Liza Treyger

Liza Treyger performs at the Comedy Club on State on Friday, Nov. 23, and Saturday, Nov. 24.

Liza Treyger used to drive up from Chicago to Madison just to do a six-minute set on a Thursday night at the Comedy Club on State Street. The club meant that much to her.

So she's thrilled to return, this time for her first show at the club as a headliner. Now living in New York, she already has her meals planned for when she's here on Friday and Saturday — pancakes at Short Stack, subs from Jimmy John's, and especially scallops and martinis at the Tornado Room.

"I'm excited," she said in a phone interview from her home in New York. "Madison has one of the best comedy clubs."

Treyger is a rising star in stand-up, currently getting lots of acclaim for her half-hour performance as part of “The Degenerates” comedy series on Netflix. The episodes show how she disarms the audience with bawdy, self-deprecating humor about bad sex and regrettable Red Hot Chili Pepper tattoos.

But she then shifts into more serious subjects about sexism and the #MeToo movement, all the while keeping that same brash, unapologetic comedic voice. It’s a remarkable example of winning an audience over and then taking them to places they weren’t expecting to go, even challenging them to reassess themselves.

“If you’re a dude and you’re feeling defensive,” Treyger tells the men in the audience at one point, “now you know that you’re not one of the good ones.”

“The whole point of stand-up is to say whatever you want,” she said. “I really don’t understand comics who don’t believe in what they talk about. That’s weird to me. I don’t understand that.”

Treyger was born in the Soviet Union, and her parents were quite a bit older than her peers’. When the family emigrated to America when she was 3, she felt isolated from society in a way that helped her develop her perspective.

“I think it helped me in ways to use my brain,” she said. “I was alone a lot and not relating to people, this American kid with these old Russian parents. I spent a lot of time in my brain analyzing, observing, thinking.”

What she wasn’t doing while growing up was listening or watching stand-up comedy, which meant that she didn’t start off like so many new comics do, imitating their favorites. 

“I was always the funny one in my group of friends, the sassy one,” she said. “I’ve been acting like this for a long time. Most people did not like my personality.”

She actually fell into comedy by accident. A boyfriend invited her to a club to watch him perform. 

“I said, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ And I went up that day. It was a total accident.”

Doing comedy for a decade has sharpened her skills, but Treyger said she feels lucky that she has retained the same brash voice onstage she had as a teenager.

"You can never fake experience," she said. "The more you do it the better you are, the clearer your voice. But I think I am very lucky that I do have the same personality and voice that I did when I started." 

Treyger said her primary goal onstage is to put on a good show and entertain people, and she cheerfully admits that her show isn’t for everyone. But she particularly wants to make sure female audience members have the time of their lives, and hopes male audience members who might get uncomfortable at the truths she tells are willing to listen, rather than argue back or walk out. Because she’s speaking for a lot of women when she talks.

“I’m very vulnerable and honest and I believe in what I’m saying,” she said. “I give them a good time and a good show. The people who do hate me don’t like women and don’t like to hear women talk. I would rather that (those men) listen and laugh and learn something and have a good time.”

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Rob Thomas is the features editor and social media editor for the Capital Times, as well as its film critic. He joined the Cap Times in 1999 and has written about movies, music, food and books.