Couple weeks back, I was asked to do an assignment on a set visit in a big ass home in Encino, CA. The idea of going to Encino didn’t strike my fancy (though I found out Lenny Dykstra used to live in the guest house which is pretty great). But the idea of sexy people on a funny sexy dating reality show with a super funny young sexy host got me interested. I have a sweet tooth for reality TV and funny, hot comedians.
Encino here I come.
The show I’m talking about is a half-hour syndicated dating show called Excused. The show is hosted by the lovely and (irreverently) funny, Iliza Shlesinger. It’s distributed by CBS and produced by the people who made Blind Date. It’s a great show that leans on the comic stylings of Iliza where she’s free to write, act and spit out any and all of her own material. Each episode follows a group of four men competing for the affections of two women (or vice versa).
Based on first impressions, personality profiles and intimate dates, the pair of women systematically eliminates the group of men down to one. The final man standing will have the opportunity to select the woman he wants to date and ultimately, one final couple has the chance for “love.”
For this episode, two girls, Day and Iris, watched four dudes (Xavier, Andre, Cory and Brandon) interact and shoot the shit from a separate room via live video. The dudes drank booze and talked about worthless dribble like being “good with their tongue and their lips” and wanting to eat “corn bread and collard greens everyday.” Thank god for everyone watching — Iliza stepped in to comment on one of the dude’s attire: “The neck of your sweater looks like a vagina.” It’s moments like this that make this dating show more watchable and entertaining than the rest. Essentially, the show thrives on Iliza. It DEPENDS on her and everyone working on the show knows that.
Look. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, write a puff piece and tell you that the show is original, groundbreaking stuff. The fact is this IS a dating show playing at all hours of the day on various channels that you will most likely stumble upon when you’re zonked out on your bean bag eating boogers. But what makes this show standout, over every other one, is Iliza Shlesinger.
The 29-year-old, Dallas-born comedian won season six of Last Comic Standing on NBC. Her raw, sexually aggressive, no-holds-barred comedy stylings play well in a world where, let’s be honest, dating shows and the participants deserve to be mocked and poked at.
Single herself, I asked her what made her qualified to host a dating show: “I’m funny and the producers like me,” she told me.
When I sat down with Iliza, I got a clear sense that she was really confident with her ability and place in the comedy world. She didn’t try to “joke-the-shit” at me and I don’t even think she liked me for that matter which, in turn, I liked. Personally, I don’t do interviews or set visits because I’m usually working on and around a set myself. I don’t even like people in general for that matter. So I really came to appreciate Iliza’s “who-the-fuck-are-you” tone when she answered all of my unprepared questions. I, too, came into this with a “who-the-fuck-are-you” and why-the-fuck-am-I-in-Encino” attitude. With her entourage of execs, PR, and producers sitting around like guards, an unspoken bond of hatred lingered in her dressing room when we spoke. I wanted to run out of there with my complimentary water and banana, yet I also wanted to stay to hear what Iliza Shlesinger was really all about.
“This show allows me to say what I want to say. I see something and call it out in the show. Oh, and I get to wear tank tops.” As she plays with her dog Blanche, Iliza is a perfect blend of beauty and smarts, blunt and restraint, tough and girly. I asked her about what she wants in a man: “You either have to be one of two things: 1). Smart and funny or 2). 6’4″ and jacked. Both is not possible.” I told her I was doing Insanity workout — as if I deserved a prize for finally trying to lose my excessive fat. She offered me some licorice and said, “I always felt the p90x workout was for prisoners.” On some level, and I’m most likely overanalyzing, there is something deeper working in that funny statement. Working out makes us healthy and look good, yet at the same time it’s fucking painful, miserable just like prison. The point is Iliza doesn’t just spit funny words at you. There’s a substance and reason to everything she says. It humanizes her.
Iliza has a great appreciation for the art of comedy. She responds to a comedian when there is “texture to an act, energy, and a “Patton Oswalt quality of storytelling.” She wants to be considered as a comic who loves stand up and not just a comedian as a gateway to acting. She has a real drive and focus for her career where nothing will get in her way of achieving what she wants. I got the sense that even if a shitty sitcom got dangled in her face, she’d only do it if she got to write her own lines. It’s one of the big reasons she loves Excused: “This show gives me more and more liberties to do what I want. Most comedians don’t have a job like mine.”
Iliza Shlesinger “Doggy Style”
On the surface, hosting a reality dating show might not seem like an ideal gig for a comedian. But looking at it through the eyes of Iliza, you really see that it’s a perfect show for a “true comedian.” There’s no writers. No reading of lines. It’s essentially all Iliza spitting out her own twisted jokes and views on people and the world in whatever way she desires. It’s that type of freedom that people like Louis CK thrive on; to not have exec hands trying to mold you and the show into exactly what they think is best. For that big reason, I understand why Iliza loves to be exactly where she is at in her career.
Iliza Shlesinger is at a good place right now with a great gig doing what she wants to do. She has the talent, intelligence and balls you don’t see from most young comedians that gets you excited to see how her career will play out. Iliza has a real humanistic quality that makes anyone around her want to listen. There’s substance to her words that people, like myself, gravitate towards. When I left Encino, I had a smoke and thought how terrible that interview was. But writing this now, I realized that it being so honest, raw and unscripted actually allowed me to know Iliza on a level I wouldn’t have if I was prepared or qualified. I really got to understand what Iliza is all about.
“Fifteen years from now, I want to do whatever project I want, when I want. I want to be funny on my own terms.”
Find where you can watch Excused here.