If you are a frequent attendee of the Dodge College Master Classes, you know that within the last two years, we have only had 1-3 special celebrity guests on stage at a time. Women in Comedy surpassed that by bringing 6 of the best female comedians working today up on stage to share their experiences working in entertainment.
Yvonne Orji (Insecure, Vacation Friends) has a unique trajectory in becoming a comedian.
“Because I am Nigerian-American, I was supposed to be the doctor in my family — to which my parents are still praying and lighting candles. So I knew that I didn’t want to be a doctor because I don’t like blood, but I still majored in bio at GW and then got my masters in public health just to STALL, because I had no idea what else I would want to do. [When] I was getting my masters, there was a pageant, it was very specific: The Miss Nigerian American Pageant. I was all of the above. They said in order to compete you need a talent, and I was like ‘Oh great, I don’t have one.’ I get straight A’s, that’s my talent. So I ended up praying. I discovered Christianity in my freshman year of college, and I was like ‘Hey God, I hope you’re real because I need you.’ And as loud as day I heard the voice of God say, ‘Do comedy.’ and I was like ‘No.’ (The crowd erupted in laughter) That’s what a relationship with Jesus is like. And he said ‘What else do you have?’ I was like ‘I don’t like this back and forth.’ And he said ‘Well either you are gonna trust me or you are not.’ And that was it. The voice went away. I had two weeks before the pageant and I started writing what was funny growing up with this dual lens of being both Nigerian and American.”
One of the funniest answers of the night came from Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip, Haunted Mansion). When asked by Janice Min about what her first big splurge was after “making it” in comedy, Tiffany said:
“I bought a microscope. A $375 microscope. It could hook up to my computer and take pictures of whatever I am looking at an upload that to Google and see what kind of bacteria and germs going on around in my apartment. I like looking at germs and bacteria. I have since then bought another microscope that is like $3,000 and that one tells you what the shit is.”
All of us artists have likely reached a point where we felt like giving up. It is something all of the women on stage at this panel have also felt at some point in their life. Janice Min asked Meghan Mullally (Will & Grace, Parks and Recreation) what made her keep going:
“You know, I always say that I came out of the womb in a top hat and tap shoes. I just had that from the time I was born. I had to do it. Not too long before I got Will & Grace, I was in the parking lot of a Bed Bath and Beyond on a pay phone. I called my agent. I said. ‘I’m not auditioning for sitcoms anymore, never again!’ He said, ‘Yeah, right.’ And of course, I couldn’t pay my rent, so I auditioned for Will & Grace.”
Kerry Ehrin (wrote, produced, and former showrunner of The Morning Show; produced and wrote both Bates Motel and Friday Night Lights) has watched a lot of auditions in her life as a writer and producer.
“[In auditions], you see depth. You definitely see depth. I think in general, that comes from dealing with painful things. I think that’s the basis of everything. As a writer, I connect with that all the time.
There are all different kinds of performing. I don’t think you can be a great actor without having some sense of that. Even if you haven’t necessarily experienced it, some people can pull it in from the universe somehow.”
Molly Shannon (Saturday Night Live, The White Lotus) shared some memories on why she continued on in the industry despite the odds in Hollywood.
“When I first graduated from college, I remember a friend got a part on Charles in Charge. I was living in an apartment in the Valley, working in restaurants, and always broke. I was like ‘How come he gets a part in Charles in Charge and I get nothing?’ And I cried and went for a walk and I prayed to God. This is so hard. There is so much rejection. On that walk, I had a revelation. ‘Well, at least I am out here in California doing what I want, pursuing what I want. There were so many people who I grew up with in Ohio who went to college but then moved back home and gave up on their dreams. I realized there was meaning in the struggle. The fact that I am going for what I want is a beautiful life. Even if I have to try till I’m 70 and work as a janitor. I want to pursue what I want because there is beauty in that. I still have that philosophy. I still try to think the same way.”