How many times have we heard the press talk about being amazed by a comic who is able to “pull-off” dramatic performances?Stand-up comic and actress Heather Lawless is one of those actresses who pulls off dramatic acting performances effortlessly, partially because she doesn’t approach comedic and dramatic acting differently. The soft-spoken comedian spoke to us recently about her career as a stand-up and her two very different projects; Adult Swim’s The Heart, She Holler as Hambroisia and Angus MacLachian’s directorial debut Goodbye to All That opposite Paul Schneider.
The IBang: In terms of how you approach acting, is there any difference to how you approach acting whether a film is dramatic or a broader comedy?
Heather Lawless: With the show I do now on Adult Swim The Heart, She Holler, even though that is a comedy, I still approach my character as very real and very dramatic. So I don’t approach comedy as something so separate. I try to be as earnest as possible doing both. Just so I can believe what the character is doing and come across in an authentic way. It makes it more interesting for me if I can approach it in a real way.
The IBang: Angus MacLachian mentioned that Phil Morrison (director of the film Junebug) really advocated for you to get the role of Lara in Goodbye to All That. How did you first get on his radar?
Heather Lawless: I believe I met Phil doing stand up in New York City. During that time I think he had seen me acting in something which was also a comedy, Wonder Showzen and liked my performance. Phil approached me after a comedy show and said he had seen me in that episode and complimented me. I remember being very flattered because I was a huge fan of his. And we are both from North Carolina, as is Angus, so we shared that familiarity of being from a similar area on the map.
The IBang: What was it like going back to film a movie in North Carolina.
Heather Lawless: It was odd, because my parents still live in Cherokee which is further west from were we were filming in Winston Salem. But I flew in from Los Angeles and it didn’t feel like home necessarily, but I felt very comfortable being there.
The IBang: Even though Goodbye to All That is a comedy, your character isn’t very funny because of the tragic loss of her son. How did you approach the character to make her as real as possible?
Heather Lawless: It was of course this super tragic event in her life, and Lara is inspired by one of Angus’s friends, which made it all the more important. Angus really guided me through that performance. I relied heavily on him in that scene to make sure I never got too dark, and to make sure there was still some profound lightness to the character. I hung on Angus’s every word and tried to deliver.
The IBang: Your stand-up is unique because there doesn’t seem to be a dramatic change in stage persona and real-life, although that might be part of performing. Do you approach stand-up as an opportunity to be yourself on stage?
Heather Lawless: I think I do. I didn’t know anything about stand up when I first did it, which actually kind of helped me. And the first time I did it, it was kind of just me telling a long winded story about myself. I didn’t have the joke writing down, and it was almost like a journal entry. It has changed over the years, but not that much. It is mainly just about me and all my flaws and personality hiccups.
The IBang: What made you first take the stage to be a stand-up?
Heather Lawless: I worked with someone who produced a night at the Comedy Store, when I first lived in LA. And he asked me to come do it, and it was terrifying. And I don’t even remember anyone laughing or getting a great response, but there was something about it that was so bizarre and challenging, that I was beyond thrilled to do it again. And it can still be a horrifying experience but it can also be really amazing when it goes okay. So I just kept doing it.
The IBang: How did your comedy group Variety Shac come about?
Heather Lawless: When I first moved to New York, I didn’t really know anyone, but there was already this great spirit of collaborating among comics at that time. I met Shonali, who is actually a musician, who wanted to put together a show with comics and brought together Andrea Rosen, Chelsea Peretti, and myself. It was a monthly show, and then we started to make our own short films. We did it for about 4 years and made a few pilots. There was an awesome community of comedians and musicians in New York at that time and it brought me great friendships and meaningful connections.
The IBang: Having lived in both New York and LA, did you find that audiences reactions are noticeably different depending on where you are?
Heather Lawless: Yes. I’m experiencing that now actually because even though I started in LA and then moved to New York, I’m back in LA now. And my life is completely different from when I first moved to LA. But the comedy culture is completely different, at least in my experiences. But I remember when I moved from LA to New York, I missed LA audiences. And when I moved from New York to LA, I miss the New York audiences. I think it is just kind of a grass is greener thing. And the audience can be the easy thing to blame if your set doesn’t go well.
The IBang: The big change you are talking about I assume is your 5 year old son. Has it been difficult to balance raising him, acting and getting out there to perform stand-up?
Heather Lawless: Stand up is something I still want to do and need to do as much as possible. But realistically, I can’t do it more than I already am. I think you just have to accept your current time table and remember that it isn’t permanent. In a few years my time will probably free up a little more and I’ll be able to perform a little more. But for now I try to set deadlines and goals for doing stand up. I tend to work best when I have a specific deadline for a show. I like having something that forces me sit down and write every single day. My schedule is not ideal for going out late at night and doing a lot of stand up right now but that won’t always be the case, hopefully.