Icing: Get To Know Comedy’s Cult of Personality NATASHA VAYNBLAT
If there is any more powerful tool for creating a cult of personality, it has to be Instagram! What better way to bring on heaps of unquestioning adulation and praise than photos of yourself in mind-altering brights and blinding graphic prints. You may be familiar with the commandingly funny Ig work of UCB Comedy’s NATASHA VAYNBLAT. When she’s not building her social media empire with blurred out shots on natashawearsclothes (or watching episodes of Toddlers in Tiaras), she’s working on hilarious web series, videos, sketch shows, and other cult-worthy content. The Russian born Vaynblat grew up with improv in her blood and was most keen to share her talents and thoughts for your reading pleasure. Find out how Natasha got her start in improvisation and sketch, turned men into potatoes, and combined her love for peanut butter and chocolate with cat grass. Enjoy, devoted followers!
COMEDY CAKE: Let us begin with a classic, where did you grow up and how has that influenced your brand of comedy?
NATASHA VAYNBLAT: I was born in Russia and then my family moved to the US when I was 7, so I’m a weird blend of Southern and Russian culture. I think that’s why I gravitate towards characters who are outsiders or weirdos who have absurd points of view. It’s also why I like fried pickles so much, they’re the perfect blend of fried (southern) and salty (Russian).
CAKE: How you did you make the break into comedy?
Natasha: I started performing improv at a local theater in high school and fell in love. After that I knew I wanted to pursue improv. It took me a while to start writing for myself. It was only after several years in New York that I found the confidence to cultivate my own voice.
CAKE: When did you first get involved with the comedy cult, I mean improvisational and sketch empire, the Upright Citizens Brigade?
Natasha: I have been a proud member of the cult since 2010, hail Del Close! I remember in college going to a festival and seeing Death By Roo Roo (a former UCB house team). At the time I was certain I was going to move to Chicago because that felt like the place to go if you cared about studying improv. But I remember seeing them and turning to my friend and saying, “I have to go where they are.” As soon as I found out they were a New York based group, I changed my plans and moved to NYC instead.
CAKE: We recently featured your Craft DIY video, “How To Replace Men with Potatoes.” How do you come up with such quirky characters?
Natasha: This character has been through a few iterations. It started as a parody of a Sheryl Sandberg-esque feminist author who no longer believes men exist. I did it as an improvised character for a show called The Female Gaze. And while doing that show other performers asked me follow up questions such as “What do you see instead of men?” And I came up with the answer that I see potatoes. After playing with that for a few months I discovered this latest version of a craft lady who teaches you how to replace men with potatoes. And that’s the character I did in my one person show at UCB called Self Help Yourself, Help!
CAKE: You’ve written for some not so commonplace sites like McSweeneys, Funny or Die & Reductress. As a writer, what inspires you most these days?
Natasha: I’m currently obsessed with powerful deranged women. I also love reading about cults (….is this why I joined UCB??). I just finished Emma Cline’s The Girls, which is all about the women who supported a deranged male cult leader. And that seems to be the norm: a crazy cult man rises to power because of his harem of female supporters. So it made me want to know more about powerful, crazy women who were leaders themselves. So I’ve been doing a lot of research about that. I’m hoping my next sketch show will focus on that idea.
CAKE: What’s a question you get asked the most as an actor and improviser (AND possibly annoys the heck out of you)?
Natasha: The one that used to give me the most anxiety was when strangers asked what I did for a living and I would say “comedian.” I hated how that made them feel entitled to ask me to perform for them on the spot. It took a while, but I don’t play that game anymore and it’s been so liberating not to.
CAKE: What have been some of your favorite video series to be involved in and why?
Natasha: One of my favorites was Laurie a webseries for IFC I co-wrote with Zack Phillips. I love playing confident idiots and Laurie is the perfect embodiment of that. I write a lot with Zack and am always delighted by the things we come up with. I think our voices do a great job of complimenting one another.
CAKE: What is your comedy guilty pleasure?
Natasha: Toddlers in Tiaras and My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding. I lose hours of my life watching those shows.
CAKE: Can you tell us a little bit about the “What I Did For Love Show” happening at the East Village UCB? What’s it like performing with so many terrific improvisers?
Natasha: I’ve gotten to do the show for a little over a year and it is THE BEST. I feel really lucky to have a show to look forward to every week where I know I’ll just get to play and have fun. Every performer on that team is a delightful human being on and off stage. Having been a fan of theirs for years, I feel really fortunate to get to share the stage with them.
CAKE: There’s another great show you are performing at in April called “The Female Gaze,” which is a parody of those gabby morning talk/variety shows. What are your thoughts on shows like “The View,” “The Talk,” “The Chew…?
Natasha: As someone who is really curious about female dynamics and female cultures, I think those shows are such interesting bubbles. They are trying to capture a very natural behavior (women getting together and talking) but putting it in the most unnatural environment (in front of a live audience with a cast of strangers) and I think so much unintentional comedy comes from seeing that in action.
CAKE: Can you tell us about some of the other projects you have lined up for ’17?
Natasha: I am really excited about my fashion parody instagram NatashaWearsClothes. I love both comedy and fashion and am trying to blend those two worlds. I’m having a fun time creating this new space for myself.
CAKE: Let’s end this sesh with some food for thought. If you could combine a smoothie with your favorite dessert what would the amalgam look like?
Natasha: Peanut Butter Chocolate Cup with a shot of wheat grass but enough peanut butter and chocolate so I have no way of tasting the wheat grass. I have to play mind games with myself to eat healthy. (Wow, all this cult infatuation is making a lot more sense through this interview).