All Photos Copyright Phil Provencio 2016
Emma Willmann is one of the New York scene’s fast risers. Her credits are excellent despite that she’s fairly new in comic years. Just for Laughs New Faces, one of the 10 Funniest Women in New York according to Time Out New York, featured in Elle Magazine, recently passed at the NY Comedy Cellar, and she has her own monthly radio show, The Check Spot, on SiriusXM. Willmann has accomplishments outside of comedy too. Despite going through school with a learning disability, she managed to fit getting a masters degree in while building her comedy career. She calls all of that smoke and mirrors; it isn’t. But what we really love about Emma has nothing to do with her credits, it’s just Emma. She’s so funny, and in such a unique way, that it’s hard to describe her. She’s quirky, but in a powerful way, uninfluenced by others and her confidence is tinged with an uncertainty that is both funny and charming. Right now, she’s in a class of one, but we predict that in the not-to-distant-future you’ll be describing others who imitate her style as, ‘Emma Willmann-esque’.
Phil photographed Emma at New York Comedy Club in New York City, where she was taping the first ever live from the club edition of her SiriusXM show. They talked about the show, her identity, overcoming a learning disability and her future goals.
Now, Emma’s a New Yorker through and through, but the first time she came to New York, she felt differently, and took a year off comedy to go back to Boston and try other things. But both comedy, and New York called her back.
“Now I love it; now New York is the girl for me,” she said personifying the city. “But it took a long time because at first I was like…this fucking bitch. This expensive… everything. I thought I hated it. This “person” is impossible.” Now she couldn’t be happier. “This is the only place you can get the amount of things done that you need to, literally the logistics of it. I really like New York. It is expensive and you can have maybe a better quality of life in LA? I dunno.” Some days, are chaotic leaving her to wonder if she would have more time to write in another environment. “Cause in New York you’re always like…[ahhhhbibiaaahhbahhh]. But I think that it just lets you get a lot of stuff done. Every time I go to LA, it’s like I can only do one thing that night.” That “ahhhhbibiaaahhbahhh” by the way is one of Emma’s spontaneous interjections- her original onomatopoeia- that occasional use of sounds to articulate thoughts that don’t have words. We love ’em.
“If I had just gone to LA, I dunno if…I don’t think I could have done it. Cause I feel New York can help accelerate cause you can do a bunch of mics in one night and go watch a show. So if I was in LA, and I was doing one show, watching a show, and one mic, I feel like it would have taken longer to get to the point where I could be on shows. And that’s so fucking unbearable that I don’t know if I would have done that.”
Emma thinks differently, which is what makes her comedy so unique. So it may seem surprising to hear her talk about having discomfort early on, with being different. But like many great funny people, she has no problem openly talking about uncomfortability. When she first started doing comedy she said she wasn’t sure how to address the “gay issue” on stage.
“I felt so nervous about looking “different.” I’d be like, Oh should I say it right up top? If I don’t say it are they going to be sitting there worrying about it? But if I do say it, right up top, are they going to think that’s what my whole act is about. Or I’d be scared that I looked too gay and wouldn’t be relatable. So I would talk about it from the beginning, but I was not comfortable with it. This was early, but even now it’s still a balance. Like I’ll be like, When do I bring it up? It’s tricky.”
The first show Emma ever did was a gay poetry open mic, and she didn’t feel there was a need to talk about it at all. “But then when I went to a super straight place– someone heckled me and they said ‘you look like a boy!’ and I was like [[GASP]] and I feel like I needed to say something about that.”
When she does talk about being gay, it’s usually more personal than political.”There are certain comedians I would see that are very like I’M A LESBIAN and rhhhuh rhhuh rhuuh- I never really liked that. I even hate the word lesbian. I don’t know what my gender stuff is, but I don’t feel like a woman-y lesbian. I get along much better with men.”
“I do talk about… I have been talking about relationships and sexual identity stuff more, but it’s really just commentary on myself and not the political system. Like I was in Bridgetown and I was watching this one lesbian comic and she was talking about the state of women in America. It was really interesting, but it never would have occurred to me to be like- and this is how feminism works. I’d much rather be like, I’m an idiot. Look what I did to this stripper,” she said, adding, “Both of them are powerful and getting different voices out there.” She paused before thinking about it further, and deciding to ask the question most people wouldn’t, “Or do you think that’s internalized homophobia and I should be like, yeah I’m a gay comic?”
Always open to the possibility of changing her mind, for now, Emma says she’d rather be called a comedian, and let her material speak for itself, than be labeled a gay comedian. And although being different may have been more difficult when she first started performing, she recognizes that it can be an advantage to stand out from the crowd. “Whatever makes it harder for you in the beginning will help you stand out more in the end.”
Emma started hosting her SiriusXM show, The Check Spot with producer Aaron Hodges on March 1 this year. The show airs monthly, on the first Tuesday of every month. She explained the name of her show. “At a comedy club, the check spot is when they drop off checks and have a new comic come on and do material. So The Check Spot on SiriusXM is the equivalent of that, where we take comics with albums that aren’t in rotation and we play them. The full credit goes to Aaron the producer who thought of it and then we harmonized on what we enjoy for comedy.”
Emma got the opportunity to host her own show after appearing on SiriusXM’s flagship comedy show, Bennington. “Through New York’s Funniest, you get to do interviews with Bennington. That was a couple years ago. I couldn’t do them the same day everyone was going in so it ended up just being me, the only guest. I hit it off with Bennington, and those guys are just awesome. And then I met some of the Sirius guys there, I ran into them again on Just for Laughs and we were always going back and forth with ideas. And this is one thing of advice I have. If there’s anything you want, in a way where you’re not asking for something, you’re just letting people know you could be of service…let people know. I was always like- if you ever need voice over for something, I can come in and do it. I would just keep them looped in. And then that helped. We did the equivalent of a pilot for it and then we brought it to the head of programming who was into it, but he was on the fence. And then I was a guest on Bennington and Aaron had the producer guy, the head of programming come and watch. He came in and gave us the Thumbs Up and I got the job.”
Emma hosted a live version of her show in late July at New York Comedy Club. “This live show is the first time we’ve done it with people who don’t have albums… but me and the producer Aaron are big fans of and we’re like lets try to get them on. And they don’t have an album, but we’ll still try to splice that up and get them in rotation on the show.” They brought up Leonard Ouzts, Ashley Gavin, Anthony DeVito, Costapoli Inistapolis, Paul Virzi and Leah Bonham to perform.
Send Emma submissions at email@example.com “Send us a link…the better the audio the better. The less crowd work you’re doing up top that’s good. I used to not mind that, but now when you’re flipping through a bunch of them- if someone is doing a minute of crowd work, you’re not necessarily going to listen to the whole thing.”
She’s also working on some other projects- a branded content web series for a company, a pilot that didn’t get picked up, a late night set, a possible album, and a web series with her friend Will Julian that she’s really proud of. “Stand up has never been the end thing I want to do, but it’s always there. This thing me and Will are writing is way better than anything I’ve done before. We scaled it back from like a half hour format to like a two minute format. It’s just so funny because people have said this about joke books- never throw out a joke book cause you’ll look back and go, Oh I gotta redo that. That’s what it was, it was something I thought of years ago and then we just started fleshing it out.”
And she has some advice for all you kids out there. “Don’t smoke cigarettes. Those things are addictive as shit. If you do get Adderall, don’t start snorting it. Because you can’t go back from that, and that’s about all I got. ”