In this series, we’ll be getting to know some of the Austinites who produce our favorite local events. This week, a Q&A with writer and comedian Erica Lies, a producer on Mortified (a storytelling show based on awkward artifacts from adolescence and childhood) and Worded Funny (a night of short-form humorous writings—think ‘Shouts and Murmurs,’ only live).
L+B: Tell us a little about the Austin events that you produce.
Erica Lies: Most people know Mortified through the Netflix show and the podcast, but it’s been a live show for 18 years in cities all over the country and now even the globe. The Austin chapter has been running since 2007, and I’ve been working on it since then. I’m a story producer for the show, which means I work with the performers to create a story about their adolescent self, constructed entirely from their adolescent writings. It’s playing part writer, part excavator, part therapist.
Worded Funny is an Austin night of literary humor that I put on with my humor writing mafia, Alex Baia and Shruti Saran. We started it because our satire and humor writing exists online, where you don’t exactly get immediate feedback. Alex and I are both performers in Austin’s comedy scene, so we thought doing a show would be a fun way to bring our writing into the performance world and let us create some community amongst the other humor writers here.
L+B: What’s the most memorable thing that’s ever happened at an event you produced?
Erica Lies: Back in 2013, in the middle of a Mortified show, all the lights went out at The North Door. We didn’t know it immediately, but an entire portion of the East Side had lost power. The show had barely started—we were like one piece in. And there was this moment of not knowing what to do, because we’d completely lost all light as well as all of our audio. So the production staff conferred about whether to keep going or send the audience home.
It’s probably worth saying that the vast majority of us are grown-up theater kids who find canceling a show (well, canceling for less than a worldwide pandemic) utterly incomprehensible. Our professional lives are all marked by problem-solving on the fly, so losing electricity wasn’t a deterrent. It felt like an opportunity. We were like, “The performers can still talk. We can still do this.” So we continued the show, with the audience lighting the stage using their cell phones. It was magical. The performers, producers, and audience all came together to make the best of it and make the show happen.
L+B: Tell us about an event you’ve produced that you’re particularly proud of.
Erica Lies: In 2017, I did a two-woman sketch show with Katie Stone called “Menenists,” which we not only wrote and performed, but also produced ourselves. The idea came together in the disappointment of the 2016 election and all the ugliness. Katie had floated the idea of writing something together, and then I just texted her, “This might be insane, but what if we did a sort of ‘Matt & Ben’ show where we play alt-right dickheads?” I figured it was too out-there and risky and that she would say no, but she was into it and we did it. The end result was a 40-minute sketch show where we satirized men’s rights activists and racists by playing them ourselves.
L+B: Who are some local event producers you admire?
Erica Lies: My friend Devon Coleman comes up with some insane comedy ideas, like a late night show hosted by the Grim Reaper called “Dead of Night.” I’ll watch basically anything Devon creates. That man’s mind is unreal.
L+B: How can people support you during this time when we can’t go to your events?
Erica Lies: Thanks for asking—I lost a majority of my work to the coronavirus. If folks want to support, they can sign up for my “Writing a Web Series” class at ColdTowne Theater, which will be entirely online. They can also hire me to write their marketing copy or content in any format (Social media! Newsletters! Websites! Even executive bios!). I can also edit words and give people curly hair tips (but that I’ll do for free).
[Editor’s note: I have spent many years trying to emulate Erica’s curls. If this were a newsletter of curly hair care and not of Austin events, Erica would still be the first person we interviewed.]
L+B: While we’re all stuck at home, are there any streaming events that you’d recommend?
Erica Lies:ColdTowne Theater, where I teach sketch comedy writing, has a Twitch channel going, where they’re broadcasting live shows from isolation. It’s totally possible to get some cheap laughs from quarantine, and you’d be supporting a small local institution that could really use the community push right now.