For Spokane-area comedian Kelsey Cook, who now calls Los Angeles home, the last year has led up to one moment.
It all started when Cook was approached by a booker for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” after a set in New York.
Cook, who graduated from Cheney High School, spent the last year in a notes process with the booker, tweaking her set here and there based on his suggestions.
After months of back and forth, Cook will make her late night television debut on Friday.
“The set that I had performed with a year ago is so, so different than the one I’m actually doing for ‘The Tonight Show,’ ” she said. “I’m really grateful that it took me as long as it did because it pushed me to make my writing a lot stronger.”
Cook’s “Tonight Show” performance is a long time coming – eight years after she began performing. But comedy wasn’t originally in the cards for Cook.
The comedian, who is also a world champion foosball player (seriously), attended Washington State University with the plan of becoming a high school math teacher, something she said now sounds like “absolute death.”
Around the same time she realized a math degree wasn’t for her, Cook began performing with WSU’s improv troupe and at monthly open mic nights in the school cafeteria.
“It’s literally the worst place that you could start doing comedy because you’re interrupting people’s dinner and they have food in their mouth,” Cook said. “Even if they want to laugh, you can’t hear them.”
Nevertheless, Cook was addicted and eventually went on to start a weekly comedy show at a bar her senior year.
After graduating, she moved to Seattle, where she performed for about four years. Three years ago, Cook and her boyfriend, Seattle comedian Kane Holloway, moved to Los Angeles.
Cook has been performing full-time for the last three years thanks in part to comedian Jim Norton.
Before a trip to Los Angeles to premiere a new special, Norton asked his Twitter followers to suggest podcasts he should be a guest on.
At the request of her listeners, Cook invited Norton to be on her podcast “Cook’d.” Norton accepted, and the pair hit it off.
Cook opened for Norton for a weekend, and shortly after, his manager emailed her Norton’s performance schedule for the rest of that year.
“I was at my desk job that I hated and I was crying ‘Oh my god,’ ” Cook said. “He changed my life because he made it possible for me to do comedy full time finally.”
Two years into performing full time, Cook was approached by that “Tonight Show” booker. She flew to New York today and will film her set Thursday.
Cook has had sets filmed before (a YouTube search of “Kelsey Cook” brings up bits from a number of live shows) but after watching “Tonight Show” performances from other comedians, Cook realized that the studio audience will be different from the audiences she encounters in clubs.
“Most of those audiences are so hyped up and excited and ready to clap and laugh, really high energy whereas my day to day, show to show, you have no idea,” she said.
To prepare for her set, Cook has been working on not making as many faces on stage, a habit that developed through her work opening for Norton in theaters.
“There was part of me that thought I really need to over-emote so the people in the very back of the theater could see my face or I needed to ramp up the energy because I was going up cold,” she said. “But that did not translate very well to TV because there’s a camera right in front of you… I think confidence-wise, I want to have more ‘Chin up and smile’ instead of feeling like I need to really fight for the laughs.”
A few weeks after her appearance on “The Tonight Show,” Cook, who also co-hosts a podcast called “Self-Helpless” with fellow comedians Delanie Fischer and Taylor Tomlinson, will return to Spokane for a headlining weekend, March 29-31, at the Spokane Comedy Club.
She also makes her Comedy Central debut on April 6 in an episode of “This Is Not Happening.”
Her comedy career has taken her across the country and even an ocean. Before a recent headlining show at the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre in Paris, Cook had to edit her set.
Not for foul language, but for pop culture references, like mention of “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, that French audiences might not understand.
“I went into it not really sure how it was going to go but they had me do an hour and it went so well,” Cook said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better crowd.”
Cook is looking forward to returning to Spokane, where she will now have family and friends, not college students trying to eat dinner, in the audience.
“Those are the people in my life that initially made me feel like I was funny before I started doing stand up so it’s like a comfort blanket,” she said. “These aren’t people I have to convince I’m funny. They already know who I am.”