Heather Kozlakowski hails from Metro Detroit, though she currently lives and works in Los Angeles. She has been a performer in the entertainment business for more than 15 years and is the Founder and Producer of the all-female comedy show The Laugh Riot Dolls Detroit and Los Angeles. We asked her a few questions…
1. How do you describe your comedy?
I’m open, honest and unapologetic. My sets orbit the story of personal development: my struggles with food and healthy living, awkwardly navigating love and the pursuit of family. I would describe my comedy style as a sober Amy Schumer meets drunk Janeane Garofalo.
2. How did you get started in comedy?
Based on a recommendation from a Casting Director, I took the improv classes offered at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle, instructed by Rich Goteri at the time. My focus was to work on being comfortable interacting with others in the audition space. I have a severe case of “resting bitch face” and was told, one too many times, that my first impression was not a good one.
The comment that pushed me to improv was that I didn’t seem like I “had much to offer until the camera turned on;” then I “really came to life.” Ouch.
Just as I had finished up all the Improv classes offered at Mark Ridley’s, I saw that a stand-up class was about to start, taught by Bill Bushart. I had aways wanted to do stand-up and I knew in my gut that if I didn’t take this opportunity, I would never do it. It was a “now or never” moment. I took the class and I have never looked back…actually, I looked back once, but that’s another story.
3. Tell us about The Laugh Riot Dolls.
The Laugh Riot Dolls Detroit came out of necessity. Early on, I was booked on an all-female show at the now defunct Joey’s Comedy Club. All the comics from that night were inspired to keep working together and Live Rude Girls was born. One comic came up with the name, a few other comics took control of fliers and bookings; it was a really great opportunity. I had about 5 minutes of material and there was no way I could work anything other than an open mic by myself. And then it was over, Live Rude Girls was no more. This great opportunity for me to perform was gone so I decided to create my own opportunities.
The Laugh Riot Dolls were born. It’s been a pretty awesome journey! First, we had professional stage announcers including Upchuck Tha Clown of the Insane Clown Posse family and Mark Pasman from The Motor City Blues Project. In the beginning, we also had a Card Girl who held signs with the comic’s names on them (hand painted by me). The Card Girl was also a candy cigar and cigarette girl.
Then came The Little Dollies. It was always my intention to have singers open and close the show a la The Andrew Sisters, and it finally happened! My good friends and singers, Rana Zdrojewski and Dana Eason, didn’t know each other well but had circled back to me the same week to discuss the group I wanted to build. Comic friend Matt Gulley let me know that our mutual friend and actress, Alissa Nordmoe was a beautiful singer and that she might be interested. I had met engineer and childhood performer, Simeon Thomas at The Champion’s Club Crossfist around that same time and he was interested in writing a parody with me. The Little Dollies are now Rana Zdrojewski, Megen Agee, and Angel Walsh.
The Laugh Riot Dolls’ line up varies from show to show, promising that you will never see the same show twice. Our door is always open to new comics that have 5 minutes — they are called “Baby Dolls.” Being a new comic with 5 minutes and needing a place to perform was the creative seed that The Laugh Riot Dolls’ have grown from. More seasoned comics with more time make up “The Dolls,” and you will see all of your favorite Detroit comics on our shows, including Sam Rager and Esther Nevarez.
A few times a year you can see “The Laugh Riot Dolls featuring Boy Toys,” where male comics take the stage. It’s a great opportunity to work with friends, and that is my mission statement, “To work creatively with my friends;” without my friends, I wouldn’t be doing comedy at all.
4. You’re also an actress. Tell us how movies, theater, and improv are different from stand-up comedy, and how they influence your stand-up comedy.
I’ve studied the Meisner technique, and I approach film, theatre, and standup through the Meisner lens. I know my work, I make specific choices, and then when I’m on camera, or on stage, I live truthfully moment to moment (to the best of my ability). Scripted lines never change, but the motivation for that line most likely will, depending on the other person (or the audience) if you are really listening to them.
In film, you have to remember continuity and wait around a lot before you are called to set. I like what Russell Brand said about acting in film (in My Bookie Wook or My Bookie Wook 2) — and I’m paraphrasing — “acting is saying the same thing over and over again wearing the same clothes.” I would say that this is also true for acting in theatre and for stand-up. (For some comics, the bit about wearing the same clothes night after night is also true; I have a blazer that’s seen lots of stage timef)
Theatre is an investment! It’s good work, and an amazing experience always…and then it’s gone; it’s difficult emotionally. I have a tendency to get depressed after shows are over; films, too.
From what I gather, improv is only living truthfully, but you follow a set of agreed-upon rules, like “Yes, and” — don’t say “No.” Also, if you make choices before hand, I think by definition you are doing it “wrong.”
With stand-up, I can always find a mic and go up; I can create my own stage time; I write my own lines and tell my own story. The way I perform is the same, I strive to live truthfully in the moment.
5. You also used to be a disc jockey and traffic reporter on the radio under the name Heather Nickels. Do you try to keep your public image as a broadcaster and your image as a comedian separate? Do the skills of a radio broadcaster have any overlap with the skills of a comedian?
When I got into radio my name was deemed “too ethnic,” so I picked the name “Nickels — like the money” based on an awkward experience I had as a broadcasting student (but that’s another story). I like the boundary of a fake name in radio; listeners are with you on a daily basis, the experience is one-on-one and they bond with you. This is great, until it’s not. Ask a jock about their most aggressive “P1” or watch Play Misty for Me (which I personally have yet to see…some things are too real).
Stand-up and theatre are not one-on-one experiences; there is safety in numbers. Film would be the closest to radio; I’ve had “fans” (I hate that term, it’s creepy) find me online from the film Trap directed by Jim Bonner because they related to my character and enjoyed my performance. It’s the boundary of the “character” that makes it feel different and somehow less invasive, as opposed to radio, when a listener knows what I ate for dinner.
I think you will find many on-air personalities have also performed stand up. Detroit’s own Kevin O’Neill and Ken Brown for two. The ability to write bits, relate to an audience, and be confident on a mic are skills that both broadcasters and comics need.
6. You also taught at Specs Howard. Tell us about your classes. Did teaching affect the way you think about comedy?
I taught at Specs for twelve years and my classes varied from “Radio Production using Adobe Audition,” “Board Operation,” “Vocal Performance,” “Broadcast News Writing,” and “Career Prep.”
I’d like to think that my comedy teaches the audience something. The best shows are when someone comes up to me and says “me too!” its good to know that we are not alone, that we can all laugh at our socially awkward behaviors and the weird things we do in the pursuit of happiness.
7. What’s the best piece of advice about stand up comedy you ever received?
Comedian Joel Fragomeni told me not to look at what anyone else is doing. Everyone is doing something great, do your own great thing.
8. What projects are you currently working on?
The Laugh Riot Dolls have branched out into East and West Coast shows with The Laugh Riot Dolls Detroit and Los Angeles. Detroit shows are going strong! LRD performed at Gilda’s Laugh Fest the last two years to rave reviews. We recently completed a successful benefit show in Los Angeles with Comics For Flint featuring The Laugh Riot Dolls. Original Little Dollie, Alissa Nordmoe, lives in LA and we are getting the L.A. Dollies together. More shows to come!
I perform all over L.A., Simi Valley and the High Desert. I’ll be at Ha’s Ha’s in North Hollywood on August 9th with Evan Lionel for Turn Up Tuesdaze. There is a great Detroit scene here as well, I have had the opportunity to work with Detroit’s Chris Newberg (America’s Got Talent, The Tonight Show) and Mike Bobbit (WTF with Marc Maron).
I’ve been studying acting with a focus on auditioning with Brett Rickaby (The Crazies, Dexter) at Inside Job Acting Studio.
I’m working on a comedy cook book and web series called Don’t F*cking Eat Cake that I’m super excited about!
I moved to Los Angeles with the goal of continuing to “work creatively with my friends” and I couldn’t be happier. I hate to be redundant, but obviously, my mission statement is important to me.
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