An Interview With Comedian Roxy Rich

Roxy Rich is a stand-up comedian and retail employee who has written a book entitled Roxy Does Retail. Here is a link to her website:

www.roxyrich.com

Q: What made you want to be a comic?

A: Actually, I never intended to be a comedian. I was an actress. While growing up, I got the lead in every Christmas

Play every year. I do remember that I was constantly performing; on the playground, on my friend’s trampoline, whatever. I had the ability to remember jokes. I never forget something funny. In the tenth grade, I was voted “Funniest Person in Class” at Douglas Anderson School of Arts. I was shocked. I got the Hoffman’s Scholarship to La Grange Speech Communication and Theater College in Georgia by doing a comedic monologue which won me a contribution for the first year. While there, I was in the play, Steel Magnolias, as Ouiser, where I got amazing reviews at having “stolen the show.” My professor told me, “Your timing is impeccable.” It was the greatest compliment I’d ever received. Then, I was asked to perform a stand- up routine for an on campus Sketch show called “Lost Comedy.” I remember telling the producer, “I’m an actor! I don’t write this stuff. What am I going to say?” She told me: “Tell those jokes you were saying at the party Saturday.” I reluctantly agreed, but was terrified. I fretted for two weeks trying to come up with something funny to say. In the end, I did write some jokes, did well in the show and the next day at lunch overheard my classmates telling my jokes and they were looking at me with admiration. I remember feeling very good about that. I made people laugh. They were delighted. It’s a marvelous feeling. I suppose it was then that it dawned on me. I thought, “Hmm. I’m funny!” I was hooked. I still wanted to act, but I knew I would continue comedy as well.

When I left college, I began doing open mics in Florida starting at Bonkers Comedy Club in Orlando and throughout the state. I won “Funniest New Female Comic” at Hilarities in 1991. I moved to LA in December of 1992. Although I was interested in comedy, my primary focus was acting. I was young and ill prepared. I couldn’t get an agent. No acting was happening. I realized that in order to stay on stage and get seen by agents, I could do comedy which I enjoyed. So I made the decision then to buckle down and focus on it. It was basically the door that opened, so I walked through it. As time went by, I became more and more fascinated by it and was glad I made the choice to do comedy.

Q: What makes someone funny?

A: Well, jokes to start. And the ability to deliver them with perfect timing. Real funny is taking something with a grain of truth in it then stretching it to the Nth degree of ridiculous. For instance, I had a good mind to do a bit about Starbucks. I was annoyed at all the flavors because I just wanted regular coffee. I was knocking jokes around in my head, but hadn’t gotten it in order yet. I pop over to the Comedy Store and Mike Ricca is on stage talking about Starbucks. He said exactly what I was thinking, only HE had it set -up punch-line already. He said, “They have everything except what I want. Cappuccino, Frappuccino, Al Pacino. How about coffee flavored coffee? Do you have that?” Hilarious. I abandon my bit to work on something else, he’d already done it and so perfectly. I admire this skill and it’s how I like to work my own act.

I don’t really think it’s a formula. It’s saying things that indicate to the audience with reality and delivering them in an unexpected way. Part of this is just living long enough to have a viewpoint on different subjects. When you are young, you haven’t seen enough to be funny to an eclectic audience.

Funny is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I prefer dry humor over slap-stick. But there is an audience for that as well.

Things that are the funniest to me are when a comic addresses my intellect and sets up a joke in such a way that I fill in the blanks.

When you tell a joke that invites the audience to participate or assume, I think that’s funny. There’s no need to be vulgar. You can talk about sex or similar subjects without ever saying “sex” or swearing and everyone understands what you are referring to. Also, just pointing out the parts of life that don’t make sense at a job or in politics or whatever your experience is. If you can do that very cleverly, well, you’re funny. It takes some effort to create a joke like that and comics, myself included, are constantly rewording their acts. Just add, delete, add, delete. Sometimes you have a premise for a bit, but no real jokes. Then as time goes by, the jokes come and suddenly you have ten minutes of material. The key is keeping it playful and ultimately, timing.

Q: What inspired you to write your book?

A: I’ve been writing all of my life. A poem I wrote in the third grade was published in the school newspaper. Many articles and other poems followed, such as a hilarious poem I wrote while Lifeguarding at Walt Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon. It was published in the WDW newsletter. I have nine chapters of a Romance novel in my computer, and three short stories about cats, which I will publish when I get another ten. The problem with writing is that it doesn’t pay anything. A writer writes to write. If you are constantly working at some other job, you lack time and motivation. But a real writer still finds a way to write.

This particular works came about when I suffered life-threatening injuries a couple of years ago. I had no insurance and as soon as I was able, had to go back to work. At the time, I had two concussions, whiplash and my jaw did not work properly. I could not perform comedy, but I still had to have an income so I worked as a stylist in a boutique. I was in a lot of pain and had vertigo most of the time. Imagine working any job in that condition! Retail was particularly difficult because you are dealing with the public and people are simply unobservant. They are rushed and want what they want right now and you are standing there, so you have to be friendly and help them.

What used to be annoying or just commonplace behavior that I would tolerate and not really have too much attention on became infuriating and unbearable. People asking stupid questions over and over again. People demanding I run around getting them things. Constant complaining about prices or asking for discounts. At the time, it hurt just to talk, I was deprived of sleep and had an eye-popping migraine almost every day. These behaviors from customers that I normally could just chalk up to a day’s work were overwhelming.

I started taking notes and writing in a journal each evening my experiences of the day. Sort of as an outlet. I was also trying to figure out a way to find the humor in it and make a comedy routine out of the material. I knew many people work in customer service and it probably would have a wide appeal to address bad customer behavior. Somewhere along the line, I realized I had eleven chapters and that if I continued, I’d have a book. Then, of course, it was no longer me venting. It became work. I had nothing else to do at night because I was nursing these injuries, so I wrote. And I wrote and edited and wrote and before I knew it, I had twenty-five chapters. I also had a comedy routine. I went on a two week tour at my first opportunity and was bombarded with audience after the show saying how they loved the retail material. A book and a stage are very different venues, so it’s taken some effort to figure out a way to do them both. The book, although initially meant to be funny, can sound serious to the reader because the joke said on stage is accompanied by facial expressions and verbal inflection. When I read the book it’s hilarious to me because I hear myself talking on stage. There are places in the book that are straight up slams on bad behavior which when said out loud, are dry and incredibly funny. For instance, I say, “I hate browsers. Buy something and get the hell out!” Well, in a comedy club that’s hysterical. A reader may see it differently, as hostile. I’m not changing it though. It is an etiquette book written by a comedienne, so the reader should know that and keep that in mind while reading. It’s educational and a bit snarky. This is my first completed book. I am working on the next presently, which will have my secrets to styling and truly being a great salesperson. I have handed the customer their arse on a platter, now it’s time for the staff! Customers get rightly annoyed when the salesperson or stylist does not know her business. So I’m addressing the other side.

Q:  Every retail worker I’ve ever met hates their job; why is this?

A: To answer that, I suggest you read: Roxy does Retail!

Any type of customer service can be gruelling. Not only are you dealing with the boss, corporate policies and other employees, you are handling the public, which can be fun, but also very taxing. People tend to treat retail workers as servants. Get me this, get me that. Very rude. And one is expected to stand there smiling! When you work with the public and like people, it is usually pleasant. It’s the odd customer who is taking their frustrations out on you that makes it hard work. You aren’t allowed to bite back or even just leave if you are uncomfortable. It’s a lot of hours standing and looking busy even when the store is empty. Your feet ache, your back hurts. Retail is very much like a restaurant; it’s feast or famine. Hours can go by when there are no customers and you are bored stiff and often required to do “Busy-Work.” Then, all at once near closing, you are bombarded with customers who all want your attention. It can be very frustrating and unless you are in a high-end boutique, you are making very little money. It doesn’t pay well. You can survive on it, but you’ll never be wealthy unless you own the shop, and most shop owners I know are struggling. That worry passes on to the salesperson in the form of pressure to sell. Commission is frustrating as well. When people return things, many companies dock the salesperson’s next paycheck. So you are penalized in retrospect because some one bought something she couldn’t afford.

Q:  Who was the worst customer you ever had when working retail and why?

A: I don’t have a specific one that comes to mind. There have been so many who wasted my time. The worst was most likely

a woman I mention in my book who spoke to me in a very threatening tone. She was super antagonistic. I tell the story very bluntly in my book in the chapter: Client or Menace? She just had this hostile tone about her. She kept picking things up and then suddenly she didn’t have them in view and I was suspicious she was stealing. I had to ask her where she put a clutch. She went off on me. I was alone in the store and she was obviously crazy and looking for a fight. I can hold my own, but at the time, I was in recovery from serious injuries and knew I couldn’t defend myself if she hit me. I was very concerned that if she attacked me, either I’d be hurt or out of sheer adrenaline, I’d pick up something very hard and sharp and she would be hurt. She really frightened me.

Q:  Have you ever been a bad customer?

A: Yes! Recently, I had to deposit money into my account at Bank of America. I was in a hurry and the teller insisted I show my ID.

I was a bit nasty to her in my questioning of why. Seriously, why do I need to show my ID to deposit a check.? That’s ridiculous. If I were withdrawing, I would understand. I did as I was told, but I complained the entire time. At the end I told her I knew she didn’t make the rules and sort of apologized, but not really. When I walked off, I thought, “What the hell is the matter with you? She does not make the rules and here you have a book out teaching people not to do exactly what you just did!” I felt bad after that knowing that I’d upbraided her for something she had no control over. She was just enforcing company policy. Oh Gosh. I am sorry!!!

Q:  What makes fashion so important to people?

A: People want to fit in to society. They want to appear rich up to date and in style and show that they know the latest trends. Fashion is exciting. It’s art. It’s new and old and interesting. It’s fast paced and is a social status to wear the “hot” new look. There are always new ideas coming out from designers and these can be fun for daily wear or for costumes. Sometimes, however, I am in such a disagreement with the new styles that come out and loathe it when I see women insisting on wearing them when they are completely wrong for that woman’s body type. (Such as Skinny Jeans! And leggings! Oh, I hate to see a fifty year old in Leggings and a dress. NO! NO! NO!) I want to look my best and I’m a difficult fit. I’m only five feet tall and I’m hourglass, which is lucky. I’m built proportionately, but gain one ounce and it looks like five pounds. At this size, it’s hard to get jeans or dresses or even tops. They all run long. A short girl has to spend a fortune in alterations. That is why fashion is important to me. I wanted to learn to get “The Look” which was a daunting task with my tiny frame. I made it my priority to figure this out. My entire life has been an effort to appear taller and thinner. I do try to stick to fashionable items, but I if it is something that does not suit me, I use accessories that are in style to get the look instead of wearing an outfit made for a runway model half my age. When I dress someone, I am teaching them about their body, how to dress it fashionably but also in the correct cuts for their figure. I also enjoy relaying what I have learned to other women. I really focus on what is beautiful about them and exacerbate that through clothing and accessories. When people know they look good, they feel good and do well and that is why fashion is truly important.

Q: . What do you like about Los Angeles?

A: The food. Honestly. When I leave LA, I miss the food. When I go on tour to do comedy, it’s usually in the mid-west and it’s canned vegetables, potatoes, steak, fast -food. In Los Angeles, I can have something different and tasty every single day. No, check that. Every single meal! On a single block there is authentic Chinese, French, Armenian, Italian, Mediterranean and a slew of other types of foods. I can get health food easily in LA and not spend a fortune. I love Quinoa! LA is big on salads and I’m a salad girl. All types of exotic vegetables, too. Trader Joe’s is my favorite store. Can’t find that in Paris! Been there. No half and half in the whole of France. I like cream in my espresso already! And organic food isn’t difficult to find. Definitely the food.

There are many other things to like about Los Angeles. I like the industry, the glitz, the glamour, that something is always going on. And I like the people. I came here from Florida. All white people. I like white people. I’m white. But when I am away, I miss the diversity. People are interesting. It’s cool to meet people from other countries and of other races. I found that all people are really about the same. We have cultural differences, but you meet a Mexican, he’s got a sense of humor. And so does that Japanese guy. And so does that Swedish girl. People are fun! They are exotic. And they are talented. I work at The Comedy Store and many other comedy clubs. The comics are funny. They all come from somewhere else and it’s interesting to hear so many different viewpoints. And people are beautiful. LA is full of beautiful people and I like beautiful people. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a shite-load of ugly out there, too, but you can see truly beautiful people in LA and it’s often. I like it. Full of artists, LA is. Painters and singers and writers and actors and dancers. Just buzzing with talent. It’s great. It’s competitive, but if you want to be the best, you have to go up against the best and be able to hang with the best.

Q:  What don’t you like about it?

A: The traffic! It’s rush hour all day long. Every day, 24/7. Often, I wish I had a “Car-Bo-Copter”. I’m nudging along bumper to bumper looking at the dashboard thinking, “Where is the ‘wings’ button?”

LA is also transient. People come and go. They come out to make it, then one day , they disappear. Relationships tend to be difficult. I mean romantic and also friendships. People are working. If they are serious about making it, that is what they are doing. I have many friendships I have developed with comics I’ve come to know over the years, but we don’t hang out. How can we? The night I’m off, they are on stage somewhere. If they are in town, I’m on tour. It’s hard to have a party and all your friends are there. We hang out at the comedy club. It is good that you can develop these types of relationships. People like you and remember you and we all flow each other contacts and work. But getting together outside of work can be difficult.

Men can be fickle here, too. Not all of them. But there are many people here just to “taste” everyone and everything. They aren’t serious. You almost have to leave here or meet someone not from here to have a real relationship. I know many single women here in their thirties and forties, and men too. They want a relationship and complain that people are flakes. It’s almost like the regular rules don’t apply here in dating. It’s too fast. If you aren’t available on text or immediately, you are history. A guy is off to the next hot blonde who is and there are plenty just as pretty. It’s not across the boards, but I’ve seen it. And women do the same to men. Just, “Bye!” I find the dating scene to be rude.

Work is competitive. I know so many extremely talented people who do not work. Or they work, but for free or for very little. I see people who go to acting class and write and perform and just bang, bang, bang it out for years and then some director’s niece gets the part. It can be “who you know.” So if you came here not knowing anyone, even if you are the best, the game is getting to know someone. Get to know everyone. Get yourself out there so people know you. And that can take time for even the most talented performers because they are struggling just to stay alive out here. The one’s who make it persist. They find a way to stay here while they get good. Eventually they are seen and things start rolling.

Q: Considering your experience as a retail employee, would you say are people basically good or bad ?

A: Good. People are basically good. I’ve supported myself doing some form of retail for twenty years. Most of the people I interact with are friendly and interesting. They want help. They want to look good. They are easy going. They are there to shop and are happy to find something. My book addresses the exceptions to the rule. There are quite a few exceptions and the ones I mention are the people who exacerbate the “bad.” They are all true stories and there are definitely bad people out there. But the majority are not bad. They are good. It’s that goodness in people that makes the job worthwhile and the goodness in the salesperson that makes him or her continue to show up and be interested in retail. Most retail shop owners are good as well. There are bad days, but they set the shop up because they love fashion or whatever they are selling and they want to earn a living at it by doing a good job for the customer and doing right by their employees.

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)

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