Based out of New York City, Brooke Van Poppelen has made a name for herself through her stand-up comedy and television work. In addition to her many guest appearances, her writing has also been featured on numerous MTV shows.
How much of your stand-up set is scripted versus just a loose structure put together?
Brooke: When it’s a shorter bit my material is word for word, but a lot of my favorite jokes are the ones that are long and have lots of room to play within them. Those jokes usually just have bullets I know I have to hit and then have a lot of fun wandering around within those parameters. I’d go totally crazy doing comedy sets word for word all the time so I tend to mix up the order of my set list and see if I can discover new connective tissue between seemingly unrelated topics.
Sometimes I start out with a set in mind and then something entirely improvised comes out instead and I just see where it takes me. It’s scary and thrilling and I’ve been trusting myself more as of late but it’s a weird feeling, like someone else is in the driver seat.
How does your approach to writing stand-up material differ from your television writing?
My stand-up is very personal whereas writing for television (depending on the type of show it is) opens me up to write on topics that I really enjoy but don’t necessarily fit the BVP narrative. I mean, most of the time you’re writing for someone who isn’t you so you have to learn their voice. I really surprised myself being able to write good monologue jokes, host copy, and topical bits because it works a seriously out of shape writing muscle for me.
It feels like left-brained joke-writing as opposed to right-brained – it’s constrained, formulaic and sharp and after a couple hours of that I am exhausted because I have a slight battle with attention deficit disorder. On the other hand, I can write narrative character dialogue for hours and not break a sweat.
When you watch other comedians, what are you looking to take away from their performance (Obviously not in terms of lifting material, but approach, etc.)?
I just love to have a genuine belly laugh. I can never predict what or who will make me lose it but they usually tend to be comics that seem a little unhinged. I also love when comedians sort of throw away their intended sets and just go OFF about something that’s been bothering them. Sometimes we can get a little canned with our material and we all see each other perform so much that we can say each others’ jokes in our sleep. So when a comic is like “FUCK IT. Turnin’ the GPS off,” things get interesting and really genuine. The crowd might be a little baffled but the comedians are usually losing it. I guess aside from that I just love fresh perspectives on relatable material. That’s always delightful.
What was the best piece of advice another comedian gave you?
Probably over ten years ago I had a comic lay out a theory that once you start getting comfortable with your set, your big “closer” should become your opener and your other material should be good enough to follow it. More or less it’s about growing and writing and not being lazy, blah blah blah and having faith that all of your other jokes have the potential to be as great as your closer, but I’ll tell you what, I LOVE closing a headlining set with this one joke I have about laxative teas. It has never failed and I’ve gotten comfortable with it and now I feel like I just threw down the gauntlet for myself and I’m going to see if I can put that joke at the top of my set this weekend.
Was there a specific moment where you knew comedy was the path for you?
I feel like the minute I started to find my voice and see that my perspective had value and my words had positive effects on people, there was no going back. Pretty much any time women approach me after a show and tell me how much they related to me, I feel inspired to keep doing it for women. In some ways I used to be more gender neutral with some of my material but lately I’ve really owned talking about my experiences as a woman, and as long as it’s funny it’s been making men and women laugh equally hard, *but* I feel like women get the bonus prize of catharsis.
This field was so dominated by male comics for the longest time, so it’s not surprising how many men and women are excited to see female comedians perform. It’s 2016 and I still have people come up and say that they’ve never really seen a female stand-up comic before.
What was so great about the best gig you ever had?
There are so many fun ones, but without a doubt, taping John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show was an absolute career highlight. First of all, he is just the most brilliant comic and genuinely nice person and he’s KILLING IT on his show.
Second, this taping was my first official break as a stand-up and it meant so much to me because I really felt like it was due. Third, we got to perform for an all-New York crowd in the Big Apple on a show that shouted out NYC in the title – it felt so celebratory and it was amazing to be able to tell some very New York-specific jokes and have the crowd go nuts because usually you can’t get away with that outside of the city. It just felt like a huge milestone and validated some of the hardest years of my life.
What qualities make a crowd really memorable?
When they are down to clown. When they take the ride with you. When they show up ready to have fun. That is a great audience to feed off of.