Aisha Tyler on the Value of Failure (and Embarrassment)

The multitasking comedian has a new book — a new hosting job

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Self-Inflicted Wounds Cover
HarperCollins

Aisha Tyler might just be one of the busiest people in show business. She “plays” Lana Kane on FX’s popular animated series Archer and is a co-host of CBS’ The Talk. She does voice work for video games, including the upcoming title Watch Dogs. She’s the creator and host of the podcast “Girl on Guy.” She’ll be the host of the new incarnation of the classic improv-comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, premiering July 16 on the CW. And her latest book, Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation, hits shelves July 9. Plus, she found a few minutes to chat with TIME.

TIME: So the subtitle on your book is Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation. Why expose your embarrassing moments?

AISHA TYLER: The first thing is that comedians have this special kind of—I don’t know if it’s learned or it’s innate—ability to inure themselves from embarrassment. For most people, the most embarrassing experiences of their lives, they don’t want to tell everybody, they go to therapy to get it out of their psyche. Comedians run to a group of people and tell those stories, love those stories. Beyond that, a lot of people come to me and say things like “I want to become a comedian but I’m too afraid to try, I’m afraid I’ll fail.” And I always tell them, “You will fail. Don’t worry about it. Things are going to be terrible for you—and that should never be a deterrent to you trying something.” You only get funny when you bomb. You never get funny when you kill. When you kill, you just go do shots and tell everybody how awesome you are. But when you bomb, you go home and you get better, you say “Oh my God I’ve gotta revamp all my life choices up until this point” and improve. Successful people fail. The path to success is through a minefield of failure. You can’t get to the other side without failing. On my podcast, all of my interviews are with people who are incredibly accomplished in their fields. And every single one of them comes and tells a “self-inflicted wound” story at the end of my show. Everybody has been a jackass at some point in their lives. Probably multiple times.

As an expert on embarrassing moments, what makes one epic?

It can’t just be a blip. It has to be something usually in front of other people or something that really blows up a relationship. I talk in the book about really liking this boy when I was in high school and going out with him and getting sick and vomiting all over his car. Or going out on a date and—it’s a long story—but sneezing and blowing snot all over a different boy. They can’t be “oh, I said something stupid.”

Do you eventually stop being embarrassed, knowing it makes great material?

I’m human, so of course I can be embarrassed, but I definitely have come to a point in my life where I go “eh, that went terribly.” When I was younger, I would be devastated and there’d be tears and cocktails—and now I say, ‘well, that happened, what’s next?’

Were you ever tempted to do a book about the most suave moments in your life?

No, who cares about that stuff? Oh, Lord, no. Barf.

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You mentioned your podcast, “Girl on Guy,” which is about stuff guys like. Now that you’ve been doing it for a while, have you come up with criteria for that stuff?

I don’t know that I have a succinct definition. It comes from a lot of different things. My parents separated when I was young, I was raised by a single dad, I always loved things that are stereotypically guy things—and also because I’m a stand-up comedian, most of my social time has been spent around men. That probably shaped my sense of myself and my sense of humor. I don’t really think about it that much.

You know it when you see it?

It’s kind of background noise to me. It isn’t until someone else points out “you’re just so comfortable hanging out with guys.” I really like the company of men. That might sound a little slutty. It’s not. I love women and I have a lot of really close girlfriends, but I’m not one of those women who’s like “ew, that’s boy stuff.” The show has gone from being a narrowly defined show, about topics and ideas that guys are into, into a larger conversation about a specific perspective on the world. I tell people when they sit down, “This is the internet. You don’t have to curse, but I prefer that you do.”

You mentioned the gender balance in comedy. Is that something you’ve noticed improving?

It’s definitely changing. I’ve said this before, and I’m sure there are people who disagree, but I feel like one of the reasons there aren’t a lot more women in stand-up—and there are many more now, it’s not parity but it’s getting there—is that women are not socialized to look stupid or silly. They’re socialized to be pretty and precious. And I’m not talking about being quiet; that’s really an old-fashioned notion. But we are socialized by our families and by culture and by the things that we consume to worry about how we look and not about what we say. Comedy’s really about not being afraid to look terrible, look ugly, look silly, make fun of yourself. And that’s something that women are just not socialized to do. But more women are doing it and more women have examples of women doing it brilliantly.

Comedy’s not the only world that has gender issues. With video gaming, that’s a whole other level of imbalance.

I don’t know that I ever, when I was younger, thought it was that big of a deal. But when I started to see that other people were making it a big deal, I felt like it was incumbent upon me to say something about it. I was, and I still am, really involved in the gaming community. And people were questioning that I actually played video games. I was like, “I don’t care if you don’t think I’m funny, or you don’t like me, or you think I’m ugly, whatever, but I care that you’re questioning my credibility as a gamer.” I was doing shows in Seattle and a lot of people at my shows worked for Microsoft and someone was like, “I want to thank you for repping girl gamers.” And I was like, “I want us to stop using that term. I’m not a girl gamer. I’m just a gamer.” The reasons I love gaming are the same reasons everyone loves gaming. That’s also the reason I don’t like comedienne and I don’t use the word actress, though I don’t have as much of a problem with it, because it just defines other. It implies auxiliary.

Are you seeing any improvement in terms of recognizing that women like video games?

It’s getting there. It’s so silly to even say it out loud, “recognizing that women like video games.” It’s so nuts.

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I also wanted to ask you about Whose Line Is It Anyway? Will we notice any differences in hosting style between you and Drew Carey? Obviously you’re very different people.

I don’t think there’s any way for me to avoid being different from Drew. He’s a giant man and I’m a giant woman.

Do you have a favorite game on the show?

I do have a favorite game, but it’s new so I can’t tell you what it is. There are a lot of the old favorites and a couple of brand new ones.

And there’s a lot of potential for humiliation in improv, so it comes full-circle.

It really does. And it goes back to the other thing—this is not a new concept, but with great risk comes great rewards. It has a high potential for humiliation but that’s part of what makes it exciting.

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