Freeform Developing Late-Night Show With Comedian Iliza Shlesinger (EXCLUSIVE)

Elizabeth Wagmeister

Freeform is stepping into the late-night arena.

The cabler is developing a late-night series with comedian Iliza ShlesingerVariety has learned exclusively.

The late-night show will feature Shlesinger’s unique voice that reflects the audience and “what’s happening in the moment” with a fresh comedic spin. Shlesinger says the series will set itself apart from other shows in the genre because her voice has a feminine side to it, but she’s not afraid to be unabashed in her opinions.

“It has been my goal since I was a kid,” Shlesinger tells Variety of hosting a late-night show. “I used to take a recorder around and interview my parents and do impressions of my classmates as guests on my show. I started working on this goal in Hollywood years ago. I think comedy and the perception of women in comedy has evolved to a place where this show can finally be a reality on my own terms.”

“We were looking for a voice that speaks to and for our audience, and we have found it in Iliza,” said Karey Burke, Freeform’s executive vice president of programming and development. “We weren’t just looking to get into late-night for the sake of it — it’s Iliza’s brilliantly modern take on culture, relationships, and gender politics that made her vision for a series undeniable to us.”

Shlesinger will also serve as an executive producer, alongside Jon Thoday, Richard Allen Turner, David Martin and Kara Baker from Avalon Television, the production company behind “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”

Should the series be greenlit, it would mark the first late-night show for Shlesinger, who is on a roll recently with her third Netflix special “Confirmed Kills,” which launches on the streaming service today; her scripted web series “Forever 31,” which was recently renewed for a second season on ABC’s digital platform, ABCd; her first national tour “Iliza: The Confirmed Kills Tour;” and her first book, “Girl Logic,” which hits shelves in spring 2017.

For Freeform the project could mark the channel’s first late-night series. Earlier this year, the young-skewing network put another late-night show, titled “Later Bitches,” into development, signifying the network’s desire to find a show in the genre.

What will make this series different from other late-night shows?

Well, I’m a woman, so that automatically sets it apart from almost every other late night show [laughs]. I have the comedic chops and intelligence to raise points and discuss both sides of whatever is on our mind as a society. Basically? I’m really good at saying what other people are thinking and making it relatable. Oh, and I’ve decided to not get a spray tan. I’m pale and people need to accept that I’m almost see-through.

You are certainly right about the late-night arena having a lack of female faces, aside from Samantha Bee. Why do you think the late-night game is lacking women? 

I think women start from behind on everything because, well, we weren’t allowed to participate in most things for a long time. Our options have always been limited — voting, education, jobs, stand-up — we get a chance at it after guys have already come in. So I think, just like the idea of people adjusting to women working outside the home or, God forbid, being funny, it has taken some time. Late-night is just one milestone for women in comedy. The next might be to stop using the phrase “female comedian,” “women in comedy” and “all female cast.” I’m just here to do my part. I think it’s insane that we have two men in late-night with brown hair named Jimmy, yet networks can’t see their way to having another woman on late-night. I’ve always been treated as one of the guys, for better or for worse. My late-night show will have a female element, but I’m up there to be funny for a comedian — not just for a woman.

Which female comedians you are a fan of?

So, the second you asked that my thought was, I’m gonna leave someone out, they are gonna read this and hate me. But I’m no stranger to being left off cool lists, so, if it helps, I won’t put myself on this list. The comedic actresses I’m fans of are Tina Fey, Ellen DeGeneres, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Kate McKinnon, Sufe Bradshaw, Leslie Jones, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Tig Notaro, Sandra Bullock, Niecy Nash, Alex Borstein, Cindy Hayes, Maria Bamford, Anna Faris, Laverne Cox, Tracee Ellis Ross, Aleida Diaz, Margaret Cho, Mayim Bialik, Jane Leeves, Laurie Metcalf, Wendie Malick, Katy Mixon, Jane Lynch, Cheri Oteri. Dear God, I know I’m leaving out so many! The fact is, the more funny women out there in movies, with their own shows, getting great roles, the easier it becomes for all of us. If you’re a woman working in comedy, I’m a fan.

Freeform has a younger audience — does that block you from some subject matter? Or does it allow you to go full force since the millennial audience will be able to relate to your comedy?

I believe in giving my audience credit. The only way I grow as a comedian is by listening to new opinions — listening to people who are different than me, smarter than me. Playing to the back of the room never helped anybody grow. My comedy is all-inclusive, but I’ve always strived to rise above being a-girl-telling-dirty-jokes, and I think women and men are more than ready for my voice … at least my growing ticket sales say they are [laughs]. There’s a fine line between knowing your audience and pandering. And, for the record, I think a good dirty joke is the stuff dreams are made of [laughs].

You said hosting a late-night show has always been your goal, but why is now the right time for you?

Had I made this show four years ago it would have been all about hashtags and pop culture and a network telling me what to do and wear. I couldn’t have made a show I would have been proud of until now.

What do you like about doing live stand-up vs. performing on TV?

Stand-up is a solo sport. I like that I take all the risks and get all the glory. I like that no one can tell me what to say and I can get as weird as I want. What I’ve enjoyed with “Forever 31” and the Freeform project is getting to trust other creative people, whether it’s the director or a show runner. I’ve also enjoyed getting to express myself and my point of view through dialogue, rather than just a monologue. It just opens up a whole new world of creativity getting to visually express my imagination.

How many cities will you be going to on your “Iliza: The Confirmed Kills Tour”?

Sixteen! All theaters and hopefully we will add more. I still love to do clubs when I can because it’s more intimate and I always get to meet my fans [and] I can’t always do that at larger venues. I just want to say that I have the world’s best fans and can’t wait to see them. They are not only loyal and dedicated, but they take my comedy as seriously and as personally as I do. The fact that total strangers take time out of their lives to not only attend my shows, but make T-shirts that reference my act, bring gifts for me (and my dog Blanche) and on a daily basis, engage with me on social media, I’m the most grateful comedian in the world to have been blessed with fans like mine.

What do you think sets your voice apart from other comedians?

I’m answering this without the intention of saying I’m better than anyone else. I make art, it’s subjective — people are allowed to dismiss it or accept it. I think there’s a real intelligence behind my comedy blended with a theatrical aspect. I enjoy occupying the entire stage to get my point across — it’s an aggressive act. I’m aggressive and strong and passionate in my real life, and I think my act is an extension of that. Whether it’s social commentary, explaining girl and guy behavior, or being a whimsical character like my Party Goblin, there is heart and honesty behind it all. The things I talk about on stage are personal. I care. I care so much that stand-up is all I think about, and when I’m onstage I’m often hunched over because I want to crawl into the audience’s brain and live there. Is that weird?

Shlesinger is repped by Avalon and APA.

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