There are no right answers when it comes to grief. How people choose to cope with loss will vary from person to person. For comedian Alyssa Limperis, tears became smiles, smiles became laughs, and laughs became a show in No Bad Days. The comedy special is a unique view into Limperis’ life that centers around the death of her father to cancer.
Combining the use of dramatic and comedic elements, Limperis’ solo show, which can be streamed on Peacock, takes the audience on a journey of sorrow, love, and hope. In an interview with Digital Trends, Limperis shares how she turned the tragedy of her father’s death into a comedic show, the strong relationship she holds with her mother, and the importance of honesty in comedy.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Digital Trends: How is your exercise going? Are you still trying to run when you can get outside?
Alyssa Limperis: OK. Yes, I am still trying to run when I can, but I have moved to walking. Walking has become my main thing. It’s very calm. It’s very tranquil. At the end of the day, I go on a nice long walk, listen to music. Sometimes I sprint, but I would say those are the two things I do. I either do some sprints or some long walks, but I don’t do long runs anymore.
That seems to be the underrated part about being onstage. You need endurance.
I will say that’s true because when I remember doing it for the first time in November or whenever, and I was out of shape because when I was running and speaking, I felt myself like, “Yeah [breathing heavy].” I do think that I kind of ended up training a bit through doing it.
In No Bad Days, it’s a journey about losing your father to cancer. It covers the whole spectrum of grief and how we deal with tragedy. When did you first decide to channel your feelings and turn them into this show?
I would say it barely was a decision. It was basically like I was just brimming with this experience, and I’d sort of written about it a lot. I’d been doing these blogs while I was home because I couldn’t perform. My dad required a lot of attention and help at home because of the situation. Glioblastoma is a really ugly, awful disease, and so I was writing a lot about what was happening. But then when I went back to the city, I felt like I couldn’t just do normal comedy. I have to talk about this. And so I started talking about it onstage and then I was like, “This isn’t fun for most people here [laughing].”You know, New Yorkers. They’re like, “What? We’re trying to have dinner. Why are you yelling about brain cancer?”
So then I asked myself, “Why don’t I make this a show? Why don’t I have some more delicate moments? Why don’t I make it a bit more of a performance versus just doing stand-up about it?” Which I also felt was important because … I have to talk about how much I love and miss my dad. That was important to me, so to just do stand-up without those elements, it wouldn’t have felt right. Whereas instead, I see it as telling the story of what happened while also adding some laughter along the way.
Your first performance happened three or so months after your father passed away. Do you remember that first time? How was it perceived?
I remember it clear as day. It was in some comedy theater in Brooklyn. The theater’s gone now. A friend had a 30-minute slot and told me, “You got 30 minutes of something you want to say.” I said yes. I asked my friend, May, “Hey, you wanna come over and just run through some stuff?” And I wrote out some jokes, and I hit them back and forth with her, and I did it. I think that going onstage and doing that made me like, “Oh, I’m changed. This is how I have to do comedy. This feels right. This is it.”
Because I used to be so worried about [if] the joke hit. Did I do well? Was I funny or not? And in this moment, I was like, “No. I said what I wanted to say. I got to say what I’m feeling.” And then along the way, got some laughs, but it was less binary of [whether] did I do it or not. It was more like that was my artistic expression, and I want to keep going in that direction. Then I just kept on that track.
One of the moments that stood out was one of the more dramatic moments when you ran on stage to show how the disease affected your dad’s ability to walk. How did you come up with that idea?
That and the ending, the surprise fun ending, were two of the elements that were in there from day one. I don’t even remember how I thought of it. I just remember my dad and I were such physical people that it was very visceral to me watching his decline. I am a dancer and a mover, so maybe even in my head, that was just how I was seeing it. Life is going like this, and it’s just slowly, slowing down. And so that visual was very clear to me, and the first thing I asked for on the special was that above shot. I knew I wanted that because that’s how it felt. When you’re watching someone disappear, you feel like you’re watching it, and it’s happening under you, and you can’t stop it.
Did you always leave a seat open in the audience, or was that just for the special?
It was just for the taping, for the camera. We knew where the camera was going to be, but on a normal show, I would just go to wherever there was an open seat. And so that was always fun because sometimes, I would have to climb through. “Excuse me. Excuse me. Hi, how are you?” I would sometimes have to climb all the way through a club so it was always an adventure about where I was going to go. But then sometimes if there was a club where I couldn’t get off the stage, I would just do it to the person right in front of me. Yeah, I love those elements. Those always kept me on my toes on the road because you never know what you’re going to get or [if] someone’s going to be on board or not.
People feel involved in the show when you do that.
Definitely. Yes, that feels like a turning point for me in the show. It always does. On the road, it feels like I’m talking about this thing, I’m sharing this thing, and now we’re all in it together. So that’s a turning point when I go into the audience after sharing that. To me, it is now like we’re on the journey together till we go home.
The taping for No Bad Days was your last show. I believe it’s been a few months since that moment. Has it hit that you’re no longer performing it? Did you feel like it was a perfect ending?
It hit me so hard. It was all I was thinking about, and I was very emotional about it. I called my track coach [laughing] just to say, “I love you.” When I lost my dad, my mom was in tough shape so I became a bit of a stoic force in that moment. I think I didn’t have as much time to break down, and something about this felt maybe like another death in a way that I was more equipped to handle. So I think I got to grieve [this loss] almost again. But it was cathartic, and it made me feel like, “OK I am ready. I’m ready.” So I don’t know if it’s hit me, but I think it hit me back then.
The show is about your dad, but you also incorporate your mom into your comedy, especially with the mom videos that are hysterical. What was the original inception behind that idea?
I was, at the time, making all these videos at Conde Nast; my job was to make character videos and cut character videos so my mind was in that headspace. And then my mom actually moved in with me in New York after my dad died just to sort of get out for a bit. I just was watching her behave in such a way [like] none of my friends. I was like 20. It just was such a different lifestyle. I never made food. I didn’t know an oven could cook. I thought it was just for pans.
So to see my mom there and have her be like, “I’m going to make a casserole. You gonna be home at 8.” I’m like, “I don’t know when I’m going to be home [laughing].” Watching her continue to be a suburban woman in the city was so wild to me that I was like I got to do this. That was my first video, “Mom in New York,” and then I just went from there.
That sounds like a fish-out-of-water moment.
Exactly. Yeah. A classic fish out of water, but then she totally got her groove on. She ended up getting a nose piercing and bleached her hair. She became a New Yorker.
A New Yorker? I don’t know any of those …
Right, right, right [laughing]. That’s true. I was living in Bushwick, so she might have gotten some of my Brooklyn edge.
You show your mom the first video and then what? What was her reaction?
I don’t know if she filmed the first one. Before I put one out, she ended up filming one, so she was very integral in the process of making them, which was always important to me because I felt like it was a collaborative effort that we were doing it together versus me poking fun at her. It was like we were both making light of the situation and it was so heavy around my dad stuff that I think having this thing that was bright and fun between the two of us. When I came home, I’m like, “Should we do a mom video this time? Sure.”
Then that gave us something to do that was not, you know, look through dad’s old clothes and try to clean them out or the house. It took a while for that house [to] not be a place that my dad was and breathed in every space. So to have these videos was a nice little escape there for a bit. And they were so fun.
Comedy is so personal for you. Have you ever thought about not sharing some of these details, or are you as open as can be?
Well, it’s a great question. No, I think when I made this show, there were no questions asked. I had to share this because it was on my heart, and I needed to be honest about it. And I’ll keep doing that, especially with stand-up. I just don’t [I] can. For me, I would never not tell very honest, gritty details about my life in stand-up because that’s what feels real.
If I feel like I want to still express myself or express my feelings but not be so personal, or I’ve simply run out of stuff to talk about, that’s where TV and film come in, and I love that. I love getting the experience of climbing into someone else’s body and expressing a lot of feelings I have, but through a different character, [and] through someone else’s experience.
The bigger moment for you, taping this comedic special or working in a commercial with Tom Brady?
[laughing] For me, the special. For everyone in my entire family, “You worked with Tom Brady. How was it? Did you get a signature?” Tom was great. Tom and I had so much fun together. My dad was obsessed with Tom, so it was this trippy moment. It was all happening at the same time. When I went down to shoot, that was like the last thing I shot before I shot this special. There was this cool feeling [because] my dad would be just flipping out. He would just be flipping out.
With comedy, do you prefer stand-up or sketch?
Oh, I love them both. I feel they both are very different purposes for me in my life. I feel, for example, that this solo show was great for me to feel. I could work through what I was going through in a way that felt really real and personal. And I remember when I stopped doing the show, that’s when I really started doing sketch and characters. I remember feeling like, “Oh, this is a nice relief to get to escape for a bit and have fun and just be joyful.” I don’t know if I would want to do just one because I think both of them are important to me. A balance of the two is nice, and then acting almost meets those two in the middle.
Now that you’re done with the show, are you almost scared of what’s next?
Yes. I’d like to call it maybe excitement. But I remember I worked on this special in New York and I was shooting Flatbush Misdemeanors in New York. So I had wrapped on both of those projects, and I got back to L.A., I was like, “Wow, I have a clean slate.” Like if I want to go onstage, it’s new material, so it’s going to push me more to the present. How do I feel right now? What do I want to talk about? So less scary, more just like, “Wow, this is new and exciting.” And it’s been a while since I started from scratch in terms of material, which is exciting.
What is the next big project for you?
Yeah, I think as of now, it’s still acting- and development-heavy. I wrote a movie with my friend, May, the girl who I was talking about. I like working on projects. It’s been fun being in projects that I write and also get to act in. So that’s going to be the space I continue to pursue in TV and film. But, I might be hitting the road again if I have something that I need to say.
Alyssa Limperis: No Bad Days is available to stream on Peacock on August 12.
- Josh Johnson heads to therapy in new comedy special Up Here Killing Myself
- The 5 best comedies ever made
- Jeff Baena shares his affinity for Italy, Aubrey Plaza, and subversive comedy in Spin Me Round
- Simon Pegg on leaving comedy behind (for now) with The Undeclared War
- The cast of Bad Sisters on creating a believable family and the appeal of nasty characters