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.”
Cooper: That was her mother.
Erikson: It’s surprising how rude people can be.
Martirosyan: Straight mean.
Erikson: People will ask rude questions or try to act in certain ways. People feel ignored. That’s how I feel sometimes. You can tell someone you’re in pain, and they don’t know how to react. It’s been so eye-opening, too. We had one person who uses a wheelchair, and she has to deal with devotees, people messaging her who have a fetish.
Martirosyan: I’ve heard of those fetishes, but didn’t know they were called devotees.
Erikson: Yeah. It’s a technical term for anyone who has a fetish for something or is a huge fan of something. She was hit by a train, and she’s an amputee, and I think it’s an amputee thing. She said people on Instagram message her.
Cooper: Wow, on social media?
Erikson: Yup. And I had people message me too, although only pictures of my hands and feet, people who like hands and feet.
Martirosyan: Where did you grow up?
Erikson: Minnesota, in a small town called Ham Lake, about a half hour north of Minneapolis.
Martirosyan: When did you come out to LA?
Erikson: Three and a half years ago.
Martirosyan: It was the podcast in the basement that brought you here?
Erikson: Yup, my husband. He wanted to go. We both wanted to go and first do acting. We moved here—
Cooper: Wait, you met him—
Erikson: —in Minnesota. I’ve known him since 2009.
Martirosyan: Do you have kids? I saw a picture of you and your husband with some children.
Erikson: Probably our wedding photo. That was my niece and nephew, other people’s kids, which is the best way, I think, to borrow kids.
Martirosyan: Do you want to have kids?
Erikson: Oh, that would be so fun. We want to have kids. I think we’re gonna adopt.
Martirosyan: There are plenty of children needing homes.
Erikson: And it’s like, you can love ‘em no matter what, might as well pick one out.
Martirosyan: What are you trying to do? What are your goals?
Erikson: I want to be able to sustain myself by helping people.
Martirosyan: How do you see that happening?
Erikson: My main goal when starting stand-up comedy was that I wanted to make friends with as many people as possible and be in people’s lives and find interesting people to hang out with. Through comedy, I started talking more about my health conditions onstage. After being on Last Comic Standing, people from the Marfan Foundation reached out to me. They were so excited there was someone doing jokes on TV who has Marfan syndrome. They were so excited to have a role model for their daughter or son. There’s really no one with Marfan syndrome in the public sphere at all.
I never wanted to be famous. I never wanted anyone to know who I was. But by doing stand-up comedy, you’re helping people. You’re helping them laugh. I originally wanted to be a writer, but they were like, “If you want to be a writer, you have to do stand-up first, and you’ll get known that way.” I love being a role model. I’ve met kids who are now taking theater in school, who are trying stand-up, and they’re excited about being an adult. Whereas before, they were like, “We can’t play basketball. We can’t do sports.” And all the people who had Marfan’s who did sports died. Like the famous volleyball players, basketball players, they’ve died on the court without knowing they had the condition. So they can’t really do sports.
Erikson: There’s a musician named Austin Carlyle who has Marfan syndrome. He’s so awesome.
He was in a band, Of Mice and Men. He had to quit because of health complications, he’s very popular. He has a million Instagram followers. It’s so cool. We just did the Marfan Foundation conference, and we were both there. It was cool seeing the kids come up to him and be so excited to meet him, because he’s a rock star.
Cooper: What does he play?
Erikson: Guitar and singing. It’s been really cool to help people. If I can make money doing that, enough to get by and stand-up has been a great route for that. You get to do whatever you want to do. I get to craft my shows. I’ve been doing colleges, and at every college I do, I talk about Marfan syndrome. I have that kind of focus. It’s great, because with the podcast, we get to talk about everything.
Why don’t I interview you guys? Do you want to be on our podcast?
Martirosyan: That would be fun.
Erikson: I know, we’ll bring stuffed animals and cats.
Martirosyan: I’m in! So when did you start stand-up?
Erikson: In 2007, about 10 years ago.
Martirosyan: Just randomly you thought, “Let me try this”? How did it happen?
Erikson: My friends made me do it. They were like, “You’re so funny! You have to do it!” So I wrote a ton of jokes, probably, like 3,000 jokes. I spent two years writing jokes. Eventually I worked up the courage and did my first set. It was so fun. I was all over the place, weird, and people were like, “Who is this girl? What’s her deal?” I kept coming back, and I started doing stand-up 10 or 12 shows a week for years and just kept getting better and better. It was so nerve-wracking, but when you’re onstage it’s so fun, it makes it all worth it.
Cooper: You have to memorize all these things.
Erikson: Oh, my gosh, the memorization was the hardest part for me. And I would bring notes, and they were always telling me, “You can’t have notes,” but I was like, “You know what? I’m a headliner now. I bring my notes onstage.” And no one cares. I have a little note thing next to me.
Martirosyan: I’ve seen people bring notes and put ‘em on the stool.
Cooper: We’re in the audience with big cards.
Erikson: I would love that!
If they had had that on Last Comic Standing, I wouldn’t have forgotten my joke.
Martirosyan: Or just write them all over your hands and arms.
Erikson: I used to do that, too! I’ve forgotten my jokes so many times.
Martirosyan: All those shows were in Minnesota?
Erikson: Yeah, Minnesota, where I started and did tons of shows. Doing gigs. I did a comedy show in my apartment. Just everything. I feel in love with it.
Martirosyan: Do you want to be in a series or is it all stand-up for you?
Erikson: I acted in the TV series Scream Queens. I was an actress. I did five episodes, and my character had Marfan syndrome in the show. That’s why they cast me.
Cooper: Oh, so that’s a coincidence.
Martirosyan: There’s a lot of fans of that show.
Erikson: It was really fun, really cool. It’s sort of a comedy-horror film, kind of like Mean Girls. I did like acting. It was nice because you can do a few takes, which I like. I audition for shows now all the time, like the weird girl, which is awesome. That’s what I want to do too. I want to be the quirky neighbor, acting and writing. (laughs)
Martirosyan: Who’s your agent?
Erikson: Ali Farris Entertainment. They’re a small agency. It’s just Mohammad Ali and Fred Farris.
Martirosyan: Just you three?
Erikson: Yes, it’s just us! I’m trying to get a writing job. I’ve written books and screenplays, and I have eBooks. I write unicorn reviews, which I made that into an eBook.
I do everything. I love writing.
Martirosyan: What is a unicorn review?
Erikson: I ask my friends to send me unicorn art. I pay them each 20 bucks, and I review the image. I talk about its flowing hair and its tender—
Cooper: Are they all positive?
Erikson: 100 percent positive. Every unicorn gets 10 stars. No surprises. And then I’ll add in little social commentary.
Martirosyan: You pay them $20 to give you a unicorn? They should be paying you to review!
Erikson: Thank you, guys. I love the feedback.
Martirosyan: This is not sustainable.
Erikson: It’s not. I put in, like, $500 so far paying for unicorns. (laughs)
Cooper: I could get you a unicorn for $15.50.
Martirosyan: You should open up a unicorn account.
Erikson: I should. You’re like, “Poor girl! She’s paying to work! That’s not how you’re supposed to do it!”
All right. All right. You’re my new manager.
Cooper: Looking at your career so far, what would be one thing you’d change?
Erikson: I think I would have maybe moved to New York earlier. I waited a long time to move to LA, like, seven years. But you know what? That’s tricky too, because it is good to develop your craft in your own city. I would have brought my grandma to more shows. She was so fun.
Cooper: The one who passed away?
Erikson: Yeah. When I first started, she and my mom came to a bunch of my shows, and I wasn’t old enough to drink, so they would drink my drinks. And my dad, too. He passed away, too. I would have encouraged my family to come to more of my shows. But I would get nervous, and I wouldn’t necessarily encourage it.
Cooper: Looking back, what would you have done more of?
Erikson: I genuinely wish that I’d started talking about my health condition earlier on. I was worried it would define me. I was worried people wouldn’t be interested in hearing about it. I was worried about what people would think. I didn’t talk about my heart condition until after Last Comic Standing. To think of all the different people I could have met who had health conditions. I was so self-conscious. What I’m grateful for is comedy made me a confident person. It made me like who I am as a person. I developed a cool skill. I worked hard at it. I proved myself. I had a goal, worked towards it, and saw results. It was my own goal. School was different. I had to do school. This is my own thing, and I did it. I figured out who I am more as a person through stand-up. So I’m really grateful that I put 10 years of my life into it.
Martirosyan: You did it well. You’re doing it well.
Erikson: I’m so glad that I’m funny. What if I wasn’t?
Cooper: There is nothing funny about a comedian that is not funny?!
Erikson: (laughs) It’s hard. A lot of work. You spend a lot of time by yourself, in bars and on the road. I’m trying to bring openers.
Martirosyan: These are paid gigs?
Erikson: Paid gigs, yeah. Which is great. I’m so glad I do. They’re awesome. They pay really well. You do one show a night and you get to hang out with all these college kids, who are just the coolest people.
Martirosyan: Kegs! Toga!
Erikson: I’m not allowed to drink or talk about alcohol during the show, but I did a show in Alaska, and it was in a bar, and they gave me eight drink tickets.
Do you do comedy?
Cooper: She’s thought of doing a one-woman show.
Erikson: Oh, that’s amazing!
Martirosyan: I did stand-up once. I bombed but had a blast. I love being onstage, I’m cool with that, but you have to dedicate yourself and write jokes.
Erikson: It’s a second full-time job.
Martirosyan: I love comedy.
Erikson: It’s a great field to be in. You get to make people laugh. (laughs)
Cooper: You’re not gonna ask me if I do stand-up?
Erikson: Oh! (pause) So anyway—
I’m sure you both do.
Cooper: Can you share two jokes you did in stand-up, one that went well and one that bombed?
Erikson: OK. One of the first jokes I ever told was when I was younger. I grew up in a theme park. The theme of the park was trailer. And it’s still in my act today. A joke that bombs a lot is a joke that—
Cooper: You keep doing it?
Erikson: (laughs) I keep doing it!
Cooper: I love that.
Erikson: It’s where I pretend to be a sheep and a shepherd. I act out where the sheep’s like, “Stop pushing me around!” and the shepherd’s like, “What?” and the sheep’s like, “Stop pushing me around!” and the shepherd’s like, “What?” and the sheep’s like, “You herd me!” And I drag it on for sometimes five or 10 minutes, going back and forth, and at the end people are, like, booing. They’re like, “Oh, no!” and I’m like, “Should I ever tell it again?” and they’re like, “No!” and I’m like, “Screw you! I’m doing it again!” And I start from the beginning, and I do it again. I did it on Last Comic Standing, and they were like, “That joke is awful!” But it’s so fun.