The Atlantic City Comedy Club continues to be one of the only games in town when it comes to live entertainment, and their headliners are nothing, if not consistent, with some of the funniest comedians in the region taking the stage. Case in point – this week’s headliner Rachel Feinstein, who comes to the Celebrity Theater at the Claridge Hotel 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5, and 6 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6. One of the finalists in Season 7 of “Last Comic Standing” and the star of three Comedy Central specials, Feinstein, along with gal pals Amy Schumer and Nikki Glaser, is one of a slew of female comedians who have made some big waves over the last decade, cracking up audiences and debunking the notion that “women can’t be funny.”
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ACW: What made you want to get on stage and tell jokes?
Rachel Feinstein: I guess I had no other skills. I wish I could say that I made some noble decision, like I was about to become a doctor but was like, “No – the arts matter more!” but the truth is I was royally failing in school.
I started doing voices when I was very young. I remember imitating my teacher Ms. Volo in eighth grade, and she heard that I did an impression of her, and so she brought me in front of the class and made me do it for everybody. But she enjoyed it! And that was the first experience of having a good set was when Ms. Volo let me up.
ACW: Has it been harder to come up with material since COVID began? I would imagine there are only so many jokes you can write about Zoom calls.
RF: Yeah, It is hard actually. I have a lot of relationship stuff (in my set) because I’ve been trapped with my husband for this amount of time, and then some stuff about having a baby, but we need to go out and do more. People say, “Oh, why can’t you do more baby material?” and I’m like, “Because I can’t do that many jokes about dangling a rattle in someone’s face.”
ACW: Stand-up comedy has always had a reputation for being a bit of a boys club. Does it still feel that way?
RF: It’s changed a lot I think since I started, so not as much anymore. And my best friends, a lot of them are female comics, but a lot of them are male comics too. Comedy is kind of always sort of portrayed as being cutthroat, and it is, but not in the ways that you would think. The biggest allies we have are each other.
ACW: COVID restrictions mean that theaters like the one you are playing in Atlantic City this weekend have to be set up for social distancing. Does it affect you from a performing standpoint to have people scattered about in a large space? So much of stand-up comedy has always been about people huddled together in small rooms, laughing together as a group.
RF: It does. It’s more of a challenge for sure. But on the other hand I feel like people need it (comedy) so badly right now that the crowds are always so much better than I expect they will be. People are dealing with wild levels of fear and anxiety right now, and everybody is just humming with mental illness. Nobody is OK right now, so it seems like they need it. It’s a big release. And I need it too. I didn’t realize what a luxury it was until this year. I would give anything to be packed in at The Comedy Cellar, my favorite club in New York, complaining about some drunk on the road or whatever.
ACW: If you are in a bad mood and you have to perform, how easy is it is to “turn on the funny?”
RF: It can be really hard, but then when you are doing it, it can be really healing. I remember my grandmother died right before I got onstage at a college. I was crying so hard, but then I had to get on stage, and in the middle of my show I said a word that they had deemed not politically correct and they turned the lights off on me. Next thing you know, I am just lying in bed at my hotel arguing with my agent after being scolded by some 23-year-old university staff member and mourning my grandmother at the same time, while eating macaroni and cheese out of a coffee filter.
So it’s very hard, and there are days like that where you just can’t pull it off, but sometimes it’s the opposite. I went through a breakup once and did stand-up right after it while I was still completely heartbroken, but if it wasn’t for stand-up I don’t know how I would have repaired. That’s like my main coping mechanism, it’s how I deal with everything, because with stand-up you talk about the weird, dark parts of life that don’t fit. It’s about what’s not perfect, and you digest it there onstage with everybody and release it. And that high you get from releasing it kind of jolts you back into who you are.
What’s the worst gig you have ever done?
RF: I did this Hebrew home for the aging in the Bronx once, and in the middle of the show this guy goes: “This is my Friday evening!” And still to this day it was the worst heckle I have ever received, because I knew exactly what it meant. It was like, “Btch, I have maybe three Fridays left and you are f#king up one of them!’ They hated me so much, and they were so angry! At one point they were shaking their walkers over their head. I didn’t even know that was a way you could universally express disdain. You have never experienced rejection until you have seen a group of walkers shook at you in defiance.