Michelle Wolf was (and is) lovely to chat with. From her many appearances on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Late Night with Seth Meyers, and her Comedy Central web series Now Hiring and Used People, you get the feeling that she’d be a kind person, one who you’d enjoy being around. But as she’ll tell you, and as you’re about to learn in her first hour special for HBO, she’s not “nice.”
Nice Lady, premiering December 2nd, is the culmination of a year of touring and writing for Wolf, and covers a number of elements of the female experience- from shrill voices, to working while on your period, to texting your way out of a relationship with a clingy suitor. In the special, Wolf is likeable and at ease even as she shares ideas that most have only ever heard from a male comic’s perspective. “A lot of comedians are male, so a lot of the subjects I talk about they’ve only heard from the male point of view,” she shared with me ahead of Nice Lady’s premiere. “So even though that may be in line with what they are, a lot of what comedy is, is looking at something through someone else’s point of view.” Having “trained” for the opportunity with her op-ed like segments on The Daily Show and Late Night, she was ready when the opportunity came her way to share these thoughts en masse.
It was a little over a year ago that the opportunity in question finally arrived, and she feels lucky to have shared it with friends in the moment. “I was with two of my friends, other comedians, Joe List and Joe Machi. It was nice to have comedians around when I heard about it, because they were the exact right amount of happy. Sometimes it’s hard with comedy to share things with non-comedy people because the gravity of it might not [be] the same. So to be with two very funny people when I got the news, it was nice because they were excited, I was excited, it was great.”
She got to share the experience with another close friend, the special’s director Neal Brennan. Calling him “incredibly talented and really great at what he does,” she also acknowledges he brought another crucial quality to the proceedings. “It was my first special, for me it was a really big deal, I wanted someone directing who I’m really comfortable with, and who I knew would give me honest opinions and honest feedback.” She recalled that a note given between the first and second tapings completely transformed the feel of the hour for her, and that added comfort shines through in the final edit.
I couldn’t let my time with Michelle pass without addressing the title of the special, and what it meant to her. After all, we were having a great conversation, and I intuit her to be a kind, caring, and thoughtful person. So why the clear admission in the special, “I’m not a nice lady!”? Well, it’s more complicated than it may seem.
“I think for a long time women, we feel like we should be nice. We should be pleasant. That it’s our job to take care of people, and make sure everyone’s comfortable…we’re like the hostesses of life,” Wolf begins. She goes on to acknowledge the danger inherent in that premise: “I think that ends up being detrimental. If you’re only ever worrying about other people, you’re not worrying about yourself.” She and I chatted about how that affects not just how men see and treat women, but how women treat one another. “We gotta […] stop caring about what men think of us, what other women think of us, and just be like, Nope, don’t care, it’s about me. If you feel like I’m being selfish and terrible, well, I just that’s just who I am.” And for those wondering, yes, the special does address this quality in relation to a certain recent presidential candidate.
In fact, she finds the idea to be one that can go even deeper if we allow it to. “I say this all the time, I’ve said it a million times but it’s something I really thought about when I was writing the special, especially toward the end: ‘What if women were half as nice to themselves, as we are to other people?’” she posed to me. “People stand on our shoulders all the time. What if we got to stand on shoulders? It’d change the world. Literally. I’m not being hyperbolic.”
This idea has clearly served Wolf well throughout her career; she attributes many of the opportunities she’s been able to take advantage of to a laser focus that yes, has required her to be a little selfish. Admitting that she’d take a night of comedy over a night on a date anytime, she adds, “I understand the sacrifices that has on the other end, and I’m happy to make those sacrifices.” And as she gets ready to make her HBO debut, she wants that same freedom and choice of personal happiness for other women. “You know how there’s that whole thing about “behind every strong man, there’s a strong woman”? Well, why are we behind? You can do it too! You can be great!”
Michelle Wolf’s Nice Lady premieres on HBO Saturday, December 2nd, at 10pm. Wolf will be embarking on a winter tour with all new material; check her website for dates and more details.