Comedian Leslie Liao Talks Dating & The Importance Of “Text Chemistry”

Never underestimate cute banter.

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Comedian Leslie Liao dating

I remember the first time I heard about Leslie Liao. A fellow single gal friend of mine Gloria sent me a clip of the comedian’s stand-up show in which she discusses her evolving thoughts on being single in her 30s. In it, she explains to her audience that while she used to be sad about being single when she was “younger,” these days, she’s just angry about it. Met with laughter from a captive crowd, she expands on her train of thought. “Now mama’s pissed,” she says with a focused expression. “Cause I don’t want to keep looking for this guy. I feel like when I find him I’m gonna be like a mom whose kid got lost at the grocery store. Like, ‘Where have you been? Get in the car!’”

I found myself giggling out loud to myself and watching the clip a couple more times before sharing it on my Instagram stories like a true millennial. Yes, Liao was hilarious in her execution and perspective on 30-something singlehood, but there was also a bit of raw vulnerability peeking out of the fabric of the joke. That humanness felt so relatable and, more importantly, made me want to hear more. This, I believe, is the magic of Leslie Liao.

It seems I’m not the only one who thinks so. Streaming giant Netflix recently featured the Chinese-American comedian in its stand-up series Verified Stand-Up, and has recruited her for its Netflix is a Joke Fest in May. (This is truly a full-circle moment, as Liao worked for the company’s corporate office for six years, helping recruit talent for a comedy producer.) And Liao’s increasing fanbase has also resulted in her most recent tour “The Nighttime Routine,” which is currently underway and hitting major cities across the country.

Not too shabby for a woman who once thought of her longtime passion for stand-up as an “absurd dream” that could never truly become a reality. That was until, at the age of 29, the entertainment scout had an epiphany about the direction she wanted her life to take. “I almost didn't even start,” she explains to me on a Zoom call. “I was like, it's too late for me. Am I going to have a special at age 45? And it's like, who cares? What if I have a special at 45? I'll still be doing it. It was a long weird journey, but I think I waited till I was an adult who felt confident and knew my voice as a human before I attempted to write and perform on stage. But I have not been able to stop ever since.”

Ahead, Liao talks more about her stand-up writing strategy and journey, and how putting her personal life on a stage can sometimes make navigating it a bit easier.

I know a big part of your act is obviously pulling from your experience as a single woman living in LA. Has that always been a constant source of inspiration or is it a recent development?

It came later when I got more comfortable with my writing style, I started to just pull from my life. A lot of comics have different styles like observational, storytelling, politics, current events, but I feel so confident that I'm not an expert in anything. I can't talk about anything for more than five minutes. Name a topic, like architecture, whatever. I'd be like I have maybe five sentences to offer. The only thing I'm an expert in is my own life. So once I got comfortable, I started talking about what I was really experiencing as a woman, single, straight, Asian, living in LA.

And everything I wrote felt just so truthful, so I do get it when women come up to me and they're like, ‘Oh, I hear you. I see you.’ Because they live the same experience. That tends to work for me. I'm sure I'll change it up at some point, but just talking about what I'm actually experiencing has been working for me.

You have such a lighthearted approach to the life of a single girl — but we all know it can be far from it. Does [using it for comedic material] almost make navigating it a little bit easier?

Yes, but I worried when I wrote so much about being single, that I was using comedy [to be like], ‘See? it's OK. You're not sad, you're making this comedy.’ I went to therapy a few times, after a breakup, and then I stopped. So I do still to this day worry if I'm using comedy as a crutch to just process things, which I don't advise anyone to do.

In a way, though, a lot of it does help. Sometimes I felt like I would have a not-awesome experience dating someone, and then I would turn that experience into writing and for my art and stage time and making people laugh and making a funny video. I felt like I was taking the power back. [I was like] Taylor Swift making money off these breakup songs. I get it girl. But at the same time I'm like, I should probably go to therapy. I should probably actually figure some of this out.

It’s February, so let’s talk Valentine’s Day. How do you feel about this holiday?

I'm indifferent to Valentine's Day. I always want to hang out with friends or with my person, but it's what we do that I don't care about. If we stay at home and order takeout, fine. I do not want to go to one of those trendy restaurants with a pre-fixe, especially if it's on a weeknight. I don't need to have champagne on Wednesday. It's fine. So all I want to do is be with whoever I want to be with, and if we go walk down the street and get ice cream, I don't care. I don't need a gift. For me, it's time. I just want to spend time. I don't want to go to dinner and have to wear heels.

What are you doing this year?

This year I'm traveling because my tour started, so I'm flying to New Jersey Wednesday night. That's not the most romantic plan. I do have a new boyfriend, so that's fine. We might do a cute lunch or something that day, but he's exactly the same as me. We don't need to do anything fancy, but we want to hang out. Then I'll be at LAX. Hudson News for me on Valentine's Day.

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As a comedian, is humor important for you in a significant other?

It's so important. Relationships can be so boring, just the logistics of it. When you're in a relationship, I feel like half the conversation becomes about just logistics. What time are you back from the airport? Should we go to this person's dinner party? I'm going to a baby shower. I'll get the present. It becomes so admin, administrative, so boring. So I need someone who's silly. I need someone who's funny, I need someone who's fun. I need someone who's a loud laugher. That is a non-negotiable.

What other non-negotiables do you have?

I do think text chemistry is important in a weird way, because, unfortunately, with my travel schedule, I'm not able to be with him as much as I'd like. So texting and calling and FaceTime, that's a whole different vibe. So I want to maintain the cute banter. It's fun to still flirt, so someone who just likes to be a tad romantic here and there. I mean, and honestly, they have to think I'm funny.

In pivoting from a full-time, corporate job at Netflix to essentially jumping into a whole new career, have you learned anything about yourself?

I think I've maintained this naiveness that has actually helped me over the years in starting comedy. I like to think very purely — just be funny and everything will be OK. I want to avoid any drama if possible.

I have also learned that I'm very intense [...] with my schedule and my to-do list. It’s the corporate in me. Deadlines, to-do lists, action items. What's the action item? What's the goal? And I love preparing for a meeting. What's the agenda? So that stuff I will always have with me. It's good and bad.