Comedy

Liz Miele Argues In Favor of Live Comedy Shows Over “No Context” Online Clips

Liz Miele has been navigating the comedy world online and in person for more than twenty years - and she can happily show her work.
Liz Miele has been navigating the comedy world online and in person for more than twenty years - and she can happily show her work. Photo by Jim McCambridge
Jersey girl Liz Miele says she was very young when she first pursued stand-up comedy.

“I started when I was 16 years old,” the performer says. “I have been writing and performing for 22 years now. I would just take the train [into New York] on the weekends when I was in high school and do whatever show would allow a 16 year old on. I got kicked out of a lot of clubs.”

Miele, who self-released her latest special Murder Sheets via YouTube earlier this year, is making a triumphant return to Houston’s Secret Group on Saturday, June 29. “I’ve performed there a few times,” the comic elaborates. “I opened for my friend Hari Kondabolu and then I think I’ve headlined there twice before.”
Miele seems keen to note her experience as a seasoned stand-up. “I mean, I’m starting to age,” she says with a laugh. “But for a while, I didn’t look my age even as an adult, so I looked really young as an adult. I feel fortunate that this community was like, yeah, tell your weird cat jokes and I haven’t stopped.”

“Its funny because some of the stand-up I had seen when I was a teenager, my older sister went to George Washington University. So her school would have shows. And I think the rule in most cities was you can be under 21. So there were certain clubs I could go to as a teenager, but I saw only a few shows before I started doing stand up.”

While she has been performing since her high school days, Miele notes how her standing in stand-up changed with a signal boost from Comedy Central’s Live At Gotham. “I had a thing on Comedy Central was I was 22, and that TV credit really allowed me to start hosting and featuring for people. So I think around 6 or 7 years in, and I was always trying to get shows and work, but I think it started to get more consistent, and I became a full time comic, god its probably been about 12 years.”
After working as an opener for Hari Kondabolu (including an appearance on Kondabolu’s 2023 special Vacation Baby), she now tours with an opener of her own: Neil Rubenstein. “He’s been opening for me for years,” Miele recounts. “He’s brilliant and has a YouTube special of his own, but what I think I appreciated when I opened for Hari is that he is pretty political, and I talk about my feelings and cats. We’re clearly friends and I agree with his politics and who he is as a person but I don’t step on it because I do think an hour and a half on the same topic can get boring.

"So I think with Neil what’s really nice is we are completely opposite humans, but I find him to be so funny and he’s such a good joke writer and I think it prepares the audience to see such a well crafted evening of jokes. I don’t need someone to warm up the crowd by asking where people are from or be high energy because neither of us are that. I want people to be there because they are excited to see jokes and not because I’m a clown. Everyone has different tastes, but what me and Neil do is some old school good comedy.”

Through comedy, Miele has performed across the globe – and made the surprising discovery that her material seems to work across borders. “I accidentally found out that my style is universal’ she says. “I just talk about my feelings, which are mostly anger. But because I keep most things personal and the root of my jokes are emotional, everyone in the world feels anger and pain and frustration and joy, and I think while there might be cultural differences, you know I complain about the post office or something specific, the emotions are there. I don’t really have to change much, inside of the country or outside.”

Processing emotion on stage has served Miele both in joke crafting, but also it seems in terms of positive mental health. “I don’t love when comics say ‘comedy is therapy’ because you should go to therapy,” she clarifies, adding. “I do both. But it does allow me to process my pain and sometimes learn about what I did wrong.

"I can’t tell you how many times I will complain about something, and the audience isn’t reacting. I’ll be like, ‘Am I wrong?’ and the audience will be like, ‘Yeah!’ – and yeah, that’s a perspective! You know by talking about it, expressing it, it really does help me get through it. As somebody who is angry, I used to hide it and felt uncomfortable all the time. Now I get to express my anger every night onstage and I feel less angry offstage because I have this outlet.”
As Miele’s individual material has evolved, so has the structure her shows take. Since her earliest viral videos of her on-stage material, much has changed about how audiences consume stand-up comedy. “I owe my career to social media,” the comic says.

“So it is sort of the best thing that’s ever happened to me and the worst things that’s ever happened to me. I started clipping up my jokes over 15 years ago, and that’s how I had these viral videos very early in my career via YouTube at first and then Instagram. It’s those clips and singular jokes that gained me an audience. But as a storyteller and someone who is more longwinded... you need to know a little about me to even appreciate every jokes. I have had people say mean things about me because they have no context.”

Illustrating her point, Miele points to a recent show she did in Istanbul that causes a minor skirmish. “I did a show in Istanbul, and the bookers clipped up a joke about my cat dying and me kind of flippantly being ‘I don’t care!’ All the hate comments [I got], I had to translate them. They were like ‘You don’t deserve cats you horrible person’ and I’m like woah! Both my parents are veterinarians, I love cats. It’s a joke!

"But because this clip was out of context, I look like a monster, where if you had watched even the first jokes around it, you would know how much I loved my cat and cats in general. How tongue in check the response was, but when you clip it up it takes away context and I was getting Turkish hate mail.”
Miele’s struggle illuminates how comedy travels across media: some jokes may hit harder in person than online. “I think with my new hour which is almost a complete story, it has an arc to it, it is going to be harder to clip with the callbacks in it and stuff. But you kind of have to go on that journey with me as well. Of course it can stand alone - I constantly perform for people who don’t know me. But there is a difference between the emotional how you show up at a comedy club, and just showing up in your reel after people falling and tax advice or whatever people watch. It’s a different headspace than when you’ve bought a ticket, sit down and know you are going to see a comedian, even if you don’t know who the comic is.”

Many comics today live and die how their material fares online on Instagram and TikTok. But Miele seems to view these archived moments through a different lens. “As someone who puts specials out for free and stuff, you put the clips or specials out when they are done. If you want to see what I am working on or my newest stuff, you come see me live. If you want to see the stuff that is done and off the roster, that’s online. Like I’ve had fans say they didn’t watch my special because they are going to see me live in Texas, and I’m like: ‘Its done, I haven’t done those jokes in over 6 months.’ Like as soon as its out, I’m already on my next hour.”

And while some other types of artist might wretch at the notion of flying in with piping hot material each show and letting tried-and-true winning bits sit idle – Miele’s previews exactly how the comedian’s mind differs from the rock star’s.

“It is refreshing,” she says about retiring old jokes. “You really do start to hate it. I try to tape it before I get to that emotion because I think there is difference between expressing yourself and feeling good about it, and being a performer like it is just kind of in there. So there is a sweet spot between it is finished and you don’t hate it yet. That’s where I want to be so I am still excited and it still feels good when those lines get the laughs.

"But there is a moment where they laugh, and you’re like, I don’t even feel anything. I know this is funny. I do try to turn over pretty quickly, because the high is from that ‘oh my God, they think its funny!’ It’s eventually wears off, because... everybody laughs.”

Miele's performance is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, June 29 at The Secret Group, 2101 Polk. For more information, call 832-898-1088 or visit thesecretgrouphtx.com. $25
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Vic covers the comedy scene, in Houston and beyond. When not writing articles, he's working on his scripts, editing a podcast, or trying to hustle up a few laughs himself!
Contact: Vic Shuttee