Nikki Glaser on Comedy, Mental Health, and Undergoing Vocal Surgery

The moment Nikki Glaser opens the door to the green room at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, Jeff Garlin, Larry David’s longtime sidekick on Curb Your Enthusiasm, heralds her arrival in his signature booming rasp.

“Nikki!” Garlin bellows. “Did I tell you what Stephen said about you?”

Garlin is referring to his friend Stephen Stills, he of the legendary bands Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Still, Nash & Young. The aging rocker is apparently an ardent Glaser fan and insisted Garlin relay the message for him.

Stills, a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, might not even be Glaser’s most famous musician admirer. Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy wrote that Glaser was his “bff” after they filmed a segment together earlier this year for Carpool Karaoke. John Mayer is a confidante of hers.

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nikki glaser
comedy central roast of alec baldwin, arrivals, saban theatre, los angeles, usa   07 sep 2019

Glaser has been working for a while—near two decades, actually—but the last three years has seen her popularity skyrocket.

John Salangsang/Shutterstock

“She’s so great. I love her,” Garlin gushes. (Garlin’s reputation took a hit last year when he was fired from the ABC sitcom The Goldbergs amid allegations of misconduct on set, but he still stars in Curb and regularly performs as a stand-up.) Garlin’s last words before leaving are to Nikki: “Congrats on all the success.”

It’s 9 p.m., the primetime slot at the biggest stage at one of the most legendary comedy clubs in the country. The performers for the night file in, all of them killers, with handfuls of TV shows, one-hour specials, and millions of podcast fans between them. Kurt Metzger, an eccentric genius comic from New York, sits on the vinyl banquette and brandishes a 24-ounce black cherry White Claw from his backpack. Anthony Jeselnik saunters in wearing a leather jacket and slouches into his seat, wordlessly thumbing his phone. Neal Brennan, co-creator of the The Chappelle Show, pops his head in, surveys the room, and immediately turns around and leaves, his brief, bespectacled appearance reminiscent of a cuckoo clock.

Even among this group, Glaser, the only woman in the room, stands apart. In the past three years, her popularity has exploded, making her one of the most revered and respected comedians working—and an easy target for other comedians’ friendly trolls. Andrew Santino, host of the Whiskey Ginger and Bad Friends podcasts and star of the FX show Dave, razzes Glaser about being tailed by an Esquire reporter. “What more could the world possibly want from you?!” he yells. “You’re everywhere!”


Speak to anyone who has worked with Glaser and a common theme emerges: She was born to do comedy.


Santino has a point. At 38 years old and 19 years into her comedy career, Glaser is hard to miss these days. She has starred in two reality series—FBoy Island, a dating competition show in which Glaser serves as both host and executive producer, and Welcome Home Nikki Glaser?, about Glaser moving back to her hometown of St. Louis during the pandemic. Her new one-hour special, Good Clean Filth, her second, premiered on HBO a month ago, just three years after her previous, Banging, debuted on Netflix. She releases new podcast episodes four days a week, sells out theaters across the country, and in two days, she will guest host Jimmy Kimmel Live! Next spring, Glaser will be an international sensation, taking her act to cities all across Europe—Berlin, London, Oslo, Helsinki, Vienna.

Still, Glaser is unsatisfied. Everything she’s earned—the envy of her peers, the admiration of rock gods, not to mention the affection of legions of ordinary comedy fans—has failed to provide her the kind of deep, lasting self-acceptance she so desperately craves.

The problem, as she sees it, is that the source of Glaser’s success, her work as a comedian, is the latest obstacle in her self-growth journey. “When you’re working, you don’t have time to be introspective or sad,” Glaser says. “I don’t really even know what I’m sad about. I just get jealous of other people, self-critical, and I want to stay stimulated so I can escape my feelings.”

As far as addictions go, doing comedy is a pretty healthy and prosperous one for Glaser. She’s already divested herself of most of her other vices. Glaser hasn’t had a drink since 2011, and earlier this year she quit smoking pot. She works a 12-step recovery program for her lifelong battle with body dysmorphia and disordered eating. A tracking app on her iPhone limits her social media scrolling to no more than two hours a day. She keeps a vegan diet and wants to wean herself off pornography. (Neither animals nor porn can be consumed ethically, according to Glaser.) She also dabbles in transcendental meditation and is constantly looking for better coping strategies for her mental health.

Telling jokes ranks pretty low on that list of disordered behaviors, but Glaser recognizes that, for her, work is an escape just like any other compulsive behavior—a haven she can run to whenever the weight of everyday life gets too heavy. Onstage, Glaser’s confidence is unshakeable, but away from it, she can be racked with self-doubt and worry. She has difficulties in her romantic relationships, a frequent topic in her comedy, and she still struggles with depression and anxiety.

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nikki glaser
stand up live, advertising week new york, gotham comedy club, new york, usa   24 sep 2019

Comedy is both the thing that saved Glaser and one of her last remaining compulsions.


That duality is on perfect display as Glaser transitions from the backstage boys club to the mic stand at the Main Room. Prior to her set, Glaser shrinks into her barstool, looks down at her feet and fidgets with her denim jacket, seemingly embarrassed by all the attention and adulation her contemporaries lavish upon her. But mic in hand, Glaser radiates self-assuredness, delivering punchlines about being jealous of other women’s abortions—“We get it, you’re fertile!”—and molesting her 5-year-old nephew at gunpoint. (Both bits displayed her propensity for shock, and both bits absolutely killed.)

Soon, though, Glaser will be forced to kick her comedy habit cold turkey. Performing comedy virtually non-stop for the past 20 years has wreaked havoc on Glaser’s vocal cords, and in two weeks she will undergo surgery to repair them. The procedure requires two months of vocal rest for recovery, robbing Glaser of her greatest strength and her biggest crutch: her ability to speak. In her silence, she hopes to discover something about herself.

Immediately after Glaser got offstage after her very first stand-up set, she called her father, crying, and told him, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

It’s a decision that saved her, literally. A college freshman at the time, Glaser was depressed about not being accepted into any of the collegiate drama programs she applied to and developed severe anorexia. “I looked like a skeleton,” Glaser recalls. “No one wanted to be friend’s with me because I looked like I was on death’s door.” Glaser developed a larger than life personality to overcompensate for and distract from her obvious condition, and the friends she did make urged her to try stand-up. “I was good at it right away. It was the first in my life I had a knack for something. I realized, I have to live if I want to be good at this. So I had to come up with a way to stay alive.”

Glaser received professional help for her body dysmorphia and began pursuing comedy in earnest, bouncing between Los Angeles and New York in the years after college. It was clear she was destined for stardom, according to fellow comedian Gary Gulman, who met Glaser 15 years ago when they were both living and working in L.A. “Usually people have a persona and charm onstage and then their writing comes together. But Nikki wrote really original, strong, tight jokes from the start,” Gulman says. “There are some people you meet—like Amy Schumer, John Mulaney and Kevin Hart—and it’s obvious they’re stars and it’s just a matter of when, not if. Nikki was in that category.”

Glaser’s comfort onstage belied a lifelong battle with mental health. She wet the bed until she was in the fourth grade and slept on the floor of her parents’ bedroom until eighth grade. “My first multisyllabic word was ‘dangerous,’” Glaser says. She was haunted by suicidal ideations and intrusive thoughts, and suffered from a laundry list of phobias—from the understandable (car crashes, nuclear war), to the paranormal (Bigfoot, ghosts), to the hilarious (fireworks, fighter jets flying in formation at air shows, fat men on diving boards). Glaser jokes about it now: “My parents bought me an Easy-Bake Oven. I tried to put my head in it.”

austin, texas   april 14 comedian nikki glaser performs onstage during moontower just for laughs at the paramount theatre on april 14, 2022 in austin, texas photo by rick kerngetty images

Shame, it’s not all bad, says Glaser.

Rick Kern

“Shame is like the number one thing that rules my life,” Glaser says. “That’s why I like stand-up—you get to talk about the things you’re most ashamed of and people like you for it.” Glaser describes her family as culturally Catholic: none of the religious zealotry but all of the self-loathing and desire for penance and flagellation.

In fact, Glaser views her penchant for shock value as something of a social crusade. Good Clean Filth includes frank discussions about handjobs, anal sex, and maneuvering the fraught worlds of dating and hook-up culture. She believes it can serve as an educational tool for young girls who, like she was a child, are curious about sex but don’t have a comfortable forum to learn about and discuss it.

“I like talking about things that are a big deal and making them not so big of a deal. That’s my new job as a comic,” Glaser says.

Like sex. As an adolescent, Glaser was baffled that sex—the thing people thought about constantly, the motive behind so many of their behaviors—was also something people weren’t allowed to discuss publicly. “As soon as I started talking about sex and audiences liked it, I decided it was all I was gonna talk about, because it’s all I ever wanted to talk about,” Glaser says. Approximately half of her Bangin’ special is jokes about giving blowjobs.

That she maintains a congenial appeal despite her crudeness is a testament to Glaser’s charm and wit. “There’s a humanity to Nikki that makes it feel like she’s your sister,” comedian Mike Birbiglia says. “What she’s doing seems effortless, but there’s actually no one else that can do it.”

For all her raunch onstage, though, Glaser is kind of prudish away from it. She’s slept with only one man, her on-again/off-again boyfriend, over the past eight years, she admits, and, she adds, she’s often intimidated by trying new sex acts—her stage persona once again a heightened, idealized version of her actual self.

new york, new york   november 08  editorial use only  nikki glaser performs onstage during the 15th annual stand up for heroes benefit at alice tully hall presented by bob woodruff foundation and ny comedy festival on november 08, 2021 in new york city photo by jamie mccarthygetty images for sufh

There’s a distance between Glaser offstage and onstage—both real, sure—but two sides of the same coin.

Jamie McCarthy

Glaser’s big break came when she was invited to perform at Comedy Central’s Roast of Rob Lowe and showed her preternatural skill for delivering zingers. A lifetime of finding clever ways of overstepping social boundaries made her an ideal roast comic. Her ticket sales increased, then came the one-hour specials, the podcast, the SiriusXM gig, and the opportunities to tour the country, and soon, the world, as a headlining comic. All the while, Glaser has maintained a rigorous work schedule, accepting virtually every podcast invite, radio appearance, and stand-up spot available to her.

During an appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan once told Glaser she’s “a lot.” The feedback initially sent her into a psychological tailspin, but she’s more at peace with it now. “I worried so much. Why can’t I just be easier and lighter and more graceful and more feminine? But I am a lot. I like my idiosyncrasies. And I’m leaning into them more and more.”

“It still sounds like I’m trying to do an impression of her,” Glaser tells her vocal coach, Amy Chapman, sounding a little discouraged.

The “her,” in this case, is Taylor Swift, Glaser’s favorite artist. Glaser is in the small, backyard studio space of Voice Lab LA, Chapman’s vocal therapy practice. A guitar rests on her lap as she tries to master an acoustic version of Swift’s 2020 Folklore ballad “august.” Having conquered the comedy world, Glaser wants to start a secondary career as a singer-songwriter and Chapman is helping her hone her singing talent.

It’s Tuesday and Glaser spent the entire past weekend in bed, battling a bout of acute depression. Last week, Glaser guest hosted Jimmy Kimmel Live! For many comics, it would be a sign they’ve arrived as a comedian. But when work is your drug, a major milestone is like a binge, and the days after are a rough comedown.

“The fact that Kimmel went so well makes me think I only get the love and attention I desperately want when I put on a really tiny dress and my boobs look great, and I have perfect hair and makeup, and I have writers writing for me,” Glaser says. “It didn’t feel like I was being celebrated for being me.” The next time she appears on a late night show, she’d like it to be as the musical guest.

The foray into music terrifies Glaser. Unlike comedy, in which every confession, no matter how revealing, is undercut by the knowledge that it’s all done in jest, music is raw and vulnerable. Glaser fears being fully seen. She wants to develop a Ziggy Stardust-esque alter ego to perform under. “I’m naturally sincere. Why am I steering away from that?” she wonders.

Glaser and Chapman run through “august,” several more times before switching to “Lucky,” the 2000 Brittney Spears hit about a disillusioned celebrity. (Spears, Swift, Wilco, Dave Matthews Band, Jason Mraz, John Mayer, Counting Crows—Glaser’s favorite musicians reads like a millennial’s high school makeout playlist.)

“Keep your chest out and don’t let the breath out,” Chapman instructs. “When you let your breath out, your vocal chords open up and your voice breaks.”

Struggling with personal happiness despite her profound professional success, singing “Lucky,” a song about that very subject, originally performed by Spears, the poster child about the perils of celebrity—it’s remarkably earnest and on the nose, especially for Glaser, who, as she admits, uses humor to deflect weighty personal issues.

thats my jam    episode 5    pictured nikki glaser    photo by trae pattonnbcnbcu photo bank via getty images

“‘Lucky’ is about the girl everyone wants to be, but people don’t know that existence is really sad inside,” Glaser says. “When I was in eighth grade, I thought, This will be my life one day. And I became that!”

The vocal session ends and Glaser treats her Kimmel hangover with a little hair of the dog. She has three stand-up spots at three different comedy clubs. She performs at Supernova, an open-air, back alley comedy club in Hollywood, then at the Hollywood Improv, before ending at the Comedy Store. Her sets are in perfect succession—the moment she leaves one stage she hops in a car to the next comedy club and is onstage again within minutes of her arrival, delivering raucous sets without so much as glancing at notes, nary a lull in between.

“When I’m still, that’s when the depression creeps in. I get into this place where I think my depression is the right state to be in and I don’t want to get out of it,” Glaser says. “That’s why I like working so much.”

It’s easy to see how being Nikki Glaser, the comedian, would be intoxicating. Glaser taking the stage and entertaining a room full of people with nothing but her thoughts and sheer charisma, plucking jokes out of the ether, the positive feedback delivered in real-time, is thrilling enough to witness. Being her must be electrifying.

The day before her vocal cord surgery, Glaser is anxious yet eager. She’s convinced her vocal rest will be a transformative experience. Much like John Mulaney inspired Glaser to stop drinking, Glaser is convinced her vocal cord recovery will convince other celebrities to go on a self-enforced two month silent retreat.

“I don’t know what lies on the other side of this, but I’m not scared to find out,” Glaser says. “Sometimes I just go on stage just to go on stage. It’s just what a comedian does. I cannot wait to not talk. The world deserves a break from my voice, frankly.”

Glaser, herself, deserves one, too.

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