Smile Politely

Lucas Zelnick graces The Canopy Club

Portrait of Lucas Zelnick, a white man in his 20s, wearing a black t-shirt. His hands are folded under his chin. The backround and table on which he is leaning are blue. He has light brown hair.
Lucas Zelnick by Jim McCambridge

Lucas Zelnick is a stand-up comedian who challenges his privileged upbringing through his material. He’s quickly making a name for himself in the comedy world. With over 600k followers across Instagram and TikTok and 28 million likes, Zelnick is undeniably one of the most exciting up-and-coming comedians. His social media platforms predominantly feature humorous crowd interactions, showcasing his knack for connecting with audiences and delivering laughs. Zelnick will perform at The Canopy Club on Saturday, April 27th.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Smile Politely: Crowd work seems like a very popular way to get exposure on things like Instagram and TikTok. Why do you think crowd work gains so much traction vs actual stand-up material on social media?

Lucas Zelnick: It’s much easier to put a lot of it out; that is probably the biggest thing. If I write a joke and put it out online, and it gets a lot of views, then that causes people to come see me. I don’t want them to see the same stuff they’ve seen. The thing with crowd work is that it’s evergreen because I’m never going to repeat it. So I can have a crowd work interaction and post it. That can incline people to come to my show. Then they can see a completely different show.

SP: On your podcast, you discussed the anxieties and insecurities that come with success and performance. How do you handle the fluctuating anxieties of performing while increasing in popularity?

Zelnick: I have a process, which is to try to write jokes, get on stage every night, edit and post clips to promote my shows. [I] do whatever else is required of me during the day, whether that’s developing television and film pitches, or doing interviews like the one we’re doing now. As long as I do that every day, I can say, “Okay, I did what I needed to do today.” Growth sort of happens over time. I don’t try to think too hard about [whether] any one clip [will] go viral. That’s what would make me nervous.

SP: The first time you performed in a large house, Martha Stewart was in the audience. Tell me what she had to say about your performance. Do you think she is following your success?

Zelnick: She said she wanted to punch me in the face. I had a girlfriend at the time, and I made a joke [about my girlfriend] that she had signed off on. Martha came up to me after the show and said, “How you joked about your girlfriend made me want to punch you in the face.” Is Martha still following my success? I think so.

SP: Can you walk us through the creative process of crafting your material?

Zelnick: If anything is funny to me, I’ll just write it down, and usually, it is a premise. I was in a workout class, the trainer was trying to motivate me. She said, “You have only one life. How do you want to spend it?” And my first thought was, I don’t really want to be in a workout class in Chelsea, New York. So, you take a real thing that happened and then try to figure out why it was funny. Once you figure out what the thing is that makes it funny, you can play with it, subvert it, or reverse it. 

SP: Do you have a Mt. Rushmore of comedians you admire or gain inspiration from?

Zelnick: From my generation, I would say Geoffrey Asmus and Jordan Jensen. Geoff is a hard joke writer and Jordan is more of an off-the-cuff, unstructured tone. I look up a lot to John Mulaney. I look up to most major comedians a lot, because it’s such a crazy thing to put out multiple hours of material. It’s just so hard. If anyone can do it. I respect that.

SP: In an interview with Stanford Daily, you shared that your podcast co-host and friend Jamie Wolf helped mentor you on how to go from being funny in conversation to getting laughs onstage. What was that process like? And how has that continued friendship/partnership shaped your career?

Zelnick: He’s my best friend and my business partner. We have a business together, and we have a weekly new material show in New York City. We founded a comedy club called Sesh Comedy in New York together. He’s also just a really funny comedian. 

I met him when he was two years into comedy. And I was an open mic-er, and he just helped guide me away from shocking or offensive jokes. When you’re a young comedian, and you’re looking to compare things to bad things, you typically go down those paths. And I think he was very instrumental in helping me stay away from those paths. I learned a lot about how to write jokes from simply watching him. My first tour was a co-headlining with him. It was helpful to see one of the most hardworking and talented comedians that I know work in that environment.

SP: There are many different paths that you could take in your career. Where do you see yourself in the next few years?

Zelnick: Eventually, I’d like to put out a special. I’d also like to create a show and act. But I think one or two more tours, and I’ll be ready to put out a special. I just really want the first hour that I put out to be really good. And it’s not quite there yet, in my opinion, even though it’s good.

SP: You were a sponsored competitive free skier in high school. Do you think your success — or lack thereof — on the slopes informed the direction your professional life took?

Zelnick: I’ll tell you what, I got sponsorships because I would make ski videos. That’s how I learned to edit, which is how I built my comedy career off videos. I also think if I were a better skier, I might not be doing this. So, I think both my success and my lack thereof contributed to ending up as a comedian.

Lucas Zelnick
The Canopy Club
708 S Goodwin Ave
Sa Apr 27th, 7 p.m.

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