By Ross von Metzke
Originally published on Advocate.com January 14 2010 6:00 PM ET
They say being funny and beautiful is a rare combination, and starting Thursday night, Aisha Tyler is going to remind fans just what a gift it is with her starring role on Archer ... albeit this time in animated form.
From making history as the first black woman to have a recurring role on Friends to her year and a half spent hosting TV’s Talk Soup, Aisha Tyler has made a career out of being funny, smart, and sexy all rolled into one. Archer lets her add "shocking" to the list — in the story of a himbo, male chauvinist spy who works side by side with his mother (Jessica Walter) and his ex-girlfriend Lana (Tyler), the things that come out of her mouth occasionally make Family Guy sound tame.
In between acting, voice-over work on Archer, and touring with her comedy act, Tyler also finds time to lend her talents to shows like Politically Incorrect and The Joy Behar Show, standing up for gay rights, human rights ... and pretty much whatever she damn well feels like talking about.
Advocate.com: Lana is smoking hot — and I’m just going to put out there that I think it’s fair to say some of that comes from you.
Aisha Tyler: Well, you know, the character and even the way she looked was established before they hired me. But I honestly responded to her right away, and since I’ve been with the show, her personality and her tone have evolved to be a little bit closer to me. I’m one of those people who grew up with a dad who took me to see action movies, and that is my favorite genre of film. I love action, I love spy movies, I love the Bond franchise.
It’s very tantalizing as an actor and as a comedian to be a part of a project where, as you’re doing the show, you’re going, "Are they going to let us do this? Oh, my God." The first script, from the very beginning, it felt radical. I remember reading it and laughing out loud several times. And then the character, she’s just this badass girl, and I thought, Hell yeah. It’s like my dream come true.
Well, and it doesn’t hurt that, as animated characters go, Archer’s pretty smokin’ hot.
He is pretty smokin’ hot ... I know. If only he wasn’t such a douche.
We were just talking today about how the word "douche" is back.
It’s totally back. And I’ve been using it a lot. Not a lot of women use it, but it’s one of my faves.
Now we need to credit you with bringing "douche" back.
Thank you. I’ll take it.
Is it true what you hear that working on an animated series is an actor’s dream gig?
It is, but it’s funny ... if you’re doing something like a Madagascar, it’s a dream and it pays. But doing a little animated series on FX is not the same as doing another kind of series, because the work permit is not the same. But just the joy of the process is so extraordinary. Especially for this show, it’s just pure elicitation of the funniest, most interesting way of saying something. You don’t have deal with the makeup or the wardrobe ... and, of course, I love live action ... but when you do a live action drama, you’re there at 5 a.m., it’s two or three hours in the morning of getting ready, it’s a 12- or 14-hour day for a couple hours of work. This is just surgical. You get in, get to be as funny as you possibly can for an hour or two, and then you leave.
We haven’t seen any gay characters yet.
Oh, we will. Oh, yes.
Good, because the show has a very gay sensibility. Do you feel that when you’re working on it?
I do. What I love is that there’s a freedom to all of the characters in the show, and I, of course, grew up in San Francisco ... I have a million gay friends. That’s a rule in San Francisco. I always feel like there is a freedom with subject matter and humor in the gay community that we don’t have in the straight community. I just feel like, the things I’ll laugh about with my gay friends, we’ll just say it. There’s no circumspection: Is this going to be OK? Is this going to be PC? I think there’s that with Archer. Obviously there’s no gay character, but there are constant gay interactions on the show, and I love that. There’s a freedom to the show I think gay fans are going to love.
Well, and of course, you play the diva.
And she’s a badass diva too. And what’s great about her is she’s not a prissy diva.
I have to say, Talk Soup is fun, but every time I watch, I miss you.
Oh, thank you.
Do you ever still watch?
No, I don’t ... and it’s funny, it’s not like I’ve made a conscious choice not to watch. It went away when I left and then it came back ... it’s kind of like graduating high school and then still hanging around. I love Joel [McHale]. I think he’s very, very funny, and we’re friendly. But I also feel like I did that for such a long time that when I watch it, I don’t feel like I’m seeing anything that I haven’t already seen before.
What do you miss most about that gig?
It was very free. We would see the clips and write to the clips but then, when we would go in and tape the show ... it’s kind of like doing the work so you don’t have to go through with the plan, you know? I think that’s why people liked it because they’re like, “We don’t know what’s going to happen.” You don’t feel like its been focus-grouped or micromanaged. Toward the end we got in trouble for some things, and then lawyers started reading our scripts.
Well, it isn’t good until someone’s yelling, right?
It’s only funny if someone is screaming.
So now I’m going to go back to one of my favorite moments involving you. You were a backstage host for Divas Live.
Oh, my God.
You were being painted as a thief ... something about you stealing money from Sharon Osbourne, I think the skit was. I just remember it being the campiest thing I’ve ever seen ...
[Laughs] That is so funny. God. That was such a while ago, I don’t even remember. It was all backstage and I just remember it all being very, very quick. And I remember I had all these really hot, naked guys doing my toes. Oh, they were so awesome. They were Thunder From Down Under — I remember laughing about that really hard. But, I mean, at something like Divas Live, you’ve got to be as campy as possible.
When you do something like The Joy Behar Show — you all [Tyler appeared with Sandra Bernhard and Fran Drescher] were very funny, but you were talking about somewhat serious subject matter. Do you feel a responsibility to temper the humor with the ultimate message you’re trying to get across ... that homophobia isn’t right and it needs to end.
You know, that is a really good question, and it’s interesting because I think, as a comedian, you’re always kind of slavishly devoted to being funny. It’s almost compulsive. And I also think comedy can be such an effective weapon with people. In my special I talk a lot about growing up in San Francisco, having a lot of gay friends, that people need to open their minds, they need to welcome people into their lives. I do a joke about how everybody needs one gay friend — it doesn’t matter if they’re a guy or a girl ... the gay men are more fun, but the lesbians are more useful. Change a tire, arrange a march, get you cat spayed or neutered, the lesbians are down. When I do it in San Francisco, everybody cheers and it’s hilarious, but when I do it in Iowa or North Carolina, it really means something different. And it’s important for me to do it in those places, because those are the people who really need to hear it. They might not listen to a lecture, but they will listen to a joke. And they’ll take that home with them and hopefully it sinks in.
Well, and, let's be honest, in some of those places, there are people who probably aren’t too pleased to see somebody who looks like you there.
Exactly. And I’ve had people come up to me and say, “You’re the first black girl I ever thought was funny.” I’ve gotten that stuff. There’s also something to bravery ... to getting up and saying, “This is what’s important to me ... and you’ve come to see me, and I’m going to tell you what I think you need to hear.” I think you can do that gingerly ... there are times when you can do it seriously and there are times when it’s about comedy. Comedy has always been an effective weapon for marginalized groups. For blacks, for Jews, for gays, for women. This comic who travels with me ... he’s 23, he’s gay, and he’s Iranian. He’s hilarious. He always worries — “I don’t want to go to that town. They’re not going to like me.” “Everybody’s going to like you, and I don’t give a fuck, because I like you.” I want people, when they come to my show, to see something different and to have a different experience. And I think that’s the power comedy has. I think it has the power to change minds.
What would you say is the gig you’re best remembered for?
Probably a toss-up between Friends and Talk Soup, which is funny because Friends had 25 million viewers and Talk Soup had, maybe 1 million ... but it was such a cult hit people remember me. Now I’ve done enough things where people go,"Aren’t you the girl from my Starbucks?"Or, "Didn’t we go to school together?"It was almost better when I was just known for one thing. Now I get,"Can you get me a cup of coffee?"Now I have to punch somebody.