Emma Tattenbaum-Fine is a comedy writer, actor, and director who appeared as host of HQ Trivia, improvising live in front of a million viewers internationally. She can be seen in Netflix’s “Explained” and has written sketch and stand up comedy for TruTV, Comedy Central, Refinery29 and New York Theatre Workshop (writing jokes for Heidi Schreck and Jeremy O. Harris). Come see her newest weekly writing by visiting & subscribing at emmatattenbaumfine.
Favorite response to a heckler or troll?
I’m sorry that you are hurting. I wish you healing. You are seen. You are loved (not by me, but by someone.)
Describe your worst gig.
I did a short form improv show with a troupe I used to work with. We did a very young kid’s birthday party. The horrible troupe leader, a full grown adult, encouraged us to make lots and lots of poop jokes because the kids (3 and 4 years old) were really responding to that. I wanted to melt into the floor. The parents watching looked horrified, but the troupe leader and “businessman” was like … electrified by how much the kids loved poop jokes. After the “show,” I got my money and quit the group. I still feel small just telling this story. BUT I SURVIVED.
What were you like as a teen? (Did you have comedy #goals? Were you already funny, or not so much?)
As a teen, I was incredibly goal-oriented and incredibly stressed. People started telling my I was funny when I was maybe 6-years-old. Possibly earlier, but I don’t recall. I learned to speak in full paragraphs by the time I was 3, so I started entertaining anyone who would listen to all the many pressing things I had to say. I talked so much that, statistically speaking, a large portion of it was going to be funny.
What’s your first impulse when someone says “women aren’t funny”?
On Twitter? I check to see if it’s a bot. Then I just assume it is and laugh and say, “Not today, Satan.”
When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it?
I was absolutely obsessed and this was never an issue for me. However, I wish I had been kinder to myself along the journey and slept more in my teens and twenties.
Best comedy advice you ever got?
I asked Reggie Watts after a show what made him so creative and playful and in flow onstage. He told me that he kept moving so he wouldn’t forget to breathe. Movement and breath return me to my creativity onstage and when I’m writing.
Worst comedy advice you ever got?
Ugh, I blocked it out, but here’s more good advice I’ve gotten: Money is very motivating for deadlines, so if you wanna be motivated, get yourself paid. Seems obvious now, but at the time this blew my mind. I was beating myself up for not being motivated enough and this more established comedian and author was like, “Well, I finished my book because I was paid to finish it.” This was a reframe for me.
How has being funny helped you in your offstage life, either recently or when you were younger?
I grew up with two moms and that was not very common in the early 90s when I was a little kid making friends. Being funny made me charming and easy to get to know. I think comedy allowed me to ingratiate myself and my family and build bridges toward acceptance of LGBTQ families. If you knew me and knew I was funny, then you knew my parents and it’s hard to be homophobic, or phobic of any sort of person, if you have a personal relationship with them.
Feelings about the word “comedienne”?
I love how it’s spelled. I think it’s kind of silly, but I appreciate how French it is and how it sounds like a pastry I would certainly eat.
On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young (female/non-binary) comedian?
Tell the truth. You will be the only one.
What single word always cracks you up?
Doge. (When you look at a dog and just know it’s actually more of a “doge,” that’s funny to me.)