Iliza Shlesinger: Laughter is the Best Medicine

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Comedian Iliza Shlesinger is refreshingly candid, especially about things many women can relate to, like the sheer exhaustion that comes from juggling life’s demands (dare we say, it’s like a badge of honor?), pregnancy loss—a topic that often remains in the shadows, and how our accounts of self-care really go off the rails when bubble baths become the solution to all of life’s problems.

In this conversation, Kate and Iliza address:

  • A plan to make laughter a national healthcare plan (just kidding)
  • How comedy connects us with one another
  • Redefining self-care into something a little more practical

This conversation is brought to you by Aspen Ideas: Health and was recorded on location in Aspen, CO.

CW: miscarriage


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Watch clips from this conversation, read the full transcript, and access discussion questions by clicking here.

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Kate Bowler, Iliza Shlesinger

Kate Bowler  01:51

Oh hello, my name is Kate Bowler, and this is Everything Happens.


Kate Bowler  02:03

So I started saying something a couple of years ago as a way to sum up my theory on life and started saying have a beautiful, terrible day. Yeah, it’s partly because I can never quite manage the awkwardness of being honest. But they felt like there’s just something there right? That life is just gorgeous and it’s also usually profoundly difficult. Simultaneously, I was in the midst of a really, frankly, garbage season of unending chronic pain, I just, I was having very weird symptoms from this joint disorder that I have. And sometimes my body just does not work the way it should. And I couldn’t figure out a way not to just chase pain from one joint to the next. And I was trying everything I was right back to that sort of season where sometimes you find yourself seeing every single specialist and repeating the same story over and over and over again. But with a lot of hand gestures. I know so many of you know this reality, about how much time it takes up being in pain, and what it costs you emotionally, mentally, physically. So my day became this very constrained thing, where I knew that by the time I woke up, I really just had a very narrow window where my brain was clear, and could do something useful. So I was like, okay, this is I think it’s just a habit I picked up from cancer time, which is if you get the window, then take it. So I took my 30 good minutes. And I started thinking, well, what do I need to live like this today? So I started writing out little prayers, and blessings. And maybe, I don’t know, advice for myself, of what I needed to live like that. I realized I needed a lot of honesty. I needed the chance to laugh at how ridiculous things were. And I needed some answers where I could find some. I needed hope and courage to face a day that felt like an obstacle course. And the result of all that is my new book. It comes out in January and it’s called, you know, predictably, have a beautiful, terrible day. And I thought of it like it’s a devotional for the rest of us, which is to say the people who don’t always have magical lives that always work out for the best. And yeah, if any of that is interesting to you, it is available for preorder at your favorite retailer. And you can hear my voice you know how it goes like I don’t believe in lessons. You’re still learning right as you go I’m so I can say, honestly that even as my pain subsided, thank God, I it taught me things that I still need Honesty, laughter hope people who get it. And that’s just a big part of what I get to do here with you at the podcast is, hey, here are other people who get it. And you know that I have a very soft spot in my heart for comedians. So, you’re gonna love my guest today. My guest today is the brilliant and irreverent comedian Iliza Shlesinger. And you probably know her from her bajillion Netflix specials. I think she has like six Netflix specials. Iliza is a comedian and an actress, and a producer she has a razor sharp wit and unapologetic humor. She has a unique way of making us laugh while also tackling topics that you know feel close to home. This is a conversation that I had at the Aspen Ideas health festival with her. And it was recorded on location in Aspen, Colorado, who’s the funniest situation was like, it’s this big, gorgeous tent out on a green green lawn, with mountains in the distance. And oh my gosh, it was also a moment in which I was experiencing vertigo for the first time in my life. I wish you could have seen me try to get on stage. I was like, hey, can you guys cut the camera feed and the moment in which I had to use both railings, and then like aggressively Pat to the bottom of my chair, because right in front of me, were a couple senators and Dr. Anthony Fauci. Just endlessly and during the good health, sitting right there in front of us and so Iliza, and I just felt the surreal illness, I think of the moment and we’re sitting in front of people who are really trying to think about health policy and all of its implications. And so you’ll be able to hear some of the like, oh, my gosh, hot topics, what are we doing with health today, kind of in her voice, but she’s so candid, especially about things that many women can relate to just the sheer exhaustion that comes from juggling all of life’s demands, the way that we wear it, sometimes like a badge of honor, she talks about pregnancy loss, a topic that’s often in the shadows, and how our accounts of self care really go off the rails. When you know, we started suggesting that bubble baths become the solution to all of life’s problems. So here is me and Iliza, you can hear that I am like so excited. And maybe just just know that at that moment, I was really focusing on seeing one Iliza, and not two vertical Iliza this, here she was.


Kate Bowler  07:58

Yeah, hey, oh my gosh, I’m so excited to be here with you, Eliza, I’m an enormous fan. I watched all six of your Netflix specials. I am a keen observer of your world tours, your two insanely hilarious books. You built this incredible reputation. So in preparation for our time today, I thought like what kind of reputation? Yeah so myself that? What words might we use? So I conducted a brief but unbelievably scientific survey earlier this morning, in the bathroom here at the […]


Iliza Shlesinger  08:36

That’s where Gallup does most of their work, and women’s restroom.


Kate Bowler  08:39

Pew gets right in there, and I asked them, which of the following terms they might use for you and these words immediately came to the surface number one, authentic, two funny, three not embarrassed by events which humiliate normal people. It’s a superpower four good dancing, I don’t think that’s relevant for our time today. That one’s supposed to be filming the five bracingly honest. And it sort of feels like honesty. Is that a bit of a premium right now and maybe right now we’re in a place where we long to be honest about who we are and what we’ve been through, but we might find it a little bit difficult to get going.


Iliza Shlesinger  09:22

Yeah, I mean, I think honesty is the root of comedy, which is the only thing I’m qualified to speak on and I am, like, humbled to be looking at Anthony Fauci like, I’m like, should I be up here? I just think that the truth will set you free and especially in comedy, you know, when you your currency is vulnerability, and when you are honest, whether it is about how you’re actually feeling or about whatever it is, you’re going through, it’s you let other people in. And I think the root of comedy is allowing people to be to feel seen and what you’re saying. I had to think about that once they asked me to speak here and when don’t make an A to five. But I think that really is what makes people laugh. And I think visibility and people feeling seen so they don’t feel isolated, whether it’s in their communities, or in an audience or day to day, seeing someone else and having that person be honest about whatever it is they’re going through, whether it is cancer, or just like really not liking your hair today or regretting that you wore jeans, even though your mom told you to bring nice pants did but then at the buzzer, you were like, I’m gonna do me, and now you’re.


Iliza Shlesinger  09:30

I like, this very hypothetical set of examples is not, it feels like you are really reaching, reaching for though.


Iliza Shlesinger  10:39

I walked up to you and I saw you sitting there and I was like, hey, Kate, you were like, so you went with the jeans. I did go with the LA casual.


Kate Bowler  10:50

I was a little worried, though every time I go into the like, really helpful customer service bundaleer outfits that I tend to really sort of specialize in let you stop looking at me. You really do though, have such a I’m in ministry world too, I would I would describe this, you have a special ministry, in particular to women, because you’re so good at validating the intense work of validation that I think we are in special need of right now you validate our heartbreak, our trauma, our need to wear rompers, and you have very strong beliefs that we’re women are uniquely tired right now and not just like a little bit tired but your suggestion was maybe like, we just might want to be dead for a week just to get.


Iliza Shlesinger  11:41

Rid of the under eye bags. Just so you can do more and stop being criticized. But yeah, I mean, I think there is I mean, I can only speak from being a woman, it’s the only thing I have any real authentic experience with. And even that I might be canceled for but I think if we’re just honest with each other, and you see it in all forms, whether it’s on I forgot, there’s like a whole flap over here sorry. Whether it’s it’s on the internet, you know, or on Tik Tok, or just what’s in the ether, there is a value in that honesty about being tired again, just so because we are charged with doing it all. And every interview I get, you know, it’s never about the quality of the work or the hustle or the grid, it’s like how are you balancing it all? And the answer is I pay a nanny and nobody, that’s the answer is money. But that’s how you do it. Nobody wants to say that. And like a functioning husband, and just being honest about those things that may not be.


Kate Bowler  12:42

Who you set the bar, this bar was a.


Iliza Shlesinger  12:44

Function, but whether it’s even if it’s not someone else’s truth, at least it was my truth. And people love to criticize for that but at least at the end of the day, you will feel good, having been honest. And then your your burden is lifted, mentally.


Kate Bowler  12:59

Because I guess I in my experience being diagnosed with cancer, I realized that honestly was my cat, like you will just and we’re done. So she said cancer if so, clear the chairs, that’d be great. But I did, I guess every time I listen to you, I always think if we can be funny about it, then maybe there’s a path maybe no correction, if you can be funny about it, then there’s a path for the rest of us to even have a shot at saying like is there a little nugget in here that can.


Iliza Shlesinger  13:36

Or talking about like a miscarriage is that we’re talking about?


Kate Bowler  13:38

Well, I guess I was I mean I was thinking of the first moment that I ever walked into a cancer center and they had an honest to god harp player in the lobby who was trying to like dainty and dainty and tend to like sue the patient.


Iliza Shlesinger  13:51

This is what heaven’s gonna be like, like that’s so morbid. Like get used to it like why the heart I guess it’s better than like a Seinfeld baseline or like a like a […], your insurance info sorry, no offense Blue Cross. What is your preferred instrument of doom? But I grabbed my dad’s hand was like isn’t really this bad. There was a point in there Eliza was about witches wafted away laughing it because you said make you make it funny and then I was like well I didn’t have cancer so that’s what I thought we were talking about Mr.


Kate Bowler  14:35

Humor in that and you have I mean been? I would say trailblazer in talking about things that other people you go where others fear to tread and one is about honesty about something that one in eight women go through which which is loss of a pregnancy?


Iliza Shlesinger  14:52

Yeah, I mean, I I talked about it in my last special simply because I didn’t from the get go I didn’t feel embarrassed or bad about it. Maybe because I have good a good mother or maybe it’s because I live somewhere like LA where people are hyper liberal. But I, it never occurred to me that I was supposed to feel ashamed or embarrassed. And so I just chose not to. And I think that a lot of women and you know, I was so excited to try to retain as much as I could about all of the panels and all the discussions about women’s health, and equity and all that stuff because if we can just have these things be normalized and conversation, just as normal as say, a conversation about Cialis or Viagra.


Kate Bowler  15:37

Say more about that Iliza.


Iliza Shlesinger  15:39

The lasts more than four hours you call you’re not the conversation. If it could just be normalized, you don’t, it doesn’t have to end starting with, you know, I just said it on stage because I just felt I felt so supported and validated and what I thought and felt maybe somebody somewhere who was afraid or ashamed would hear that and they would just get a little kernel of hubris, you know, and they would just feel a little bit better about it, because it isn’t your fault. It isn’t embarrassed, it certainly shouldn’t be punished and just emboldening women to, to say this is what I have, I have a period, I’ve had a miscarriage, I have menopause, it’s not disgusting, it’s not weird I mean, sometimes it is, like, even as I said, period, I was like, don’t say that to these people. Removing that stigma, generationally, so that it is a normalized conversation. So I just do it because I didn’t feel bad about it. And it’s one of the few things I didn’t feel bad about. Not unlike the genes and so just speaking about it so that it becomes normalized so that we can all laugh at it or just discuss it.


Kate Bowler  16:42



Kate Bowler  16:50

We’ll be right back.


Kate Bowler  16:54

I just have really enjoyed the show long list of things that you highlight for women that we just shouldn’t feel bad about anymore. The endless wearing scrutiny of our parenting or other people’s parenting or our bodies or other people’s bodies.


Iliza Shlesinger  20:16

Who has the time? Who has the time to care if another mother is like breastfeeding for three years, like get a hobby. I was one when I was having my baby it was like, oh, watch out for the competitive parenting. And I’m like, who is even listening to that? Aren’t you busy? Like chopping up sandwiches into little circles to give me your kid? Aren’t you busy with your career? You know, we all like to hate watch we all enjoy the shot and freud if someone else just like eating it publicly, but who has the time to like actually write a comment or criticize or write legislation that prohibits a woman having an abortion like yeah, life. So it all has to do with we keep women forever striving for these very small things whether it is the perfect body or the perfect beachy wave or the perfect lip gloss and while we do enjoy these things at a certain level as women I do believe these are distractions for greater things and pitting women against each other is the ultimate long con of I guess misogyny just this idea that we should always be like, mom on mom, I know it sounds like a porn but it’s not I’m sorry, said that. You should always be woman on woman. It’s always about female CEOs. Like which one’s better which one’s more cancelable meanwhile, you have men out there doing horrific things repeatedly. But I’m sitting here busy criticizing you about how you raised your kid and feeling validated. Meanwhile, horrible things are happening under our watch and we’re too busy being worrying about all of these small things that don’t actually matter. No one’s ever going to finally go up to and be like, here’s your trophy. You were beach ready for the summer? You did it, who cares?


Kate Bowler  21:58

You have the award if you weren’t ceremony at the beginning of June or the end of August.


Iliza Shlesinger  22:05

Wants to see us at the beginning one warfare is all nice, yeah.


Kate Bowler  22:09

I love to what you said about even our most celebrated forms of female empowerment like boss lady and.


Iliza Shlesinger  22:16

Oh my god, we only have eight minutes.


Kate Bowler  22:20

Here like I’ll take 40.


Iliza Shlesinger  22:22

If you haven’t watched the special I basically pas posit that you know we have all these sort of fourth wave feminist empowering terms like boss Queen, yes girl like twerking on the weekend. White wine, a lot of wine Rosae all day white wine and slay like that’s not feminism, it’s alcoholism. And it’s not my truth, like I can’t have a glass of wine I’ll get a headache especially at this altitude right? But all of that language you know yes Queen work Queen torque queen. First of all, it was stolen from black and gay and trans and drag queens like that’s from those people appropriated to be this empowering language but it’s not it doesn’t feel good. And so you have all these women saying these words that are inherently not feminist because men can’t use them also. And it’s marginalizing, like if you were at work and your boss pulled you aside your male boss obviously if you want to get it done and your your male boss it works better in a at a show your male boss pulled you aside and we’re like keep it up power bitch. Like you’re a juicy thick queen, you’d be you would call HR and so these things are shoved down our throats these ever evolving terms that like don’t think make a woman with a brain and so I’m like let’s stop parsing out language that’s just for women like I will accept like a pat on the back respectfully good job, keep it up kick ass any day over like you juicy unicorn. Keep thriving and slaying.


Kate Bowler  24:00

Which boy and I take out a juicy unicorn tote bag to hand you want to say


Iliza Shlesinger  24:08

We lost you there and that’s okay.


Kate Bowler  24:12

To your description of how our even our accounts then of mental health and self care and wellness really go off the rails?


Iliza Shlesinger  24:21



Kate Bowler  24:21

There was this, I’ve been writing this history of self help and because you have a real job oh, it’s just me and a lot of spreadsheets and so many people’s ears just perked up spreadsheets.


Iliza Shlesinger  24:35

Say more about your dataset.


Kate Bowler  24:38

The New Year’s resolutions really dovetails with a kind of madness I think we have about what constitutes things that build up our mental resilience and it became just like cold water plunges a lot of cold baths or cold like bubble baths will also fix the great derail Men of feminism, sound baths, maybe energy batch baths. But you’re really hoping maybe we can be like a little less precious about our self care language and maybe bump it up into something more realistic, like, treatment for bipolar with metal.


Iliza Shlesinger  25:17

Yeah, like sometimes like, yeah, you need like a reuptake inhibitor not like a bass. I think people are probably doing the best that they can with what they have and because we don’t have access to the proper language, and I do think, you know, there’s a ubiquity in terms like, oh, this person’s a narcissist or bipolar, like we, the masses who indulge in pop psychology, constantly assigning all these things and all these deeply psychological terms to people, and it’s like, because there’s such a lack of access to the appropriate care, people instead, they turn to these minor things, but like, self care to me, I mean, yeah, a bath is nice and lighting a candle, but self care might actually be screaming, self care might actually be confronting that person and having the language and the empowerment to do so. So that you aren’t filming yourself taking a bath, but then again, if you can make money off of that reels, and maybe that is self care. Maybe that’s okay. I watch a lot of like, 23 year old girls like come along with me while I empty my fridge and I’m like, I will watch all of this. I will watch idiots unload their fridge all day. You guys gotta get on Tik Tok it’s a real bevy of health solutions. It doesn’t hurt my brain at all.


Kate Bowler  26:38

The framework of like, laughter as the best medicine really kind of got me thinking about the wisdom of, of Jack Handey, in his deep thoughts with Jack Handy, in which he recalled something like my dad used to say that laughter was the best medicine. But maybe that’s why several of us died of tuberculosis.


Iliza Shlesinger  27:02



Kate Bowler  27:03

So, just since we’re in the closing session together, I thought maybe this might be the time that we solve the problems of aspen.


Iliza Shlesinger  27:13

Oh, health I didn’t see every talk, but if I had, but I did take a lot of resistance.


Kate Bowler  27:20

But I did, but since we have Dr. Fauci here, it feels like maybe the right time to suggest like a laughter only policy going forward.


Iliza Shlesinger  27:29

That’s an uncomfortable implementing. A regimented laughter only. That sounds like a black mirror episode. Oh, frowns, or else you get canceled.


Kate Bowler  27:44

I could not love you more or less. Thank you so much for the absurdity of being willing to be interviewed by historian.


Iliza Shlesinger  27:51

Thank you. I thank you for the validity, thank you.


Kate Bowler  27:58

I just love her so much, laughter might not be the medicine to solve all of our problems, but it is certainly something I need. I think they do because the root of comedy is connection. It’s about making people feel like they’re not alone and their experiences, maybe especially the absurd or uncomfortable ones. Like chronic pain, or trying to juggle everything that life is throwing at us. Or living in a world that seems to be on fire around us. How do we live with all this reality? Maybe we can take a second to laugh too. So before I go, I wanted to close with a blessing maybe something from my new book, have a beautiful, terrible day. It is for those times when we feel like we’re just drowning in other people’s needs and problems. And we might need a second of peace. So, all right, if you’re feeling a little tired, this one’s for you. God, I am a shapeshifter, hidden in plain sight. A great disappearing act. Every now and again when I’m spinning in a tornado of other people’s needs and wants. I worried that if I stepped out of it, to stand dumbfounded for a moment. My body would cast no shadow. God I vanish. The unnecessary pain unnecessary needs of others feel durable, measurable. God look at how much they need me. Isn’t it necessary that I’m not myself today? God remind me of my own goodness. The way you look at me and grin. The way the Earth can stretch to hold my own dreams when I remember them. God let my stomach grumble and I eat. Let me be delighted and I laugh. Let me tire and I rest. Give my heart peace today, as I am here, surprisingly, myself, while the world spins and spins, fly plus you, my dears.


Kate Bowler  30:24

And, hey, I don’t need to remind you because everyone everywhere is, but Advent start soon. And we have a free daily devotional for the Christmas season. If that’s your kind of thing. If you go over to Kate, you can download it. And hey, I hope it’ll give you a little bit of peace this season. And this is the part of the episode where I get to thank everybody who makes this work Amazing. I really have the most generous and wonderful partners. This whole thing is possible because the amazing people at the Lilly Endowment and the Duke Endowment and they are people who work so hard. And they support storytelling about faith and life and I am so grateful to them. And thank you to my home at Duke Divinity School, and our podcast network Lemonada. And, of course a huge shout out to my absolute incredible, seemingly inexhaustible team. Jessica Ricci, Harriet Keith Weston one hickinbotham Brenda Thompson, hope Anderson, Kristen Bowser, Jeb Burt, and Catherine Smith. And hey, we love hearing from you. Leave us a voicemail when we might even be able to use it on the air. Call us at 919-322-8731 Alright lovelies, I’m going to be talking to an incredible person and next week’s episode, it’s boza St. John, she is remarkable and you’re not gonna want to miss it. But in the meantime, come find me online at Casey bowler. This is Everything Happens with me, Kate bowler. Oh, shoot real quick yes. If you liked this conversation, could you do me a massive favor and leave us a review on Apple podcasts or Spotify. I know. It’s annoying to always like do an extra thing, but it just takes a few seconds. And strangely it makes a huge difference to how people find us. And hey, make sure you’re subscribed while you’re there. I realized yesterday that I was not actually subscribed to my my own podcast. You have to click a little subscribe your plus button. You’ll find it alright don’t be like me, okay, I’ll see you there.

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