Esther Povitsky doesn’t shy away from discomfort. In her work, the actress and comedian has always leaned into the uneasy, awkward, or otherwise embarrassing anecdotes with a whimsical yet brutally honest perspective, disarming people while simultaneously leading them down a delightfully hilarious path. (Take her first hour-long comedy special titled Hot for My Name, released in 2020, for example, or her podcast “Trash Tuesday,” if you need examples.) Now, she stars as Izzy on Hulu’s Dollface, opposite Brenda Song, Kat Dennings, and Shay Mitchell.
Calling from North Carolina, where the performer is currently on tour, she opened up to W about her frank approach to turning trauma into comedy, watching Euphoria, and not being afraid to fail. Read more in her Culture Diet interview, here.
You got your start in stand-up comedy, but in recent years, you’ve gone from guest star to series regular on shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Alone Together, and now Dollface. Was acting on television always the goal?
When I first moved to L.A., I thought I would either be a movie star after a year or I would move home and work at the Walgreens I could walk to from my parents’ house. But I had to rationalize dropping out of college. I was so clueless about anything in life, and that was just how I felt. Now, I would say the goal is to keep working in comedy—it doesn’t matter what, as long as I’m doing things that I think are funny.
Dropping out of college to move to L.A. from Illinois to pursue a Hollywood career is a big step. Were you interested in performance as a child, or did that come later?
I was always a little confused and scared. My mom is originally from Minnesota and pursuing a creative career wasn’t very normal to her, so I think while I knew I wanted to, I also had her voice in my head of like, “You need to be more realistic,” and even my dad, too. I thought I was going to be a dancer for a long time because I loved dancing, but I always felt so lost and confused and lonely. I realized, I’m just gonna do the thing that I wanted because nothing else was working. My goal was always to try. I was like, I don’t care if I make it or if I fail. For so long, so many people told me I couldn’t—okay, fair. But at least let me try.
Now that you’re balancing stand-up with television, what are you enjoying most about your career?
I really want to do another stand-up special. I’m getting a lot of joy out of trying out the new material and refining it—picking subjects that I feel passionate talking about on stage. I’m looking at writing my stand-up now the way I’ve learned to look at writing for television, where the story and content come first and then we’ll make it funny later. My creative process has shifted, where, five or 10 years ago, I was like, What’s a funny joke? And now I’m like, What do I wanna say on stage that’s gonna get me feeling passionate and excited? I’m just having fun taking an edible at night and getting in that creative space.
I don’t know that taking an edible at night would make me more productive.
It can totally go either way. Don’t get me wrong—I sometimes have nothing to offer when I do it, or you know, you go on stage and you tell a joke and you bomb. The process is full of failure.
There’s always been an honesty and a frankness in your comedy about sex, relationships, etc. What are some of the themes and concepts you’re trying include in this newer phase of your comedy career?
Last year, I had a miscarriage and I have a whole chunk of stand-up now about it. The best decision I’ve made is talking openly about my miscarriage, but it’s not without challenges. I was recently told by someone in the business that that subject matter was not appropriate. It really threw me off—it is interesting to see that when you wanna do things like that, people are not always ready. But I’m not gonna stop. I’m so abundantly proud of myself for turning my trauma into comedy. That’s what I’m here to do. And I’m gonna keep doing it.
Your Dollface character, Izzy, started out as a wannabe friend of the show’s main trio, and now she’s fully inside their friend group. Season two picks up after the pandemic, and Izzy, like everyone in real life and on the show, has gone through a lot of changes; the biggest one is probably finally getting a boyfriend who genuinely seems to care about her. How have you been able to further develop the character for this season? Is there any bit of you in there?
Jordan Weiss, the creator of the show, was always so open to collaboration. She and I will text in between seasons and she’ll shoot me ideas and ask me for feedback. I relate to Izzy’s insecurities, her anxiety. I didn’t even know what anxiety was three years ago. I somehow just thought it was normal to be anxious all the time, but it’s been enlightening because I learned I had a really bad anxiety problem about two years ago, and I started taking medication for it and I’m so much better now. It’s been really cathartic to play this character whose anxiety is ruining her life, and then to see her realize that she’s more than her anxiety and she can have what she wants. That felt very true to my life experience.
Let’s get into some of the Culture Diet questions. What’s the first thing you read in the morning?
Texts from my friends in earlier time zones than me.
How do you get your news?
I am constantly asking everyone around me what the hell is going on.
What books are on your bedside table?
How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson, my MadHappy mental health journal, and my stand-up notebook.
What are your favorite social media accounts to follow?
I love @itsmetinx, @rumineely, @lizheit , @marta, @porkchop.biz, and @julieschott.
What’s the last thing you Googled on your phone?
“Best bbq Raleigh, North Carolina” (I’m currently touring).
What TV shows have been keeping you up all night?
Succession and Euphoria.
What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?
Spider-Man: No Way Home.
What podcasts have you been into lately?
How I Built This, The Happiness Lab, 60 Minutes as a podcast, and Eyewitness Beauty.
What’s the last song you had on repeat?
“It Never Rains in Southern California” by Albert Hammond.
What’s the last concert you went to?
Lady Gaga Jazz & Piano. I like to only go to concerts in Las Vegas because I can go to sleep in the same building where the concert venue was. Definitely making plans to see Katy Perry there soon.
Last piece of art you bought or ogled?
I like to spend my money on art I can wear, so for me that would be a super special tie-dye hoodie or a unique pair of jeans covered in patches or gems.
Are you into astrology at all?
I don’t know much, but I’m a Pisces and everyone says that adds up for me. I don’t know if I agree because it’s a water sign, and I can’t swim.
What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?
Put on a classic movie, or play something relaxing off the YouTube channel Nemo’s Dreamscapes.