Fort Worth — For the past few years, the Amphibian Stage Productions in Fort Worth has staged ambitious “residency” program wherein a comedian comes to town for a week or two, and does four or five shows over that span, tweaking and refining as they go. Last year, the program included Emily Heller and Baron Vaughn.
This time ‘round, Jacqueline Novak takes her turn in the Amphibious hearth, with her one-woman show, How Embarrassing For Her, running April 13-21. The show will eventually travel to Scotland's Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.
Novak is, in a word, versatile. In two words, versatile and smart. In three words, versatile, smart, and perceptive. We’ll take a fourth word, hilarious, for granted.
“Smart,” because even if she is talking about something as cosmically unimportant as French fries, she brings a certain level of astuteness and articulation to it. I don’t think you will hear Dane Cook use the word “inscrutable” in any of his sets.
“Perceptive” comes from her deep and humorous understanding of depression that’s laid out in her erstwhile web series (also the name of a book she wrote), How to Cry in Public. In it, she discusses depression and anxiety with different comedians, a shrink, and in one webisode, her Dad. For as short as the webisodes are (about five minutes), they pack a lot of truth and laughs. If you’re just going to watch one, watch the Julie Klausner episode.
For Novak, it’s about not boxing herself in, and trusting the audience. "I try not to artificially create a lane for myself,” she says. “That wouldn't do. I like to trust that whatever I talk about, the connections between them will be apparent to someone else, if there are any connections. I've decided to believe that if you're speaking from the heart, there is some kind of thread there that you might not be aware of, it'll work for other people."
Novak is very much on board the residency idea the Amphibian is offering. In more conventional sets, "you feel pressured to do what you KNOW will work,” says Novak.
“You're worried about, to use a term that club owners might throw around, laughs per minute. LPM's [chuckles]. At the same time, as a standup, you can only work out material live. So there's an inherent conflict in that. So for me, the fact that this residency has writing days built in and it’s across two weeks, and tweaking and exploring is the expectation is like, the greatest thing ever."
She also speaks of what a positive influence Mike Birbiglia has been over the years, and continues to be. She spent some time opening for him, but they go way back to Novak’s formative comedic years, and they traded vulnerabilities.
“He was a huge supporter and pep-talk giver, from my first open mic,” she says. “I read my first jokes on the phone to him, which was very hard to do, because he was a working comedian. So it was very embarrassing to say, 'Here goes. Here's me trying to be funny. What do you think?' I remember him trying to make me not afraid to do it. So he [first] read me some stuff out of his notebook that he didn't think was particularly impressive."
It’s a great story, and Birbiglia and Novak are both great comedians. As versatile, smart, and perceptive as Novak is, though, the best reason you should go see her is for the LPM’s.