What’s your New Year’s resolution? In 2013, ex-improvisor and then-workaholic Liz Ziner decided she was finally going to throw caution to the wind and give stand-up comedy a try. Sure, it took her 10 months of the year to finally do so, but once she took the stage, she didn’t look back. By the end of 2014, Ziner had logged an impressive amount of stage time, made a Packers great laugh his ass off, and managed to find a roommate/best friend in the comedy scene. She’s poised to build off last year’s milestones with shows on top of shows on top of shows. Two of them are happening this weekend.
Before Ziner takes the stage at Friday night’s Ragtime Variety Hour and Saturday’s Bremen Cafe showcase, Milwaukee Record asked the motivated young comic about her stand-up origin, her ongoing development, and what it’s like living with one of the other funniest women in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee Record: What initially led you to take the plunge and attempt stand-up?
Liz Ziner: I did improv all through college and I loved it. Then I moved to Milwaukee. I had a really demanding job at the time that took up all my free time. I blinked and all the sudden it had been two years since I had been on stage performing. My friends have always told me that I’m a good storyteller, and as I got older, people started saying “You should do stand-up.” [In 2013], my New Year’s resolution was to try it, and I waited until October to do it, and it was so much fun. It went really well and I won the open mic contest at the Comedy Cafe. The reason that I kept doing it, really, was the other comics who were at the Cafe that night came up to me and said, “You should come to more open mics.” I had a lot of strong influences right from the start that really pushed me along. So I started going to open mics every night and before I knew it, I had a huge group of friends out of it.
MR: Nice. So one and a fourth years into it, what are the highlights beyond people you’ve met?
LZ: Performance-wise, I had a huge breakthrough this summer. When I first started, I thought that I had to stand in one place and hold the microphone. I didn’t realize how stressful that was for me to force myself to do it because that’s not natural for me. I’m used to moving around and being really animated. At the Milwaukee Comedy Festival [last] summer, I saw some incredible performers and it just hit me like a brick that you can move around. Why are you holding back? Why are you downplaying your energy? Of course the Battle Royale was really big. Honestly, I had no expectations going in. I was just excited for the stage time.
MR: Yeah, you advanced to the finals. As an insider, one of the reasons you moved on was because celebrity judge, LeRoy Butler, was especially into what you were doing. What’s it like to have a judge who is on the Mount Rushmore of ’90s era Packers like your act?
LZ: Very, very surreal. That was cool because I tried to tell stories that would fit in a way that are relatable for all people, but I guess when I think of who I think my jokes resonate the most with, I tend to think it’s women. So it’s really, really great. I talked to him briefly. He took a picture with us before he left, and I think I sufficiently weirded him out with my last bit about Planned Parenthood. But that whole night was extremely surreal. I had so much fun and that was probably the most authentically “me” performance I’ve done.
MR: Other than getting more comfortable on stage, what are some other ways you feel you’ve developed?
LZ: When I first started, I was so nervous about how I would look on stage. This was just a part of my personality that I didn’t realize was so predominant. I was more focused on what I was wearing than on what I was saying. I look back on that now and absolutely cringe. It became clear really quickly in this scene that no one gives a shit what you look like if what’s coming out of your mouth isn’t worth their time. I’ve also stopped holding back. If I think of a tag that I think is going to be too weird, I’ll always try it at [an open] mic now. I used to just quietly let it die.
MR: What are some of your immediate goals for your next year-plus?
LZ: My immediate goals…there is a ton of creative energy in this city and a lot of people that I’d love to work with. I’d like to do more improv and more alternative format shows—just kind of playing with the traditional stand-up showcase. I’d to start a showcase. I have a couple irons in the fire there.
MR: You mentioned shows with alternative themes. One of them, Ragtime [Variety Hour], will be happening this weekend. What makes this different than the usual Liz Ziner show or the traditional showcase?
LZ: I think Lisan [Wood] and Liza [Marie] have done an incredible job promoting. They’re really putting a ton of work in as producers. It doesn’t seem like a novelty at all. The Ragtime show will also be my first time co-headlining. That’s really exciting because the stage time makes such a huge difference in what I’m able to do. There are bits I don’t often have enough time to get to. Plus, we all got to choose a walk up song, which I’ve been wrestling with intensely. It’s not a thing you should lose sleep over, but I am.
MR: The headliner of the inaugural Ragtime, Allison Dunne, is also you roommate. You met because of stand-up?
LZ: We did. We started around the same time, and we’ll both admit that it took us too long to become friends. Part of it was people kept confusing us, which is fair. At first it was always cordial, always friendly. Then we had an idea to shoot a music video for our friend Sammy Arechar’s birthday show. We had so much fun, and I mentioned that my lease was going to be up and Allison mentioned she was month-to-month, and it was decided that we would look for a place.
MR: It likely helps you on stage because you have a person who will give you an honest opinion and who you can workshop jokes with.
LZ: Definitely, we do that all the time. We workshop a lot.
MR: Do you ever worry that with the proximity your voices might meld into eachother?
LZ: We have very similar senses of humor, but totally different deliveries. Even if we were both talking about the same thing, we’d say it in different ways and perform it in different ways. I don’t worry about our voices melding. It’s collaborative without being competitive, which is pretty indicative of the Milwaukee scene, I think.
Liz Ziner will co-headline Ragtime Variety Hour at The Underground Collaborative (in the basement of Grand Avenue Mall) Friday, January 9. She’ll also be performing at Bremen Cafe’s Comedy Show Comedy Show Saturday, January 10.