New blog feature! For the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring interviews with interesting post-collegiates who will be sharing some of their experiences and offer some advice. Want to nominate someone to be featured (including yourself)? Email postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom]
As many of you know from my first post, I graduated from a small single-sex college in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. One of the greatest legacies of my time in college is all the fabulous, fascinating women I had the opportunity to know and, for my money, there are few as funny as comedian Lianna Carrera. The gay daughter of a Southern Baptist minister and a deaf mom, Lianna’s comedy is uniquely rooted in her personal life experience yet totally relatable – and hilarious!
I am currently a professional stand-up comedian based in Chicago, IL. I earned my undergraduate degree from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, VA with a major in Political Science. Random Fact: I love quaint flower shops. Nothing makes me happier than arranging seasonal-bloom flowers in a mason jar.
What was your initial life plan on the day you graduated from R-MWC?
To get a job that would pay the bills while I navigated the prospect of pursuing art professionally. This included interviewing for several nine to fives.
In the last three post-collegiate years, what things have you done that were not part of your plan?
Touring internationally was something I never realized I’d be able to do. It’s pretty surreal when you find yourself walking about in a totally different culture and thinking “I’m getting paid for this?” I also didn’t think I would ever be a “writer” – certainly not sitcoms or film. As I sit down to write these days, I often wish I would have taken more English or Creative Writing classes in college. I wonder if I should have studied script writing in my undergraduate years. Alas, if a frog had wings he wouldn’t bump his ass when he hops either. [Ed.note – This is my father’s absolute favorite adage. High five!]
What paths have you wanted to pursue but haven’t yet and why?
I am really looking forward to moving to LA! I’ve spent the last year touring and building experience so that when I do arrive in LA, I’m better prepared for it. Incidentally, I am moving there at the end of August to give it a go.
What have been the greatest challenges in your life after college?
I think it’s been wrapping my head around the fact that things don’t happen overnight. It’s a precarious balance – having that drive to change the world, but accepting that sometimes changing the world happens in baby-steps.
I’m a big believer in crazy, random happenstance. Do you have any examples of that in your life since college?
I do believe life is a series of random happenstance. That might be the very definition of it. I found myself interning in Chicago for someone who eventually gave me the opportunity to write a spec script for 30 Rock on NBC. I’ve purchased a hamburger from the Improv from the bookie who eventually gave me a spot to perform on stage. I’ve performed comedy on the streets and been spotted by someone who happens to own a prominent magazine and expressed interest in doing a spread. It’s all happenstance, really. It is about putting yourself out there. You never know what the universe has in store for you when you do.
Not many people graduate college with the career goal to become a stand-up comedian. What are the benefits and challenges of taking on a less-traditional career path?
When you’re talking about a less-traditional career path, the first thing you’ve got to accept is that the challenges are the benefits. If you’ve got grandiose dreams of becoming an overnight sensation, good! Keep that spirit alive because it will fuel you on many occasions. But know that there are going to be more days when you’re broke than not, more days when you feel dejected than not, more times where you sacrifice than you don’t. With that said, there are many a-ha moments as an artist that make all those trials worth it. It’s not the destination but the journey where you will find the most joy. When you figure that out, you’re golden.
Resisting the urge to give it all up for a more traditional idea of ‘normalcy’ is definitely another challenge. To pretend it’s not wouldn’t be honest. I have moments where I catch myself wondering if I need to pack it all in for a steady paycheck. Maybe get married, buy a house in Vermont (I’ve never been to Vermont but it seems nice enough). Maybe have a few kids and take lots of pictures of my kids eating cake and upload them to Facebook. Buy a grill, a boat, watch my wife grow her garden. That kind of life is surely tempting. Honestly, it sounds and feels beautiful. As an artist rigorously pursuing a less-traditional career path, I know one day that life will come, but the longing to go away and make it happen right this instant has always a bit of a pull for me.
You’ve definitely been an inspiration to those that have the good fortune to know you personally. What advice would you give to others hoping to pursue creative outlets professionally?
Understand that we all have this voice inside of us telling us we can’t. And if you keep putting it off until tomorrow, you won’t. The War of Art is one book that really does a great job of examining this issue; the author delves into the idea that we as artists allow ourselves to succumb to an inner-resistance. That we find all kinds of excuses to put off what it is that we know we are being led to do. It teaches the artist how to recognize this resistance and disarm it. The book gives a pretty powerful example that often surfaces in my mind when I am procrastinating. The author writes:
“You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement, but it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”
That’s pretty powerful stuff. So my greatest advice is to live up to your calling, even if you have to do it kicking and screaming away from expectations being placed on you or the self-imposed limitations you are placing on yourself. Believe you can do it, because you can. Surround yourself with people who edify and inspire you, who hold your feet to the fire; who check in to make sure you’re making moves to get where you want to be. And build others up. It is a scorned artist who puts others down to justify sating their own resistance. Do not do that to someone else.
As for you, recognize the difference between making a plan to accomplish your goal and making plans that are safe; plans that you carefully lay out to temporarily sate the ache in your gut of wondering what a life more abundant would look and feel and be and taste like, if you went for it.
Final question – if you could go back and tell yourself anything on your graduation day, what would you say?
You are more prepared than you think, you are more ready than you know. But you also don’t know shit. Keep an open mind. Make sure that in all that you do, you speak in love. Be earnest, be honest, be humble and leave entitlements at the door. Protect your heart. Use your gifts more than you dream about them.
Many thanks to Lianna for agreeing to be our first featured post-collegiate! If you are in the Chicago area, you can catch her at the Gorilla Tango Theatre on July 25th at 7pm for the very funny Father, Son, and Holy Gay (or Where in the World is Jennifer Knapp). Visit her website for additional upcoming performances and hilarious video footage of Lianna in action. You can also become a fan on Facebook and follow her on Twitter! Feel free to leave additional questions for Lianna in the comments section!