Friday, September 27, 2013

An Interview with Pretty Darn Funny's Lisa Valentine Clark



by brettmerritt (bio)

Author's disclosure: I have been friends with Lisa for more than 10 years. Our kids are friends. Her husband Chris (also a former MMM contributor) is my friend. We started The Thrillionaires improv group and continue to work on projects together. However, I am not involved with Pretty Darn Funny and approached this interview as professionally as I could. Enjoy!

Pretty Darn Funny (aka PDF), for the uninitiated, is a comedy web series about a married, stay-at-home-mom who starts an improv/comedy troupe to bring better entertainment to the people of her community. The series follows Gracie, played by Lisa Valentine Clark, and her troupe of vastly different characters through the often hilarious challenges of life. The show also features parody videos of pop culture such as mobile apps, Downton Abbey, Footloose, and The Hunger Games. Season one of the award winning series began in April 2012. Season two started airing in August of 2013 and can be viewed here, or on YouTube here.

Recently, I interviewed Lisa about her experiences with the series.

brettmerritt: When you were doing season one of Pretty Darn Funny, did you think there would be a season two?

Lisa Valentine Clark: I really did. When we were writing for it and planning for it we were always moving forward with, "You know in the second season we could do this and in the third season we could do this," so the whole time the producers, Jeff Parkin and Jared Cardon, and I were always talking about how it would be great if this could be something that goes on.

BM: How do you feel like season two is different from season one?

LVC: For season one, they asked me to play the role of Gracie and I was really excited. As I was preparing for it, I realized I had a lot in common with the character. So, they had me come to the writer meetings and contribute. And that was great because I had been wanting to write more sketch comedy. And, at that time, the writing of the series was set up as a class at BYU and the writing was done by a group of student writers and Jeff and Jared would edit. So when they brought me on and I started talking about my experiences with these young kids who weren't mothers, who weren't older than 22 or 23, I gave an entirely different perspective. It was fun. They were really funny and talented too and we had fun working together. So that's how the first season went.

In the second season, we hired writers. I was brought on as an executive producer with Jeff and Jared. That was really exciting for me. That changed my role because before I just had to worry about acting. Producing is an entirely different ball game. I was thrilled, because I love this project so much, to be more involved with the creating and managing of it. Then, we brought on a writing team this time because we had a different budget. So the writing team was made up of Jeff, Jared, and I as well as Adrian Cardon—Jared's wife—and Kacy Faulconer who used to teach writing at BYU, and Tom Quinn. We all are at different stages of parenting, we all have different perspectives, we all have a background in comedic writing, so it worked well. So, the producing and writing approach was different.

BM: What about the structure of the show? In season one, there's an arc of you coming together as a group. Do we continue the story in season two?

LVC: In the second season, the episodes are more stand-alone thematically and everyone is in a different phase of their life and we explore that. You know, how do women support each other coming from different perspectives? How can we still be there and cheer each other on? The big theme is that we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously and to try to find humor in things.

BM: Did you prepare differently for this season personally?

LVC: I felt more comfortable with playing the character of Gracie, who she was and what she was about so I looked at it as I get to play this character that we've been talking about and writing about for so long now. We knew the cast better, they knew their characters and their strengths, and got to play to those and play off each other more. I have a lot of respect for those actors and what they bring to the table. I feel like my background in improv and, especially The Thrillionaires, helped ... On set we had a lot of fun because we could play around a lot with each other.

BM: Does the comedy come across the way you think it will? Is it the same in your mind as on screen?

LVC: No, and I think that's almost always a good thing. We'll write something and then we'll pass it around and other writers will take a stab at it and we'll collaborate and the whole idea can change. Then as a performer you'll prepare for it but when you get on set you have to be open to the idea or spirit of what you're doing. Because there are other creative elements and people there that deserve respect for what they're bringing to it as well, the director, other actors, and the rest of the crew. There's so many different ways you can deliver comedy and it's not done in a vacuum and it's influenced by so many outside things. I think that's one of the really great things about this because there's so much you won't really see that happened along the way to contribute to the final product. And you have to be open to that. I like those surprises.

BM: What do you feel like this series emulates comically? What inspires this show?

LVC: I grew up loving Carol Burnett. I thought she had the coolest job just making stuff and making people laugh. The work that I've done with The Thrillionaires and those people are some of the most rewarding and funniest things I've ever experienced. So, I think probably for the rest of my life, no matter what I do, that it will have to be up that standard. It has to be rooted in some element of truth. It has to be funny. We want it to be fast and clever. We want to be surprising and different and female-based, like Carol Burnett and 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation. It's about time there was a resurgence of women taking the lead in comedy and it's exciting because it's what I respond to. With this series, you shoot for the best and hope you leave your own mark too.

BM: How does your previous experience prepare you for this? How do you use it?

LVC: I have a deep love for improv. The Thrillionaires prepared me because we had a tight cast of people that you trust who push you to do things you never thought you could do, in a safe environment, with the biggest reward, I mean, it's an ideal place to play and practice and get better. Improv influences me as a writer and actor because one, being in the moment when you're performing and not worrying about it all being a certain way and let go and be there for the other actor, and two, confidence in that, if you're doing your best and trying your hardest, it will translate to the audience ... And we never forgot about the audience. They were the foremost in our minds. I learned a lot.

BM: What do you hope your audience will get from this?

LVC: I hope people will laugh. That they'll share it with their friends and say, "Oh you gotta watch this" and that they'll enjoy it. And love it. If it goes so far as to inspire a mom not to feel overly critical of herself then that's good too. But I mostly want people to enjoy it.

BM: What music do you listen to? Do you have a favorite hymn?

LVC: The new Civil Wars album which I love and have on a continuous loop. Come Come Ye Saints I cannot get through because I cry ever time. I'm from the Midwest, prairie land so I know what the pioneers were going through, JUST KIDDING. I like to listen to a lot of different stuff so I just have my husband load up my iPod with songs. I could listen to The Police all day long and also Annie Lennox and I've been listening to a lot of 80s lately, you know, Michael Jackson and the Go-Gos and Peter Murphy and Rush and Fishbone and all the stuff I used to listen to in high school. Brings back a lot of memories. So, I listen to a lot of what the kids would call "oldies" but I don't call them that. It's classic now, not old.

BM: What's your favorite movie and book this year?

LVC: I'm a sucker for superhero movies. Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, stuff like that. I love fiction. I've read a lot of good books this year. But I always love older sci-fi like Fahrenheit 451, Martian Chronicles, and I love Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I was an English major nerd so I have to read fiction.

BM: What's next for Pretty Darn Funny? Will there be a Season 3? What else do you want to say about it?

LVC: I hope there is a third season. Everyone has been great. Laurel Christensen at Deseret Book has encouraged us on this project and taken it on and said, "We're doing this." Jared and Jeff have been great to work with and taught me so much ... It really is a dream come true to be able to work on a project like this and be able to just be silly and hopefully give people something that will make them laugh and smile. I want to contribute to the good that's out there. I just feel really lucky, really fortunate to work on this project and I hope that this will enable me to make more good things with my friends.

There you have it. Thanks to Lisa for her time. Be sure to check out the videos and then let us know what you think in the comments.

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