Lesley Wolff is the den mother/cheerleader/pants-kicking advocate for women comics. As recently as the mid-to-late ’90s, comedy clubs would book one, maybe two, women on their bills per night. That’s not the case anymore, partly due to shows like Wolff’s pioneering female-driven standup-comedy shows.
“I knew all these women who were really beautiful and really funny,” she says. “They had a special quality and drive.” So in 2001, Wolff began “She She Comedy” at the Comedy Union, not one of L.A.’s higher-profile spaces, but one where both performer and audience were treated with respect. (She’s zip-lipped about places she won’t put on shows.)
“I was able to give [women comics] an opportunity when other clubs wouldn’t put them on the lineup,” she says.
Before finding her calling as comedic talent scout, Wolff, a fast-talking blond who looks more like a Hermosa Beach volleyball bum than a comedy czar, was a Philadelphia playwright and bartender.
“I moved to L.A. in ’95 because I wanted to be in the comedy world, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to raise the ceiling.”
She handpicked her “She She” lineups of a dozen or so comics not for their performing experience, but for their point of view, which was immediately recognizable.
“You have to be able to see the sitcom in them instantly. If not,” Wolff says, “there’s a problem.”
Natasha Leggero, Melissa Paull, Faith Salie and Andrea Savage were among the first to get the push from Wolff to perform. “And now they’re really big,” says Wolff, with the pride of Gypsy Rose Lee. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that names like David Spade, Zach Galifianakis, Harland Williams and Sarah Silverman stop by to perform with some regularity.
Her enthusiasm isn’t reserved for the performers. When you attend one of Wolff’s shows, you’re treated like a family member. She works the room, greeting people, passing out fliers to her next show and patting complete strangers on the back as if they’re old buddies. “The audience is the most important thing at a comedy show. I want to make them feel like they’re invited to a special party.”
As for her own standup act, Wolff rates herself as “always fun and entertaining to watch. But as a joke technician, I could use a ton more discipline.” She’s done a few small movie roles, and some TV producing and writing for Sweet Valley High and other shows.
At this point, though, she’s more interested in getting her comics jazzed up to go onstage.
“I get talent crushes on people. I want to see others succeed; I’m so the antithesis of everyone in L.A. I love to mentor. I’m a comedy fluffer.”
Playing stage mother to a wide circle of comics — who are one of our planet’s most insecure breeds — does take its toll.
“I realize my relationships have taken a back seat to my comics. Here I am, single at 34.” Then she adds, “Comics are inherently selfish and needy. I got my car keyed once, and I think it was a comic.”