After a lifetime of comic curiosity, Lisan Wood finally crossed the stand-up comedy threshold last April and hasn’t looked back. In the 10 months since first stepping on stage, Wood has quickly become a fixture in the city’s still-developing comedy scene with a heft of sardonic, self-effacing, and altogether fearless material. She manages to squeeze both laughs and gasps from all-too-specific recountings of growing up poor to neglectful adopted parents, nagging misconceptions about her Korean heritage, being bullied, and numerous other personal musings that push boundaries and mince nary a word.
Before Wood’s performance at Hybrid Lounge Wednesday night—the comic, sketch writer/director, and Ragtime Variety Hour co-producer’s latest gig in what’s already been a busy year—Milwaukee Record spoke to the budding local comedian about her penchant for relocating, her increasingly personal style of comedy, and why it’s important that she’s always the punchline to her jokes.
Milwaukee Record: It seems like you’ve bounced around a lot. You lived in Salt Lake City, Chicago, now here?
Lisan Wood: I’ve lived in Memphis, Baton Rouge, Pensacola, Louisville, Chicago, Salt Lake, and now Milwaukee.
MR: Why did you move around so much?
LW: I read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road a few too many times as a kid. Honestly, I guess I get restless.
MR: I guess you can’t really speak to what those other cities’ comedy scenes are like because you got your start here, but how do you feel Milwaukee’s sense of humor differs from some of the other places you’ve lived?
LW: Well, I mean, I actually did stand-up in Boston last October. I went out there and did some open mics there, and then I’ve gone down to Chicago. Obviously, the Milwaukee and Chicago scenes are pretty similar, but in Boston, what was really interesting is you have all these great people coming out of there like Louis CK, Bill Burr, and tons of other people who are great storytellers. To go to an open mic in a city that has this storytelling history with really soft punchlines is really interesting. The people that you see there, if they’re good, it’s magic, and if they’re bad, it’s the most painful thing that you’ll ever have to sit through. That was the biggest I noticed between the scenes.
MR: You mentioned off mic that you’ve wanted to do stand-up for years. What about the Milwaukee scene made you want to finally give it a shot?
LW: I had a relationship end, so I got to the point where I decided I was going to do everything I ever wanted to. I was always a humungous fan of comedy. I watched comedy my entire life, so I decided to do it after this long relationship ended and it just took off from there.
MR: Since my initial exposure to you, it seems like you’ve been a lot more active of late. You seemed to be on, like, every other showcase in the last month. You did Madison’s Comic Con. Is there anything behind you hitting it a lot harder recently?
LW: When I came onto this scene, because I was such a fan of comedy, I was absolutely in awe of everybody who was doing comedy on a regular basis, so I was nervous. I was nervous at every single open mic and was definitely intimidated. I think that I got to the point where I was just doing jokes, then I felt more comfortable on stage, and I feel like over the past couple of months those two things have combined to where I’m semi-solid.
MR: It seems like you’ve gotten a lot more personal with your newest material. You’ve always been sort of blunt and self-effacing, but when I saw you at Boone & Crockett, it seemed like you were delving into some very deep, dark issues from your upbringing and your family life. Has getting more personal on stage led to growth?
LW: I really feel like I’ve always talked about [personal issues]. I know you were also at the High Life show, and that’s a set where I decided I would do every single joke I have about my childhood and just see how it goes. I’ve been doing some of those jokes since, like, July, so it’s always been there. I mean, I guess I feel more comfortable, but I also feel like—and this is kind of the evolution of somebody starting comedy—in the beginning, you have one joke here and one joke there about a certain subject: my dating life or my childhood. The fun thing for me at the point I’m at right now is seeing all these jokes turn into bits. I might have had a tag of childhood or a joke on childhood within a five-minute set, but now I can talk about it for seven minutes.
MR: I think you have the ability to make a whole room laugh really hard, but just as easily alienate a room and make everyone feel uncomfortable. I think they’re equally impressive. It’s a great thing to have hold of a room.
LW: One thing that I’ve said is that at the end of the day, I want to be the punchline to my jokes. I don’t want anyone to feel bad. You know, if I’m pointing something out about a certain group of people, it’s probably because of my own insecurities and shit. I’m not out to make anybody feel bad.
Lisan Wood will perform at Hybrid Lounge on Wednesday, February 18 as part of the Hot Room Comedy showcase, which also features Mike Berg, Liza Marie, Matty Field, and host Josh Ballew. The show begins at 8 p.m. and is free.