Moving from what she lovingly calls “the forgotten borough” of Staten Island to the woods of Lewisboro, comedian Luz Michelle was desperate to carve out a local comedy community in Westchester. With nearly a decade of improv and standup experience, she created Hard Headed Comedy, a standup comedy production company based in New York City. Hard Headed Comedy shines a light on the best comedic talent in the area, and Michelle wears all the hats as CEO, founder, producer and host. She’s hosting Hard Headed Comedy’s next standup showcase on Friday, June 17, at the Lewisboro Library.
We had the pleasure of cracking jokes, sharing stories and talking about comedy with Michelle.
Katonah Connect: How did you become interested in comedy?
Luz Michelle: I’ve always loved being the center of attention and I was always told I was funny. One day, I was like, “You know what, I’m gonna try an improv class.” I did the whole improv program, we had a graduation – the whole nines – and on the night of the graduation, the professor said I should do standup comedy.
KC: Did you have any other jobs before doing comedy?
LM: I’ve done a lot. I have two college degrees; one in media communications, art and education, and the other in fashion.
KC: So you’re a comedian and a fashionista?
LM: I was in the fashion industry for a while, working in sales and at showrooms. But I also worked with children for a while – teaching, running an infant room and then as a nanny for almost a decade on the Upper West Side in New York City. Also, I’ve cleaned apartments, worked as a cashier, spent time as a personal assistant and even worked as a dog walker.
KC: Wow! Fashion, teaching and dog walking? You’ve really done it all, haven’t you?
LM: I’ve done everything. I had no trouble finding or getting a job, but I had trouble being happy in those jobs. It wasn’t until I started doing standup that I found something where I felt confident.
KC: What was your first time like? Were you nervous? Was it a home run or did you bomb?
LM: My husband and I made a deal: he was going on a business trip for a couple of days and he said, “Before I get back, do your first open mic.” So I went.
KC: So your husband wanted you get up onstage for the first time without him there for support? How’d you do it?
LM: Whenever I go into something, I like to go in with a little 4-1-1, so I learned about this venue, The PIT in New York City, and it said you get five minutes to perform. I was planning and overanalyzing around these five minutes, but after they pulled my name, the host told me, “You have two and a half minutes.” So I’m thinking, “What!? Oh my god, what do I do?” I mean, I had a lead, a beginning, a middle, an end…but I did it and when I got off stage, my friend was like “Yeah, keep going.” Now 11 years later…
KC: What is it like performing standup?
LM: It’s an extreme rush of adrenaline. Steve Martin put it perfectly: you’re in the past, the present and the future, all in one moment. If you’re doing great, time goes fast, but if you’re bombing, oh man, it’s like you can hear the clock ticking with the seconds.
KC: That must feel awful. Tell me more! Has there been a time where you truly bombed? Where seconds felt like hours?
LM: I was doing a show at a festival, and after 90 seconds on stage I completely blanked! I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t think of anything. It was like someone hit me in the head and this was the aftermath – like I had amnesia. I’ll always remember that one.
KC: Yikes! That really does sound awful. For balance, what’s your most memorable performance, in a good way?
LM: I was at Caroline’s in New York City to see a show, and I was lucky enough to meet D.L. Hughley. We had a great conversation before he went on, and he asked if I would open for him, so I did! I wasn’t planning to be onstage that night, but hearing my name called and walking to the stage – it was just one of those amazing moments. That night is also so significant to me because it shows that you always have to be ready. I mean, I just came out for a normal night!
KC: How did it go?
LM: Great! But I was wearing the worst shirt – it was like a poncho, and every time I opened my arms, it was just wideness all around me.
KC: How do you tame your nerves while performing? Do you picture the audience naked?
LM: I just remind myself to have fun with it. Sometimes, I get so analytical, but over analyzing and getting nervous never works. You know what works? Grabbing that mic and having a great time. That’s what it’s all about – having fun.
KC: Do you have any pre-performance rituals? Do you dunk your head in cold water or run laps before going on?
LM: No laps, but I used to pace back and forth before my shows. That stopped on the night of D.L Hughley because his crew was looking at me like I was crazy.
KC: What’s your new ritual?
LM: I give thanks to everyone, from the universe to God to my father and sister who passed. It’s a much more meditative and peaceful ritual, and it actually makes me more fun and put together.
KC: What’s the first joke you told that got a lot of laughs?
LM: It’s still one of my favorites. One morning, my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday. My response – I was being sarcastic– was the one thing any middle-aged woman with two kids under seven years old would want, a third child.
Fast forward, I say to him, “Well, one of us is going to have to get ‘fixed’, right?” He responds to me with, “What if, God forbid, you die and I meet a younger woman and she wants to have a baby?” That’s the last thing you would want to hear! He couldn’t have just said, “What if you died and I met a woman?” No, it had to be a younger woman.
So I wrap up the story by saying that if I really did die and he had a baby with a younger woman, I would come back as the scariest ghost and haunt him.
KC: I love a good ghost story! How would you torment your husband?
LM: He hates when things are messy, so every time he organizes something, I would disorganize it again. I’m also notorious for leaving wet towels on the bed or on the floor and always leaving the lights on, so I would do all those little things just to let him know I’m there.
KC: What fuels your comedy?
LM: Life. I talk about being adopted, being married, being a mom, a daughter, my friends – all of it. I’m a storyteller. For so long, I did my absolute best to fit in, but now, at 42, I can talk about myself and my life and not be embarrassed to share anything.
KC: What’s a story you are no longer embarrassed to share?
LM: One time I had one too many drinks and chased my husband down Seventh Avenue.
KC: Why did you start Hard Headed Comedy?
LM: I worked under the wings of a couple comedians, but as the years went on, it occurred to me that I truly wanted to create. When I moved up to Westchester from Brooklyn in 2016, what I needed really didn’t exist. I mean, the nearest open mic was like 45 minutes away!
I launched Hard Headed Comedy so I could produce shows in the tri-state area. I pitched an idea to the Lewisboro Library, and I produced the first Hard Headed comedy shows there – the third one is this Friday. I was also producing and managing shows over at Lucy’s Laugh Lounge in Pleasantville until they closed in 2020.
KC: How did the pandemic affect your shows?
LM: When the pandemic hit, I told myself that I couldn’t stop. Little by little, I started seeing virtual shows popping up, so I jumped on that as fast as I could. Through that, Still Standing Monologues was created. I’m very thankful for virtual platforms because I’ve gotten to work with comedians from around the world.
KC: What makes Still Standing Monologues unique?
LM: I created Still Standing Monologues in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic. The name came from the fact that comics were still standing, instead of sitting. In 2022, I turned Still Standing Monologues over to more of a female LGBTQIA community and streamed it on Twitch, every other Sunday at 8:30 p.m. The lineups are as diverse as they can possibly be from those two communities. I felt it was important to create a space where women and other communities feel comfortable and safe in online comedy shows.
KC: What can audiences expect from the upcoming Hard Headed Comedy show? Since it’s on the weekend of Father’s Day, will there be a lot of dad jokes?
LM: Every single human being on the lineup is a parent, from all walks of life – married, single, part of the LGBTQIA community, step-parents. It’s gonna be a night of fun because we haven’t done one in over two and a half years. When we did shows in 2018 and 2019, they completely sold out, and in less than a week of announcing this show, it sold out as well.