It’s the worst thing that could possibly happen to an artist. You have a great idea for a project, you toil over its creation and then, you step back and realize “It’s really, really bad.” So bad that you can’t release it for public consumption. So bad that it feels like everything you’d worked so hard on — obsessed over during countless conversation lulls, subway rides, and sleepless nights — is a giant waste. Okay, maybe that’s not the worst thing that could happen (cancer is bad), but it’s a pretty terrifying prospect that either quells creative urges from the outset or forces spiteful artists to release every dud they make just because they took the time to make it. In well over 100 editions of this column, Charla Lauriston is the first person I’ve spoken with who resisted the urge to release a product she wasn’t 100% satisfied with. She’s the first who scrapped months of work to go back to the drawing board and create something truly worth sharing. Clench and Release is certainly that.
Tell me about how you got your start in comedy.
Charla: I’ve been doing comedy for 4 years. I used to work for a political office and then I started doing improv at the PIT and became obsessed. Then I did stuff at UCB and now I mostly do standup and writing.
Are you working full time in comedy now?
Charla: Not yet. I have a part time job now.
What was your inspiration for this series?
Charla: I really wanted to see my standup come to life. I think my standup is so relatable, it’s just about things that have happened to me, and so I wanted to do something showing that. Also I’ve never seen a woman doing standup on TV, like Louie or Seinfeld, and I sort of wanted to see if I could experiment with something like that on the web.
What was your biggest challenge in producing the series?
Charla: I think budget is just such an obvious hurdle because I work part time and do comedy. There’s not a lot of dollars to be had. That said, I want it to look really good so I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it look really good. It’s also New York City so there’s a ton of really talented people who are willing to do stuff for really cheap. Beyond that, I think the biggest hurdle was my own writing. There was a lot of learning on my feet about what looks good. What goes from being written to being in video that looks good and plays across really well.
What’s your writing process like?
Charla: I had done another web series at the beginning of last year and it was horrific, it was so bad. It was way too long and it came across really dramatic even though it was supposed to be funny. It was also really writing intensive so this time I just wrote outlines and then I went from outline to dialogue. Like really basic dialogue, just trying to get in as many jokes as possible, but keeping it very very simple and to the point. I cut a lot of fat in this one and it came across much, much funnier. Each one opens with the joke so that you immediately know what’s happening. It’s nothing like my first one, which is never going to see the light of day.
Oh, so you didn’t even release it?
Charla: No, it’s so bad. I watched it and I was like, “This is unwatchable.” It was just not funny and I’m not gonna put out something that’s not funny.
What advice do you have for people looking to break into digital comedy? I usually hear people say “Just put stuff out there,” but it seems like you may have a different perspective.
Charla: My advice is just that you should love it. If you love it, then you’re good. When I was watching Clench and Release and editing it, even though I hate seeing myself on camera and I hate hearing my voice, it made me laugh. The other one I hated watching. I think you just have to trust what is funny.
What other projects do you have going on?
Charla: Well I’m working on continuing this series and trying to promote it as much as possible. I’m also working on a half hour of standup and I’ll see what I can do with that. I really want to get more episodes of Clench and Release out.
How many more are you looking to do?
Charla: I’m really not sure. One thing I’m also looking to do is a pilot episode, but I think that would be too long and extremely hard for people to watch unless it was very engaging. So I’m going back and forth over whether I should write a pilot or four more little episodes.
I imagine shooting a pilot would be more of a show piece than something that’s gonna get a ton of views.
Charla: Yeah I’m debating it. I do have ideas for continuing the series, I’m just trying to think of what move will be best for the series. It’s also super new; it’s only been out for 2 months. So it’s a total baby and it’s not like it has a huge audience.
What’s your promotion strategy?
Charla: Well I’m trying to see who really likes it and then I’m just promoting it to those people who really like it. So far it seems like black women really like it. This political website called The Root posted it and that got it a lot of traction. I’m trying to start with people that like it and then hopefully I can reach out to other places that have a wider audience. I think Black women really like it in part because I am a Black woman, but I’m just responding to whose responding to it.
How do you feel the comedy landscape has changed for women, of all ethnicities, over the last five years or so?
Charla: I straight up love the landscape right now. I think it’s a ripe time for women to really shine. I think it really started with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler putting an end to the stupid idea that women aren’t funny. I’m lucky to be in a circle of comedians where I consider a lot of the male comedians to be very smart and feminist. In my circle of guy comedians, I’ve never heard them say something stupid about women. They’re just people who are aware of what’s going on. For the most part I’m not introduced as, “The one lady on the show” or anything like that. It happens sometimes and it’s usually when I’m outside of my circle or out of town.
When you’re outside of New York or LA or Chicago do you find it completely terrifying? The audience changes so much.
Charla: It is very different. I don’t find it terrifying as a woman of color; I find it terrifying as a comic. Just like I hope these people think I’m funny. I’m going to Nashville in two weeks and I’m a little nervous. I’ve never been to Nashville and a lot of my jokes are about chicken and dicks and slavery and I don’t know how that’s going to go over. I just try to think as a comic, “How can I be the kind of comic that does well anywhere?” I want to be the kind of stand-up that is just funny.
Here are your three reasons to watch, ya’lllllll:
Episode 1, “The Code”: The interplay between Charla’s stand-up and each episode’s narrative adds a texture not often seen on the web.
Episode 3, “Roots”: The best comedy is rooted in truth — pain, idiosyncrasies, insecurities. Clench and Release is true.
Episode 4, “No Arms”: For a new kid on the block, Charla’s writing and performance is more believable than many who are far more seasoned. As viewers, we instantly trust her. Maybe more importantly, we like her.