‘I Couldn’t Feel My Toes’: Iliza Shlesinger Documents Chilly ‘Tailgate Tour’ Kickoff

Iliza Shlesinger
Edward Marshall
– Iliza Shlesinger
during the kickoff of her Comedy Tailgate tour, Oct. 2 in Pittsburgh.

Iliza Shlesinger kicked off her “Comedy Tailgage” drive-in tour over the Oct. 2-3 weekend with shows in Pittsburgh and McHenry, Ill., overcoming chilly weather and all the logistical challenges of a drive-in tour.  Here is her take immediately after the shows, shared exclusively with Pollstar.

Pollstar: How did the opening shows go? What was the fan response like? 
We are doing something that hasn’t been done. All we have is a loose outline of how shows ran when we could do theaters but, going into this, I have been very open and accepting of the fact that these shows are going to be their own special thing. The vibe, the look, the sound, and the energy are a new frontier. Ideally, we will look back and be able to say we showed American ingenuity and did what we had to with what we had and we won’t apply “normal” standards to this experience. It’s not good, it’s not bad. It’s different, it’s its own thing. And I’m grateful to be one of the few comics who is able to work on this scale right now. 
The shows are a real convergence of effort. We (me, my team and the team on the ground) worked really hard to put on these shows and the fans, obviously, made a concerted effort to make it out there. To buy a ticket, load up their car, pack their food, blankets (in many cases Christmas lights to decorate the car, haha) and drive an hour is a production, it isn’t something people can just do on a whim. It’s not as casual as grabbing a friend and going to a regular show. These shows are usually about an hour outside of a major city, so there’s some love and effort there. Because it’s outside, there are lights and concession stands and cars, there’s something inherently Americana about it. It feels like a festival. I love performing outdoors, it feels big and my act lends itself to a big venue pretty well. 
As far as the fans, although we were distanced, you could feel the excitement and the energy. Some venues allow honking, some don’t. And while the laughs in a field will never feel as enveloping as they would indoors, you can still feel them, even if you can’t hear them. You know they’re there. They have to be …. right? 
 It was absolutely freezing, 41 degrees and I can tell you that in my 15-year career I’ve never been so cold on stage that I didn’t sweat. These shows? I kept my jacket on and couldn’t feel my toes the whole time, I wasn’t ready for Western Pennsylvania fall coming from LA, haha. In McHenry it rained during the show but, while a partially wet stage isn’t ideal, we all just adapted and moved on. It even rained during the meet and greet and I just kept thinking, “If these fans are willing to be out here in the rain, then so am I.” My fans are the best. They decorate their cars with signs, they bring homemade gifts for me (and my dog) and they always let me know how much fun they had via Instagram. I always look forward to hearing from them post show.  
Any logistical / production issues?  
The venues have been great about loading in cars and getting them out, and that was my biggest concern because I always want to respect my audience’s time. The socially distanced meet and greets are something we’re inventing as we’re going and the venues’ abilities to pivot and adapt to our specific needs has been impressive. 
I give these venues a lot of credit for putting these shows on. There are always going to be glitches in your sound cues and small technical things at any venue, but we aren’t a music act, we’re comics. We like having walk-on music but it isn’t essential. Ballyhoo lights won’t make or break your set. The sound has been good (weird since it isn’t always amplified, most venues it just comes in on the AM radio in their cars) and the screens showing the stage have been beautiful and really add to the gravitas of what we are doing in such a big space. 
I was really impressed with the security at the gig in McHenry, Ill., – we had a security issue between shows and they handled it expertly. You know your security is good when you don’t know there was an incident until after the fact.
How is travel / crew / production going?
One thing about drive-ins versus regular touring is that your venues are rural. So they are always about an hour outside of a city which, of course, extends the amount of time in transit. That can be exhausting. Travel is travel. It’s a gauntlet of rental cars, flights, and long drives. But this is what we signed up for and this is part of what this job is. Even at its most luxurious, travel can be exhausting. That’s why I always spend money on air travel and nice hotels, you have to rest where you can. 
The truth is that I’m focused on my set and I have a tour manager to handle any massive production issues. She’s there engaging with the crew and setting it all up. But when I used to do clubs I remember thinking it was “us” (meaning me, the staff, the security, the waiters) and there was “them” (the crowd). “We” are all working together to bring “them” a show. I have never felt like I’m the headliner and therefore separate or above anyone. An outdoor show has so many moving parts and you can’t always get everything right but the truth is, as long as the crowd had fun, that’s really all that matters. 
 I can see the work that goes into setting up these shows, from the promoter to the crew to the security and I’m grateful that this many people are as committed to putting on a show as I am.