Comedian, actress, altruist

Aisha Tyler takes her stand-up act to the DC Improv Comedy Club

April 09, 2009|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,

Actress and comedian Aisha Tyler has set several records - some serious and others silly - in her budding career.

First, the notable: Tyler was the first black female host of the celebrity-gossip TV show Talk Soup and played the first recurring black female character on the smash-hit sitcom Friends.

Now, the wacky: Tyler, an avid gamer, was both the first female and the first black American to earn a spot on the exclusive seven-member Halo Council, a group of video game fanatics. And she jokingly contends that for years, she was the only black female snowboarder in the history of the sport.

"I'm quite confident I was the only African-American female snowboarder in the world," she said. "I'm sure I've been surpassed by now."

At the moment, Tyler is taking time off from acting - and snowboarding - to focus on her stand-up act. She performs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the DC Improv Comedy Club in Washington in support of her new DVD, Aisha Tyler: Is Lit: Live at the Fillmore.

At 38, Tyler is a true renaissance woman. She has written for magazines such as Glamour and Jane and, in 2004, published a book titled Swerve : A Guide to the Sweet Life for Postmodern Girls.

A San Francisco native, Tyler was 10 when her parents split up. She was raised by her father and went to Dartmouth College. After a short stint at a California advertising firm, she decided to pursue stand-up comedy.

Her comedy tour stretches through early August and takes her across the country, up to Canada and back down to the U.S.

"It's a grueling, rigorous way to make a living," Tyler said. "You're never in your own bed. You're never eating food that isn't shaped like a wing or a patty. ... It's like matter and antimatter in my intestines," she said.

Ever heard of antimatter? On science fiction TV shows and in movies such as Star Trek, it's the fictional fuel of warp drive engines. Tyler said she read a good deal of science fiction growing up. Now, she thinks video games are incredibly innovative and look to the future the same way classic science fiction novels did in the 1950s and 1960s.

"Great science fiction is predictive," she said. "I remember books from when I was a kid that predicted things that have happened or are happening now. Some of the great games envelop you in an environment, and you go, 'Wow, this could happen.' There's something very cool about that."

In addition to her work on TV, Tyler has appeared in several films, including Bedtime Stories and Balls of Fury. Her next starring role is in the movie Black Water Transit, directed by Tony Kaye (American History X). Slated for release this year, Black Water Transit is an action flick about a weapons deal gone bad. It also stars Laurence Fishburne and Brittany Snow.

"It was a really compelling script," Tyler said. "I thought I could do something interesting with that role. I feel like there were moments where extraordinary things happened."

After carving out a career in entertainment, Tyler sees herself focusing more on philanthropy in the coming years. About three years ago, she posed nude in Allure magazine to raise money for skin-cancer awareness. And she has appeared on Celebrity Jeopardy and played in the World Poker Tour to raise money for charity.

"I didn't grow up with very much," she said. "I guess I was lucky and unlucky in that I was raised with an intense sense of obligation. ... I'm constantly aware of how fortunate I am."

if you go

Aisha Tyler performs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the DC Improv Comedy Club, 1140 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Washington. Showtimes vary. Tickets are $15-$17. Call 202-296-7008 or go to

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