G.L.O.C. LENNON PARHAM is not only hilarious, she’s lived the dream. Coming up through the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in NY, she rocked many an improv show, killed it with her solo show and then starred opposite G.L.O.C.s Jenna Elfman and Ashley Jensen on ABC’s Accidentally on Purpose. Let’s hear from LENNON on her advice to young women starting out in comedy and what she’s up to now.
Where did you grow up?
Lilburn, Georgia (in the suburbs of Atlanta)
Who inspired you to go into comedy?
My earliest inspiration was SNL: I was obsessed with the Sweeney sisters, the Coneheads, Jan Hooks as Tammy Wynette, Two wild and crazy guys, and the list goes on. Then I became obsessed with “Who’s Line Is it Anyway,” the British version. Then, I was lucky enough to go to college with Jack McBrayer [Kenneth on “30 Rock”] and when he graduated, I watched from a distance as he rose up through Improv Olympic and Second City in Chicago. One summer I lived in Chicago and saw him do the Harold every Friday night with his team Georgia Pacific. I think that was the first time I realized that comedy might be a career option.
Who was your most influential comedy coach/teacher?
So many… I studied with Second City in New York first. I was a fan of their whole curriculum. Then started at UCB and took classes with Ari Voukydis, Michael Delaney, Billy Merritt, Julie Brister, all amazing. My first Harold team, Dillinger, was coached by Ian Roberts for a while, that was momentous. Chris Gethard also coached us for awhile and that was a real lesson in investment and full team support. And Seth Morris. He taught a character workshop class where I first developed my character Sandy Michaelson, Solid Gold Reject. That class was a game-changer for me. And then, I feel like I really learn a lot by watching people that make me laugh and by trying to play with people who I think are better than me.
What inspired your solo show “She Tried To Be Normal”?
I just wanted to do a show full of stuff that I thought was funny, stuff that I’d always wanted to do onstage. Like a ribbon dance to Michael Jackson’s “Someone in the Dark.” The characters had all been brewing in my head for a while and were based on sparks of ideas or real people that had struck my interest. The throughline of the show was a late night dedication radio DJ named Forsythia. I had always been fascinated by Delilah, a syndicated DJ, so Forsythia was an exaggerated warped version of her.
What is your process when creating a character? Writing a show?
Well, first you have an inspiration. Then you have to just sit down and write it. Then I might try to get it up on it’s feet and improvise, see if I can find an alley into the character. Physicalization really helps me. Then I start doing the characters up in front of people. One at a time. An audience is very good at telling you what works and what doesn’t. Then you get a good director that you trust and who can bring a different perspective to what you are doing. I was lucky enough to work with Jason Mantzoukas.
What project, team or character are you most proud of and why?
I think I am most proud of my solo show. It is very daunting to get up by yourself and say, this is what I think is funny, what do you think? I still get super nervous before a show that I’ve worked on. But putting my own voice up on stage is what took me to the next level career-wise.
Can you talk about what it was like finding out you booked a featured role on a sitcom?
Well, the casting process is about as high-anxiety as it gets. First you audition for the casting director. Just you and the casting director in a small room. Luckily, Lisa Miller-Katz was casting the show and thought I was funny. That’s what she said, I remember, “You’re funny.” Then you audition for the producers (writer, creator, production company executives). Then if you make it past that, you “test.” Which means, first you have a work session with the producers, who help you work on your audition. Then the next day, you wait in a room with everyone else who is up for the role and one at a time, you go into a room with all the producers plus the studio executives and you do your audition. Then if you pass that, you have to come back at night and do it again for all those people plus the network executives. It’s scary as shit.
When I got the call (after 2 weeks of waiting and nervously eating meatloaf), I was shooting an episode of Parks and Recreation. So, I had something nice to focus on during the waiting period. I remember I had just sat down for dinner. And my agent and manager called and said, “You got it.” And I said, “What??! No! You’re kidding!” And then I called my husband and my parents. I was pretty excited.
And that was just for the pilot! In March. And we didn’t find out until May that the show had been picked up to series. I found that out while wandering around ABC Carpet and Home before a voiceover audition. I didn’t buy anything.
The show had a very different comedic tone than what people are used to seeing from you. Was it a difficult adjustment?
It was a live show, so it was actually probably the most comfortable I’ve been, aside from doing improv. Every Friday night, in front of a live studio audience, we basically did a little play. And again, the audience is so good at telling you what is and isn’t working. I loved that. The live show is a real payoff. And yes, usually I’m doing some dark and weird comedy in a basement below Gristedes, but that doesn’t usually make it on to network television…
What was the biggest “holy crap!” moment when working on a big budget project?
I kept having these “holy crap, I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do!” moments right before we would do a take at the live shows. My awesome hair and makeup and costume ladies (shout out to Karen, Barbi & Rachel!) would be putting on the finishing touches and I would look over and see Jenna Elfman and Ashley Jensen smiling and I would have to take a deep breath and soak it all in.
Can you talk about what it was like when you found out the series was ending?
Well, it was really sad. I mean, I cried after I shot my last scene and I didn’t know then that we’d be cancelled. It was just such a wonderful family and I was very very thankful for the experience and for all the awesome people I’d gotten to work with.
You are given the money and opportunity to create your own sitcom. What would it be?
Well, I’m actually trying to do that right now. Writing a pilot with Jessica St. Clair for NBC about two best friends and the triangle created when one friend moves back in with the other friend and her boyfriend. We are hoping to tell the true story of women best friends in a real and super funny way.
Do you feel a divide between the opportunities men and women are given in comedy?
I don’t honestly think about it anymore. I think I used to, just because at UCB the percentages of women were so low, but now it doesn’t seem to enter my mind.
What ladies are you watching these days? Who do you think has a strong comedic voice?
I’m a big fan of Maria Bamford and Lauren Weedman. I just saw Lauren’s solo show. She is incredible.
What advice would you impart to ladies wanting to pursue a career in comedy?
Go for it. Get out there, do your stuff, listen to the audience, make it better, then do it again. Think big. Set big goals for yourself, then set little goals inside of the big ones. Don’t let the small road bumps thwart you. Do stuff that you think is funny.
What movie from your childhood would you want to star in a remake of?
I always wanted to be in Kids Incorporated or maybe the A-Team.
Who is your dream collaborator and why?
Working with Jessica St. Clair has been a real dream. Both coming from the UCB, we share a vocabulary and a sense of humor, but we both bring really different strengths to the table. It’s been an amazing partnership.
Are you working on anything for the stage right now? Any other TV shows or movies in the works?
I did a series of shorts called “Lady Refs,” written by Maggie Carey and Liz Cackowski, that will be airing on HBO’s Funny or Die Presents very soon. I’m proud of that. It’s really funny. It stars Rachel Dratch, Liz and myself as little girl soccer refs, but is a parody of shows like “the L word.”
You moved from NY to LA, what do you miss most about NY? What is your favorite thing to do in LA?
I can’t talk about it, I’m still too sad. I think of NY like a boyfriend who I love, but just can’t be with right now because of timing. We went back over Christmas and it was just so sad. I miss it. I miss my friends there. I miss doing my shows every Saturday and Sunday. But I need to be in LA and now that my husband is here, there’s no where else I’d rather be. So far my favorite thing to do here is to be home. We have a lot more space and real grown-up furniture and a cat and we have a big porch that looks out into the mountains (and Glendale.) I love it.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I spent a lot of time in my earlier NY days doing everything that came my way. I thought that you never know where your break might come from. But after spending too much time going to crappy auditions for plays where the director was named Fatima and there was a man wearing a diaper, I finally started saying NO to things. Once I started saying NO to things that were ultimately not worth my time (or didn’t fit my sensibility and talents), it opened me up to being able to focus on what I really needed to focus on. I worked with Betsy Capes at Capes Coaching to get all my shit in line. If you need help or feel like you are floundering, I highly recommend them. It’s like therapy for your career. But also, just get real honest with yourself about what you really really want and then write it down. And then try to make it happen. Good luck.
You can follow Lennon on Twitter @lennonparham