Stand-up comedian Tina Friml is no mood to be called ‘brave,’ and isn’t looking to be heroic in any fashion. In fact, there is next to nothing sentimental or heart wringing about her work as a stand-up comedian and writer. Instead, this Vermont native who happens to have a disability – cerebral palsy – doesn’t sound as if she is slowed by her circumstance, instead making CP a part of her act as she would any other topic worth ripping into.
Currently on a stand-up tour taking her through Boston (April 11, Laugh Boston), Philadelphia (April 12, PhilaMOCA), Brooklyn (April 13, Union Hall), Bethlehem, PA (April 14, ArtsQuest) and Pittsburgh (April 15, BottleRocket), Tina Friml spoke to PW’s A.D. Amorosi about comedy and what it’s like to be asked stupid questions about cerebral palsy.
A.D. Amorosi: What was the first thing that you remember hearing or seeing or reading as a kid/teen that made you think…. ‘Humor. I can do that. I can better that.”…. and how did you embody comedy from that point onward?
Tina Friml: It actually never occurred to me to be a comedian as a kid. I was too busy wanting to be a singer-songwriter or actress. But I was always joking. It was a way to speak the same language as other kids and grownups who’d otherwise only see me as just this disabled girl. At 22, I happened to go to the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal, and when seeing the ever-expanding landscape of standup comedians-That’s when the lightbulb went on.
A.D. Amorosi: Were you always good with being and working under pressure – the stage in particular? Like did you yearn to get on stage and rage?
Tina Friml: I basically grew up on stage- I’d been drawn to theater since grade school, so I don’t even think of it as pressure…let’s say ‘high-stakes fun’. As far as raging, I thankfully don’t have a whole lot of sting in me, so, more often than not, everything I want to really say, I say, and it works out for the best. Although, that’s not to say my more questionable jokes don’t get put through a lot of workshopping before they ever see the light of day.
A.D. Amorosi: Going through your stand-up videos, you don’t fuck about with love relationships and every day humanity. You go for harder stuff in your life and those around why. Is life too short for the sweet stuff, or are your concerns more deep at least when making jokes and telling funny stories goes?
Tina Friml: When I began comedy in Vermont, I didn’t have a driver’s license and so for every show, my ‘personal chauffeur,’ as in my mom or dad, drove me to these bar shows and sat in the back. I had to learn quickly how to get a rise out of a crowd while never straying from Webster’s English. But I’ve always had a bit of a weird dark yet optimistic sense of humor. I’d never want to hide that. I thing when I get up on stage, I have to address the elephant in the room anyway, and it’s always felt unnatural to slide right back into “anyway, so I was in the supermarket the other day… Where do they hide the parmesan cheese?!…”
A.D. Amorosi: Discuss the evolution of your stand-up – it has been like eight years from your stage start. Where are you now that you weren’t in 2016 or 2017? How much more audacious and bolder have you become? Are there things you would say now that you would not and could not at the start – and please give me examples if you are cool.
Tina Friml: I can feel I’m not in my boldest era yet. Maybe I’m saving it for my 30’s. So, the funny thing is that even after I learned to drive and moved away from my parents, my clean style stuck. I think it created this nice baseline where I can go into dark territory and not overwhelm an audience. I don’t see myself ever becoming known as a raunchy comedian, but I’ve discovered that the only thing more fun than telling 10 dirty jokes is telling 9 clean jokes and then suddenly one that’s absolutely filthy.
A.D. Amorosi: Stand-up comedy is a cruel place. I just interviewed roast master Jeff Ross and saw Dave Attell for the zillionth time. Nasty business. Have you ever been roasted for your disabilities, and can you give it all back as roughly as you can take it?
Tina Friml: Love those guys! Dave Attell is the sweetest. I’ve been in a couple roasts along with some of my dearest friends in comedy, so of course it was brutal. My friend Joel Klein, a great comic now out in L.A, joked that ‘my birth certificate was written in pencil’. I like to think I dish it right back and hold my own out there. So, it’s a little awkward when someone goes mild on me, and then I come out swinging.
A.D. Amorosi: So how do you feel about being called brave?
Tina Friml: Stop.
A.D. Amorosi: Can you discuss the process of attacking your disabilities full steam?
Tina Friml: For decades, any joke involving the idea of a disabled person has been deemed ‘dark humor’. Som in that case, is every joke about myself ‘dark’? That’s such low-hanging fruit, Where’s the fun in that? So, I have the challenge of really surprising people with things about disability they never even thought of. Funny enough, some of the jokes I have which have been regarded as the darkest or most edgy weren’t even intended to be so, they were real observations I had about the people around me, as a person with Cerebral Palsy.
A.D. Amorosi: Are there any contemporary stand-ups with whom you tour or know whose work you love? With whom you choose to spend time? With whom you would like to be paired and why?
Tina Friml: I avoid hanging out with comedians at all cost and I recommend that for everyone. That said, I’ve always hugely admired Maria Bamford. She is one comic who’s saying something no one else is saying. I’ve gotten the privilege of hanging out with her a bit at Limestone Comedy Festival in Indiana the other year, but I would love to one day share a stage with her, or perhaps be on the same billing, or maybe be on two simultaneous shows a few blocks from each other. That’d be something I’d never recover from.
A.D. Amorosi: What does the new “Something Very Particular” tour title stand for? What’s the biggest shift in this set of shows as opposed to your last lot? What’s funny to you know that wasn’t in 2022?
Tina Friml: That’s in reference to how I see myself. For I while I’d been on these dating apps, hopeful and naive. (Weren’t we all?) And I was seeing all these men saying on their profile they were ‘open-minded’ and ‘down for whatever.’ Which I thought was greenlight for someone like me. I come to find out I don’t so much need a guy who’s down for whatever- more a guy who’s ‘up for something very particular.’
A.D. Amorosi: Today is Sunday April – what is the most recent thing that you saw, heard or witnessed that made you laugh out loud and why and how did it change your perspective?
Tina Friml: There was this elderly woman right behind me in line at the bank who was loudly talking on the phone about how she’d just gotten out of the hospital, and all the hassle from that. Suddenly she says to her friend on the phone “You know, the next time this sort of thing happens and I need to go to the hospital, I think I just won’t. I think I’ll just die.” She was so nonchalant about it, and her voice was echoing all throughout this bank as she’s justifying this to her friend on the phone, I was in tears trying to hold it together- it was too ridiculous. It made me realize: Life IS short. So, I pocketed the money I was going to deposit into my savings and went and had the most frivolous, indulgent day ever. Not really. I did deposit those 40 bucks. I need it. BUT I did take a lemon lollipop!