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Aisha Tyler on Telling Stories, Staying Radical and Having a Great Cocktail

Ask Aisha Tyler what her gift is—what her superpower is—and she’ll tell you it’s the power to tell inspiring stories.

“If what you can do is tell a story that makes younger people feel not so alone; if what you can do is tell a story that brings people together who normally wouldn’t have interacted; if what you can do is tell a story that changes just one life, then you’ve done something good,” Tyler says. “That’s the power we have as storytellers and as artists.”

If what you can do is tell a story that changes just one life then you've done something good.

Aisha Tyler

Tyler, who voices a character on the animated “Archer,” appears as a regular on the CBS series “Criminal Minds,” hosts “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and recently directed her first film, the independently produced “Axis,” used the Sundance Institute’s Power Women event at the Sundance Film Festival to inspire creators in the audience “to stay radical every day in your choices.”

“Art is not made from a space of security,” she said at the gathering, hosted by Autograph Collection’s Hotel Park City. “Stay radical, stay in your art and stay woke.”

Franklin Leonard and The Black List are partners of Autograph Collection Hotels, telling stories and supporting independent films that are “Exactly Like Nothing Else.”

In its effort to support the independent film community, Autograph, a Marriott International portfolio of unique hotels, is backing artists like Tyler to reach larger audiences with their projects and tell stories that are “Exactly Like Nothing Else.”

Between 2002 and 2013, just 25% of American directors at the Sundance Film Festival were women each year. That’s still well above the 4.2% of female directors that have directed the 100 top-grossing films at the American box office.

Seeing yourself in art

“When I was a little kid and didn’t see myself anywhere in the world, I said when I get up, when I get big, when I live as an adult, I’m going to make stories that don’t just look like me but look like all the little kids out there that don’t see themselves out there,” Tyler says. “The little Mexican kids that love punk rock, and the little black lesbians, and the little asian kid that wants to be in a metal band, and the little black girl that skates to school and then gets there and everybody says black people don’t swim.”

Tyler says attending events like Sundance should help creators actualize ideas. “It’s about putting skin in the game,” she says. “It’s nice to sit here at these parties, and in these $1,000 rooms, and talk about how [messed up] up the world is, but what’s real is getting out there and doing something about it.”

She adds, “I think we come to these things and we feel really good about ourselves and then we go back to Instagramming our avocado toast. Don’t be that guy.”

Tyler says she draws inspiration from her mother, “a black woman who grew up at a time when the school she went to had segregated water fountains, when she had to ride in the back of the bus, when you didn’t go to certain parts of Washington, DC because black people weren’t welcomed there. And one thing my mother didn’t grow up as is jaded.”

Aisha Tyler at Sundance Film Festival
Aisha Tyler discussing being radical storytellers with Issa Rae (HBO’s “Insecure”) and Tessa Thompson (“Thor: Ragnarok”) at Autograph Collection’s Power Women event at the Sundance Film Festival. (Photo: Sean Smith)

 

 

Marriott TRAVELER met up with Tyler at Autograph Collection’s Sundance lounge, co-produced with Franklin Leonard’s The Black List, to explore what inspires Tyler, her love for travel and food, especially cocktails—she’s launching her own line of pre-bottled mixed drinks called Courage + Stone.

You quickly learn that Tyler lives by the mantra that’s front and center on the beverage venture: “Life is better lived with a great drink in hand.”

The trip that launched a business

Taking an island vacation over a weekend with friends actually helped Tyler come up with the concept.

“I thought, we’re all different people who like to drink different stuff, and I thought, ‘God, to satisfy all these people, we’re gonna have to take two cases of bottles on this thing.’ So if I could have taken three pre-made bottles of cocktails, everybody would have been happy. There would have been something for everyone.”

I'm a big foodie and so whenever I go to a new city or even city I love, I look for the best restaurants that are hot right now.

Aisha Tyler

Tyler acknowledges that pore-made mixes can already be found in the local supermarket or liquor store, but most are made with a lot of sugar, or ingredients that aren’t necessarily natural. Others are meant for tailgates or beach parties. Tyler wanted something more sophisticated—a product that didn’t require someone to build an expensive home bar.

“I’m a big foodie,” Tyler says, “and so whenever I go to a new city or even city I love, I look for the best restaurants that are hot right now. A big component of that is always, what are the most interesting bars in town? And so I would go and have these incredible cocktail experiences and then I’d get home and I’d wanna recreate those experiences.”

Tools of the trade

Tyler didn’t have the tools or the products when she started building out her home bar. “And then I thought, ‘This was really, like, expensive.’ It was really laborious and expensive to build out, even like a minimum bar where you can kinda make like all the classics.

“You’re buying a bottle of bitters that it’s gonna take you like 20 years to go through,” she says. “You need a Yarai glass for this, a shaker for that, a bar spoon. I did it because I was an enthusiast, but I thought most people probably don’t have the resources for this. I just remember thinking one day, ‘God it would be so awesome if I could have bought this in the store?’

Quality not quantity

Tyler describes herself as “a quality drinker, not quantity drinker,” and “if I am going to have a drink, I want it to be beautifully made.”

Again, having all of the products on hand, and making the cocktails from scratch became a chore, so Tyler started making batches of negronis, martinis and other mixed drinks that she would bottle and store in her refrigerator.

What she learned on her own and from bartenders while traveling was that “drinks kind of get more interesting over time,” she says, especially in glass. “They meld and they blend and they soften. I’d make a negroni and then like a few weeks later it would taste even better than it tasted the day I made it. Obviously, this works best with spirits-based drinks, and not juice made stuff.”

After much experimenting and sampling on the road, Courage + Stone will launch with a rich, dark, bourbon-based Manhattan, a rye Old Fashioned, that Tyler describes as “a classic expression but with some flavors that are a little bit more bold and forward than people are used to,” and a gin Old Fashioned, “which is really quite fruity and light and bright,” Tyler adds.

“I had a gin Old Fashioned maybe four years ago in a bar in Vancouver and I like lost my mind,” Tyler says. “I was obsessive after that.”

Tyler’s obsession has put her behind the bar on multiple occassions to introduce Courage + Stone. “I love being behind the bar,” she says. But in trying to encourage venture capialitss to fund her business, she found herself lugging around bottles across New York City in a roller bag. “I was sticky, I was tired,” but Tyler was also pursuing a personal passion project. “I really wanted to come up with something that felt unique.”

Inspirational travel

Understanding the cocktail culture meant Tyler has had to spend a lot of time in front of a bar, too.

“Obviously New York was a big inspiration,” she says. “I think there’s probably no other city in the world that’s doing more for cocktail culture than New York.”

One of Tyler’s favorite bars in New York is Attaboy, on the Lower East Side, opened by the founders of Milk & Honey.

What I think is so great about great bars is that they're making you feel at home and they make you feel seen.

Aisha Tyler

“It’s tiny and hard to find,” says Tyler, but “I always feel like when I drink there, it’s like drinking in someone’s home. You know, you go in and there’s no menu but they don’t kinda make you feel weird about it. They just go, ‘What do you like to drink? We’ll make you something. You don’t like it, we’ll make you something else.’ I always feel like I’m at a friend’s house.”

For Tyler, a bar shouldn’t be about getting intoxicated. It’s about an experience.

“What I think is so great about great bars is that they’re making you feel at home and they make you feel seen,” Tyler says. “They’re trying to see what you like and give it to you. I mean, it’s a really service oriented industry and purveying joy and so I like places that make me feel transported and make you feel welcome.”

The Paris cocktail scene

In addition to New York, Tyler also found Paris an exciting place to explore for her new business.

“What’s exciting about cocktails in Paris is that the French traditionally don’t drink hard spirits,” she says. “As much innovation as is going on in New York, it is so much more radical in Paris because it is such a wine drinking culture.”

“I remember going there maybe ten years ago and if you asked for a Martini, you got a glass of Martini vermouth,” Tyler says. “You were never going to get an actual gin Martini. Now they’re open to anything—and doing it in a very beautiful kind of Paris and French approach to making things delicious that we all love.”

Tyler may not get to explore much when she’s working—most of her projects film in Los Angeles, where she lives. But she does take time to travel when she’s not on set.

She recently traveled to Lima, Peru, for the first time, and explored Machu Picchu.

Hiking Machu Picchu

“It was amazing,” Tyler says. “Let me tell you, you see those photos and you think it looks magical and then you want to get there, and it’s like a hundred times more thrilling than you could have ever imagined.”

“Lima’s just cool and metamorphosing right now,” she adds. “It’s art driven, and the food is amazing. I felt like it had this Brooklyn kind of maker vibe to it.”

Naturally, there were also cocktails to be had.

“I drank one thousand iterations of Pisco Sour,” Tyler laughs. “We did the tourist one and then we had like the purple corn one, and then, you know, just the matcha one, and the cocoa leaf one … ”

Tyler considers Paris her favorite city to visit, though.

“I’m a Francophile,” she explains. “I started taking French lessons when I was five or six. I was fluent in French but I didn’t get to go [to France] until I was an adult.”

I feel like traveling to other places humbles you. It teaches you about the expansiveness of what's possible and the uniqueness of your own existence.

Aisha Tyler

What Tyler learned from her first trip was that her perceptions of the French were wrong.

“We don’t think of them as being curious about other cultures,” she says. “I think that they really are. When you learn a language there’s this kind of magical quality to that culture. People think this is how the French speak, this is what they like to do. That it’s static. But there’s so much radicalism going on in Paris. So many people innovating.”

That includes Nico de Soto, a personal friend who opened the bar Danico, in Paris. He’s also behind Mace in New York City.

“The bartenders are just fun and playful and open and, curious,” Tyler says. “I think in a way that we don’t typically attribute to French people.”

Why people should travel

Tyler has always been curious about other cultures.

“I feel like I’ve always fantasized about other places,” she says. “I’ve always kinda been a dreamer. I was a big reader when I was a kid. I was really into science-fiction and fantasy and I feel like the most appealing thing about it is that you connect with a sense of other, that there are other possibilities, other places, magical things that can happen.”

“I feel like traveling to other places humbles you,” Tyler adds. “It teaches you about the expansiveness of what’s possible and the uniqueness of your own existence. I think it puts lots of things that seem massive into perspective. In this country, you can obsess over trivial things like your biggest problem is that you can’t get Wi-Fi coverage or the lady at the Starbucks messed up, you know, and put dairy milk in your almond milk frap. Your problems are not that gargantuan.”

We’ll drink to that!