|Photo Credit||Bonica Ayala|
Hi! My name is Richard, and I’ve never done karaoke. I’ve always wanted to, and I know that a perfect voice isn’t required (mine certainly wouldn’t qualify if so). The same stage fright that has me postponing doing an open mic also afflicts my desire to get up and belt out a rock anthem. The two scenarios seem intrinsically linked.
Holli Cuomo seems to have discovered the power of conquering both. Her love (and regular practice of) karaoke has trained her to lay waste to stage fright, and imbues her performance with gifts like emotional projection, two key aspects of mastering stand-up. She takes her place in the limited pantheon of guests who state, without reservation, that fear of stepping on the stage to tell jokes was never an issue for her. As with so many of the things in Cuomo’s comedy life, intertwined concepts like this have played a role in getting her where she is today.
Cuomo’s current home in Austin is the latest in a long list of locations, including New Orleans, Mississippi, and San Antonio (to name a few). About 3 years ago, San Antonio was the setting for her first time on stage trying stand-up. A friend pushed her to go up at a gay bar; armed with nothing but a crazy story, she launched in and loved it. Her style that first time was very much a harbinger of how she performs today, as she describes her strategy: “Sometimes I’m just vibing with the crowd, and something new comes out.” The lack of stage fright, and the air for spontaneity, follows her today with the show she hosts, You Look Like, where she and guest comics have to get up and engage in a roast-style format, laying into someone with mostly off-the-cuff observations about their appearance.
It sounds like the makings of a potentially hostile atmosphere, but Cuomo insists the deep laughter is based only on skin-deep ruffling. “It’s just a comedy show…based off of what you look like, not…who you are as a person,” she says, and that keeping the topic on the surface allows the audience to always be in on the joke, whether they personally know the target of the lobs or not. And if one of the pitchers forgets to preface their joke with “You look like”, they face a minute of shame where they must address themselves in the mirror in a personal roast.
You Look Like is a creative concept, with the element of surprise and good-nature you’d expect from someone who grew up with a love of comedy. Cuomo “voraciously” consumed Comedy Central half-hour specials, and knew from that early experience that “Someday I want to do this!”. Sans stage fright, and with the passion for performing having been stoked for so long, she revels in her ability to create on the fly. She identifies as “shy” in daily life, but under the lights, it’s completely different: “When I’m on stage, the shy goes aways…and I just trust that I’ll be fine.”
“When I’m on stage, the shy goes aways…and I just trust that I’ll be fine.”
All this talk of real-time concoction is not to say Cuomo is ignoring building her writing skills. “You can be funny every day, but if you say the same stuff for 3 years it gets old,” she notes about her desire to at least supplement her improvisational skills with more dedicated and refined material. Like so many of us, the siren songs of Netflix and video games tend to get in the way (and yours truly has zero fingers to wag on this one). In fact, she hopes someday to switch from the couch to the screen herself and land one of those coveted Netflix specials. Of dealing with the preparation and writing that will move her forward on goals like these, she says “I’m not frustrated or beating myself up over it…right now I’m just chillin.” Readers should note that “chillin” also means managing 3 non-comedy jobs at times, which she mentions almost in passing; clearly the work ethic is there, and waiting for the right moment to pivot some of that energy to the mundane-but-crucial process of designing new material.
With You Look Like going strong, and Cuomo’s confidence and desire continuing to bear fruit (at the pace she chooses), we don’t have any doubts she’ll get exactly where she wants to go.
Catch Holli Cuomo at some her upcoming shows:
8/1: Slide in the DMs
8/2: Whose on Tap @ St Elmo’s
8/9: The North Door
8/9: The Chuckle Train @ Spiderhouse
8/18: You Look Like… A Comedy Show @ Independence Brewery