An espresso martini is not something you order if you give fucks. Over the course of my interview with Liza Treyger, she ordered two of them.
If you’ve seen comedy in New York, you’ve likely seen Liza (pronounced Leeza) Treyger perform; she’s a workhorse, doing stand-up six or seven nights a week. In a typical set, Treyger’s humor starts out raunchy and sloppy. She might talk about weed or getting drunk or hooking up with a stranger. Combined with her uptalk, Chicago vowels, and copious use of the words “like” and “gross,” Treyger lulls the audience into thinking they’re watching a very funny, self-aware party girl who is likeably dumb. And then, she takes the gloves off. In her episode of the stand-up series The Degenerates, available on Netflix, Treyger goads the audience into “playing a game” with her. She asks the men in the audience what questions they ask each other after a first date. After soliciting the expected responses about breast size and sexual acts, Treyger deadpans, “Do you ask your friend if he came?” From there it’s all downhill for the men in the room—whom Treyger repeatedly reassures, “Don’t worry, I know you’re the good guys”—as she unleashes on straight male selfishness and sexism in a torrent of delicious misandry.
After a recent trip to the AVN Awards, Treyger sat down to talk with me about porn, addiction, and racist tweets. Oh, and also beer.
What do you drink? Do you drink beer?
I don't really have a signature drink. I’ll have beer at a baseball game, like a Miller High Life. I don't like fancy beers. Someone once lied and told me Corona was good for your throat—maybe it’s the lime?—so if my throat is bothering me and I have shows, I'll have a Corona.
Oh, but I love Great Lakes Christmas Ale. It's a big deal in Cleveland. It's like Cadbury eggs—right after Christmas, it’s gone.
Do you like Christmas?
I'm a Jew, but I do love Christmas. This year I got to do a proper Christmas with my best friend's family in upstate New York. I liked the flannel pajamas. I liked matching. They got me a case of Christmas Ale, so we were all just drunk and happy. There was hot chocolate—oh! I used to love Rumple Minze. Wait, I have more drinks. I love martinis. I’ve gotten into tequila, and then sometimes I love white wine spritzers. Honestly within the week I just started drinking red wine. On some flights, mimosas. I had a michelada at the airport on Sunday. Yesterday I had a bunch of Guinnesses.
You talk in your standup about going to AA once…
I was in my early twenties, unhappy in college in Iowa and drinking to excess to mask insecurity and be more social. I got arrested for drinking and driving, so I felt really shitty about myself, and I was like, “Maybe I do have a problem.” So I went to an AA meeting, and it wasn't my vibe at all. I had other underlying reasons why I was using alcohol, but I’m just not an alcoholic. Weed’s my biggest problem. It’s a huge one. I’m more forgetful, I'm slower, and my friends tell me I'm less patient and kind of rude. It keeps me unproductive and lazy and tired.
I had bad sex for a really, really long time. And then you talk to all your friends, and it's like they're all getting fucked poorly too.”
Do you think that weed is addictive?
I think it's bullshit when people say it's not addictive. My ex Mae Martin has a whole Netflix special about some psychologist-type dude, Gabor Maté. He says your brain reacts the same to whatever you're addicted to, like gambling or your phone. I mean, people are addicted to shopping, to food, to anything on the TLC network, so to say that weed is not addictive is crazy. I've been smoking every day for at least five years. When I was younger, I was able to go to work and college and be social and fun. It doesn't do that to me anymore. It’s become kind of a bummer, but I really can't stop.
Another one of my addictions is porn. I love it. I know the performers' names, and I follow them on social media. Usually when I talk to dudes they’re like, “I don't know that girl's name.” And it's like, you jerk off to her all the time. Learn her name. I also pay for porn.
How novel! Why’s that?
It’s a feminist issue. People don’t view it as a job because we don't value slutty women. Riley Reid, she's number one on PornHub almost every week. She has over a billion streams. She should be as rich as Rihanna or Drake, but no one pays for it. These women have rent to pay, and I understand not having a big budget for fucking, but you can at least buy them a gift on their Amazon wishlist. Buy one video—the videos are like 10 to 25 bucks. It makes no sense to me that people don’t pay for porn. It's just misogyny.
You recently worked the red carpet at the AVN Awards for Comedy Central. Was there anything surprising?
I got to meet all these porn stars, and they are so much hotter than you can even imagine. I mean, you know that they're hot; they’re fucking on camera for living. But everyone is drop dead. It’s like, “Of course you're doing this. What else would you be doing?”
You talk a lot about sex positivity in your stand-up. Were you always interested in dismantling taboos around female sexuality, or did you come to this more recently?
I'll tell you the exact moment. I was in school to be a PE teacher, and I was observing at a high school in Chicago. The teacher had a rose and ripped off the petals one by one and went, “Every time you have sex with a man, you rip a petal off the rose.” And when it was just a thorny stick, she's like, “When you get married, this is all you’ll have to give to your husband.” It horrified me. We're teaching young girls that their only value is fucking, and also that it's to be given to someone, not for themselves. How we teach sex ed is based on this country’s Puritan beliefs and the suppression of female sexuality. I had bad sex for a really, really long time. And then you talk to all your friends, and it's like they're all getting fucked poorly too. And then you start learning about how many friends have been assaulted. It’s almost everybody.
Do you see your stand-up as an teaching opportunity?
One hundred percent. I respect and like comedy where you're telling jokes just to tell jokes, but if you have nothing to say, why are you doing this? I'm going to talk about what I care about because post-election was a lot. And I have had some guy friends be like, “I miss the old Liza.” No, I'm pissed. I'm going to act pissed and I'm going to bring it up all the time because I am pissed.
A lot of times I'm the only girl on a lineup, and I see the faces of all the women in the audience light up because it's like, “Finally.” So I don't want to cater to anyone but women. Friends send me screenshots from my Netflix special where the women are full-blown laughing and the men are all arms folded, staring at me. And those are definitely the dudes who are always fighting for freedom of speech and going, “It's just jokes, let us say whatever we want.” But as soon as it's about them, they can't handle it. They're the most sensitive of audiences.
It's really fucking embarrassing to look back and see what an idiot you are.”
Speaking of white guys, you recently went on MSNBC and unleashed on Bernie Sanders.
Yeah, and then some Bernie Bros found a bunch of racist tweets of mine. My PR people had been like, “Scrub your Twitter,” and I was like, “I have nothing. I am, like, so, so educated.” And I had so many horrific tweets. It’s a new perspective on life for sure.
What was that experience like?
It was humiliating. I was truly in shock. I couldn't believe that I wrote them. I was really scared my friends would not be friends with me anymore. I apologized, but then people don't believe your apology. They think you're just scared for your career, but no, I'm horrified and I am sorry that I ever wrote them. No excuses. I can't change the minds of people who don't think I'm sincere, and if someone thinks I suck because of them, I agree. They are racist tweets, and there’s nothing I can do about them. A lot of my friends would say, “But they’re old,” and it's like…there's one from 2016. It's embarrassing.
I was someone that would see something like this and be like, “Unfollow, bye, canceled.” And now, I don't know. There’s more to it. But also I do think Paula Deen is a fucking racist, you know? I don't believe her. It’s opened my eyes to a perspective I wouldn't have seen because when I saw Kevin Hart’s tweet, I was like, “You’re a homophobe, fuck you,” and then all of a sudden it's like, oh wait, he probably was making a joke. Or maybe he wasn't. I don't know. Because I don't think I'm the person that wrote those things, but I am. It's really fucking embarrassing to look back and see what an idiot you are.
So do you think we need to be open to giving people a chance to grow and change?
Jameela Jamil has a tweet that’s like, “It's never too late to fucking grow,” but it just sucks because white people's slow growth process has ruined people's lives—full cultures, countries! That’s what’s fucked. And I don’t want to excuse anything, but in this time most of my white girlfriends are like, “I've been the worst and I need to grow,” and all the white dudes I know are like, “It's not all of us.” I can't really say that all the way because white women keep voting for awful people, but in my core life, most of the white women are trying to grow, change, read, and all the dudes are defensive as hell.
When you started dating a woman, did that change your comedy?
Well I had a booker be like, “I get that you’re a lesbian now, but this man hating needs to stop. What you do isn’t funny, and we have other lesbians who don’t do that.” And my spots went away. I lost thousands of dollars a year. And this was a New York club. And this was a woman. That’s still around. Like, old school feminism was about being a part of the patriarchy, and now new school feminism is like, no, we need to break the whole system down. A lot of my jokes came from hanging out with all these dudes who I thought were the coolest and the most irreverent, and I thought that being offended was gross and dumb. I don't hang out with those people anymore. My comedy has shifted as my friend group has shifted.
This interview is sounding so serious. I do always want to be funny and want people to have a good time. It's a weird time in comedy. I hate people who are just making points—like a lot of the jokes when you’re working on them, people will clap, and no one's laughing, and it's humiliating. It makes my skin crawl when somebody claps because I know I didn't do a good job. I'm not here to make you clap; I’m here to make you laugh. If you clap it’s like, yeah, you're into my point. But this is sickening.
Top photo by Mindy Tucker.