4 Questions For Media Panel Moderator Extraordinaire Sara Benincasa

At mediabistro.com’s Dessert and Discourse event for women’s magazine editors earlier this month, moderator Sara Benincasa guided the conversation about digital content creation with humor and an expert command of the issues at hand.

At one point she warned all of the women in attendance that “the cattiness” was about to come out as she asked panelists to talk about specific Web sites that were doing things wrong.

Benincasa, a stand up comedienne known for her side-splitting impressions of Sarah Palin during the election last year, has more moderating duties on tap. This week, she’ll lead a panel at Mediabistro’s UGCX conference in New York on entertainment media on the Web, featuring blip.tv’s co-founder Justin Day and director of content development Eric Mortensen.

Benincasa took time out of her busy work schedule to talk to FishbowlNY about her career, her life as a media panel moderator and where you can find her beyond the mediabistro.com stage.

FishbowlNY: How did you get into stand up comedy?

Sara Benincasa: I was doing my masters degree in education at Teachers College at Columbia, and I felt confused and scared because I didn’t have the passion for teaching that my classmates and professors displayed. I remember crying in a seminar one day and admitting, “I just don’t know if I belong here.” It’s a wonderful community, but I knew I couldn’t live up to its legacy and to the aptitude of my peers. One of my peers happened to have just quit her job at Comedy Central, and she pulled me aside after class one day and suggested I try stand-up comedy. I guess she thought I had funny comments about No Child Left Behind and lesson plan design. Which I did, because both of those things are inherently HILARIOUS. So my first gig was opening for two professional comics at an event sponsored by the United Nations and the Rockefeller Foundation during International Women’s Week 2006. I got paid $40 and thought that meant you got paid for every set you did in stand-up. Oh, how wrong I was.

I did jokes about the differences between Hindi, Urdu and Farsi, and I killed with the Middle Eastern and subcontinental Asian grad students in the crowd. And when you’ve got that crowd on your side, you can take over the world.

FBNY: After UGCX you will have moderated two media panels in just a few short weeks. What have you learned and what do you hope to learn at UGCX?

SB: I’ve learned that Mediabistro throws a helluva party. I hope to learn a lot more about the current state of journalism, in all its wild and multifaceted glory. I began college as a print journalism major, and I’ve never shaken my fascination with the way news is consumed and delivered. I’m very psyched to see the speakers from NPR and Wired. I’m a huge NPR geek and have always dreamed of having my own NPR show one day, where I can say amusing things to celebrated thinkers and then they can chuckle gently and then we can talk about geopolitics. Or something.

FBNY: What can we expect from your panel at UGCX?

SB: A great deal of magic involving the gentlemen of blip.tv. Also, I’m going to ask some hard-hitting questions about the Six Point Ale they’ve got on tap at their office, i.e., “Did you bring any with you today?” and “Can I have some?” and “Why are you running away from me?”

FBNY: Where else can we see your work?

SB: There’s always SaraBenincasa.com/shows to check out my live shows (I’ll be in L.A. quite a bit later this month), and I’ve got a bunch of fun videos up at YouTube.com/SaraBenincasa. Lately I’ve started a series of vlogs starring Peggy from “Mad Men.” They are fairly inappropriate and involve graphic descriptions of Don Draper’s networking techniques. I also recently interviewed The Yes Men for my celebrity activism show, “Democracy WOW!,” and I do a talk show in a bathtub called “Gettin’ Wet.” I’ve recently had guests like Neil Gaiman and Margaret Cho. All that stuff is over at the YouTube channel.