Feinstein: 'There's a high I get from stand-up that you really couldn't replace with anything.'
Rachel Feinstein acts like a stand-up comedian, but she thinks like a hip-hop DJ. There's just one big difference: Her samples don't come from songs. They're drawn from the speech and street noise of New York City, her adopted home.
During live sets, Feinstein appropriates and manipulates snippets of these sounds, using them to poke fun at everything from her Jewish heritage to her odd encounters with men on the street. The sidesplitting results have led to regular gigs on MTV2's new Hip Hop Squares and truTV's World's Dumbest, as well as voice work on Adult Swim's animated series The Venture Bros. Her own projects include the raunchy 2011 album Thug Tears and a TMZ-esque web series that's due out later this year.
The Daily Page: Apart from stand-up, you've done a lot of video sketches where you mess with people on the street while in character. Is this something you enjoy?
Feinstein: I love it. I enjoy anything where I get to go out and interview people on the street or talk smack, and I'm also happy to be the other side of the equation where I'm eating Lifesavers off of my head and weeping. That's not very challenging for me. Ever since I was a kid, I'd do anything for a laugh. I used to hurl myself down stairs.
I've done a couple episodes for the YouTube comedy channel called Official Comedy where I get to do [characters] a lot. One was part of a series called "Funny Cause It's True," where [we] take comedians' jokes and try them out in real life. So I had this joke about how women in old movies from the 1940s are just these wild morons. They are always lost in the woods and saying things like, "Oh, I'm scared! You explain it to me! Gosh, my tits are confused!" So I went out and pretended I couldn't open a candy wrapper and approached men to help me.
Are those good opportunities to practice the accents found in a lot of your stand-up material?
I do it for fun, but I guess it is practice ... Sometimes I'm not conscious of it. For example, if someone speaks to me in an accent, I'll find myself sometimes talking back in the same accent. Or sometimes two voices merge into one, and I will dip into either. It's something I really need to work on, not getting into a cab as a Hispanic woman and then leaving English.
Your talent with accents lends itself really well to voice acting. I particularly liked your guest spot as superhero Barbie-Q on The Venture Bros. How did that experience come about, and what was the process like?
A friend of mine is going out with one of the animators for the show, and one night they both came out to one of my performances. Afterward, he said that he thought I'd be great for the show, and I've always wanted to do stuff for a cartoon. So I went into their animation studio and they showed me storyboards and told me a little bit about the series. I had a few people coaching me on how to deliver the lines, but they also let me play with it a bit. Everyone was very cool and relaxed, and I was honestly in and out of there very quickly. It was a very fun experience
A few months later, every interview I did mentioned the show, which was strange for me because I still haven't seen the episode. I really didn't know much about the show beforehand, that it has the cult following that it does. Ultimately, that was probably a good thing. It would have been intimidating had I known beforehand. But it's become one of my favorite credits because fans of the show are some of the best fans out there.
How do these other projects compare to live stand-up?
There's a high I get from stand-up that you really couldn't replace with anything. The immediate reaction you get from the crowd is so exciting. I really can't explain it. Conversely, the lows are very low in stand-up. You could have two great sets, and then have a third where the crowd hates you. Nobody laughs and everyone is giving you these looks like they're somehow grossed out by you. It doesn't affect me as much as it did when I started, but it can be painful. Then you'll have another show and it'll be good again, so there's this weird sort of addictive high that comes with it. Honestly, I can't imagine ever not doing it, but I love to do all this other stuff, too. Every opportunity I've had has come through stand-up and the people I've gotten to meet through it.
Hip-hop music heavily informs your material. What is it about this art form that translates to comedy?
Well, first of all, I wouldn't say I'm a fan of some of the ridiculous lyrics in hip-hop songs, like, "Screwing well-oiled bitches by a pool." I wouldn't say I admire that writing, but I think it's entertaining. Mostly I just love the beats and the sounds.
But the thing I really love about hip-hop is the ridiculous personas that certain rappers take on. I relate to it as it's something I also like doing, the theatrical quality of it. Sometimes you have rappers who just say outrageous, disrespectful things, and while I don't condone it, it's something I do myself with characters like Ice Cold Rhoda, where I impersonate my grandma reviewing hip-hop. As it is with anything you love, I think it's fun to call it out on its own nonsense and embrace all the aspects of it.
You get to interact with a lot of hip-hop artists on Hip Hop Squares. What's that like?
It's been so fun. I got to interview [R&B singer] Ginuwine as Ice Cold Rhoda, and he was super-cool. He came to the set with a huge entourage, and because he was the first artist I've ever really gotten to interview, I was so nervous. I came in and one of his people said to me, "Don't touch his head. He's really weird about his head." But by the end of the interview we were drinking Manischewitz together, and he let me put a do-rag on him. He broke his head rule. He rode me on the back like a pony. He sent me a pastrami sandwich. At the end of the day, I was like, "What just happened?" I've made a lot of wild mistakes in my life and have failed miserably on occasion, but I figured if it all lead to Ginuwine feeding me a pastrami sandwich, then I feel good.