Comedian Sarah Tollemache suffers from stress induced by buying avocados. When she bought five on sale, she realized that there is only a quick window of time where they are ripe enough to be eaten in their perfectly green color.
“‘I’ll just call into work and be like ‘I don’t know if I’m going to make it to work today I think my avocados might be hatching at any second,” Tollemache said during her stand-up at New York Comedy Club. “Or you’re just running home to scarf three in a row over your sink. I’m not going to throw out avocados.”
What seems like such a minute story can be extremely relatable to every person — which makes for the ultimate comedy gold. With appearances on “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and performances at The Comedy Cellar in New York, Sarah Tollemache is paving the way for comedy that is personable with a touch of silliness.
Tollemache always had stand-up on the television at her Houston, Texas home, with acts ranging from George Carlin to Richard Pryor. Eventually, she too was attacked by the comedic itch and started attending open mic nights when she was 21. But it wasn’t until she moved to New York at the age of 30 that her work ethic transformed her craft as a comedian. After countless day jobs as a waitress or a bookkeeper for a property management company, Tollemache’s determination helped her execute her material.
“I think I was a little naive about it,” Tollemache said. “I felt like if you were just good enough, that was fine. But I really realized that you can be funny, but if no one’s seeing you, it doesn’t matter. You actually have to show people that you want it. You gotta start showing your face everywhere and putting up videos online. You have to work every angle and aspect of it and you do get rewarded for that hard work.”
While she was deeply inspired by Sarah Silverman and Ellen Degeneres, Tollemache told TV Tea that her ability to make something so mundane like debt or therapy into a joke is her key to be the most authentic comedian she can be.
“I like to be a little silly; I don’t try to be serious or (have) serious takes on anything,” Tollemache said. “I like to make fun of both sides of a situation. And then I like personal (stories) because I find that relatable. And it’s easier for me to bring original material if you’re just going off your life, rather than taking a news story and delivering a hot take, because I feel like a lot of people have the same opinion. But I think everybody can have different experiences.”
Since her material consists of problems that anyone off the streets of New York can relate to, Tollemache said preparing a 45-minute set involves spending time with her friends and analyzing everyday tasks.
“I can’t sit down and create jokes from mid air,” Tollemache said. “So I usually do better hanging out with friends and you just inadvertently start talking about stuff that maybe your mind wouldn’t go (to) naturally. Or the other way, anytime I’m ruminating on something, like obsessing over why something bothers me, I am like, ‘Obviously, there’s something there.’ So I try to figure out a joke from that. So it gives me a little bit of control over the situation.”
After working for over 20 years in the industry, Tollemache said her proudest accomplishment thus far is filming a comedy special in April 2021 live from New York Comedy Club titled “Voluptuous Boy.” Not only does the special create a capstone of her work online for those to see, but she also said it helped her realize her goals can indeed come to fruition.
“It just taught me how to build a body of work and how important that is, as like any artist, (whether it be) comedy, drawing or in any medium that you’re working in, I think it’s good to have a body of work to work towards,” Tollemache said. “A lot of times you make your happiness depend on gatekeepers for other people to get you work. And you feel like that’s going to make you happy. But I actually think having a goal in mind and working towards that will make you a better performer and a happier artist.”
Along with stand-up comedy, Tollemache also created a podcast called “Lady Journey” with her friend and fellow comedian Katie Hannigan. Even though the topics consist of feminine culture, Tollemache said anything from Stephen King’s “It” to overnight oats is up for grabs in the podcast.
“If we spend 30 minutes talking about pastries for some reason, like, that makes us laugh a lot,” Tollemache said. “It reminds me of this SNL sketch called ‘Delicious Dish’ with Molly Shannon and Ana Gasteyer that was like in the early 2000s, late 90s. And it was just like these two boring NPR ladies talking about their dishes or whatever. And it would be so boring. But it was so funny because it was so minutiae.”
As for the future, Tollemache said her dream is to write a feature-length film and submit part of it to film festivals — while still being involved in stand-up. Whether it’s a story making fun of growing up in the suburbs of Houston or a horror reminiscent of the movie “Scream,” Tollemache will continue to be her genuine, goofball self in anything she does.
“I don’t have confidence,” Tollemache said. “And I think that’s fine as long as you accept that and that inadvertently makes you confident, even if you look nervous on stage. It’s like ‘I know it, I know I’m this way and now you guys have to deal with it.’ It’s not my problem. You don’t have to be a psycho, arrogant person on stage. Just be who you are. And unapologetic about it.”