Tyler, Aisha N. 1970–
Aisha N. Tyler 1970–
Comedian, television host
A six-foot stand-up sensation with a compelling figure and classic style, comic Aisha Tyler is a feminist pioneer—she is late-night cable TV’s first female and African-American host of Talk Soup. A mouthy child and unpopular at prep school, she grew up to pursue her career in two directions—a college degree in political science and an avocation in wise-cracking, keenly observant one-woman comedy. At a fork in the road, she veered away from serious business into the funny business of mocking human foibles. Her aim is to be the female equivalent of Chris Tucker or Eddie Murphy.
A San Francisco native, Tyler was drawn to reading and comedy during her childhood. After the breakup and divorce of her parents, teacher Robin Gregory and freelance photographer Jim Tyler, she retreated into books and Scooby-Doo, her favorite cartoon character. At age ten, Aisha passed into her father’s custody, and after 1980 she grew up in San Francisco’s Haight district. Although she is now known for her willowy long legs and stunning onscreen beauty, she recalled to People magazine a youth lacking in grace and selfconfidence: “I’ve been six feet tall since second grade. I was gigantic—this Godzilla kid.”
As the only black at an upscale private school, Tyler was a social pariah and ugly duckling. Among the fashionable in-crowd she felt put down and unwelcome. She fought back by learning how to be a controller of laughs rather than the butt of them, and in her sophomore year she transferred to the McAteer High School of Performing Arts.
Rather than a music or straight drama course, Tyler wanted to opt for improvisation classes and a future as a stand-up comic, a goal that she craved for emotional reasons. After she set a record for skipping classes, her teachers gave into her fierce ambition to take instruction in sketch and improvisation. On the Essence website, she confided the gist of her comedie style: “I take the most wrenchingly painful moments of my life, brush them off and present them for the amusement of others. Luckily for me, my childhood was torture.”
By the time she reached age 21, Tyler was feeling the need to nurture her creative style. After graduating from Dartmouth with a degree in political science and a minor in environmental policy, she worked for twoand-a-half years for an environmental firm that bought
Born on September 18, 1970, in San Francisco, CA; daughter of Jim Tyler and Robin Gregory; married Jeff Tietjens (a corporate attorney), 1997. Education: Dartmouth College, 8.A. (political science), 1996.
Career: Market analyst for land acquisitions firm; comedian, 1991—; writer, producer, director, and star of The Whipper, 2000; performer, The Fifth Wheel, 2000-2000; host, Talk Soup, 2000-2000; films: Showtime, 2002; The Santa Clause 2, 2002.
Awards: Selected as a breakthrough talent, Variety, 2001.
land for parks and conservation. At the end of her regular nine-to-five day, she entertained comedyclubbers at the Los Angeles Improv and other vibrant humor venues. As she explained on her website, “This means hanging out in smoky clubs every night, drinking until three a.m. with groups of gropy, miserable guys… cursing like a sailor, becoming embittered, and proving to club owners, comics, and yourself that you are utterly devoted to your art.”
Although she became seasoned at performing comedy gigs in thirty states, Tyler found the amateur comedy round demanding, depressing, and low-paying. She took pride in learning from others rather than pirating jokes. While she was willing to take the hardships and failures along with the triumphs, she admitted that the downside of the club circuit was poverty, late-night loneliness at the back of the club, drinking too much alcohol, and forcing herself to laugh at the jokes of her peers. In 1996 she settled in Los Angeles with her college beau, Jeff Tietjens, and while he finished law school, she made the break from the land conservation office job to full-time professional stage comic. The couple were married and Jeff critiqued her monologues while buoying her confidence. Hilarious, yet cerebral, she has recognized the profession’s threat to women stand-up comedians. In an interview with Essence.com, she explained, “Comedy doesn’t always appeal to women because it’s personal. And you can’t be afraid to look stupid or ugly.”
Although a newcomer to television, Tyler participated in guest spots on Politically Incorrect, and starred in a self-produced and self-directed cinema short called The Whipper, which featured men exposing their posteriors. Success came Tyler’s way in the summer of 2000 after she took the lead at auditions for the job of emcee for E! Entertainment Television’s popular Talk Soup, where she got the job, replacing former host Hal Sparks. A hip satire, the show drew its choice bits from daytime television talk shows. It suited Tyler’s style. She told interviewer Phillip Zonkel of E! Online, “It’s a comedian’s medium. You get to sit there every day and make fun of people. A comedian couldn’t come up with a better job, except for maybe sleeping and playing Nintendo.”
Tyler bonded immediately with the camera and began attracting a band of Soupsters, her loyal fan base. For their entertainment, she culled the best tidbits from an unending parade of clips from daytime television. On camera she performed a full gamut of one-liners and skits opposite celebrity guests. The show’s more colorful parts had her playing such characters as a leopard skin-clad Bootsy, Crouching Tigress, Foxy Chocolat, Frenchy, Gladiator, Diamonds, and Pot O’ Gold. On Fridays, she performed before live audiences. For normal attire, she chose appealing outfits from the collections of Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and Narciso Rodriguez.
Most popular in Tyler’s scripts were digs at afternoon and late-night television talk fests. In her two-season run, her subjects ranged from male-female mismatches, strippers, and cross-dressers to the Japanese animated hero Pokemon. One of her targets, emcee Jerry Springer, remarked that Tyler is intelligent, gorgeous, and careful to omit cruelty from her shtick. After the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, she halted the zaniness and honored a personal loss, a cameraman who was on the Talk Soup team. While managing a demanding comic audience, Tyler posed for the cover of Maxim and hosted a syndicated dating show, The Fifth Wheel but vowed never to give these secondary jobs preference over Talk Soup. When the show came to an end on May 10, 2002, she joined the cast—Tom Macnamara, Alan Wu, Fred Mendes, Brad Gyori, and Mark Turner—in drinking champagne while lovingly dismantling the set.
Tyler left Talk Soup with a yen to create a career which would equal that of the best male comics. One of her guest spots placed her on the celebrity version of NBC’s The Weakest Link, where she beat the competition. She explained on the Essence website that, after mastering the actor’s craft, she worked hard in television and film before setting out for higher ground. Wistfully she added, “There’s never been a female Chris Tucker or Eddie Murphy—someone who’s young and funny and doing those great action films—that’s what I’d like to do.”
In March of 2001 Tyler joined Robert de Niro, Rene Rousso, and Eddie Murphy in the film Showtime. Tyler plays the love interest to Murphy, with whom she also appeared in 1997’s Metro. She shared the stage with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show on September 10, 2001. In January of 2002 she scheduled a week-long appearance on Hollywood Squares, followed by appearances at the Golden Globe Awards and on the 2001 NAACP Image Awards. A comedy tour featured her at the Tempe Improv in Tempe, Arizona, the Key Club in Los Angeles, the Comedy Connection in Boston, the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, and the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado. She continued in film that spring, winning a choice role in a film sequel, The Santa Clause 2, starring comic Tim Allen.
Versatile and eager, Tyler has pursued multiple media venues to expand her options. Covers and feature articles for Vibe, Self, Glamour, Vogue, Honey, Rosie, and Oprah have boosted Tyler’s name and face recognition with the public, as she continues building a career in comedy. She possesses an insider’s wisdom. She has advised would-be female stand-up comics to accept the fact that the job leaves them vulnerable. To Essence Entertainment Online she explained, “That’s why there aren’t many women in stand-up, because you’re exposed. Men are socialized to be garish and foolish. Women are taught to be precious and composed—that doesn’t work in stand-up.”
Tyler glories in the rewards of doing comedy, which she has called exhilarating and cathartic, both for herself and for her audience. In the style of one of her favorites, Conan O’Brien, she surfs the edge of racy humor without going overboard. To Essence.com interviewer Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn, Tyler remarked, “As long as you talk about what’s real and it’s original, fresh, and funny, it will be funny to other people." Tyler is thrilled to see people in her audience released from their troubles by laughter. Of her choice of career, she exulted on her website, “God, I love it.”
Grand Avenue, HBO, 1996.
Metro, Buena Vista, 1997.
Dancing in September, HBO, 2000.
The Whipper (independent film), 2000.
Showtime, Warner, 2002.
The Santa Clause 2, Buena Vista, 2002.
Arizona Republic, January 17, 2002.
Esquire, October 2001, p. 118.
Essence, May 2002, pp. 103-05.
Glamour, May 2001, p. 188.
Los Angeles Magazine, September 2001, p. 192.
People Weekly, April 9, 2001, p. 204.
Rosie Magazine, September 2001.
Vogue, May 2001, p. 151.
Essence Entertainment, http://www.essence.com/features/032101_aisha_tyler.shtml
Aisha Tyler Official Website, http://www.btdo.net/comedy/aishatyler.htm
—Mary Ellen Snodgrass
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