Interview With Carmen Lynch
Title: DMV Native Carmen Lynch Returns to Co-Headline DC Comedy Festival
By: Karmen Fox
Carmen Lynch has the rare talent to tell a joke that’s universally funny across different audiences and languages. As a bilingual comedian, she has performed her sharp yet endearingly goofy set in English and Spanish both nationally and internationally. Her broad perspective and bilingualism are thanks in part to spending most of her childhood in Spain, her mother’s birthplace, before moving to Fairfax, VA.
She first began stand-up after she moved to New York City in the early 2000s to pursue acting. Since then, she has appeared on Inside Amy Schumer, Last Comic Standing, America’s Got Talent, and the Late Show three times — twice when David Letterman hosted and once when Stephen Colbert took the helm.
Lynch is returning to the DMV area to co-headline the DC Comedy Festival’s closing night on Saturday, April 13 at 8:00 pm at Miracle Theater. Her co-headliner is fellow DMV native Tony Woods of Def Comedy Jam and Comedy Central Presents fame. The closing night lineup will also feature Reese Waters, Ray DeVito, Quincy Jones, Quincy Carr, and Eric Mack.
Recently, I chatted with Lynch about coming home to perform comedy. Below is our conversation on why it’s a compliment to be a joke in her set, what she thinks of the cherry blossom hype, and just how realistically The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel portrays stand-up comedy.
Why did you decide to pursue comedy?
I was already living in New York, so I went to see a show and was completely intrigued. But I never, ever thought it was an actual career option. I didn’t know anybody who was doing stand-up. I had only seen Seinfeld and Rosanne Barr on their shows, and a handful of other comedians. I didn’t know this lifestyle was a thing because I grew up in Virginia. It wasn’t anything I imagined.
Where in Virginia are you from?
I grew up in Fairfax. That’s why I’m excited about this show because my friends are coming to the show, and I’ll stay for a couple of days after the show to see my parents.
Where was your favorite place in DC to hang out when you were growing up?
I used to go to this club all the time. I think it was called Lou Lou’s or Lou’s, but it’s probably not there anymore.
When you come home to your family’s, where do you like to go now?
I usually stay at home. Isn’t that lame? But I enjoy the quiet suburban life for a maximum of three days. So, I just hang out with my parents, and sometimes we take walks to Great Falls. I appreciate the opposite of New York City, which is just doing nothing and chilling out. I mean that in a positive way.
Since it is cherry blossoms season, what’s your overall opinion of the cherry blossoms?
Oh my god, it is? I would love to see them! I haven’t seen them in like 20 years. What days are those?
The peak bloom started on April 1, and so there might not be a lot when you’re in DC for your show.
Oh no! I would love to see them. I hear about them all the time, and I’ve always wanted to go
Glad to hear that, because there are some people who hate them because of the tourists. But now that you live in New York, are you immune to tourists?
I’m totally immune to tourists. And your tourists are nicer and less annoying than the ones in New York. But when I’m a tourist, tourists aren’t as annoying because I’m one of them — even though I am annoying as a tourist. OK, I’m writing down cherry blossom in my calendar.
Yeah, so you can hit up the Cherry Blossom Festival, then perform at your show.
I’ll drag the other comedians to the Cherry Blossom Festival. I’m kidding, they probably won’t go.
Speaking of comedians, who was your biggest comedic inspiration? I know you had mentioned Seinfeld and Rosanne.
I meant that I only knew of them as comics from their TV shows. I grew up watching I Love Lucy and The Carol Burnett Show reruns. They just happen to be women, and I just love them. I think I’m silly because of them — they were constantly silly. They were my biggest inspirations, definitely.
What’s your biggest source of comedic material?
My family, I would say. My sister, mostly, her kids, and my parents. My sister can be pretty silly too. I think I like putting her in my act because I love her so much and I never get to see her, because she lives in Spain. When I think of something funny to say about her, it’s really fun to talk about her. I feel like putting someone in your act is a compliment, especially if it’s someone you really like.
That’s sweet that you do that a tribute for your family. How has your comedic voice changed since you started in the early 2000s?
I would say I’ve gotten darker. My jokes have gotten more specific. I think I started off about more general things about being tall, and now I’ve gotten darker. I think I’ve realized there’s darkness inside of me and just to get it out.
What was your best gig?
My favorite was my first spot on Late Night with David Letterman. It felt very special because it was in New York, I was living in New York, and he was the one I watched the most. It all around felt awesome — and very surreal.
And your worst gig?
Probably a casino in Atlantic City. They were tired and sad — maybe they lost money or something. I was also very new at the time. It was all around not a good night of comedy.
How do you bounce back from a bad set?
Back then, it felt more personal. Now I go eat ice cream. I have to fill myself with something to feel good, usually sweets. Then I get on stage as soon as I can to forget about it and erase it with a new gig.
Comedy is tough. How do you advocate for yourself 24/7 to get new gigs?
At this point, I have an agent, but usually there’s a voice in my head that’s telling me to keep going. A lot of therapy helps too — it helps you keep moving forward. I think therapy is really good for comedians.
And then there’s the sexism. Have you faced sexism in the comedy world? And if so, how have you overcome it?
I think it’s changing now. Gigs used to have less women, but now you see a lot more women on shows. I try to not let that get to me, and instead say, “What’s funny is funny, and I’ll get my time when it comes.”
But I think there has been a shift. More women are getting on stage, they’re putting more women on shows, and I’ve also had more women openers if I headline. But sometimes you see the sexism more when you remember that there were less women in comedy back then. Now there are a lot of women doing stand-up, so there’s definitely a shift.
I’m sure you hear about Marvelous Mrs. Maisel a lot. Do you think that a show about a trailblazing female comedian in the 1950s has inspired more women to pursue comedy?
I think more people are doing what they want, because stand-up is looked at as more of a job now than it was in the past. I think it the past, it was more of a dream. Now there are a lot more TV shows about comedians, so it seems more like a realistic job possibility. And it’s not really the case, because it’s still very hard.
But I think people aren’t as afraid to take a chance. Or maybe there are less regular jobs because of the financial crisis. There are a lot of millennials living at home now cause they can’t find a job. So, what are they going to do? They’re going to try the arts, and it’s not always stand-up. I think in general people are more open to doing what they want since there aren’t as many traditional jobs as there used to be.
How do you think the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel portrays women in comedy?
That’s funny, I actually just finished the second season yesterday. I really like that show because it’s not just about stand-up, but I don’t think the stand-up part is very realistic. Her comedy is just stream of consciousness, she never writes anything down, she never gets nervous, and she mostly kills it and does very well. So, I find that hard to believe.
But the actual writing, acting, costumes, and plotlines are all amazing. So, if it were a show that was only about unrealistic stand-up comedy, I probably would’ve stopped watching it a long time ago.
Let’s change gears. Your mother is Spanish and your father is American. Did you spend any time in Spain growing up?
I grew up in Madrid when I was a kid. Now I go to Barcelona once a year — I try to see my sister, who’s there with her family.
You’re fluent in Spanish and English, and you’ve performed comedy sets in both languages. What’s your process for translating jokes?
I try not to translate all of them — I try to do a few that are organically Spanish from the start. But I don’t look at the words so much as the idea and why I think it’s funny so that it kind of feels like a new joke instead of an American-English joke. If I have one about my sister and her kids, I’ll turn on my Spanish brain and let my Spanish voice write the joke.
Are there English jokes that you wouldn’t use in your Spanish set and vice versa?
Yeah, if an English joke is too clever or too sarcastic or if they don’t have the right word, then I’ll drop it. Even if you have the right word and translate it, it still might not funny. I’ll try it once or ask someone how they would say it. If it still doesn’t work, I’ll say, “Alright, this one’s not gonna be Spanish.”
What’s your favorite joke that you’ve written that works well in both languages?
There are several. Usually, it’s universal stuff, like dating, relationships, family — stuff that everybody understands.
Since you grew up in Spain, are there language or cultural differences that would make it hard for a Latin American audience to appreciate your Spanish jokes as much as, say, an audience in Madrid? For example, British jokes don’t always land well in American because we don’t like puns.
Yeah, I’m not sure. I’ve worked in Costa Rica in Spanish, but only once or twice, so I can’t really say. I think it would just go back to the universal topics always do best, whether it’s sex, pets, family, or love. I don’t mean that they don’t understand what I’m saying. It’s just easier to translate when the joke is universal.
You’ve performed nationally and internationally. Where’s your favorite place you’ve performed?
I love being home and performing in front of New York City audiences because they’re so diverse. There’s everyone from tourists to locals — it’s a mish-mosh of people with different points of views. It’s always fun here.
I just got back from London two days ago, and I try to go there every year because they’re so great. I love going to the UK. I was just in Glasgow, and they’re amazing because they love dark humor. I’d say the UK and New York are probably my favorite. And of course, DC — I love DC.
Where have you performed in DC?
I performed at DC Improv and a few others.
Any advice for aspiring comedians?
It’s cliche, but literally just keep going and don’t worry about anything but getting up on stage and writing. It really is the only way, because there is no path and everybody has their own.
For tickets to the DC Comedy Festival’s closing night show, go here.
Follow Lynch on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, and visit carmenlynch.com for more information and tour dates.