On New Year’s Eve, as one calendar year gives way to another, it’s hard to avoid looking back on the previous 365 days and take stock of where your life is now compared to a year earlier. At this point last year, Carson Leet was a 21-year-old Sussex resident who was intrigued with the idea of doing stand-up. In the months since, she moved to Milwaukee, has made striking developments on stage, and is quickly establishing herself in her new city’s comedy scene.
Tonight, Leet will close out a year of personal and comedic growth on stage at Hotel Foster, during a New Year’s Eve showcase she put together and will host. Before she laughs 2015 away, Milwaukee Record asked the newcomer about her stand-up origin, her quick integration into the Milwaukee comedy scene, and how her NYE Showcase came together.
Milwaukee Record: What was your introduction to comedy? What made you want to start doing it?
Carson Leet: My sophomore year in college, I ended up dropping out of school. I got really depressed and wound up falling into some thing I shouldn’t have. I realized I was hitting rock bottom. I wanted something to bring me out of it and it hit me one day, I don’t need to be sad. I’m still young, so I can become something more. I wound up coming out to open mics with a friend who thought I was funny and who encouraged me to get up and do jokes. My best friend could see I wanted to be a comedian before I could, and it eventually helped me get out of my funk. It’s a great way to express things I otherwise don’t feel I’d be able to.
MR: You moved to Milwaukee this summer, right? And prior to that, you had been performing out here a little bit with shows and open mics here and there.
CL: I would say I was actually going to mics almost every night of the week.
MR: So you were already kind of in the scene and you’d met a few people before moving here, but after the move, was it easy to get involved in stuff here?
CL: Being socially anxious, it’s harder to get further into the comedy community because there are so many people. Because it’s so big now, it kind of made me a little nervous. New people are coming out and it’s hard to keep track of everyone.
MR: But it seems like you integrated yourself into the scene pretty quickly.
CL: Yeah, well I think it helped that I had been coming out here like every night when I lived in Sussex. I was more keen to get out and stick around, get to know people in the scene. Since I moved here, I’ve been trying to get more involved in the behind the scenes kind of things with producing shows and I just started helping Matt Kemple to marking at The Underground Collaborative. Chris [Schmidt] told me that for some people, [establishing themselves] comes a lot easier because they have a strong voice.
MR: What has your development been since moving here, both on stage and in terms of your material?
CL: I’ve learned that even at open mics, you can’t just go up there with an idea. You have to look into it and think of tags and a formula to make it work. You can’t just get up there and throw something out. That bit me in the ass a couple times.
MR: you mentioned Schmidt earlier, but has anyone else offered advice, given you opportunities, or helped you along the way?
CL: I did a show with Shawn Shelnutt in October and we were talking a lot about fitting into the scene. It was nice to talk to people and get tips from people who have been doing it for a while. Also, I’ve learned a lot from Matt Kemple. Not just with my comedy but how to run a show. He’s one of the hardest working people in the comedy scene. I think I’ve learned that comedy isn’t all about making people laugh. It’s about meeting other people who are dealing with some of the same shit you so and are trying to find the funny in it. It’s just a very open and welcoming community. I really like it.
MR: I want to get into the New Year’s showcase. Is this is your intro to producing and doing your own show? What went into the organization and the lineup?
CL: Yeah. It was actually a lot easier than I was expecting it to be because it was at a venue where I already host an open mic at and we have a connection with the owner. I put improv in there because I don’t know what people are going to expect. I figured having 15 or 20 minutes of improv to open the show would welcome people in and create a more interactive experience for them before launching into stand-up comedy. Sam Gordon is one of the only people who I can listen to more than once and am still just doubled over with laughter. I was looking for a strong female voice to feature. I don’t know. This is kind of a collection of strong people who all have different styles.
Carson Leet hosts tonight’s NYE Showcase at Hotel Foster. Geoff Asmus, Sam Gordon, Tyler Snodgrass, Nick Martin, Kyle Gagnon, and Tall Boys Improv will also perform. The show begins at 8:30 p.m. and costs $5.