Contributed with exuberance by Staff Writer Lucia Sawh
If you’ve ever run into Laura Oberbeck at Terry Knickerbocker Studio, you already know she’s insanely hilarious, strikingly committed to her work, and just plain fun to be around. Yet what you might not know, is that her personal journey hasn’t always been easy. Having battled eating disorders, mental health and family issues, it’s hard to imagine how someone can take those experiences and transform them into 45 minutes of ridiculous laughter.
I first watched Laura’s solo show “Laura” in June 2016, and have watched the evolution of her show for the last couple of years, growing my curiosity for her process. Thrilled to hear that she’d be bringing LAURA for a final time to Terry Knickerbocker Studio May 12th, I knew I had to share her story with the TK community.
“Laura” is an experimental and theatrical comedy show that weaves in and out of past events, and present experiences. I like to take things that are jarring, like mental health issues for instance, and bring light into them.
I also never want to offend anyone. I’m not commenting on anyone else but me, and making fun of myself and my stories. I’m not a stand-up comic, so this is different than a stand-up show. At the same time it’s not a narrative.
With the material, it’s far enough away from me that I won’t get triggered by it— the eating disorder part is the most traumatic and unfunny moment where it turns. The audience is like, “Woah, this is heavy,” but I’m not reliving the pain every night. I have a particularization that is not something that’s going to wound me. The jokes or punchlines just wouldn’t be as funny.
I like having the audience laugh with me the whole time, and then be like, “Oh my god, why am I laughing at this,” and turn dead silent. I like that dichotomy, and then letting the audience feel permission to laugh at things they wouldn’t normally laugh at.
I pieced together a rough draft to audition the show, which was the first step. I’d show it to anyone and everyone who would listen and watch it. I also had a few friends that I’d polish up stories with. Like, “Is this funny, should I say it like this?”
After the rough draft, I got a director who helped me change the format, edit or cut things, and who really helped my performance of it. It went from a 20-minute sample of a not-that-good show, to a 45 minute solid show. I was much happier with the flow.
I saw her work and I knew that I wanted to bring her in. She’s very personable and crazy, and I think I needed someone to make me a little crazier. I loved that because I wanted to be comfortable in the weirdness. She’s also very positive and peppy, and I wanted that for my show.
I just knew I wanted her, and she ended up being such a great director. You should mesh well. If you ever hire a director, know what they do, and be a fan of their work.
Start with an idea you like enough to be really intimate with, that people can watch. You’ll need a supportive network of people along the way to get feedback, and a director. You can’t direct your own work — you have to have someone sit there and watch it.
I’d also advise that you can’t have something so close to you when you’re writing that you’re not willing to delete. A lot of writing is editing. That’s such a key. If you do have to scrap it all, it’s fine. I had some really dumb jokes on my rough draft, and my director was like, “You should just scrap that.” I learned not to take those things personally.
I had the idea in the Summer of 2015, I put up my rough draft in January 2016, and more of a final draft in June 2016, which was when I had my first performance. I put it to rest, and I was itching to do it more; so in 2017 I asked my friend, Deanna, if she wanted to do it together. It ended up being a great marketing strategy because of the buzz we both generated within our communities.
I also hate self promoting. Promoting a solo show is the hardest thing in the world because it’s all you. It was nice having a business partner, even though our shows are so different.
I had a good amount of support during it — my brother who is also a comedian provided a lot of reassurance. Also sharing the experience with Deanna when we got rejected from Ars Nova.
Getting naked physically feels more naked than telling everyone all of the personal details about my life. I tend to be an open book, while some people are the opposite. When I sang and stripped, leading up to the show, I never wanted to do it. It was for the greater good of the show for certain bits, and that overpowered the fear for me.
It’s been a really slow process, and knowing that that’s ok would’ve been helpful. Some artists work on a project for 5 to 10 years. I’m coming up on 2 years. I haven’t focused solely on this; I’ve been in school and auditioning. Having it as a thing I do on the side made it even slower, but I want to keep it as something on the side. It’s helpful for me to have multiple things going on, so if it fails, I have something else.
I never want my show to be static. I always want it to grow and expand, morph and change, as my life does. I never appreciate when people say a piece is finished. You have to realize you’re in a draft process for the rest of your life.
Laura: No matter how many times I watch your show, I still cry of laughter. It’s been amazing watching your growth as an artist, and I am honored I get to share your story.
And as a special treat…