Carmen Lynch just released her comedy album Dance Like You Don’t Need the Money, performed stand up on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, starred in a short film directed by Chloë Sevigny that got some critical love from the New York Times, and she’s getting ready for a Summer tour that will include dates in London, Dublin and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. When she’s not world traveling, home is a shared three bedroom apartment in New York City and our own Phil Provencio stopped by Carmen’s neighborhood and crib in Astoria, Queens to chat with her for #UpNext.
When Carmen first came to New York City, she had no plans to pursue a career in comedy- she came here to be an actress. That is until she went to a comedy show one night, and immediately fell in love with stand-up. “I didn’t even know about stand up. I knew who Jerry Seinfeld was and I knew who Ray Romano was, but I didn’t follow anyone,” she said. “I didn’t know it was a career choice. I was just doing that and then I fell into stand up when I lived here and I went to a show, just because someone else was going, a friend of mine. I was like, ‘This is amazing!'”.
Carmen doesn’t remember who she saw on the show that night that changed her life, but based on where she lived at the time, she decided it had to be at New York Comedy Club. “I remember thinking these people are gifts from God, they were so funny. That’s why I wish I knew who they were. I couldn’t believe they could just get up there and I thought they talked like that all the time. I was like, oh God, they’re so lucky. They’re the luckiest people in the world. Then somehow, somebody told me you practice and you do open mics and you write and all that. I was a little frustrated with the acting, because you have to wait for someone to call you. I was like, let me try these open mics and then I just fell so hard for stand up.”
Carmen started doing comedy herself soon after, but says it wasn’t until she quit her day job as a temp at Goldman Sachs that she felt like a comic. She worked with a group of artists- writers, actors, even opera singers- creating presentations for bankers. After the financial collapse, she moved on to an insurance company before finally quitting and doing stand-up full time. “When I left my day job I started to feel like 100% … I always felt like a split personality because I always had a day job.”
Lynch feels like she found her voice earlier than most, but says she’s always evolving. “Even last night I was noticing there were inflections in my voice that probably just happened because I was either tired or it was a late show or whatever, then you’re like, ‘Oh, that kind of worked to say it that way.’ That only happens when you do it a million years,” she said.
Born in California, Carmen was a military baby, so she moved around a bit and spent a large part of her childhood in Spain. “We moved to Spain when I was three and we stayed there until I was eight. We lived first right outside of Seville and then we lived in Madrid. I was mostly Spanish for a while, and then when I was eight they moved [my father] to DC to work in DC. For me, that was my first experience in America because at three, you just don’t remember anything. The move from Spain to the States was like a big … I think that defined me a lot.”
Her mom’s family all live in Barcelona, so even after she moved back to the U.S., trips back to Spain were frequent and have had a huge impact on her comedy. “Every single summer, literally from the day school ended until the next school year, we would be in Spain. I’ve never been to summer camp in my life, that was camp. We would just go to Spain and I think that helped us become fluent.”
“I remembered thinking you live in a bubble when you only live in one place and I think coming to America at eight and seeing how different it was really opened my eyes to things.”
“I’ve always felt like I was Spanish and an American both, because I’ve lived here for so long, but I feel like my childhood was so significant in Spain.”
Lynch says that comedy is growing, fast in Spain, with most comedy shows taking place in bars. “Spanish bars are great, and they just set it up, they put a mic and it’s becoming such … It’s growing, immensely. The first time I did a comedy show, and comparing it to going last year, I mean there were so many comedians.”
Carmen started doing shows in Spanish four or five years ago. “I had never done it in Spanish before and there was no place to practice. It was kind of interesting to start over with the experience, it’s a very weird combination. You know how stand up works, but you’re literally at day one because it’s so different. Your jokes are different or if they’re the same, they’re said in a different way. The culture is different. I would just do open mics and then I made friends with a couple people and they were like, ‘Do you want to open for me?’, and I’m like, ‘Oh, this is so fun!’.”
Her first show in Spanish was weird, she said. She had to check in with her cousins about how to say different things, even though she was already conversant in Spanish. “I know how to speak it, but I know there’s that slang and … you know. They’d be like yeah, and then every once in a while I would say something maybe slightly off, like maybe how a sixth grader would say it. It was fluent, but it was just kind of off, and then that would help me get a laugh.”
She would not only get showcases, but also was being asked to headline because she had done Letterman, and that carries weight anywhere in the world in comedy. “Yeah, I’m like, ‘Yeah, but I’ve done your language 10 times, so I don’t think I should headline your show.’ They’re like, ‘Yeah, but you’re from New York.’ I’m like, ‘It’s a different language.’ That was kind of funny, like, ‘are you sure?’ Then I would do it, but it still works.”
At first, she would just do her English act, translated to Spanish, but that changed last summer. “I went to Spain for six weeks and I was like, let me just focus on … I’m friends with a comic out there who is doing the same thing in English, like he’s fluent, he’s come to the States. I’ll run my Spanish jokes by him, he runs by me … It’s a good team like that. Now when I’m there, I start to come up with jokes that have started in Spanish. Which is interesting, because then I go, ‘Oh, I bet this would work in English.'”
Carmen loves to travel- spending last year as a gypsy, not only going to Spain, but also Qatar and Dubai- but says she knows where home is. “New York is my home. I mean, I grew up in Virginia too, besides Spain, but this is the place that’s always felt the most comfortable.”
She described New York City as like a boyfriend. “Like you date and you love it at first, and then you find the issues and you’re like, ‘this is never going to go away, can I handle this?'” She spent a little time in LA. “For some reason thought I would love LA … I don’t know why, people come back all the time. There’s certain things about it, like the weather’s amazing, hiking, the food, but that’s just exterior stuff. The stand up is … the best stand up is in New York. I missed that so much, so it does feel like, oh my God, I do like that boy.”
Now she’s happy to be back home, and says the travel gave her a fresh outlook. “I see New York in a different way and I accept the way it is more because I’ve been like– I’ve been there, it’s nice for two weeks but not … you know. It’s different … Apparently, it’s different when you have a lot of work out there, but if you’re just trying to do stand up, I wanted to jump off a small bridge.”
When she finds some rare downtime from travel and performing on stage, Lynch said she loves making videos. “I make ridiculous … I bought wigs, I make characters, I force people to be in my videos.” Her favorite? “There’s this girl who thinks she’s a model and she’s clearly not. You’ll see her, you’ll be like, ‘She’s not a model.’ She thinks she is, she thinks she has a chance. There’s this Spanish girl, there’s a couple of Spanish people. There’s a therapist … Oh, there’s Quilt Lady. Everywhere she goes, she’s wrapped up in a quilt. That seems to be people’s favorite.”
Dance Like You Don’t Need the Money is in stores now! Order it on iTunes.