For the first five years that she did stand-up comedy, Erin Foley subscribed to two guiding principles: “Try to be funny and don’t throw up before you get onstage.”
Now, 12 years later, and with bodily functions under control, Foley has a solid reputation on a national scale, thanks in part to performances on “Conan,” “@midnight with Chris Hardwick,” “Chelsea Lately” and “Comedy Central Presents,” which aired her special. She’s also done punch-up writing (peppering jokes into existing scripts) for sitcoms and acting work in addition to completing the first 150 episodes of her own female-focused podcast, “Sports Without Balls.” On Saturday, Jan. 28, she’ll return to Asheville for a performance at The Grey Eagle.
“You have to not sleep, be prepared to live on a budget forever and have about 18 jobs,” she says of her Los Angeles-based hustle. “The good thing is I like them all, for the most part.”
Stand-up, however, remains Foley’s preferred method of delivering laughs, and it’s an art form that’s evolved since her early days. While Foley held off on potentially contentious topics to start, coming out publicly as a lesbian provided a natural transition toward more socially charged material.
“When you get more confidence onstage, you go, ‘Oh, well, now I feel like I can tackle more things that interest me that are maybe a little bit controversial,’” she says.
Politics made their way into the mix around 2000, “and now I want to talk about that all the time,” Foley says. “The problem is part of the audience doesn’t want to hear it, so you have to be careful about how far you’re going to go. … Now, more so than ever, I have to really figure out a plan. Because people are going to go to comedy shows so they can escape — right? — the Trump regime.”
Still, much of Foley’s catalog tends toward the lighter side of life: a Sunday morning “toptional” pool party, hipster-chemist-hybrid-baristas or her theory that Vegan Cooking for One is the most depressing book ever written. There’s also the wouldn’t-it-be-funny-if brand of joke, wherein she imagines off-color situations like a football player pointing to Lucifer, instead of God, after scoring a game-winning touchdown.
A forté of Foley’s is her ability to get into the heads of the eccentric individuals who wind up in her anecdotes, though she says she’s usually recounting, rather than exaggerating, their personalities. In a particularly inspired bit, for example, she takes on the crazed energy of a Los Angeles resident amid a 45-day meat juice cleanse. “When I meet people that are so over the top or they take things so seriously or get wound up about something, it makes me laugh so hard that just literally mimicking what I’ve seen makes me happy,” Foley says. “It’s not even an intentional [attempt to] build a character. It’s like, ‘Look at this jackhole that I just saw last week. This is what happened.’”
Surprisingly, Foley pays little attention to her nonverbal mannerisms during these moments, though they enhance her stage show significantly. Instead, she records shows as audio and later reviews the files to analyze words and phrases, their placement and overall delivery. “What happens to my body up there, I never have control of,” she says, calling performing an otherworldly experience. “I don’t even remember what I’ve said. That’s why I have to tape everything.”
For her Asheville show, Foley plans to pontificate on the presidential election, news, sports, her living situation with a twin sister and three cats, and more during a set that’s filled with new jokes. And she’s particularly excited to share the bill with two women: Jen O’Neill Smith and colleague Blaire Postman, whom Foley invited to the gig. “I usually work with five dudes,” she reflects.
The trio of ladies will be the first to usher the Funny Business comedy series from The Millroom — where it amassed a following over three years by presenting artists like Tom Green, James Adomian, Sara Schaefer and Steve O — to The Grey Eagle, where additional growth is possible.
“The capacity went from 200 at The Millroom to 250 at The Grey Eagle,” says Greg Hardin, an independent representative for corporate accounts with Funny Business Agency, the company that presents the series. “And we do have the possibility of doing two shows per night there. … So, that opens us up to the chance of getting bigger acts.”
Hardin points out that Funny Business’ Valentine’s Day show will also feature two female comedians: Wendy Wroblewski and Grayson Morris, both of whom have opening slots before headliner Bengt Washburn.
“Comedy tends to be male-dominated, and I’ve always wanted to combat that,” Hardin says. “There are enough guys in comedy doing guy humor. I want to hear some other points of view.”
WHO: Erin Foley with Jen O’Neill Smith and Blaire Postman
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Ave., thegreyeagle.com
WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 28, 8 p.m. $15 advance/$18 day of show