"NOW I KNOW WHY PAULA ABDUL was constantly high on pills," says Natasha Leggero of the rigors of judging NBC's Last Comic Standing, a contest fashioned after American Idol. But jokes aside, Leggero and her fellow judges Andy Kindler and Greg Giraldo have made the long-running Last Comic Standing relevant for the first time in seven seasons, simply by choosing comics they like, as opposed to those who might be palatable to a broader American audience. As many of the contestants perform regularly in quality clubs across the country, the show is able to paint a more accurate portrait of the stand-up experience.
And while she's been confined to the judge's desk so far, Leggero will finally get her chance to perform on the season finale, August 9. What portion of her material will get past NBC's standards and practices, however, is another matter. Some of Leggero's best bits, like the one about a McDonald's employee who unknowingly gives birth in the toilet at work, won't even get close. For the parts of her act that do make the censor's cut, it'll be interesting to see how they're received. A significant chunk of Leggero's set comes from the sarcastic perspective of a WASP-y East Coast socialite, including a signature line where she asks for a show of hands of those living in a "servant-less household." The routine is often buoyed by her wearing a cocktail dress and elbow-length opera gloves, but Leggero insists the outfit doesn't contribute to a character.
"I think that I have always liked to dress up and bring a little razzle-dazzle to the stage," she says. "When I was really poor in New York, and even in LA, it always made me feel good to get all dressed up. So even if you don't have any money you can still be glamorous."
While she's been performing in one way or another since childhood, Leggero started doing stand-up eight years ago when her preconceptions of the form were shattered. "I moved to LA from New York and I saw this girl I know just kind of standing on stage and talking about her day," Leggero says. "I always felt like a stand-up comedian was just a man in a suit like Jackie Mason or something. I didn't know you could just be a girl and talk about what you were seeing and try to make it funny." The show inspired Leggero to try her own and she got up on stage at an open mic at the Comedy Store in Hollywood.
"My first set was probably the best set I've ever had," she says. "I mean, I also was on Vicodin so that might've influenced it. It was something my hairdresser gave me to calm my nerves. The laughter just felt like waves washing up on me. I think I was almost hallucinating. So I'm just trying to get that feeling back."
In the eight years since, Leggero has come a long way with her stand-up (not to mention her other work in TV, including roles in Reno 911! and a regular spot on Chelsea Lately). At the inaugural Bridgetown Comedy Festival in 2008 Leggero played to a crowd of maybe 20 on Bar of the Gods' back patio. Now she's headlining five shows in three days. Still, Leggero has a fond and funny memory of her last Portland show. "The last time I was there I was heckled by a stripper with a Ph.D.," she says. "It was something very bizarre."