After landing her first acting gig in a commercial at age 4 and taking improvisation classes as a teen, comedian Kelli Cayman Cozlin became “hooked” on the art of performing. Roughly two decades later, she’s carved a niche for herself in Asheville’s lively comedy scene by dipping her hand “in quite a few cookie jars.”
Between modeling and writing, managing her company Sticky-Notes Production, creating beer trailers, hosting sketch comedy dinners at Lexington Avenue Brewery, and tackling other odd ventures as they come, Cozlin’s quite the busy woman. She did, however, take a coffee break with Xpress (or, more likely, a LAB nitro beer break) to mull over life as a comedian in Western North Carolina.
Mountain Xpress: What brought you to Asheville? How does life here inspire your writing content?
Kelli Cozlin: My husband and I came to visit on vacation and came back a couple of months later to rescue a dog. On the way back down to Orlando, we decided to make the move to Asheville. We’re new residents (lived here a little over a year). Asheville is a wonderful blend of a modern progressive city with the friendly charm of a small town.
Everything inspires my writing content — the character of ‘Asheville,’ the mountains, the seasons, local artisans, downtown graffiti, antique shops, our rescue dogs, our drives down random roads, and getting lost in the local architecture, history, culture. … I’m inspired by pop culture and current events as well.
Between scripted comedic acting and improv, which is more challenging? Which do you prefer?
I’ve always believed comedy to be challenging. I find remaining true and real is a great tactic and a little character can go a long way. I absolutely love playing vast characters, especially with improv. There’s something about not knowing what is going to happen —it’s fun. Yes, improv is my absolute favorite, but I do love scripted as well.
Do you experience a different sense of fulfillment from creating content versus simply acting it out?
Ive always been a creator as an actor; I started directing and writing my own shows at a young age and wrote monologues for friends at auditions. I’ve also always been a believer of creating your own work — you can be in the driver’s seat of your career. It’s amazing how technology has made that accessible for actors in the past 10 years. Before, you had to wait for someone to cast you, to be seen by a director, agent, or casting director. Now, you can create your own web-series, short, etc. Pitch it, submit, stream. It’s fantastic.
Asheville has been called a ‘bring your own job’ city. What does it take to make a living as a comedian here?
If you have a specified skill set and niche, there is a market for it here in Asheville. Being a professional performer, I’ve always wanted my own production company, and Asheville has given me that opportunity. I think any city could always use more funny as a source of entertainment. Our production company covers many aspects — film, web, improv, private parties, events and live stage shows. Entertainment is an extremely competitive market, so it’s important in this day and age to be as versatile and skilled as possible. I act, direct, write, sing, model and produce. The more you can do (and do well), the better.
What are the challenges or positives you’ve experienced from being a female comedian?
I think comedy can be challenging despite race or gender. It has always been a more male-dominated industry, but that has changed dramatically in the past 30 years. Growing up, I was always the new kid moving around, which made me adaptable in any given situation. With that said, if I’m the only girl in an improv scene, I’m going to roll with it and give it all I’ve got. If I’ve made the audience laugh, I’ve done my job.
If you were tasked with launching an Asheville comedy busking group, what would your first downtown street-corner skit be?
The first downtown skit would definitely be a group of public works or city employees. It leaves lots of room to use the environment to your advantage — physical comedy, ladders, buckets, fire hose. So much opportunity. I think this might have to happen. … Stay tuned.