There are only a handful of items in my closet that I have an emotional attachment to. This dress is one of them. It’s from the costume rack at NBC Universal. I wore it while I performed in a sketch comedy showcase for 100 casting agents, producers, and NBC executives. It was one of the most exciting and horrifying experiences of my life. But I got to keep the dress!
It all started when Hollywood called offering to fly me on an all expenses paid 10 day trip to Los Angeles to showcase my talents for the heads of NBC. They were looking to start a new sketch comedy show for the network. Lou Wallach would be producing. He’s the guy we have to thank for The Chappelle Show. The director, Mick Napier, is a legend in the improv community. Think of any Saturday Night Live cast member from the last thirty years – Mick has worked with them.
These two men would be guiding me and ten other hopefuls to put together an hour long showcase. Basically, it was a group audition to see who’d make the show. I was giddy to say the least, and I felt confident about going. After all, my day job is performing at a sketch comedy theatre. I didn’t know what the outcome would be, but I knew I had a good chance. And even if I didn’t get cast, just being in this room was a huge opportunity.
I read Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please on the plane. Amy trained in comedy with Second City and then went on to becoming a founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB). Then Saturday Night Live. Then the world. It was inspiring. Here I was on my own little adventure chasing the same dreams as Amy. Not only that, but I was going to be directed by Mick, who she herself had worked with many times. It was a dream come true. Or so I thought.
My first night in town the entire group met up for drinks. There were eleven of us. I knew no one, of course, but a lot of them seemed to already know each other. Most of the crew were from LA or NYC. Stephanie was the lone Canadian. It was an incredibly talented and hilarious group of people. Everyone had the goods, they just hadn’t had their big break.
We started working first thing the next morning. I walked in bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to succeed. That’s not what happened. Mick encouraged us to do some bits so that everyone could see why everyone else deserved to be here. It was my turn.
I decided to start by singing a parody song I’d written. No response. I later found out that Mick hates parody songs. Ok. Got it. I switch to one of my characters – a former lady pimp turned rookie cop who bitch slaps her partner back in time to solve cases. A few giggles. My little old woman who never gave birth is a surprise hit. Then I play Michelle Obama doing a ventriloquist act with a Barack puppet that she’s very sexually attracted to. Complete silence.
Meanwhile, everyone else was consistently hilarious. Laughter was echoing off the walls. The rest of the day wasn’t much better. I left the room eight hours later and melted like Amelié when that guy walks out of the restaurant.
Did I deserve to be in this room? Does Lou like me? Does Mick think they made a mistake? Am I the person that everyone looks at and thinks, “Ok, well she’s not getting in.” I’ve been in high stress situations before. This is what I want to do with my life. Why was I doubting myself?
I came back the next day determined to work twice as hard. I brought in more ideas, more characters, and more energy. I was feeling a little better about the situation when Mick pulled me aside.
“Nathalie you’re a good performer, but you’re too much.”
“You mean my movements are too big for television?”
“I mean your energy assaults the audience. And NBC is never going to hire you to play an old lady. They’ll just hire an old lady.”
Well, damn. I was crushed. I have a lot of respect for this man, and he just wasn’t on board with me. Everything I had done to get me here was being shot down. I felt defeated. But then a miracle happened. Mick told one of the writers to give me a song for the showcase.
Eddie wrote this wonderful ballad about a woman missing the simpler times of having a flip phone. I knew this was my chance to impress these people. I can wail, y’all. I ran over to the musical director.
“Matthew, I want to take this one to church.”
He nodded and started playing a soulful blues. We worked it out, and I was one of the first ones to hop up when we shared material that day. I sang the song with my entire heart and soul plus a little silliness. I didn’t care who I assaulted. I hit the last note and the room erupted into applause.
Lou Wallach jumped out of his seat and gave me a standing ovation. “Who wants to follow that?!”
I heard someone whisper, “Well that’s going in the showcase.” And I smiled to myself. Finally.
My solo was in the showcase, and according to the musical director, it got the biggest applause of the night. I had a few small roles in sketches where I tried to take all the notes I was given, but also not compromise myself and who I am as a comedienne. I wasn’t in love with what I did, but I did it.
Mick came up to me after the show. He wasn’t smiling. “Your song – was worth the price of admission. You showed them exactly what you can do.” Thank you Mick.
Ultimately, I wasn’t chosen for a spot. Even more ultimately, the show didn’t even happen. But it was a taste of how hectic the LA entertainment industry can be. I had a heart to heart with one of my castmates, Lilan. I was venting about feeling less-than because I didn’t have the experience that everyone else had. She said something that will forever stick with me.
“Yeah Nathalie. You haven’t done Groundlings or Second City. You don’t have the LA or NY resumes that some of us have, but you’re here. That says something in itself. You got yourself here.” Lilan mic drop.
I got myself to Hollywood. And I’ll do it again. This was such a learning experience for me. I came back to Austin, washed all my tear-stained clothes, and sulked. Then, I brushed myself off and started developing the idea for Pretty Funny Girl.
Losing one battle is not a defeat. Still here. Still hustling. And I got to keep the dress.