Lydia Manning will never bail on a bit—no matter if it is dead silent or "the vibes are off."
"I overly commit sometimes, even if it doesn't feel like most of the room is into what I'm doing," she says. "It's because I'm doing the jokes that I want to tell because they're fun for me."
Luckily for Manning, what's fun for her also happens to be what most of her audiences find entertaining. She's glaringly satirical, and her delivery almost always includes a smirk, like she's waiting for you to get to the gag before she delivers the kicker, while also wondering what took you so long.
Growing up in North Carolina, she didn't imagine her future would include talking about uncircumcised penises onstage, imitating toad calls or recapping especially bad dates in a dark bar to strangers. But she knew what she liked to hear.
"Since my adolescence, 'you're funny' was the one compliment that I really swooned over," Manning says. "It's still my favorite compliment to get."
Manning often felt envious watching standup specials featuring comedians like Maria Bamford and shows like Mad TV as a teenager. It looked fun and effortless, like anyone could do it…even her! So in high school, she dipped her toe in the water, starting with a roast of the seniors in her marching band class.
"I had to make fun of someone in a way that would get people to still like me," she says. "That was the moment where I was like, 'Oh, I have to do standup.'"
The roast was successful, and the ego boost propelled Manning to pursue comedy in college. However, it took a few years of rewriting jokes to get her to perform before people who were not her friends.
"I called my mom immediately after getting off stage," she says. "I called my mommy, like I'm a 21-year-old baby."
When Manning moved to Portland three years ago, what struck her about the local comedy scene was just how big it was. Back in Wilmington, N.C., she was lucky if there was one open-mic night a week. Here, she can hop around to different spots on any given night and workshop material to different audiences.
Everything changed in 2020. Clubs closed indefinitely due to the coronavirus, and when Manning's colleagues jumped online, she thought she'd try her hand, too. She joined TikTok and created a character dubbed the "Douchebag Life Coach"—where Manning dons a fake mustache and doles out advice on how to achieve "noble goals" like "becoming more hot" by buying a bidet.
To her surprise, one of her videos did well, amassing a couple thousand likes, and in the process she found out she had a hidden talent: "Doing two things that I'm not bad at, and doing them at the same time," like hula hooping and playing the Star Wars "Cantina Band" song on the flute, which she displayed in a clip for her Instagram followers in December.
The high from her first video's success eventually wore off, though, and Manning began to see social media for what they are: highly addicting with little reward. So she deleted the TikTok app.
"I've consciously been trying to do a little less clout chasing," Manning says. "I'm trying to not make that such a big part of what I do. I want people to follow me, and I want people to know who I am, but I also don't ever want to be hustling for followers and obsessing with how much people are paying attention to me."
What Manning is focused on now is the podcast she co-hosts called SpecScript, where guests write an episode of a TV show they've never seen. So far they've done installments of How to Get Away With Murder, Entourage and Succession. The podcast was once a live, in-person event that has since moved exclusively to the streaming platform Twitch.
But mainly what Manning is waiting for, like most comedians, is for venues to open back up. She's eager to get back in front of crowds and anticipates a lot more newbies on the scene, but there are still a lot of unknowns.
"I think everyone will be awkward and bad at not just comedy, but interacting socially," Manning laughs. "It's not going to be a from-scratch rebuild, but it's going to be like releasing chickens into the wild. The chickens are going to be fine, but it will take them a while to figure out how to do anything."