Being single in Los Angeles has given this singular comedian a humorous view on men, women, dating and what it takes to quell the war between the sexes.
It’s Saturday night at The Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip — the iconic club that’s been the fertile testing ground for talented, up-and-coming comics since 1972.
The signatures of those who’ve earned their stripes are painted on the club’s exterior walls: think Richard Pryor, Jay Leno, Lily Tomlin, Flip Wilson, Jerry Seinfeld. And if you look on the wall that leads into the club’s Belly Room, a space created decades ago to nurture female comics, you’ll see Sarah Tiana among the names.
Though Tiana might not be as well-known as some that adorn The Comedy Store’s walls, she’s well on her way. You may have seen her as a regular on the round table on the “Chelsea Lately Show,” in “The Burn” on Comedy Central, as Carmen in “Reno 411” and as a correspondent in “The Soup Investigates.”
If you served in the Army or Marine Corps, you may have seen her perform her stand-up routine in Iraq or Afghanistan — she’s done more than 10 tours with Comics on Duty. Tiana says signing on for those tours is the greatest thing she’s ever done — even though she did catch spinal meningitis after one particularly brutal tour with no plumbing, no air conditioning and surroundings that most people would find impossible to tolerate. “These kids are really in the shit,” she says about the outposts that are too remote to get the cushier USO shows.
The 36-year-old singular comedian is a frequent performer at The Comedy Store. Tonight, until her time on the main stage, she’s hanging out on the club’s patio, sipping a Jack Daniels and soda, and taking an occasional drag off an e-cigarette that’s helping her kick the habit.
She’s wearing leopard-print flats and a black jumper over a floral print blouse. With barely a touch of makeup and soft curly brown locks, she looks like an all-American high school girl. People come up to say hello — other comics, actors, people in the business — mostly guys. It’s evident from the scene that comedy is still a man’s game. The energy is electric. It takes a lot of that to embark on a career where you write your own material, stand alone on a stage and hope your view of the world will spark a laugh.
On her way to the main stage to do her set, Tiana passes a poster of Roseanne Barr and does a quick genuflect. “She’s the mother of my own comedy,” she says. “She paved the way for me.”
When Tiana walks out under the pink stage lights, she’s totally self-possessed, ready to deliver her view of life cleverly wrapped in a joke. The women in the audience are laughing because Tiana is saying what they’re afraid to tell their boyfriends. Most of the men are laughing too, except for the few who realize they’re guilty as charged.
“My sincerest approach to comedy, my whole act, is about trying to get guys laid more,” Tiana says after the show. She says that although more women than ever are OK with being single, there’s still a huge majority that want to be with a man.
“Even though there are millions of guys out there, a woman will think that one guy might be their last option and that makes them afraid to tell him the truth,” she says. “So I’ll tell him to take off the Skechers, to clean his car, to stop having a roommate, to throw away the porn and start listening to your body. I’m honestly just trying to help guys — no one else is going to tell them this stuff. I am.”
She says after the breakup of a five-year relationship several years ago, she began to delve into the dating world for material for her act. “I was dating men who were really mean to me — I was allowing it. Then I was like, wait, I’m the one that’s picking them,” she says. “I did some soul-searching and once I started figuring out who I was, it was easier to talk about it on stage, to open up and tell people about it.”
Tiana says she’s come to the conclusion that she might never want to get married. She enjoys her freedom and having her space — to do whatever she wants without another person holding her back. “If I decide to go to London, I don’t want to have to explain that to anybody,” she says. “If someone wants to come with me, that’s OK, but I don’t need that. I’ve decided that’s just who I am. That was a big revelation to me.”
She says before that, she was concerned about getting older and worried that time was running out to get married and have children. “But then I realized that maybe I’m not putting out the vibe that I want somebody long-term,” she says. “Maybe that’s why I’m not attracting that kind of man. I prefer dating people who live far away because that gives me the space I need. And I’ve also come to the conclusion that I have to be OK with it, regardless of what society thinks is appropriate for a woman my age. I need my freedom.”
Being fine with being single wasn’t what she learned growing up in the conservative Southern town of Calhoun, Georgia. Despite the support of parents who nurtured her love of acting, in her town, little girls were supposed to grow up to be housewives — not venture off to Los Angeles to pursue a career in show business. “People used to say things to me like, ‘Oh Sarah, you’re such a great actress. You’d make a great dental hygienist.’”
Yet even in Calhoun, the framework for her future was being laid. She memorized movies, studied people’s behavior and faithfully watched her favorite TV show, “Roseanne” not realizing that Roseanne Barr was doing stand-up long before she played the role of a working-class housewife in a TV show. “She was like a second mother to me.” Tiana says. “I grew up with that show.”
She moved to Los Angeles in 2003 to pursue an acting career — not to become a comedian. “It was something that found me, as opposed to me seeking it out,” she says. “My friends in L.A. were like, ‘Oh, you’re so funny, you have to do standup,’ and I was like, I don’t even know how that works.”
Then one night, while watching the news, inspiration struck. “There was a story about a guy who shot himself in the head with a nail gun,” she says. “The nail ricocheted and went into his head and he worked the whole day and didn’t feel it. And I was like, well, I wouldn’t be able to feel three and a half inches if I got nailed, so what’s the big deal?”
From there, she had material and started doing open mike comedy nights. “I thought … I’m just going to acting class once a week and I’m not performing anywhere else. This was like doing a play all by myself.”
Tiana gained momentum and recognition in the comedy scene, bucking the trend in an industry where there are far more male than female comedians. “I just started getting more and more stage time,” she says. “When you’re funny and you’re a woman, people just need you on their shows.”
Tiana attributes the gender imbalance in part to the lonely lifestyle. “I don’t think most women are loners,” she says. “I live by myself, I travel by myself, I’m on the road by myself – I enjoy that.”
Although Tiana isn’t all that keen to get into a long-term, 24/7 relationship with a man, it is apparent that she’s very involved in the relationship she has with her audience. “Comedy is about energy and emotions,” she says. “I have to listen to them. I can’t just go up there and be like ‘I’m doing this set and whether they like it or not, I’m just gonna push through.’ You can’t do that if you want to come across as sincere.”
When Tiana was struggling with the material in her act recently, she realized that even though everything she talks about happened to her, she needed to open up more and go even deeper. “I started talking more about what happened to me that day, as opposed to something that happened to me six months ago,” she says. “The night my ex-boyfriend cheated on me, I talked about it on stage.”
She says every audience is different and each gives off its own vibe. Her job is to read that vibe and decide how to address it. “It’s all about being vulnerable and honest. When you’re honest with an audience, they feel that,” she says. “You need to be real about what’s going on with you — you can’t just go through the motions. I have to listen to them, I have to be vulnerable. They decide where I need to go.”
Copyright © Kim Calvert/2014 Singular Communications, LLC.
Kim Calvert is the editor of Singular magazine and the founder of the SingularCity social networking community. An outspoken champion of people who are living their lives as a “me” instead of a “we,” Kim oversees the creative direction and editorial content of the magazine and online social networking community. She secures contributors and is responsible for maintaining the fun, upbeat, inspirational and often-humorous tone of Singular, a lifestyle guide for successful single living.
Join us on Saturday, June 28, 2014 at 9 p.m. when we’ll meet on the patio of this iconic comedy club and then be shown to our seats in the main room to see a great line-up of comedians, including one of our favorite singular comics, Sarah Tiana. If you haven’t seen standup from the very “singular” Sarah, you’re in for a real treat.
This event is open to everyone, but if you’re a SingularCity member, your ticket is $10 — that’s half off the regular price (two drink minimum required for all guests).
If you’re a SingularCity member, please log in to the community and RSVP on the event page. If you’re not a member and would like to join our party, please RSVP by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t miss a great summer night of laughter and fun with Sarah Tiana and your friends from SingularCity at The Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip!
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