ED2023 Caro Meets ED2023 Comedy ED2023 Interviews

Liz Guterbock: Geriatric Millennial

By | Published on Monday 10 July 2023

I’m generally interested in pretty much any comedy show, but there are – of course – those that call out to me for a special reason. Like, when it’s a set that tackles topics and themes that interest me.

In this case, the topic is ageing and identity, and how people feel under pressure to remain young in order to feel relevant. 

The show is ‘Geriatric Millennial’, and it’s the debut hour from California-born comedian Liz Guterbock, and I’m expecting good things from it.

To find out more about Liz and the show, I put some questions to her ahead of the Edinburgh Fringe run. 

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about the content of your edfringe debut hour? What’s ‘Geriatric Millennial’ all about?
LG: Thanks so much for asking! Oh, sorry, I’ll try to contain my American enthusiasm while I tell you about the show.

‘Geriatric Millennial’ is all about identity, ageing, and finding a sense of belonging in a rapidly changing world – and body.

Ultimately, it’s a show for anyone who is cool with women getting older, silly voices, reality TV and sincerity – but not too much for a British audience!

CM: What made you want to do a show focusing on these themes? What made you think it would work?
LG: At 41, I started noticing the terrible stuff I was saying to myself about my looks and my age. I also had a growing sense that, as someone who isn’t going to have kids, I don’t know what my place in society will be when I’m older.

Erica Dhawan coined the term ‘Geriatric Millennial’ in an article for Medium, and the internet got really up in arms about it.

Millennials are used to hearing jokes about us eating too much avocado toast and still living with our parents. We roll with those. But throw in the word ‘geriatric’, and apparently we take huge offence!

Why are we so afraid of being considered old? I thought these themes would work in a show because I know I’m not the only woman who feels the pressure to look young and stay relevant, and I’m not the only woman who isn’t going to have kids.

And I’m banking on the fact that if Millennials are entitled narcissists like everyone says, they’re going to want to see a show about themselves.

CM: As a woman who is older than you are, these themes feel kind of, well, political, given the way that women are pushed out of public life / disregarded as they age. Do you agree? 
LG: I completely agree. When I started stand-up, I always felt it was political just being a woman on stage, occupying space in a largely male-led industry.

And working with the ‘Geriatric Millennial’ theme got me thinking about what it means to specifically be a woman who is getting older, and how hard it is to maintain a sense of value.

Women past the age of 40 are overlooked or, as you said, pushed out and disregarded. Society wants us to stay youthful forever, but that’s just not possible or realistic. So where do we fit?

Whatever happened to the wizened old woman? Why do women seem to become invisible past the age of 40? Women over 50 control 47% of the UK’s wealth, but only appear in 12% of advertising.

Age discrimination is a huge problem, especially for women, and especially for women of colour who are likely to enter old age in poorer health and at greater risk of vulnerability due to life-long differential treatments.

Do we have a value beyond our looks and our ability to procreate? Looking around, a lot of society seems to say “No”.

CM: How would you describe your stand-up style?
LG: I’d say I’m a wry storyteller with a little bit of California sunshine thrown in.

CM: Who would you say has influenced you when it comes to performing?
LG: Probably my biggest influences are Suzy Izzard and Maria Bamford.

I remember watching ‘Dress To Kill’ and thinking Suzy’s act outs, especially the Darth Vader bit, was one of the best bits of comedy I’d ever seen. She blends a love of movies, history and absurdity together so beautifully, and is, in my view, a virtuoso.

I love Maria Bamford for the way she uses her voice to create characters in her shows. She’s surreal and truthful at the same time, and her show ‘Lady Dynamite’ is a piece of comedy art – it also happens to star another comedy hero of mine, Ana Gasteyer.

CM: Have you performed in Edinburgh before? What are your hopes / expectations for your time at the Fringe?
LG: Yes, in split-bill comedy shows and one work-in-progress show! But this year is the big one. My first hour. Edinburgh has been such an important training ground for me, and I’m so excited about officially launching this year.

My hopes for the Fringe are that I’ll find the joy in performing to new audiences every day; that I’ll get to see some mind-blowing things which remind me of the magic of theatre – last year that was ‘Never Let Go’ by Michael Kinnan, a one man version of the film ‘Titanic’; and that I’ll leave the Fringe as a better comedian.

CM: What will you be doing when not performing?
LG: Let’s be honest here. A lot of the time, I’ll be resting, eating too much pasta and watching Pixar movies to soothe my little soul after shows. But, of course, I’ll be out trying to take in the wonders of the Festival, too. Oh, and I’ll eat at Hula, so I make sure to have at least one vegetable during the month.

CM: Do you have acts you want to see?
LG: Oh yes. I heard Mike Birbiglia is going to be at the Fringe. He’s one of the best storytellers around, so I’d love to see him. I want to see Crizard’s latest outing, ‘This Means War’. They’re very silly comedy boys and make me giggle a lot, so I can’t wait to see it. I also really want to see Mary O’Connell’s show ‘Money Princess’. She’s a comedy queen.

CM: Any touristy plans on the agenda?
LG: This year for something a little different I’d like to go on a ghost tour around Edinburgh. That way I know who all the ghosts are, so I can say hi if I bump into them. It’s only polite. And I’d also like to go to the Royal Botanic Gardens. I’ve walked past it, but this is the year I finally go in!

CM: Can we go back a bit now and talk about how you got into comedy? What made you decide to pursue it as a career?
LG: To be honest, it came about as a bit of a dare!

I was working lots of temp jobs, everything from catering to admin work, while trying to make a career as an actor. It wasn’t going well.

I’d trawl over advice columns and go to free Q&As with industry people who kept suggesting that one way to make headway was to write and produce my own stuff. But how was I going to do that with no budget?

To my horror, I realised that stand-up comedy meant you could write something and get it on a stage that same night. But I couldn’t be a stand-up! Could I?

My dad’s voice rang through my head. He once asked me what kind of actor I’d want to be. I said I’d love to be a comedy actor and he said, “Well that’s fine, Lizzie… but you’re not funny”.

I hate to admit it… but I think I partially started to prove him wrong.

CM: What were you doing before pursuing comedy?
LG: I moved here from the US to do a one-year drama course and make use of my dual US/UK citizenship – my mom and grandmother are British.

After my course, I worked in schools in Tottenham and Enfield doing performing arts workshops for children with learning difficulties and EAL needs with an organisation called Artis.

I’ve watched children go from non-verbal to verbal because of the kinaesthetic, arts-based learning encouraged by the Artis. The arts are truly magical. It’s a shame so much funding is being taken from them.

CM: What have been the highlights of your working life so far?
LG: One of the biggest was getting a role in Armando Iannucci’s ‘Avenue 5’.

It was surreal being directed by such a legendary creator, getting to see Hugh Laurie in his element, and getting to do scenes with Zach Woods, one of the best comedy improvisers in the world.

Another highlight was winning a teeny trophy at Comedy Virgins when I first started stand-up. The exhilaration!

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
LG: At the moment, my main aim is to make it to the other side of Edinburgh, and enjoy the process.

And, simple as it sounds, my main ambition is to become the best comedian I possibly can. To me that means collaborating with great people and learning from them.

I’d also love to create a TV show that speaks to women who have not been able to have or have chosen not to have children.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
LG: Hopefully a little rest after Edinburgh, and then back to stand up!

I’m also a co-creator of ‘The AI Improv Show’ with my friend and fellow improviser Victoria Beardwood. We all know AI is coming for our jobs, so Victoria and I want to test, in real time, if ChatGPT is funnier and more clever than real, live comedians.

We’re still in development, but we had a great reception to our first show in June at The Free Association, and our ambitions are to hopefully take it to Edinburgh 2024 and then on tour around the UK.

Unless the robots beat us to it.

Liz Guterbock performed ‘Geriatric Millennial’ at Pleasance Courtyard at Edinburgh Festival 2023.

LINKS: lizguterbock.com | twitter.com/LizGuterbock 

Photo: Karla Gowlett