LOS ANGELES — Amber Preston is holed up in her Los Angeles home going through withdrawal. It’s been a month since her last fix.
“This is the longest dry spell in 15 years,” she says.
She isn’t trying to kick a habit, in fact she’s looking to finally score again Thursday night.
The West Fargo native is a stand-up comic and her last show was March 12 in Chicago. Before then, she was performing at least once a week. Since then, like many people around the world, she’s been staying close to home, which means staying away from audiences.
She had something different in mind, something more. Her debut comedy album, “Sparkly Parts,” comes out Friday, and she was looking forward to a record release party where she could perform in front of friends and fans. But the coronavirus outbreak dashed those dreams.
Still, she’s not going to let social distancing get her down.
“Let’s make this fun,” she says. “There’s still that sense of showmanship that I can’t let go. I’ll still put on a nice top, even if I’m wearing sweatpants.”
Doing comedy in front of a remote audience is a little daunting, she confides.
“It’s strange. It’s absolutely not the same, but it scratches an itch for a performer,” she says. “Just seeing other faces engaged is uplifting.”
Being in front of people, making them laugh, that’s what she’s been missing.
“I’ve never been a big party animal. Diet Mountain Dew is as crazy as I get. But it’s probably like getting high,” she says of the rush she gets from performing. “The second you get offstage, you want to get back up there. You’re just jonesing for it.”
Like so many others, she’s been watching late night talk show hosts and the cast of “Saturday Night Live” try to engage audiences from their own homes and sees that as doable.
“It’s not a level playing field, but we’re getting closer,” she says. “I just want to connect with some friends I haven’t seen. What’s more relatable than being quarantined?”
Thursday’s show will be less of a stand-up set than a talk show setting. Preston will bring in comic comrades like Fergus Falls, Minn., native Chad Daniels, Jenny Yang and Lennon Parham via video.
Preston moved to Minneapolis after graduating from West Fargo High School in 1996 and got her start there and the album was recorded there a few years ago. Preston is proud of the material, even if she doesn’t perform those jokes anymore.
The label, Stand Up! Records, says the album's “saucy skewering of Midwestern charm belies a knack for wringing deceptively blue material from her Red State upbringing.”
While she’s happy with the release, she had some hesitation about hyping a comedy album during a deadly pandemic.
“It seems silly wanting to promote my album. It seems a little tone deaf at times,” she says. “There’s the whole Midwestern, ‘don’t be showy’ attitude, but the career path I’ve chosen is the business of show. If people don’t need a laugh now, when do they?”
Performing in front of a camera will be different than in front of a crowd. She hasn’t had rooms to workshop new material in front of, so Thursday’s show may not feature lots of new bits.
She was able to take part in one show recently. Her family has regular talent shows at summer reunions, but moved it up to last week so everyone could see each other via Zoom and Preston got in a small performance.
Still, having fun with the family is no real replacement for getting in front of a crowd. She says she looks back on fondly on even those shows where she bombed.
Like the bar mitzvah where she was upstaged by a little brother throwing peanuts.
“It was so awful, but I’d do that in a heartbeat,” she says.
Or driving across Minnesota and Wisconsin in the middle of winter to a smoke-filled casino lounge in the middle of nowhere.
“I would love to do that now,” she says.