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She-Wolf: Bay Area Native and Comedian Chelsea Peretti Talks Oakland vs. San Francisco 

Wednesday, Apr 9 2014
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Full moons don't transform Chelsea Peretti into a wolf. Sometimes, all it takes is an annoying Twitter comment.

Enter "Wolf Mode"— a highly intense state of spiritual unrest when Peretti assumes the perspective of the wild creature, posting all-caps tweets about snowy fur, mountain dens, and ice howls. "You know how Beyoncé has Sasha Fierce?" Peretti says from a comedy tour stop in Houston. "It became an alter ego to inhabit so that I could venture forth into the Internet safely."

When not tweeting through the eyes of a wolf, Oakland native Peretti is one of the hardest-working comedians today, starring as eccentric secretary Gina Linetti on Fox's Golden Globe-winning comedy series, Brooklyn 99, playing a wannabe R&B singer on Comedy Central's, Kroll Show, philosophizing with strangers on her podcast, Call Chelsea Peretti, and performing stand-up on her American Treasure tour. We spoke to Peretti about the tour, the cultural state of the Bay Area, and her polarizing personality.

SF Weekly: How often do you come back to the Bay Area? Chelsea Peretti: A lot. I moved to [L.A.] for [The Sarah Silverman Program], but I wanted to be closer to my parents, and my grandmother, and my aunt and some of my family members. So now if I want to go home on a whim, I can go for the weekend, and it's very easy.

Have you started getting recognized when you're back here yet?

Well, yeah, this has been an interesting tour, because I've been just working so much. Now I'm on the road, and it definitely feels like there's a whole different thing happening right now.

Like what?

I'll go get lunch and the waiter will be beaming. But no one says, like, "I've seen your show." They might say it at the end of the meal. I don't know, there's just a lot of things starting to happen where I'm like, "Oh, God."

Has your recent success affected your standup, at all? You've been asking "Is this relatable?" on your Instagram posts lately.

I do feel like the context of being like, "I'm on TV" is different than the context of, "I'm a struggling comedian." Like, there is an element of, "Well, if I want to talk about what happened in my day, at this point, it might not be relatable in some ways." But I think there are always things you go through that are relatable. There's just human shit that everyone has to do. We all have to eat, we all have to go to the bathroom, we all have families. So obviously you don't cease to be a human if you're on TV, but I'm just trying to have fun with it.

I read somewhere that even though you grew up in the Bay Area, people were always telling you that you should move to New York, and that your personality always had New York-ish qualities.

I just always tended to be outspoken. Probably starting in junior high school, I started finding comedy was a useful way for me to feel comfortable socially. I think I was always funny and I was always very direct with people. And I think people thought that would be a good fit for New York. I love the Bay Area so much, but sometimes people become so set in their thinking about things. I just think that Bay Area people sometimes become weirdly closeminded to the fact that people live a lot of different ways. How we live in Berkeley, California, isn't how everyone lives all over the country.

What do you think of the state of the Bay Area now, and how has it changed since you remember?

Oakland has changed a fair amount. My neighborhood's changed a lot. When I was in San Francisco years ago, visiting from New York, I was shocked because I was seeing homeless people just shitting on the street. And I was just like, "Damn!" I thought San Francisco was really way more out there than New York at that point. Last time I was there, everyone was protesting tech people's buses or shuttles or something. And I was like, "Oh my God!" So I don't know which is worse. My friend really did have someone shitting in front of his door all day long. Is that worse, or is a Google employee worse?

Some have called Oakland the new Brooklyn, just because all the artists are coming over here from San Francisco, since it has become so expensive. What's your take on that?

I'd like things to stay the same, on some level, just being a regular human who fears change. But on the other hand, I just think Oakland is so awesome. I just have a special place in my heart for Oakland, and I feel like it makes sense that people would move there. I loved coming home from the city. Like if I drove into San Francisco, I loved the feeling of driving back across the Bay Bridge, just like, "Oh, I'm going into peacefulness now." Obviously not everyone feels like Oakland is peaceful, but my experience there was positive.

You've said in other interviews that you think people either love or hate you. Why do you think that is?

First of all, I think a lot of people hate women in comedy, particularly in stand-up. There's just a really small, but it feels looming, at times, group that are like, "Why is a woman trying to be funny? We don't like that. That's what men do. Women should be pretty, and that's what they're supposed to do." So I think there's a base level of people who already hate you straight out of the gate. And I just think some people have that impact: People just have strong reactions to you. I don't think I have a really commercial vibe.

On the flip side, you have a lot of devoted people who love you so much.

Yes, I think, in general, the past probably five years have been pretty amazing. I just wasn't a comedian who started and straight out of the gate, and everyone who saw me, was like, "I'm in love!" Industry people weren't paying that much attention to me, initially.

I've been doing this for such a long time. I started in 2000 doing stand-up. So it's been this paying-your-dues kind of career for me. Not everyone has that. Some people have celebrated careers, and some people never have much success. So obviously it's a whole spectrum, but things have felt very surreal to me in the last handful of years, because it has just been one good thing building on another. I've had more support and love from people than I ever would have thought.

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Kevin W. Smith

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