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A heckler threw a beer can at Ariel Elias, who grew up in Ky., and she turned it into comic gold

 Comedian Ariel Elias, who grew up in Lexington, poses in a purple coat outdoors.
Courtesy the artist
Comedian Ariel Elias grew up in Lexington and is now based in New York City.

A stand-up comic who grew up in Kentucky had a big internet moment recently.

Ariel Elias went viral after two hecklers made a scene during a live performance at a club in New Jersey. One questioned Elias’ personal politics, then a second hurled a beer can at her after she quipped back. But it wasn’t the hostile beer toss that sent the internet into a tizzy. It was Elias’ response: The comedian picked up the can and chugged its remaining contents.

“My initial reaction was like, that's insane, I can't believe that happened,” Elias told LPM News. “But also, how do I get the crowd back to paying attention to me, because everybody was turned around looking at the door as these people are leaving.”

The move earned her major kudos online, including from some big names in comedy.

Jimmy Kimmel was one of those who applauded Elias on social media, and the comedian tweeted back at Kimmel with: “Can I make my late night debut on your show?

Kimmel said yes, and Elias appeared on the show in October.

She’s in Louisville this weekend for shows at the Trager Family Jewish Community Center. The 8 p.m. show on Saturday sold out, prompting the JCC to add a 10 p.m. performance.

The silver lining to the beer can incident, Elias said, has been “the fun parts,” like the Kimmel appearance, that have come up in the aftermath.

“As far as reaping the benefits from this, I'm super excited to go out on the road and do stand-up in different cities and have people come. Standup is my favorite thing in the world,” she said. “And then who knows what else will happen? This is the first time in my career where I've actually had options.”

Elias spoke with LPM News. Here are excerpts from that conversation edited for clarity and brevity.

On what kinds of comedic skills she tapped into to respond to the hecklers in the way she did:

“Before this happened, one of my worst fears onstage was losing control of the crowd. Now, I have no fear onstage. But I think the biggest skill that came into play was just being able to control my adrenaline and recognizing like, breathe and take a beat. It's okay to not react immediately. And I think that's sort of allowed me to take a moment and think, what's the move here? And the move was to drink it.”

On asking Kimmel is she could be on his show:

“Everything seemed surreal. So the fact that he responded, and then said ‘yes’ to me asking if I could come on, it was just like, this is surprising, but also that makes sense. Because everything right now doesn't feel real. But it was super cool. It was one of those moments of like, yeah, shoot your shot.”

On her bat mitzvah being her first stage: 

“In our congregation, at every bat mitzvah or bar mitzvah, there would be a moment where they presented you with Jewish books as a gift. And I remember saying, when I was presented with them, ‘Does this mean I have to write more thank you notes?’ That got a laugh, and I was just like, oh, that's a cool feeling. That's kind of nice.”

On how growing up Jewish in Kentucky influences her comedy and how much to lean into stereotypes on both in her set:

“I have a couple of jokes that I'm sort of ready to be done with because I think they make fun of Kentucky in a way I don't love, to be honest. I never want to punch down on anybody. But that said, those were my real experiences. I really did have friends who, very lovingly, were like, ‘You're going to hell [because you’re Jewish]. I don't want you to because I love you, and the solution to this is to convert.’ So I think as long as it's coming from a place of my experience, then that's where the line is. That's the whole point of comedy, is to take the edge off of life a little bit.”

On the role comedy can play in the face of rising antisemitism:

“It's hard because it's like we're kind of asking Jews to explain to people why they shouldn't hate us, right? I don't know that we have any obligation to say, ‘Look, we're just little clowns and you can laugh.' But for me, my own personal experience, growing up Jewish in Kentucky has always been sort of explaining who I am and who we are. So I think I have a unique tool set to do that. If tragedy plus time equals comedy, you know. Jewish people, we're pretty open and comfortable with the fact we have a really tragic past and history, and present. So I think a big coping mechanism for Jewish people has been trying to make jokes out of it. And a lot of them are super dark. And also we tell the same stories over and over again. That's what every holiday is, is telling the story. And when you tell a story over and over again, it's sort of a natural reaction to start punching it up a little bit.”

On what she feels is actually the bigger influence on her comedy:

“A big hook is ‘Jewish from Kentucky,’ but it's a really small section of my stand-up. I think it influences everything, but I think the bigger thing that I talk about and the larger theme is women and feminism, and how the world is not set up for us. Obviously, I want everybody to enjoy [my stand-up], but I really only care if women enjoy it, to be honest.”

On what she hopes people ultimately take away from the beer-can-throwing incident:

“Be nice to people. I think people deserve a lot more credit than we often give them. One thing that really stuck out to me about that night in New Jersey is that, yes, there were these two awful people who created a scene. But what really sticks out to me is that everybody else was appalled. And that was not a room with just two Trump supporters and everybody else was on my side [politically]. It was a room with a lot of conservative people. And those waitresses were ready to fight for me. You hear in the video one guy being like, ‘I'm never coming out with these people again.’ People were horrified. And those are the actions that I would rather focus on.”

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