Comedian Lahna Turner: You Don’t Have To Live In LA Or NYC To Be An Actor
12:30 pm, November 13th | by Laura Donovan
I may not be a comedian, but I do know this: a lot of people have a lot of opinions on how to break into the field. One of the most common pieces of advice I’ve heard is that aspiring performers must relocate to Los Angeles or New York City, where they’ll inevitably have to wait tables or babysit rambunctious children until they can book a major gig. It doesn’t have to be that way though, says comedian Lahna Turner, who believes there are many different ways to make it in the industry. Being a small fish in a big pond isn’t the solution for everyone, and she’s all about what works best for each particular person. She loves her life, so the comedian must be doing something right!
The Canada native, who currently has a popular podcast with spouse/fellow comedian Ralphie May, is a champion of musical comedy and unfiltered entertainment. Her three-month-old podcast is faring well in the podcast world, and she agreed to chat with The Jane Dough about that and why she thinks there’s no single correct way to get into her line of work.
How did you get into comedy?
Pretty much by accident, actually. So I’m a musical comic and I was writing songs and um, I just started playing out more and more, coming out of my shell a little bit, but I wrote some funny songs to break my otherwise normal set and they were funny enough to the point where people told me I should go to comedy clubs, so I did and the rest is kind of history.
I’ve seen an increase in the number of people doing that, singing at comedy clubs. Would you say more people are starting to do that?
There are a lot of comedic singers/songwriters but there has always been that kind of thing going on. When I first started, there were people doing it. Maybe there’s more of an opening inside the comedy clubs for it, but I don’t know. Maybe more women are doing it now, that might be something. When I first started there was no one playing a guitar.
How do you respond to negative audience members (i.e. hecklers, screamers, booers)?
It doesn’t happen that often. You might get someone yelling something out but they just think they’re contributing something. If someone yells something really mean, in general no one really wants them in the room. You just kind of learn how to deal with different scenarios overtime. There are all kinds of ways of getting heckled and ways of dealing with it. I remember early on, someone heckled me. It wasn’t a mean heckle but my initial reaction was to put the heckler in their place and they weren’t saying anything mean, they were just trying to contribute to the show. I felt like this was years ago, but I worried I was being too hard on the heckler, if that makes sense. The most recent time was when I was doing a free show on Hollywood Boulevard. We were halfway through the show and a drunk asshole came in and just started being a dick. He walked into the room like he owned the room, and no one wanted him there. I just stopped my show and said, “I’m not performing until you leave. You have no business walking in there and it wouldn’t be fair for me to allow you to stay because there are three other comics coming up.” The whole room wanted him to leave and we cheered when he did. It’s really rare when those things happen, but after you’ve been doing it for a long time you come up with a bunch of different comebacks and things for different scenarios, and then you know how to deal with it next time. That’s why it takes so many years to get really good at comedy, because you have to experience every scenario. And it’s fun when you have a new one. It’s really exciting, actually.
You’re in a new movie, “Teacher of the Year.” Can you tell me a little bit about it?
It’s an independent film. I kind of got into it off of my standup and the guy who cast it was at one of my shows and he cast me as a quirky creative teacher who uses her guitar to help the students learn. It’s a cute film. I don’t know what it’s going to be or when it’s going to be completed, but I’m not sure when it’s coming out. It was a cool opportunity, I’ve done a couple of things like that over the years. I just got an opportunity to be on the Playboy Station actually! You know how they have those talking heads shows in which they make fun of things in pop culture? Playboy is about to do one of those shows so I get to do that in a few weeks. It’s really fun, I love what I get to do. I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world most of the time!
Well you definitely need that in your field, not to mention thick skin.
Comics do have thick skin but I also don’t think most comics don’t have a choice. If you want to get in this business and this is what you want to do, there’s little else you want to do. You take the good with the bad but you love it so much that the bad doesn’t seem so bad, at least to me. When you talk about hecklers, at this point, it’s just one of those things. At work, there are certain things you don’t like. Periodically you work with someone you don’t like, that just comes with the job, but most of the job you really like. Sometimes, believe it or not, hecklers can be fun. You may not want to write that, it’s never okay to yell stuff out at a show, but it can be fun. The hard part of being a comedian, I think, is being away from people you love because you’re on the road. Every comic will have some booker who is just an asshole who maybe didn’t pay him, so that part sucks. Stuff that happens onstage is usually pretty fun. The other night, I did a show for Mom’s Cafe, they’re launching a YouTube channel, and they had a bunch of female comedians who are mothers. I was sick though and I vomited right before I had to get onstage. I was so sick, I felt green and it just happened to be on a night we had a four-camera shoot. I thought, “Oh my God, if I barf onstage, it will be the biggest viral YouTube comic clip of all time. I cannot barf onstage.” That was hard, trying to do a set feeling that lousy.
I feel like that has happened a lot recently, like with Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.
I was trying not to! You know that feeling where you just worry it’s going to happen again? I got queasy. I was a little off at first but I got through it. I’ve never had that happen before, it kind of sucked.
I could never handle that. What sort of advice would you give to a twenty-something who is bored out of her mind with her day job and wants to be a comedian? Should aspiring comedians reside in LA or NYC?
As general advice for anybody anywhere in the world, if there’s something you want to do with your life, you have to do it. It doesn’t matter what it is. A childhood friend is now a professional artist who paints with bubble gum. He chews gum and sticks it to a canvas. It’s amazing what he does with it. When you think about it, it’s amazing what he does, he makes a living with bubble gum, and it’s just so inspiring that anyone can be successful in anything they’re passionate about.
As far as going to LA or NYC, it’s harder to be a small fish in a huge town. When you come to LA or New York, there are so many more comedians vying for stage time. There are a lot more places to get stage time, but you need to be on stage a lot to develop as a comedian, so you need to be in a place that offers a lot of stage time. Right now, San Diego is a good town because it has three clubs so you figure, where can you maximize your stage time? I started in Houston and when I started there were four clubs and a number or road gigs that were an hour or so drive away. I was able to get up a couple of times a week and really work on my act. If I had to do that in LA, the amount of quality stage time I would get, even now, it would be hard. Depending on what it is you want to accomplish in comedy, it’s a good idea to come to LA or NYC, but in any business there are different levels. I know a lot of successful comedians who haven’t done the TV or film thing that still make a lot of money from their acts without ever having to come to LA or NYC. So it’s not necessary, but it depends on what you want. Now, if you’re looking to just become famous, I don’t get that. You can be famous for doing anything if you love it and do it well, so the pursuit of fame is a little odd to me.
That’s interesting because many successful actors, such as Jenna Fischer, recommend relocating to LA to make it in entertainment.
I totally disagree. If you want to be an actor, you can act in any neighborhood play, theater. Every town I’ve even been to has some sort of outlet for actors. If you want to be famous and be in huge productions, yeah, more things happen in LA, but plenty of productions take place in other places. People shoot in Canada, New Orleans…Like I said, I don’t understand the pure pursuit of fame. It depends on where you want to go with it. Lots of actors in Los Angeles are people I just ordered my lunch from. I have a good friend who lives in LA and works in the film industry and went to Hawaii and New Orleans to get agents just so she can act. She has had more success leaving LA. I think people can do anything anywhere.
Do you have any comedy inspirations or influencers?
I’m a huge fan of comedy and a fan of people who are edgier. I love when people push the envelope a little. Early on, one of my favorite comedy music guys was Rodney Carrington, still is. He’s a brilliant songwriter. As far as comedy goes, my husband is a huge supporter of mine. He’s also a comic, Ralphie May.
At the time that I met him, it was 14 years ago, so he wasn’t known or hadn’t done much TV at that time. He’s gotten a lot more famous since then and I just really respect him and his work ethic. He works so hard, he’s just a complete and total inspiration. I say that more as a fan than as his wife. The fact is, he’s really good and I respect him for it. It works out well. When we met, I didn’t really want to date a comic, but we’re just very compatible, we’re best friends. It works. He’s been tremendously helpful to me.
Comedians such as Louis CK and Daniel Tosh often get flak for some of their more controversial jokes. Do you think it’s ever justifiable to get angry about a standup joke?
Not ever. I know Daniel ended up apologizing for his rape joke and I think it’s worse when a comic, or anyone for that matter, apologizes for saying something. Tracy Morgan apologized, and I have met Tracy Morgan, he says fucked up stuff. If you want to see Tracy Morgan, that’s who he is. Who goes and sees a show, walks into a room and has no idea what he’s seeing? You wouldn’t go to a country music show if you’re a fan of rock and roll. You check that out when you walk into the room, right? In Tosh’s case, he did a rape joke. Maybe 99 disliked it, but one percent thought it was funny because he thought it was funny enough to say. It’s a huge intrusion on freedom of speech. Now look at it the other way: 99 percent liked the joke but one percent was offended. Is that okay? As soon as you start drawing a line, you become a hypocrite. Just make sure you’re going to the right show. You can’t ever please everyone. If you want to live in and eggshell and not be offended, don’t go. I think when you start apologizing, it’s a very dangerous thing to start doing. It will infringe on everything, telling people what they can and can’t say. Where does it end?
Where did you grow up again?
I was born in Canada, where I was raised for a little bit, and then I moved to Texas, so my joke is always, “Howdy eh.” I’m Canadian and American, I have dual citizenship.
Where would you like to be in five years?
I’d like to keep doing what I’m currently doing on a larger scale. My husband and I just started doing a podcast called “The Perfect 10 Podcast,” and it’s doing great. We’ve been doing it for three months, so who knows how that could change in five years! It’s consistently been in the Top 100 since we launched it, I’d like it to be in the Top 10, it has actually reached the Top 10 before, so that’s a total blast. The two of us also wrote a pilot for a funny show and I’d love to have that going. There are so many things I’d like to do, it’s hard to say, right? I just hope it continues on the path it’s currently on.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you?
I’d definitely like people to know about my podcast and see whether it’s for them. Our podcast is very different. Unlike many comedy podcast, we’re not an interview-based podcast. We do really fun things. There’s a comic named Brad Williams who is a midget, or a little person, and we wanted to go miniature golfing. It’s a very funny podcast, I guarantee you’ll laugh. Now if you’re particularly sensitive as we were discussing earlier, you may be offended, but maybe you need to be offended. It might be a good thing for you.
This interview has been edited and condensed.