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Comedian Leslie Liao talks creative process, growing up in Orange County as child of immigrant parents

When Leslie Liao, one of America's fastest growing comedians, is working on her newest bit, she can usually be found at one of Los Angeles' trendiest coffee shops. It's there, at Coffee MCO specifically, that she sat down with Jamie Yuccas in this week's episode of "Java with Jamie."

While there, she uses the surrounding atmosphere, and people, in hopes that each different place provides a vibe to help with her writing. 

"I feel like ... it's like taking a workout class," Liao said. "If I'm sitting next to other people that are doing it, then I'll do it. They'll pressure me into like, at least even pretending to write."

She says that no matter who productive each visit to a coffee shop is, the harsh reality of comedic writing is that only a fraction of the jokes she comes up with will make it on stage. 

"It's a numbers game — everything. Not everything you write is going to be a banger joke. So, it's like if I have to, I have to invest eight hours, maybe half of it will be vaguely interesting. Half of that will be worth trying on stage. Half of that would be actually good."

Turns out that most of it is good, as she quickly climbs the ranks of America's most popular comedians. Liao taps into her life as a single Chinese-American woman living in Los Angeles, helping with her recent selection as one of the new Faces of Comedy for the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. 

That accolade comes just weeks after she made her television debut on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and her appearance in the Netflix comedy special "Verified."

How did you get into comedy? 

"So, I was always a standup fan. I didn't start standup until I was 29, which I think in standup years is like you're 70 ... and I almost didn't do it because I felt too old."

She did follow through however, thanks in large part to a certain feeling that took over. 

"I wanted to wait until I felt the most confident before I started it," she recalled. "Because, also, standup is a very mean job. Not everyone likes you, and I knew that was gonna be the case. Like, statistically, there will be people that loathe my comedy."

Liao took a calculated approach to beginning her comedy career, enrolling in a writing class before she started to perform around the Los Angeles comedy circuit. 

"LA is a really, it's a tough place to start. I think a lot of comics would prefer starting elsewhere, like maybe a smaller city so you get more stage time. Then graduate and come to LA. But, I like starting here, cause just like, the best comics are here. They're headlining, they have specials, they tour, and if you're lucky enough you get to hop on a show with like, Bill Bur, Whitney Cummings, and like, I've had to follow some of these people when I was only two years in."

She says surrounding herself with the right people kickstart her career to where she is today. 

You know, the whole saying of like, surround yourself with people that are smart and cool and push you, like that's LA. So, it was really, really hard, but it like, lit a fire.

So you actually are glad you stayed in Los Angeles? 

"I am glad. I'm, I tortured myself and I'm glad I did it. Yeah, it was so hard."

So far, Liao has played at iconic venues throughout the Los Angeles area, including The Comedy Store, The Laugh Factory and Hollywood Improv. 

As her fame continues to grow, she makes sure that she doesn't read or respond to all of the comments she gets, because she knows that with popularity come those that will try and drag you down. 

"Just before I even started standup, I just accepted that people wouldn't like me," Liao said. "Like, a guy doesn't want to date me. There's statistically, there's a million men who prefer not to date me. ... That's a fact. And I just knew that like, I'm not for everyone. Statistically there are a billion people who will not think I'm funny. I told myself that first before I started standup. So now when I read them, I'm like, 'Yeah, of course you don't like me.' All good."

Liao says it's not necessarily the profundity of her jokes, but rather her bona fide style that keeps bringing audiences back. 

Where do you get the inspiration for your jokes? 

"I try to keep it very, very authentic."

"I think ... if you're a comic and you want to write about what you know, I honestly don't know a lot. I'm not, I'm an expert in nothing. I'm not super political. Like, I don't feel confident talking about current events. I don't think I'm the most educated on that. Like, I can barely keep up with the latest headlines."

Instead, she focuses on the areas of her life that she does know, especially her upbringing as the only child of Chinese immigrants. 

"If I want to write about what I know, all I know is my human experience. That's it. I can't really comment on other things. "So, if I reflect on my life, I know that it's like to be a struggling single woman in LA. I know what it's like to navigate female friendships.I know what it's like to grow up with immigrant parents. I know what it's like to grow up in Orange County. Like, that's all I'm an expert on. So I really, like, focus on that."

She says that no matter how far she gets, she doesn't ever plan on changing her message. 

So, what is the dream?  

Honestly, the dream is just doing this for a living. I never really had goals, which is weird with standup. Like, someone asked me, 'Isn't your goal to like, sell out Madison Square Garden or like, have the trilogy of specials?' Of course, like that stuff would be amazing, I just, I worry that if I have those concrete goals it might change my writing style."

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