“Last night, I was happy that the 49ers won, but I wish the Rams would have done a little better,” Aisha Tyler tells me by phone from the set of The Talk. The previous evening, she finished up work in time to sit down for Monday Night Football. It was a rare bit of downtime for her and well worth it: Tyler's original hometown, San Francisco, was playing against her adopted one, Los Angeles.
“You can't lose,” she says. “One way or another, one of the teams is going to win. If they met in the Super Bowl, of course, I would be rooting for the 49ers, but yeah, I'm excited about the Rams.”
Tyler is a woman of many talents, and many job titles. Right now, she's doing double duty as a co-host of The Talk, CBS's daytime chat show, and playing Dr. Tara Lewis on Criminal Minds. Maybe you've caught her on TV this past year as the voice of Lana Kane in the animated spy comedy Archer or as the host of improv series Whose Line Is It Anyway? She also recently stepped into the role of feature film director and is currently finishing up work on Axis.
If you listen to Tyler's podcast, Girl on Guy, you know that she's a woman of many interests. That comes through in her interviews with actors, musicians and other creative people. Yes, on top of everything else, Tyler also hosts a podcast.
It's that last project, she says, that has been harder to maintain as her schedule swells. Girl on Guy has been around for five years now and its 217th episode, recorded in front of a live audience at San Diego Comic-Con, aired in August. That taping, which featured Vikings actor Travis Fimmel, was part of her annual fan event. One hundred people won the chance to attend the recording. They got swag and photo ops and had the chance to try a beer that came about as part of Tyler's annual collaboration with Stone.
At one point, Tyler ran five new episodes a month; now she's scaled it back to one. “It's very difficult,” she says. “It wasn't even about getting the shows edited and posted; I really didn't have the time to do interviews.”
She's working 16-hour days between The Talk and Criminal Minds, a schedule that eats up the afternoons that she used to use for podcast recording. Weekend sessions often don't work for her guests. Still, she's somehow making it work. The day before our interview, she used a rare afternoon off to knock out two episodes.
That's good for listeners, because Tyler's long yet casual interviews provide revealing and insightful looks into the lives of people who are, often, pretty famous. If they sound as natural as a dinner conversation, it's because of her approach. Outside of the occasional live podcasts, Tyler talks to the subjects one-on-one. “When you're alone with someone in the room — and I don't allow publicists or assistants or companions in the room, it's just me and the interviewee — you just get a different interview,” she says.
Maybe her stand-up comedy experience helps, she adds, because the interviews are improvisational. Tyler avoids researching or preparing questions before she sits down with the subjects. “When you set a structure for yourself, then you stay inside that structure,” she says. It helps keep the emphasis on the people behind the work. “Podcasts are evergreen,” she explains. “People listen to them over and over again. They listen to them years after they've been recorded, so I'm much more interested in the artist than any particular project that they're promoting.”
When she's the one being interviewed, Tyler seems less interested in promoting what she's doing than in talking about what she's learned from doing a lot of stuff. Take directing, for example. She became interested in working behind the camera through writing. For several years, she shadowed directors and made short films, as well as music videos for bands including Silversun Pickups and Clutch, before heading into a feature, the Kickstarter-funded Axis. “I had to make a movie essentially in a week,” she says. “That challenge was fun, trying to make it all work in the budget that we have and the time that we have.”
Tyler's ability to constantly challenge herself is what makes her so interesting.
“I don't want to reach the end of my life and feel like I didn't do everything that I wanted to do. To me, that's my biggest fear, that I look back and I have this handful of regrets because I didn't challenge myself,” she says. “I think everybody has their own set of goals and, for me, I really want to know that I pushed myself as hard as I could to grow and to be creatively energized and to challenge myself and that I never get comfortable and turn into one of those people who spends six months on a boat in Ibiza. That's just not interesting to me. I want to know that I really pushed myself as hard as I could push myself.”
Tyler adds, “Especially as a woman and a woman of color in this business, a lot of people worked really hard to pave the way for me, and I think I have a responsibility to do that for other people as well.”
In doing, well, just about everything, Tyler says that she can have a little control over how she's perceived and avoid typecasting. But her constant evolution is personal, too. “I think the worst thing would be to stop growing,” she says. “The only person who has control over that is you.”
Catch Girl on Guy at L.A. Podcast Festival on Sun., Sept. 25, at 4 p.m. podfest.com.
UPDATE: Tyler's appearance at L.A. Podcast Festival on Sunday has been canceled due to an unforeseen change in her work schedule.