Comedian Andy Erikson exudes sparkle. She’s quirky and giggly, with a mane of dark hair and smiley eyes, but her material, which she writes herself, belies a witty, nuanced mind. Here’s a cheat sheet on her: she was a popular contestant on the TV show, Last Comic Standing, guest starred on the TV series, Scream Queens, loves unicorns and squirrels, and has captured a slew of awards and accolades, including the Andy Kaufman Award.
Erikson works hard honing her craft. Born with a heart condition called Marfan syndrome, among other physical ailments, the Minnesota-bred writer and actress performs around the country and hosts a podcast with bestie Joleen Lunzer called Deal With It, which delves into mental and physical health issues. On a recent day in LA, Erikson shared her playful presence with ABILITY’s Chet Cooper and Lia Martirosyan.
Lia Martirosyan: So, Andy Erikson, the first time I saw you was on Last Comic Standing.
Andy Erikson: Oh, that’s awesome!
Martirosyan: I was laughing out loud. “I’m a cat! Meow!”
Erikson: (laughs) That was an accident, but I’m glad it happened.
Martirosyan: It was?
Erikson: I forgot my joke! I literally forgot my joke.
I told my first two jokes and then bling! And I was like, “Oh, no!” And my only options were, if I told a joke that wasn’t pre-approved, I could get disqualified. So I had to tell a joke that was approved, and I was like, “Well, I’ll just be a cat until I remember my jokes.” So I was like, “Meow, meow, meow, meow!”
Martirosyan: Brilliantly spontaneous!
Erikson: Luckily, the editors liked me, and they made it look like it was part of my act. They could have made it awkward and been like, “Look how crazy she was!” But instead, they were just, “Look how cool she is! She’s a cat!”
Martirosyan: What was your experience like throughout the progression of the show?
Erikson: Last Comic Standing was probably the most stressed and nervous I’ve ever been in my life. I never want to do it again.
Erikson: I was so nervous about my heart, because six months before I’d been in the ER three times for chest pains, so I was really, really worried that something could happen. It wasn’t fun. It was so stressful. But then being onstage was fun, and doing well was fun, and the experience was amazing. But man, being on TV is scary! (laughs)
Chet Cooper: You could not tell.
Erikson: Oh, that’s so great!
Martirosyan: Yeah, not even one little bit. Did you find out the cause of the chest pains?
Erikson: They don’t know. They think it was just anxiety and panic attacks, and because I have Marfan syndrome, which is a heart condition, they took it very seriously. I think that scared me even more, whereas if I didn’t have a heart condition, they would have been like, “Oh, the chest pains are indigestion,” or something small, and then I would have been fine. But I think I literally thought that it caused more and more stress. But they don’t know. But the pains haven’t come back.
Cooper: Even with this interview?
Erikson: Boy, I’m so stressed right now.
Martirosyan: Can you describe some of the symptoms of Marfan syndrome?
Erikson: I love telling people the symptoms. It’s a connective tissue disorder. It can affect people differently. The main symptoms are being very tall, often very slender and kind of bony, having long fingers, a narrow face, sometimes a cleft palate, a very narrow mouth, crooked teeth, and a curved spine. But the main symptoms are heart issues with the aorta, very near-sightedness and scoliosis. Those are all the main signs.
Martirosyan: Was it detected at birth or was it something that developed?
Erikson: It’s genetic. They didn’t know I had it right away, but I was diagnosed at the age of three, because I—
Cooper: —you were six foot four.
Erikson: Yeah, I was a very long baby.
Cooper: She’s still coming!
Erikson: It took a long time to give birth.
Martirosyan: Is your physical activity affected?
Erikson: Yeah. I’m not supposed to overexert myself. I need to keep my heart rate below 120. So just taking it easy puts less pressure on the heart. It’s still good to exercise. I do low-impact cardio. I make up my own exercises and move around enough. Sometimes I put on a dinosaur costume and jump around.
Martirosyan: Definitely break a sweat in that.
Cooper: Doesn’t it cause you to be sore?
That’s great! I was like, “This sounds like a pun.”
Cooper: Lowest form of humor, but it works.
Martirosyan: I don’t think it’s the lowest form of humor. You’ve got to be quick about it.
Erikson: Yeah. It’s tricking people into thinking it’s a good joke and not a bad joke, that’s my stand-up. Tricking people into thinking it’s brilliant instead of stupid.
Martirosyan: So they filter which jokes you’re allowed to use in front of the judges?
Erikson: Yes. A lot of people don’t know that.
Martirosyan: We have the exclusive behind the scenes happenings.
Erikson: You have to submit all your material and they have to approve it. You can’t mention Taco Bell or Walmart. There are certain words you can’t say. Legally, you can’t mention someone unless they sign off that you can tell a joke about them. I had a joke about my grandmother, and they were like, “We’re gonna need her to sign off,” and I was like, “She passed away!” They were like, “Are you sure?”
I was like, “Yes!”
Martirosyan: When did your love of cats come about?
Erikson: Definitely when I was a kid. I would do photo shoots with my stuffed animals.
Cooper: Did they sign a release form?
Erikson: (laughs) Yeah, I had to get the release! I’ve always loved animals. Growing up, I spent a lot of time at the hospital and in doctors’ offices. I’d see a stuffed animal and hug it. I feel so happy. I have a Pikachu I bring with me in my bag and also a stuffed animal in my purse. When I open up my purse it’s just there, and it makes me happy. Stuffed animals are my emotional support.
Martirosyan: They’re easier to take on a plane.
Erikson: It’s true. I have a giant stuffed dog that would require a seat. I have thought about bringing him on, just paying for a seat and make a video. (laughs) I love stuffed animals and unicorns. I like things that make me happy. I try not to worry about what people might think, “Oh, that’s childlike,” but being childlike is good.
Martirosyan: Whatever helps! Let’s talk about the podcast you and your friend are producing.
Erikson: Yes! Essentially there’s two of us doing the podcast, me and Joleen. I’m the body of the podcast. I deal mostly with physical illnesses. And my friend Joleen Lunzer, has a few mental health conditions. She was misdiagnosed bipolar for eight years, so she recently found out she’s not bipolar…
Cooper: She’s polarbi.
Erikson: She’s a polar bear. She does love bears. That’s her favorite animal. She has depression, anxiety, OCD, and addiction. We talk about breaking stigmas. It’s like reading ABILITY Magazine. “Oh, my gosh, this is what we do, or what we hope to do,” in podcast form. It’s so cool. I think there are a lot of similarities. Wanting to talk about your experiences, not be ashamed, and inspire people to talk about what they’re going through and share stories. We’ve heard so many interesting and amazing stories. I’m getting tingly thinking about it, ‘cause the people you meet and what they deal with and how awesome they are. I’ve made a lot of friends.
Martirosyan: Good! What is your process?
Erikson: We have them come to my friend’s apartment in West Hollywood. My husband produces podcasts, he’s been doing that for four years, so he’s got state-of-the-art equipment, you know, like an iPhone.
Cooper: That’s why you married him!
Erikson: (laughs) Yes! So funny that this came up. My husband—at the time a stranger, a boyfriend guy, didn’t know him—saw me do a show, asked me to be on his podcast after the show, and I was like, “Okay, great!” We went and recorded a podcast and then hung out a couple times—
Cooper: It was in his van.
Erikson: No, way worse! It was in his basement, and then a couple of weeks later I find out he didn’t have a podcast. He’d made it up!
Erikson: Just to get me to come on his podcast! Isn’t that romantic?
Martirosyan: She says hesitantly.
Cooper: “Two weeks later, when he let me out of the basement—”
Erikson: I was the first episode. And now he’s been doing a podcast for four years. He’s a podcast guy. He sets up all the sound, and he edits them. We’ve been doing it weekly now for about two months. I love it so much. Editing can be a lot of work. I’m sure this, too, is a lot of work, but I look forward to listening to the interviews and writing up the summaries and sharing it. Oh, it makes me so happy!
Martirosyan: Wonderful. When do you publish?
Erikson: Every Wednesday. Today was my husband’s episode. He’d never seen a therapist ever. He’d always kind of wanted to, but he was afraid, so we were like, “You know what? You’re gonna go.”
Cooper: What type of therapist?
Erikson: Just a psychiatrist, I guess.
Cooper: There are psychologists and psychiatrists.
Erikson: It was a psychologist, thank you.
Cooper: The psychiatrist is the medical doctor—
Erikson: —who can prescribe things. So he went to see a psychologist for the first time. He went for four weeks, and now we had a follow-up where we asked him, “What were your fears or misconceptions? What did you learn?” It was really, really great, because family members and friends were looking at him like, “Why? What’s wrong with you? Why are you doing this?” And he was like, “There doesn’t need to be anything specifically wrong. Everyone can benefit from talking. It’s like going to the gym or the doctor.”
Martirosyan: When you are interviewing, is there something you hear over and over again, and think, “Why does this keep happening?”
Erikson: Yeah, my friend who has Marfan’s and who is blind has had people come up to her and say that she’s taking her time to get off the bus because she likes to wait, and someone else was like, “Don’t expect someone to help you.”
Erikson: She was just like, “Okay.”