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Interview: Natasha Leggero keeps a lid on controversy

Luis Gomez

About Last Night

7:18 AM CST, January 15, 2014

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Natasha Leggero somehow went from being the target of death threats to the envy of the comedy community in a span of a few days.

The Rockford-born comedian came under fire when she referenced SpaghettiOs' controversial Pearl Harbor tweet during NBC's New Year's Eve broadcast, joking, “it sucks that the only survivors of Pearl Harbor are being mocked by the only food they can still chew.” And just when you thought Leggero might release a forced apology clearly written by a publicist — as is often the case in Hollywood — she candidly addressed the situation on her Tumblr page.

“I wish I could apologize, but do you really want another insincere apology that you know is just an attempt at damage control and not a real admission of guilt?” wrote Leggero, who pointed out the joke was about the food habits of the elderly. She went on to shed light on more concerning issues facing veterans, including depression, suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder and said she had donated to Disabled American Veterans foundation in lieu of giving a fake apology.

Leggero — set to perform Saturday at The Hideout as part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival — was commended for her stance by her peers, but apparently that doesn't mean she wants to discuss the subject further. During an interview with the Tribune that she requested take place over email, Leggero opted not to answer questions about the controversy or others on the topic of her career. She did, however, answer questions about her upbringing.

“I had a paper route, worked at a grocery store, catered weddings, was a lifeguard and mowed lawns,” Leggero said by email. “I believe I was fired from all of these. … I think (Rockford) was a nice place to grow up, sure! Last time I was home they had a billboard erected congratulating the #1 Mexican restaurant in the city called Taco Bell. But other than Rockford's taste in Mexican food, I am grateful to have been raised there.”

Asked what she would be doing if she had never left Illinois, Leggero responded, “Destroying some man's life.”

Leggero was part of the NBC sitcoms “Free Agents” and “Are You There, Chelsea?” before they were canceled, and last year she appeared on the Comedy Central roast of James Franco. During the roast, she joked: “James has a new reality show coming out on the Ovation network. Finally, something so awful that TLC was like, ‘Nah, we're good.'” Of Jonah Hill, she said "Jonah was born and raised in Hollywood, and you can tell. He's a name-dropper with big (breasts) and an eating disorder."

Did Leggero see a boost in her career thanks to her impressive performance at the roast? She wouldn't say. But Leggero did respond when prompted to name the compliment she received for her set that meant the most to her.

“Jonah Hill's laughter throughout all my digs at him,” Leggero said.

In October, Leggero launched her Web series “Tubbin With Tash,” in which she interviewed comedians such as Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman, Weird Al Yankovic and Jeffrey Ross in a hot tub. Leggero didn't say when we can expect new episodes but conceded booking guests hasn't been easy.

“It's been a challenge to find comedians who are willing to get undressed on camera,” Leggero said.

Natasha Leggero

When: 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Hideout, 1354 W Wabansia
Tickets: $20 at hideoutchicago.com

lgomez@tribune.com | Twitter @TribLuis

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