By Andy Steiner, Photo by Rick Dublin, Drawings by Eric Hanson
Andy Erikson (B.S. ’09) has a thing for unicorns. “I like having something beautiful and magical to believe in. And they are WAY cooler than horses,” she says. That fanciful outlook has served her well in the hyper-competitive world of comedy, as well as in her personal life.
Erikson got her first taste of performing standup when she was an undergraduate graphic design major at the U. Though relatively new to the comedy scene, she is considered a serious up-and-comer: After doing shows at Twin Cities clubs for a couple of years, she won a coveted spot on season 9 of the NBC talent show Last Comic Standing. Though she didn’t win, she impressed the judges and the audience with her quirky, intelligent, offbeat (think Emo Philips) jokes. Her performance won her an agent and a publicist, which other comics have to toil for years to earn. Today, she tells jokes for a living.
Growing up in Ham Lake, a Twin Cities suburb, Erikson employed humor as a survival strategy. She lives with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the heart, blood vessels, bones, joints, and eyes. She’s tall and rail thin (a common sign of Marfan), and because the syndrome can also cause severe scoliosis, she wore a back brace through middle school and part of high school.
“I was teased,” says the brainy Erikson, who found a home on the math team and in National Honor Society. “I’m 6-foot-1. I stood out. It was hard for me. But I always had friends, too, people who were cool and weird like me.” She also had allies, like the school therapist who told her the kids who made fun of her back brace were jealous because she had a cool place to put magnets.
Among that crew of loyal friends, Erikson was known for cracking everyone up. “Maybe it was a defense mechanism,” she says now. “The fat kid is always super funny. Why can’t the tall girl with the back brace be funny, too?”
Though she understood more than anyone the hidden power of humor, Erikson never considered comedy a viable career choice, even though her friends always said she should. Then one day she just changed her mind.
It was 2007. Erikson heard that Last Comic Standing was holding auditions in Minneapolis. She screwed up her courage, skipped her typography and design class, and went to the audition cold. “I waited in line all morning,” she recalls. But she was too late: “I didn’t even make it into the club.” When she got back to campus, Erikson’s professor, Steven McCarthy, found out why she didn’t make it to class. “He said, ‘I won’t count you tardy if you do your jokes in front of class.’ So my first standup gig was in McNeal Hall.”
From that humble beginning, Erikson was inspired. She read books on comedy (“They all basically said you have to get onstage,” she says, wryly), wrote a set of one-liners, fine-tuned her onstage persona—think kooky-smart little girl—took a deep breath, and boldly stepped out in front of a mike. Her first show was at Acme Comedy Company in Minneapolis.
“It went really well,” Erikson recalls. “It was a packed audience. At first, people were like, ‘Who is this girl? What is she doing?’ They didn’t know if it was an act. I’m up there giggling and telling my jokes. It was fun. It went well. I got laughs. I was surprised.” Surprised and a little nervous.
“Everybody told me, ‘Don’t go over your time,’ so when my time was up, I ran offstage,” Erikson laughs. “My shoe fell off, but I just kept running. I figured, ‘I’m a comedian. I don’t need my shoe.’”
And it turns out she didn’t need her shoe or anything else. After that first appearance, Erikson became a staple on the local comedy circuit. She joined the University’s then-fledgling comedy team and helped them win a national title. And when Last Comic Standing came back to town, she snagged an audition. The rest is history.
Erikson lives in Hollywood with her husband, fellow comedian Alex Stein (B.S. ’10). She’s on the road almost constantly, performing at colleges, comedy festivals, in casinos, and on television. She’d love to one day get a role on a sitcom, become a television writer, or, best of all, host her own late-night show à la Jimmy Fallon.
Until then, she is content to keep honing her craft until she is as razor-sharp as Tig Notaro, who used her keen humor to famously talk about her breast cancer diagnosis in front of a packed comedy-club crowd. “People don’t always realize that in order to be funny you have to be intelligent,” Erikson says. “There isn’t a single comedian who is really funny but not smart. The two go together. That’s what makes humor so powerful.”