With a new album and as the scheduled comedy headliner at two summer festivals, one could say that things are going well for stand-up comedian Amy Miller.
“I went to an open mic and tried it out. I didn’t expect to hear back. And here I am, 11 years later,” explains Miller, in reference to her initial exploration of comedy.
Miller is now a full-timer in the field, a professional at coming up with laugh-out-loud-worthy bits. She appeared on the ninth and final season of the NBC reality show “Last Comic Standing” in 2015 and was one of Comedy Central’s “Up Next” comics in 2018.
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A West Coaster, Miller has spent time in Portland, Oregon, and now calls Los Angeles home, but she originally hails from the East Bay, where she lived in El Sobrante, Richmond and, mostly, Oakland. She’s a veteran performer in Bay Area venues such as Punch Line and Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco and Alameda Comedy Club.
In March 2022, she released her half-hour special “Ham Mouth” on the Comedy Central YouTube channel; a month later, her second album, “California King,” was released.
Says Miller of the album, “Obviously, the name is based on a joke, but I also wanted a very kind of California-y, Palm Springs-y vibe. I got one of my favorite photographers, Kim Newmoney, to shoot the cover, and we just had so much fun with it. I’m really proud of the material, and I love the way it looks.”
Petaluma’s own Blonde Medicine
Her debut album, “Solid Gold,” was released in 2016 on Kill Rock Stars. For album No. 2, she was glad to join forces with Petaluma-based Blonde Medicine. Founded in 2018 by CEO Dominic Del Bene, the label primarily puts out stand-up comedy albums, like San Francisco comic Dhaya Lakshminarayanan’s “Dhayatribe,” Berkeley-born comic Chris Riggins’ “My Fifth 1st Album” and LA-by-way-of-SF comic Irene Tu’s “We’re Done Now.” Jessica Mozes works at the label as the executive producer.
Miller shares, “It was a super fun recording, and I’m excited to work with Blonde Medicine. I’ve been friends with [Del Bene and Mozes] for years. We signed this contract almost three years ago, so it was nice to finally be able to do it. And they’re just awesome. It’s a very artist-friendly label, and they’re great people.”
“California King” was recorded at Punch Line San Francisco. Consisting of 14 “tracks,” Miller describes the album as including a range of material, some old, some newer.
Miller quips, “It’s s— that makes me laugh.”
The album features tales about Miller’s life — her experiences and observations. Topic-wise, she stays clear of the current pandemic, though.
As she notes, “I figure that’s not something people want to hear about [right now]. They already know all about it.”
One of the stories “California King” listeners will hear about is Miller’s experience working as an assistant teacher in one of Oakland’s public elementary schools. In “Oakland Public School District,” she details flirting with the substitute head teacher, students’ rowdy behavior post-lunch and the absurdity of the so-called “special ed” classes.
In an interview, she shares, “That was a wild time. I loved it; I loved working with the kids. But it was a very different time, especially in public schools, [in terms of] the services that were offered for kids that really needed it. The way that schools nurture anyone with special needs is very different now — thankfully, it’s progressed a lot. But at that time, it was all true.”
Why comedy streaming has dried up
As the production of “California King” was delayed somewhat due to COVID-19, the album’s April release was certainly reason to celebrate. But she points out the comedians-versus-streaming platforms feud that coincided with it: Many stand-up comedy albums, like Miller’s, have been removed from Spotify and the like because of royalty disputes.
Says Miller, “In some ways, it was a very inconvenient time to release a comedy album. … It’s literally not streaming anywhere. And a lot of people aren’t aware about all of our stuff getting pulled off of Spotify and Pandora. But Blonde Medicine has been really instrumental in not only fighting it but [also] keeping everyone informed.”
While revenues from streaming services are nonexistent right now, fans can support working comedians like Miller by going to their stand-up shows and buying their albums.
She comments, “If you’re wondering why it’s been hard to find comedy to stream, they really only took all the indie labels down. And it’s been just a huge upset for working comedians because the albums that are left are people who are already very famous and very rich. So pay for comedy albums, or buy tickets to [the] shows. Or buy the album at the show, and then you’re paying us directly.”
There are plenty of opportunities to come out and literally pay tribute to Miller and her comedy chops this summer, as she has four gigs on the books: She’s opening for Tom Segura at Denver’s Ball Arena on July 23 and will be the headlining comedian at the Maha Festival in Omaha, Nebraska, on July 29, at Pickathon Comedy in Portland on Aug. 5 and at the Comedy Fort in Ft. Collins, Colorado, on Aug. 26 and 27.
And while she doesn’t currently have any Bay Area shows scheduled, she anticipates that changing.
Miller says, “It’s definitely where I perform probably the most often outside of LA, so I’m sure any day now I’ll have something coming up. I do like to go up there. … I love to work at Punch Line and at the Alameda Comedy Club, and I’m there all the time. My whole family is still in the Bay, so I’m just there a lot.”
Star treatment at SF Sketchfest
There’s also the still-a-ways-off-but-nevertheless-planned SF Sketchfest 2023. The festival’s 20th anniversary has been delayed for the past two years, with the 2021 and 2022 Sketchfests no-goes because of the pandemic.
Of the San Francisco comedy festival in general, she shares, “Sketchfest is super fun and really special to me because, starting as a local comic, it’s kind of meaningful when you sort of rise up through the ranks. The first few years as a comedian in the Bay Area, you’re like, ‘I’ll do anything. You don’t even have to pay me.’”
Sketchfest has been rescheduled for Jan. 20 through Feb. 5 of next year, and Miller plans to be there.
“For the rescheduled year , it was going to be the first year I was going to headline and get paid and have a hotel and be treated like an out-of-town comic, and so I’m really excited and we’re still going to do it. It will just be in 2023, but yeah, I’m definitely already booked on it.”