- Roger Gordy
Xazmin Garza has me at something of a disadvantage. I may know nothing about making a mid-life career change to try stand-up comedy, but she certainly knows what it's like to be a professional journalist. In fact, she even knows what it's like to work for Salt Lake City Weekly.
Now based in New York, the comedian was born in Nampa, Idaho, but moved with her family to Salt Lake City when she was 4. "My parents grew up in migrant farm worker communities," Garza says, "and when the economy got really bad, my family moved to the next biggest city, which was Salt Lake. Which no one considers a big city, unless you're from Nampa, Idaho."
After graduating from Granger High and the University of Utah, Garza pursued a career in journalism. That included an internship at City Weekly circa 2000, followed by a move to Las Vegas, where she spent 11 years at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, covering fashion, features and eventually becoming a columnist.
Moving to Boston with her then-husband, Garza began pursuing an interest in comedy that she says was always there, but that she never had the confidence to acknowledge. She talks about Chris Rock being a comedy idol growing up, but also about how thinking about following in the footsteps of someone you think is great at their craft can be intimidating. "It wasn't until years later, I saw a Comedy Central half-hour with a woman, I won't say her name, but it sucked. ... Mediocrity motivated me. If someone's doing something the best, who are you to go, 'Yeah, I can do that.' When Sarah Palin was running for vice president, I was thinking, 'Holy shit, I could be vice president.'
"Moving to a city known for producing comedy legends, it was an opportunity to pursue [comedy]," she adds. "I took a sketch-writing class, and pretty quickly discovered that wasn't the thing for me. But two girls in that class were taking a stand-up class. And I remember thinking, 'I'm way funnier than these bitches.'"
That confident sense of humor was ultimately connected to her departure from journalism as well. She had continued writing her column for the Review-Journal remotely after the move to Boston, but "I had gotten bored with the column," she recalls. "Then this thing happened where I wrote this column using the word 'freakin.' Someone wrote in to the paper and went off on me. And I replied, and I told her to freakin' get over it. The editor-in-chief told me to apologize, and I refused, so I left."
Garza threw herself into pursuing comedy in 2014, eventually divorcing her husband and supplementing her income as a copy editor for an advertising agency. She found that as a comedian getting started at age 37, she had a very different point of view from her early open-mic cohorts. "A lot of people start much younger," she says. "Here I am, 37, with these fuckin' kids. I'm talking about my divorce, they're talking about their dicks. I already know who I am as a person. I've lived a life."
That doesn't mean she didn't face the same initial growing pains of figuring out her style and what kind of material was right for her. "In my first year, I thought I was good, but I wasn't," she says. "I was going, 'What are other people going to think is funny?' You have to do what you think is funny. If the audience connects, great; if they don't, you go on to the next thing you think is funny. If you do anything else, you're not representing yourself accurately, and audiences can smell it."
As a Latinx woman who self-identifies as bisexual, Garza acknowledges that in an earlier era, it might have been much harder to break into the straight-white-male-dominated stand-up world. "In just the five years I've been in, that's changed," she says. "People want diverse shows. And that's been a real boost for me. I checked off a lot of boxes."
Now, five years in to her major career change, she's returning to Utah to headline a comedy club for the first time. She admits to being a bit nervous about performing in front of friends and family, but like so much else in her life, she seems more motivated by challenge than thrown by it. "I hate performing in front of people I know. There's my Girl Scout leader, my siblings are going to be there, friends from elementary school. I was really stressed out about it for a while. This is a thing I'm doing to kind of get over that."