She describes herself as an open book with a few torn pages, but that way of thinking has led her to share the stage with many current stars in comedy, including Taylor Tomlinson, Jay Pharoah, and Whitney Cummings. As part of We Own The Laughs.com’s Comedian of the Day, have a few laughs and get to know comedian Maxi Witrak. The Seattle, WA native shares some of her favorite moments in stand-up comedy and lets us know how she always owns the laughs.
Name: Maxi Witrak
Hometown: Seattle, WA/Los Angeles, CA
Instagram/Twitter: @maddmaxi @MaxiWG
Years in Comedy: 5
Haven’t we seen you somewhere before: Host of online series Train Traks with Maxi Witrak, also seen on ABC’s Maggie releasing soon on Hulu, Stage Fright for Brat TV, and currently shooting a feature with the production house behind Sharknado
Comedic Influences: Tig Notaro, Whitney Cummings, & Pete Davidson
Favorite Comedy Album: Tig Notaro “Boyish Girl Interrupted”
Favorite Comedy Movie: Rat Race
Favorite Comedy TV Show: Ted Lasso
Favorite Comedic Character: Anthony Carrigan as Noho Hank from “Barry”
Favorite City to Perform In: Louisville, KY
Favorite Topics to Joke About: My failure to measure up to certain societal norms.
Favorite Type of Audience for a Comedy Show: Drunk
Favorite Comedy Club: Nitecap LA
How did you discover your passion for comedy:
I came to LA to act and started feeling so much self-doubt, constantly relying on outside voices (teachers, agents, directors, etc) to know if I was doing something well or right. In standup, I discovered the only people who could tell me whether I was doing well or not were the audience, and they have no reason to be anything but honest with their feedback. I don’t always like their opinion, but I know I can trust them. And that’s ultimately why I love it — it gives me back the confidence to say “fuck off” to the million outside opinions without worrying that I’m somehow insulting someone who knows better.
What do you remember most about your first time performing stand-up comedy:
I thought I was killing. Thankfully I didn’t know yet to record my sets, so there’s no way to ever prove whether or not I was imagining the rolling laughter or not.
How would you describe your comedic style:
Playful. It was a word that really stood out to me in my first-ever standup class when we were focusing on bringing a sense of play to dealing with hecklers so that it doesn’t feel confrontational. Whenever I get too clever with wording or feel like I’m trying to be smart rather than funny, I try to steer it back to something sillier, and immediately the energy feels better.
Describe your process for comedic writing:
I free write a heap, and then start to pick out pieces from the rubble to hone in on. My work since the pandemic has tended to be more writing-born, which expresses itself very differently than when I find my way to a joke from talking it out in front of people. Unfortunately, I just haven’t had the same amount of time or energy to invest in hitting enough mics to write reliably the latter way, if that makes sense.
Describe the comedy scene in your area:
Serious. So many people are trying to “make it” here that people who are willing to take risks and have fun with the craft feel more rarified.
How do you judge success in the world of comedy:
Having people curious to hear what you have to say. Whether you’re on the main stage of the Store or putting out a podcast or whatever, it’s a wonderful sign if people tune in or pop their heads in the door just because they’re curious about what you’re bringing to the table that day.
Who are some of your comedic peers that you enjoy watching perform or inspire you personally and professionally:
My friend Eric Schinzer plays with a character that I love because it feels reminiscent of the old Robin Williams or Jim Carrey days. Willie Simon has some of the smartest jokes packed with love. There are smart jokes that feel mean and there are smart jokes that feel silly and he has definitely mastered the one that makes a whole room feel like happy kids.
What’s been your most memorable moment in comedy:
I still remember the first time I made a room full of people all-out ROAR. The way the laughter rolled around the room. I think of myself as a pretty serviceable comedian; even in a room of “not my people” I can still land my punchlines and be generally well enjoyed. But it’s a magical moment when your point of view and the audience’s energy line up in such a way that you can see your performance physically affecting the audience.
What have you learned most from your failures in comedy:
That I will be the only one ever holding myself back. All my failures, the times I’m mortified to think about, no one else cared. No one else remembers. Barry Katz keeps telling me I’m “walking around with ankle weights on” because I hold myself to such a high standard and I’ve recently been trying to take my mediocre sets as less of a commentary on my own worth.
How do people react towards you when they realize that you can make people laugh:
Usually, I’m met with some respect and some appreciation for the art form. Other times I’m cornered at a party with “well everyone tells me I should be a comedian, let me tell you some great jokes I’ve heard”.
Describe what it’s been like building a career in stand-up comedy:
It’s difficult to know where to aim because there’s no clear path nor is there a clear destination. I kind of think of building up the work as building up a lego collection, which you can then stack up in any direction towards where you want to go. And if you change directions, the same building blocks are going to serve you over there as well.
Best advice you’ve ever received from a comedian:
Have just as much fun performing the bit as you did coming up with it.
If you were releasing a comedy special this week, what would it be called:
Funniest encounter you’ve ever had with a celebrity:
I walked into a Starbucks and was starstruck to suddenly see Eleanor Kerrigan, who I had only just seen for the first time at the Comedy Store the night before. I gushed over her, thinking it was such a cool stroke of fate, completely ignoring the man with her. I immediately followed her on social media where she then posted about having just run into a fan who gushed over her while ignoring Andrew Dice Clay.
Weirdest place you’ve ever performed any form of comedy:
Rehab center. Most of the audience was nodding off and during my set half of them walked off to get medication so I ended up drinking enough that night to probably need my own rehab stay.
A Maxi Witrak Fun Fact:
I at one point was fascinated by hair styling and hair cutting so I used a school project as an excuse to cut the hair of two of my classmates. I had no idea what I was doing, hadn’t done any research into how it should be done, and somehow got away with it without butchering them for life.
Where would you like your laughs to take you:
I’d love to be offered roles and gigs simply because of people like my way of doing things and trust me. I know so many people with cool projects they want to make and I enjoy supporting those dreams and serving them just as much as I like making my own work.
What would you tell a potential comedian if they ask you how they can own the laughs:
Get comfortable with who you are and what you look like. I think a lot of comedians don’t understand that half the time the audience isn’t laughing because there’s a mismatch between what they’re hearing and what they’re looking at, like guys who use the stage as their excuse to finally wear a leather jacket. I’ll see a mild-mannered guy confuse audiences by throwing around “bitch” in a way I doubt he’d ever do in real life, so suddenly the audience is very frightened by what looks like their next-door neighbor having a violent outburst.
What are your thoughts on the future of comedy:
I’m worried about the filming aspect of it. It rushes the process and removes the comedian’s abilities to trust their audience because they don’t know where it is ending up. When a comedian shares their work with a live room of people, it creates a bubble of trust that allows them to stretch the boundaries and go further, and that’s where comedic genius gets room to come out and breathe. When you have comedians scared of getting canceled by out-of-context viewers, you get very boring comedy and less innovation.
If you could write one episode for one classic TV sitcom which show would it be and give a brief detailed sentence on the episode:
Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Sabrina gets in trouble at school for her crop tops being too short and distracting the boys, so she accidentally casts a spell that blindfolds them all with their own jock straps, and has to beg the witch’s council to restore their sight or else Harvey won’t be able to see her in her fabulous prom dress.
If you could choose 1 comedy club and 3 comedians to perform with on your perfect comedy show, how would it go:
Hollywood Improv Main Stage with Rachel Scanlon hosting, Kirk Fox headlining, and me middling so I could kick back and relax while watching Kirk do the closing.
What’s next for you:
Fingers crossed about a few big comedy festival submissions. I just keep working so I’m ready for whatever comes.
Why should a person always laugh at life:
Because it’s completely uncontrollable, and that’s what makes it so rebellious. Laughter is an act of defiance in any situation that wants to crush it out of you.