Actress and comedian Retta performed for a crowd of Lehigh students in the University Productions comedy show at Zoellner Arts Center on Thursday night.
Before the performance, The Brown and White sat down with the former “Parks and Recreation” star to talk comedy, college and, of course, what “treat yo self”‘ — her catchphrase as “Parks and Rec” character Donna Meagle — means to her.
What was your first job?
I worked as a cashier at a place called Nichols. It was kind of like a Walmart, K-mart-type place in (New) Jersey.
Which show are you currently bingeing?
‘The 100.’ It’s a post-apocalyptic world where people who have been living in space for about 30 years finally come back to the world, and it goes through what they encounter and deal with to try to get back into Earth living. It stresses me out. It’s surprising how writers can come up with horrifying situations that you’d never think of.
Who are your favorite comedians?
My favorite comedians are Maria Bamford, Chris Franjola, Patton Oswalt — I can’t even think of who I’ve seen recently. I like the classics, the Chris Rock’s, the Wanda Sykes’s. But I don’t even get to see a lot of stand-up, so I don’t even know who I like anymore.
You’re from New Jersey, and a lot of the Lehigh population is from New Jersey. What is your favorite thing about the state?
About New Jersey? (laughs) That my family still lives there, so I go there for Christmas.
What is your least favorite?
That I don’t know it anymore. I haven’t lived there in so long, so I always feel like I’m legit visiting sometimes. Like, I’ll go some place thinking I know where I’m going, and I’m like, ‘Son of a b-tch! I knew I should have used Waze!’
What is your favorite food?
What is your favorite college memory?
Spending times with my good friends — our late nights studying and getting so punch-drunk and being silly.
You went to Duke University. Something that many Lehigh students take pride in is that Lehigh beat Duke in the NCAA Tournament a few years ago. Were you aware of that?
No, I don’t remember. I’m sure I was mortified by it. I try not to remember our losses. (laughs)
What’s your favorite ‘Parks and Recreation’ scene?
My favorite to shoot was the big water fight we had when we were supposed to be fixing the water fountains. But my favorites to watch are Chris Pratt with the possum, when he’s like ‘He’s on my back, he’s on my back!’ and the fart-attack scene from the Halloween surprise episode, where Tom is mad that Jerry is farting, and then they realize he’s having a heart attack.
What is your favorite character that you’ve played?
Donna Meagle on ‘Parks and Rec,’ because she’s the only one that I’ve been able to, like, sink my teeth into yet, since that was my first series regular.
It’s 3 a.m. on a weeknight. Why are you still awake?
Because I’m watching Netflix. Right now, ‘The 100.’ But depending what it is I’m into at the time.
What is your favorite drunk snack?
Probably whatever’s in my fridge. Right now I only have, like, wheat English muffins and some Mexican M&Ms I got on my way back from Cabo.
What are Mexican M&Ms?
They’re just M&Ms that are from Mexico, so the shell is a little bit harder. Which I don’t prefer, but that’s what’s in my fridge.
What song(s) are you currently listening to on repeat?
The ‘Hamilton’ soundtrack. Pretty much everything, but I’m good for going back to ‘Satisfied’ and ‘Wait for It.’
What inspires your comedy?
My stories always come from something that has happened to me. I do have one or two bits that someone told me the story, and so I’ve incorporated it into my set. But usually, it’s usually something that happens, that either annoys me or made laugh.
What’s your favorite thing about doing stand-up?
The applause at the end. It means I’m done. (laughs)
If you could do a show with any other comedian, who would it be?
I love doing shows with old crew. So, like, Chris Franjola, Sara Colonna, Chelsea Handler — I used to do a couple of shows with her — my crew that I started with, those comics who we went through hell together. So that group. The ones that are still doing it, anyway. Just because we’d get to talk about how hard it was before and now how we can afford our apartments.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I don’t necessarily have any rituals. I don’t normally like to eat, because I get nervous and I don’t want to feel sick. But other than going to pee just beforehand, so I’m not wanting to pee while I’m onstage, that’s about as ritualistic as it gets.
After graduating from Duke, you wanted to be a doctor, but that is clearly not your path anymore. So what advice do you have for students who are undecided about their major?
Undecided? I don’t know, because I wanted to be a doctor since I was young. So that was always my path — I had a path, I knew what I was doing. I knew what I had to do and that was what I was doing. It was once I graduated that I was like, ‘Oh maybe I don’t wanna be a doctor.’ So for undecideds, I guess keep your mind open and pay attention to what you like and what you see. Like, watching television, now with the internet things that you see, because whatever piques your interest, you can find a job in it. Who knew that people would head the social media department of a big company? That was never a thing. But people were like, ‘You know what, you need social media,’ and people made up that job, and now it’s a real job. So figure out what you think will make you happy and find a job in that realm.
Final question — how do you treat yo self?
I buy handbags. I like a designer bag. So whenever I get an urge, I will do that. I online shop a lot, but I think that’s just an addiction. I like being able to go on vacation with friends. I travel a lot for work, and I don’t enjoy traveling. But when I travel for vacation, I like it.