San Francisco comic Lydia Popovich is fresh off of Savage Henry Fest and on to even bigger things. She’s a full time performer with a full time day job, which means she knows how to hustle. I caught up with Popovich after the festival to talk about her weed-friendly comedy show, her upcoming plans, and Dolly Parton. If you want to make a fun game out of this interview, take a hit every time Dolly Parton is mentioned (and make sure you’re near a comfortable seat because spoiler alert: Dolly Parton is mentioned A LOT).
Isaac Kozell: How did Savage Henry Fest treat you?
Lydia Popovich: It was good. I had a good time.
IK: A lot of our readers will recognize you from the High Brow show that you brought to the fest. For those not familiar, can you describe the show?
LP: I like to refer to High Brow as a social experience where comedy and marijuana get together and have a hell of a time. The whole idea is to have comics reach a point where they let loose of some of the restrictions that they normally abide by so that they can be in the moment and be in their truth. Sometimes comics do their material. Sometimes comics just go with the flow. Most of the time, comics just go with the flow because I get them incredibly, incredibly high and it’s very difficult to keep a linear train of thought when you’re that stoned. The glorious part is that the audience is also usually of a similar mindset. We encourage people to medicate themselves in the common spirit of the whole situation so that it turns into this beautiful, unique experience where everyone is sharing something that is never going to happen again. We couldn’t do it without the people in those audiences and the audiences couldn’t do it without us. Never have I had two High Brow shows that were the same.
IK: Have you ever had someone on who isn’t a weed smoker, like someone who has never done it, or hasn’t done it in a long time?
LP: Yes, actually we have. I’ve had a couple of those situations. We had one situation where a comic had not smoked in five years and decided that he wanted to be a part of it. This is completely voluntary. I’m transparent with all of the comics. Sometimes people have no idea that’s what the show is. So I always tell people up front what they’re getting themselves into. I have a questionnaire that I send people so that I have an understanding of what their relationship with marijuana is so I can sort of medicate them appropriately. This gentleman hadn’t smoked in five years. We use a volcano, so it’s vapor. We don’t light up too much. He ingested two or three three foot long vapor bags and basically turned into the cutest, giggliest dude you’ve ever met in your life. His entire five minute set … three minutes of it was just him giggling uncontrollably. He kept trying to do his jokes, but he couldn’t remember them and that would make him laugh. It was delightful to watch. We were all in a safe place. It was really fun, genuine and true to what we want to be.
IK: So, whereas it might be irritating if a comic got too stoned at a regular show, this show promises it will happen and be different than anything else.
LP: Exactly. I usually sit on the side of the stage and we do crosstalk. If somebody gets stuck, or there’s too long of an open space I’ll engage with them and help them out. I’ll be like, “Hey, how you doing?” or feed them jokes. We help people out along the way so nobody gets too stuck.
IK: San Francisco is your home base now. Is that where you’re from originally?
LP: I grew up in San Jose, which is about an hour south of San Francisco.
IK: How long have you been doing stand-up?
LP: Just a little over five years.
IK: What are some comedy career highlights for you so far?
LP: Honestly, every night is a highlight for me. Comedy is something that brings so much joy and so much light into my life. I have a difficult time remembering what my life was like before I started doing comedy. I really, truly feel that I’m the most balanced that I’ve ever been. Comedy is such a tremendous outlet. I feel so blessed that I am able to go on stage, look people in the eye, and make them forget about whatever it was that was bothering them from that day. I’ve certainly done things that I thought were super cool and I have some things coming up that I’m very excited about. I got to perform at the HP Pavilion – where the San Jose Sharks play – with Paul Rodriquez last year as part of a fundraiser for the City of San Jose, which was amazing. My dressing room was the away team’s locker room. It was crazy. I was like, “There’s usually like 35 dudes in here. This is my dressing room?” Then to walk out into a huge arena full of people, friends, and family from my hometown was pretty special. I’m also going to be on the Oddball Festival on October 13th and I am over the moon about that. It’s a huge opportunity. It’s at Shoreline Amphitheater, which is where I saw Lollapalooza when I was 14. Never would I think that I would get to perform there. I’m thrilled. I’m also doing the Cabo Comedy Festival, which is just rad that somebody is going to pay for me to fly to Mexico for four days and tell jokes. Are you kidding me? Those kind of things are great. The fact that I get to travel, meet people, go to towns, and get a different perspective … comedy is amazing, man. It’s such a wonderful art and such a pure craft. I feel like some people don’t realize how much it brings into your life creatively. It’s such a powerful outlet.
IK: You have a pretty unique obsession with Dolly Parton.
LP: I am absolutely obsessed with Dolly Parton. There’s no secret there. I have a Dolly Parton tattoo. My entire bathroom is Dolly Parton. I’ve been to Tennessee three times this year. I’ve seen her in Berlin. I’ve seen every tour she’s been on for the last six years. I have a whole bit about it. I wrote a story and won $500 for this thing about Dolly Parton and why I love her so much. I could go on and on. But the bottom line is this: Dolly Parton is an American treasure. She is one of the greatest songwriters to ever walk this earth. The wealth and breadth of what she’s contributed to our country is wildly underestimated and wildly misunderstood. Most people see her as this big boobs, fake eyelashes, glitter … they see her as kitsch. They think about Jolene and 9 to 5, but they aren’t aware of the rest of who she is and what she does. I’ve taken it on as my personal mission to sort of educate the world on the amazingness that is Miss Dolly Parton. She’s a feminist icon. She’s a phenomenal businesswoman who has a net wealth of $500 million dollars. People have no idea. She has her own amusement park, three actually, in Tennessee. She’s a huge part of my life. I go to Dollywood every year for homecoming to go see Dolly Parton. They have a parade through the middle of downtown Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, which is her hometown and she’s there. I go every year, wave to Dolly Parton, ride all of the rides, and eat all the corn dogs. It’s one of the weekends that bring me pure, unconditional love and joy. I think it’s important to love what you love and love it unapologetically. Dolly Parton is one of those things.
IK: What’s your favorite Dolly Parton song?
LP: It ebbs and flows. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of darker Dolly Parton songs, kind of songs that are less traveled by. There’s a song on her album that came out last year that I’ve been obsessed with called “Banks of the Ohio.” It’s a beautiful song harmonically, but the subject matter is kind of grim. The person who is singing the song has walked into a prison cell and is talking to a man who is telling the story of how he got there. The story is that he killed his paramour because she refused to be his wife. It’s beautiful, dark, weird, and twisted. When you realize what you’re singing along to it’s like, “Holy shit! This is really dark.”
Keep up with Lydia @hatertuesday on Twitter