Sandra Tsing Loh guards her turf with the tenacity of a pit bull. “I think that falls into anecdote territory,” she said when asked about her worst experience performing, “and we’re just doing an interview. No funny quips here.”
Not that she can be blamed. The former contributor to Ira Glass’s groundbreaking NPR program, “This American Life,” feeds herself and her family by leaping at any excuse to run her mouth- on the stage, on the air, on the printed page. Bearing in mind her Campbell Hall performance this coming Monday (Oct. 14th), gives Artsweek a wacky-slash-witty observation with which to fill our pages like a pusher giving out free drug samples in the hope that the customer would return willing to pay for more.
Oh wait, pushers do do that. So does Tsing Loh, for that matter.
“Anyone who’d be interested in a performance that I would do,” she said, “those are pretty interesting people to begin with. Those are kind of unusual, special people.”
Tsing Loh mocks, but she mocks lovingly. She has the kind of frenetic yet sardonic voice, the constant pharyngeal battle between a forceful delivery and a nasal slide, that brings to mind those kids who were drama nerds, and damned proud of it. She can be slotted in with the “new” movement of hip-but-aging, middle-class humorists who are self-absorbed and totally ashamed of the fact. Think David Sedaris or Sarah Vowell.
“Probably all the people in this posse are certainly all oddball misfits from somewhere,” she said. “So yes, it’s kind of like the geeky high-school kids find[ing] their own posse. … Nobody was homecoming queen. Not even David. Ba-doom ching.”
Not that Tsing Loh is a faceless foot soldier among the legions of post-collegiate smartasses. She’s the mother of two children – something Sedaris isn’t and never will be – as well as devoutly, dedicatedly, even militantly Angeleno.
“Southern California, this whole area is like another planet to that whole Terry Gross, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago [crowd],” she said. “Southern California could be Mars as far as they’re concerned. Which I love.”
Tsing Loh wrote “A Year in Van Nuys,” in which she muses on an assortment of trivial yet oddly vital-seeming matters that define life in the San Fernando Valley.
“I love the fact that we’re in Southern California, which is always considered the least literary,” she said. “We’re a bunch of beach-going yahoos running around, and I love to be from here. Because we’re very much outsiders.”
“Now that I’m 40 and I’m sort of a lazy writer, yeah, I go [to the beach] a lot,” she said. “I am really adapting to that lifestyle.”
It’s only fitting that, as wit-laureate of the city of extreme materialism, her current radio gig is with the syndicated “Marketplace” show. Her pieces very often are only marginally related to money, and most bizarrely, the banner for her Real Audio archive has a mug of her seemingly buck-naked. Or, even worse, sporting a tube-top. But Tsing Loh doesn’t try to defend this, because unlike the obsessively countercultural McSweeney’s kids – who have, themselves, turned bad-boy wordsmithing into a comfortable living – she securely and necessarily occupies her niche as an L.A. humorist.
“I think all humorists [had] to be Woody,” she said. “You know, New York – if you can’t live in New York, you can’t be funny. You can’t have a brain, or you can’t be interesting. To be a humorist in New York would be a clich