When Aisha Tyler lands in a new town to perform, the people she meets might unwittingly be forming part of her act.
Online, it is easy to find videos of the comedian riffing on the hot police officers in Aspen, Colo., or the heat of Tempe, Ariz., and the air-conditioning that residents crank up to counteract it.
"It all happens on the ground," Tyler said Tuesday morning from Los Angeles, where she is working on the television pilot for a new Damon Wayans comedy. "I don't Google ahead. I try to be as personal and spontaneous as possible. I try to get a sense of the place and talk to people I meet when I get there."
Tyler is getting her first experience with Kentucky this weekend with a stand at Comedy Off Broadway through Saturday night.
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The San Francisco native said she has spent plenty of time in the South but is not terribly well versed about the Bluegrass State except that "it's the home of my favorite beverage."
"I hope to drink a lot of bourbon," Tyler said, seeming intrigued by the idea of distillery tours.
Folks who turn out to see Tyler's stand-up routine probably will recognize her from numerous TV roles, from hosting Talk Soup, playing Joey's and then Ross's girlfriend on the ninth and 10th seasons of Friends, and doing several Comedy Central specials. She also has had season-long roles on series that had her die in distinctly different ways.
At the end of the first season of Ghost Whisperer, her character, Andrea Moreno, was ushered to the light by Jennifer Love Hewitt's Melinda. On season four of 24, her CTU mole Marianne Taylor was dispatched with two shots to the chest.
While being gently escorted off this mortal coil by Love might sound like a more appealing way to go, Tyler says the action junkie in her liked 24's way of doing things.
"Everybody on 24 dies," Tyler said. "You're pretty much just waiting for the guillotine to drop on that show. I lasted a lot longer than I was originally scripted to, but when I finally knew it was time for me to go, I was begging them to turn it into maybe a John Wu, slow-motion, hail-of-bullets scene.
"I'm a big action movie fan. I was raised by a single dad and loved shoot-'em-ups — that's my favorite genre of film."
That makes her a logical choice for the voice of Lana Kane, the sexy spy in FX's animated series Archer.
"It's pure comedy," Tyler said. "I love live action, but because it's animated, the sole focus is how funny can we make this moment, how funny can we say this line."
Because it is voice work, Tyler doesn't have to worry about exhausting action scenes or stunt-sequence injuries. But she says the real advantage of animation is that there is no limit on the imagination for scenes and locations.
"The first episode of this season was this real sprawling action sequence set in Switzerland, and we never could have afforded to do that in real life," Tyler said. "No television show could afford to do that. So we're able to tell stories. A few episodes ago we went to the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo, and again, no one could have afforded to do that, and it would have looked very cheap. But we shot a car into a helicopter and blew it up. ... In cartoon-land, we're billionaires."
In addition to action movies, Tyler's dad helped foster a love of video games in his daughter. The 40-year-old started with arcade games like Ms. Pac-Man and Defender, and is now an avid Xbox 360 player who relishes being a voice in her favorite games, the Halo series. She's Female Trooper 2 in Halo: Reach.
She easily acknowledges that none of this work puts her degrees in political science and environmental policy from Dartmouth College to work. But it does give her a good comeback when she speaks out on environmental issues, and people complain, "Oh, actors are always talking about things they don't know about,'" Tyler said. "I can say, 'Where did you get your political science degree?' ... 'When you're done with your online course, write me back."