Kristin Clifford

Tamale’s 12 for 12 is a collection of 12 questions posed to one of Tamales favorite comics each month.

Tamale’s 12: Spotlight on Kristin Clifford

You might know Kristin Clifford from her signature sweetness and soft voice, both on stage and off. I met her while taking a Feminine Comique class a couple of years ago and am excited to share her with you. Let’s get to know her a little better!

1. When did you first know you wanted to do comedy? (Was it an event, a moment you shared with a friend, something you saw?)

When I was younger, I would spend hours watching Stand Up Spotlight and Comedy Central in general. I loved watching comedians and was probably too young to be seeing some of the things I was seeing. I remember I really enjoyed Chris Rock. I was pushed to do comedy because I was kind of the “funny” one in my group of friends – always very sarcastic. I decided to start doing something legitimate with comedy when I moved to Chicago after college. I figured as long as I was in the city near Second City, I should be taking classes there!

2. How long have you been at it and in what forms? (improv, sketch, stand-up. etc)

Seven years. I started taking classes at Second City in May of 2005. I know this because I totally went back and checked in my LIVEJOURNAL, y’all. That’s how long ago that was and how lame I was – I had a Livejournal and I used it. I went through their beginning improv program, which anyone can take. I then auditioned for their Conservatory and was accepted. I graduated from Conservatory in 2007ish and took the improv program at iO as well. Along the way I appeared in a few sketch shows, improv shows, and wrote an original sketch show with some cool women. I started doing standup after I finished up at iO in about 2009. I don’t really do improv or sketch anymore, except just for fun. Mainly because I am a mediocre improviser/actor at best.

3. What has been your scariest moment on stage?

I actually really don’t get stage fright, oddly enough, but I was very nervous before my first stand-up show. I’d invited a lot of people and woke up in the middle of the night in terror thinking “WHAT HAVE I DONE?!” I was afraid I would be terrible and it would be really embarrassing and my co-workers were coming and what if they hated it and then work would be weird and they’d be like “Kristin is the funny one in the office, but not on stage. YIKES.” And then I’d be disinvited to happy hour or whatever. Doing stand-up is different than improv or sketch because it’s just you. Which is great in so many ways (ATTENTION) but also harder because if you suck, you have no one to blame but you.

4. What are you most proud of in life? In comedy?

In life – I recently earned my masters degree. This is something that many people do, and I am not unique, but I am still proud of it. It might seem weird to bother getting an advanced degree when I want to be a comedian, but I did it for my own reasons. Shortly before I started school, my grandfather passed away. My grandpa was awesome. He accomplished so much in his life. He served in WWII in the navy. He was undefeated as a boxer for the Navy, but gave up a (legend tells) promising boxing career to marry my grandma. He got his bachelor’s degree, (while they had a couple kids) and went on to have seven children and earn not one, but two master’s degrees. He was a sergeant in the Chicago Police Department as well. Not only that, but he was constantly working on wood crafts and creating things for his family to hang and display in our homes. My grandpa’s nickname was Slick because he liked to put gel in his hair and slick it back. When he retired from the police department, my uncles got him a joke newspaper cover with the headline “Slick Retires – Lumber Industry Booms!”

I remember him as someone who was constantly learning – he was the 80-year old man with the video camera, filming our family parties. The senior citizen navigating the Internet, emailing all his grandkids, and finding Navy buddies online. The hobbyist who was always finding new decorations to make for my grandma. I always wanted a master’s degree, like him, but I thought, “I don’t have time.”

When he died, I thought to myself, “Grandpa had seven kids, a full-time job, and two master’s degrees. You have only yourself, and your job is not even close to being as stressful as his was. You can get a degree.”

So I did. Because I loved him, and I was so proud to honor him in that way, even if I’m the only one who knew it.

The proudest thing I am doing in comedy right now is just trying to grow. I am pleased with myself whenever I try hard to improve as a comic and push myself out of my comfort zone.

5. What are two things that are not related to comedy that you love, or enjoy doing and why?

I love reading. I am always reading something. Not necessarily something that will make me smarter, but sometimes. I like mysteries and I prefer actual books vs. an eReader. I also really enjoy watching TV, especially really stupid TV like Lifetime movies, or basically anything on ABC Family. Especially their 25 Days of Christmas movies, when they play like all those ridiculous Christmas romance movies featuring Melissa Joan Hart or Joanna Garcia. That is my idea of heaven.

Reading the above, I am embarrassed to be myself. At least I’m honest. I sign up for 5 and 8k races lately and have run quite a few of them, but let’s not even pretend that I love that.

6. Your biggest pet peeve about fellow comics is:

By and large all the comics I have met are good people. I have few issues. I guess in general, I don’t like when comics blame the audience for a bad set, or start to turn on them mid-set. If your joke’s not working, maybe it’s not a good joke. I also don’t like when comics feel entitled to shows because they have been doing comedy for x number of years. A booker can book whoever they want. Honestly, you might be really funny but just don’t fit the vibe, and you have to respect that. That said, I think all bookers owe comedians the courtesy of responding to booking requests. The non-response really ticks me off.

7. What’s the best advice you ever got about comedy and who said it?

It’s not so much actual, personal advice that someone has given them to me. But I watch people, and I really admire comedians who are kind and patient and respectful to everyone. I try and be like that myself. Sometimes I fail. I think it’s a good way to live your life, and a good way to continue getting booked and moving up if you have the talent. No one wants to work with a dick. Additionally, something I have learned myself and from watching others – you have got to create your own opportunities. If you want stage time, make your own show. Go to open mics. Talk to people. Make your own show. Did I mention making your own show?

8. Please name three people who have inspired you in a way that has informed your comedy. What makes each of them so meaningful to you?

Michael Palascak – I met Michael years ago when we went to the same improv jam at Second City and were later cast in an improv show together. He’s one of the people who I feel has always been nice to others on his way up, and now I am so glad he is having great success. He also gave me a ride home once or twice when it was really far out of his way and I still really feel bad about it. I admire him for his attitude and also, his jokes. I think his style is really clever without ever going blue or even swearing much. I try and emulate that.

Kelsie Huff – Kelsie has a drive like no one I’ve ever seen. She works so hard and makes her own opportunities and forces people to notice her talent. I would kill for one-tenth of her energy and stage presence. She’s so sharp and her writing is amazing. A Kelsie Huff joke is a treat to see on stage – a Kelsie Huff essay is a pleasure to read. She’s smart and she’s also a fantastic networker – as a shy, awkward human, I have faked my way through scary comedy situations by thinking “What would Kelsie Huff do? She’d go over and say hi to those people instead of dying of self-consciousness, dumbass.”

Cameron Esposito – I flat out would not be doing comedy if it weren’t for Cameron. I took her class to learn how to write jokes, and she was amazingly supportive. Cameron has done amazing things for the scene and she genuinely cares about people. She’s created (with Adam Burke) a really safe environment for comics of all levels at Cole’s and her work to get women involved in the Chicago comedy scene absolutely shows. In addition to being a generally great human being, Cameron is one of my favorites to watch. I admire her ability to riff and be hilarious doing it. She feeds off the audience and lets them inform her performance – that’s hard to do. I know because I try and fail.

9. What was the funniest thing you remember as a kid?

The funniest thing that I remember seeing? I honestly cannot remember. But I do remember finding it hilarious that my best friend growing up, Eileen, would always move the Nintendo controller when she jumped in Mario Brothers. She’d be flailing around like it made a difference when really you just had to press A or whatever. She was funny.

10. Do you drink coffee, and if so, how do you prefer it?

Nope! I prefer coffee in zero quantities at zero times of the day. (I hate coffee).

11. Tell me about a particularly memorable gig. (Where was it? What made it stand out?)

One of the first times I did the Zanies Rising Star showcase was over a Fourth of July weekend. I had many friends come and there were lots of tourists in the audience too. A group of them asked me to take my picture with them. At first I thought they wanted me to take their picture in front of Zanies – but no, they wanted to take their picture WITH me. I think they thought I was somehow famous or something, and I did not disabuse them of this notion. It was really funny. If this were a story for YM magazine, my crush would’ve totes been there.

12. Hecklers. We’ve all had one, or at the very least, seen them work their magic. Tell me your favorite heckler story. (I would love to hear your favorite heckler diffusion line as well…)

I have honestly never had a true heckler. Just drunk people who think they’re helping but calm down quickly.

Once, at Lincoln Lodge, I was launching into a joke about Lent and I asked the audience what they had given up for Lent and of course this one guy screams out “SEX!” and laughed loudly at himself.

I said to him “Oh really you gave up sex?” And then said “Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose.”

What I actually meant to say was that I was sure it WAS on purpose, but I ended up saying the opposite and insulting him. Luckily he and the audience all thought it was hilarious – he even came up to me after the show to tell me that. That was the first time being unintentionally mean worked out for me.

I spend a lot of time trying to think of great heckler diffusion lines. Luckily I don’t get heckled because I have nothing at the moment.

For more info about Kristin please check out

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