Clearly, Boston-raised funny girl Charla Lauriston is an expert at multi-tasking. While her lips are cracking jokes, her hands are busy typing an outline for a show, and her mind’s pondering on her plans for the next day. This is how one has to operate to keep up with the swift pace of a life that includes frequent gigs at some of the nation’s most popular comedy venues, a hand at creating a successful web series (“Clench and Release”), and writing for several others, including Tina Fey’s hit series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”.
Kreyolicious: So, what were you doing right before this interview?
Checking my email.
Kreyolicious: Did you feel pretty growing up?
I’m dark skinned and this is America, so no.
Kreyolicious: Hmmm. Some people who end up being comedians were either super-shy in high school, or were very, very extroverted. Which category did you fall in?
I was insanely shy until senior year when I started coming out of my shell.
Kreyolicious: You been to Haiti lately, girl?
I’ve never been back to Haiti since I left when I was four. It’s hard not to stay connected when my whole family is Haitian. I grew up going to Haitian churches, hanging out with my cousins. I still speak fluent creole. I promise I’m still super Haitian.
Kreyolicious: Tee hee…Lucille Ball, a comedian who lived in the 20th Century once said, “One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn’t pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself.” Comedy is not all laughter, of course. How do you stay positive during trying times?
I’m very introverted. I take some time to myself for a while then after I’ve had enough of that, I start reaching out to family and close friends. My family and friends are super supportive and always willing to listen and comfort me.
Above: Comedian Charla Lauriston at an OK Cupid show at Housing Works in Soho. Photo by Jing-Jing Hu
Kreyolicious: You attended Emmanuel College. Knowing all you know now, would you have skipped college and gotten right into comedy following high school?
Absolutely not. College made me who I am. It opened my eyes to the world, I learned how to be analytical, to question, I read things that changed my life. I made friends from other cultures and walks of life. I absolutely wouldn’t be who I am without college. I think the greatest inequality in America is the lack of equal access to higher education. I took on a lot of student loan debt to go to college which is the worst, so if I did it again, I just wouldn’t have gotten into so much debt. But either way, college was amazing.
Kreyolicious: Girl, I read that you had a job as a senator’s assistant, and decided to do comedy full-time. Girl, what did your parents say when they found out?
My mom was actually really supportive. My parents are super Haitian and conservative, but sometimes I think they’re secretly hippies. My mom knows me and knows that I hated every day job I ever had. She also knows I’m stubborn and strong willed and generally can’t be at a job that I hate. She told me her only fear was that I would struggle which I thought was such a beautiful mom thing to say. And I of course did struggle, but it was worth it.
Kreyolicious: You worked with the legendary comedienne Tina Fey—as a writer for the first-season of the show “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”. What are some of the most important lessons you learned during that period?
I felt really unworthy when I was there. I felt like I didn’t deserve such a great job with such great people, that I didn’t belong there, and that showed. I looked like a deer in headlights the whole time. I think that’s a dire mistake particularly for any woman of color when she goes into a job that’s intimidating. I learned that I gotta always fake it ’til I make it. If there’s something I don’t know now, I ask or I study it so I can be armed with knowledge. I remember they would use terms in the writers’ room or make references I didn’t know, and instead of asking or finding out, I’d just wallow in my ignorance because I thought lowly of myself. Always think highly of yourself. Not in an arrogant know-it-all way, but know that if you get to a certain level of success, it doesn’t matter if you deserve it or not. Seize the opportunity. Make sure to learn and soak up an much as you can. Don’t judge yourself for what you don’t know. Don’t get down on yourself. Remember that you’re the dopest b___ on the planet. They hired you for who you are, so be gloriously, unabashedly yourself.
Kreyolicious: You wrote, directed and produced your own series “Clench and Release”. What was it like on your most strenuous days?
The worst was when we shot at a coffee shop before they opened at 5am. I don’t do early well. Or late for that matter. I’m a 10am-8pm kind of person. Aside from the long days, I was so passionate about what I was doing, I hardly noticed how early it was or how late it was once I was doing it. Probably the most strenuous thing I did was I had to go pick up lights that I’d rented. I didn’t expect them to be insanely heavy but they were. I didn’t have a car and I was too broke to get a cab, so i dragged the lights onto the subway, rode up to Harlem, then called my roommate to help me carry the lights to our apartment. The struggle was real.
Kreyolicious: Is that something you’d like to do again?
Yes. I love creating my own thing.
Kreyolicious: A graduating high school senior comes up to you and asks you how she can break in to series comedy writing. What do you tell her?
I’d tell the person to start reading books on comedy writing, maybe take a sketch writing or TV writing class, start watching comedies she likes and try to break down the episodes, study your craft! Maybe take an improv class. Go to comedy shows—sketch, improv, and standup. Immerse yourself in it. Make it your life. And lastly, I’d tell her to stop asking for advice until she’s actually started getting involved. As a policy, I don’t give advice to people who have never actually tried doing anything because they don’t know what to ask for yet.
Kreyolicious: What are we to expect from you next?
That I’ll stay black.