act but I never understood what it actually means?
SP: "Stretch It Out" is a tag line that I've used for years. It means nothing. A lot of the gays have been asking for years. There's been so many times when a group will come up to me at a show and say, "Shawn, We all discussed it at dinner and we think it means that or this." It really means nothing. It's my own rim shot. It's just one more moment to kind of stretch out that joke I guess.
RV: And, you will be "stretching it out" at Punch Line San Francisco October 18th, 19th and 20th. Are you excited?
SP: Oh yeah, I love the political correctness in SF and that I will be the one to deface it.
RV: Since I've know you for years, I want to make sure that I didn't accidentally gloss over anything.. So, before I let you go, is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
SP: Yea, that I'm much skinnier now Ronn.
Shawn Pelofsky At Punch Line San Francisco on Oct 18, 19, 20. One show Thursday. 2 Shows on Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $18.50 - $24.00 in advance.
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