When Lianna Carrera ’07 first moved to Los Angeles in 2011, she had this unlikely vision in her head that someone wearing a 1950s fedora with a cigar hanging out of his mouth would pluck her out of a line-up and shout, “Hey, now here’s a kid with talent! Let’s give her a chance.”
She quickly learned that wasn’t at all how it worked.
“It’s easy to dress up Hollywood as all glitz and glam, but it’s really hard work mixed with a lot of uncertainty about how you reach the next pillar of your career,” Carrera said.
One of today’s up-and-coming comedians, Carrera just recently finished a new stand-up comedy special called Everything is Fine!, which was released on the streaming platform, Seed & Spark. It’s another big step toward realizing her dream of becoming a nationally known writer/ performer like Tina Fey or Amy Poehler.
“I have learned success looks like a bunch of small moments and hard work and feeling lost a lot,” she said. “It sounds cliché, but it’s why I can celebrate things like signing a development deal with Wanda Sykes (that after a year didn’t do much), or being signed to one of the top agencies in Los Angeles in which I share a home with many A-List clientele like Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock (which often means I feel like a small fish in a big pond), or watching the Emmy’s from the backstage press room two years in a row (which was so excellent to be there as a correspondent for AfterEllen, but how do I get one of those in my hands?)”
In college, she had no idea stand-up comedy was in her future. “A liberal arts education was the perfect incubator for me,” she said. “Writers and comedians are naturally curious people, and the liberal arts are set up to encourage that.
“I was a political science major, but it is because of Randolph that I know who Baryshnikov is, the impact of Martha Graham on the world of modern dance, and how Monet mastered light through his paintings,” she added. “I played on the basketball team. I danced in the dance concert. I was class president. Where else would that depth and breadth of knowledge and experience been possible? R-MWC for sure built the stage I stand-up on.”
She got her first taste of the comedy bug while emceeing an event during college. The judges were taking forever, so she decided to fill the time. “I always knew I had a joke or two in me,” Carrera laughed.
So she did a few jokes from one of her favorite comedians, Ellen DeGeneres. “I figured if I put my jokes in the middle of those and they bombed, they would think they were Ellen’s jokes,” she said.
Carrera was a hit, and she continued to do stand-ups through her senior year. She credits the support of her professors and the staff for prompting her to take a huge risk that final year. Coveting one of the few spots available in The Second City’s Comedy Studies Program at Columbia College Chicago, Carrera deliberately fell short of the credits she needed to graduate, withdrawing from all but the bare minimum of courses in what was supposed to be her last semester. She had to be an undergraduate student for one additional semester to qualify for The Second City and still receive federal aid.
“No one flinched,” she remembered. “I don’t know how much of it was my being young and dumb, or how much of it was the universe putting me at the right place to propel me forward, but the day I got my acceptance letter from Columbia was one of the greatest days of my life. The gamble had paid off.”
Like most artists, Carrera draws from her own life experiences for much of her comedy.
“I think we are all very layered,” she said. “We all have our stories, and I don’t think we all fit neatly in a box. I was really raised as a gay kid in the south with two conservative parents. My dad is a Southern Baptist minister, since retired. And my mom is deaf. And so I have all these cultures that make up who I am. I sometimes feel like I’m the weirdo on the sidelines. But that’s almost all the more reason to try and give it a voice.”
Comedy, she said, is about punching up, never down.
“A joke works when it empowers the disenfranchised,” Carrera added. “We live in a contentious time right now with people who hold power claiming they want equal time, when that’s not how any of it works. We must keep using our art to punch up and break down systems of oppression.”
One day, she plans to start a production company that recruits, holds up, and employs deaf people along with hearing people to create content that elevates their stories. She wants people like her mom to have an easier time being understood in the world. But for now, Carrera’s content to plug away in LA with her two aging mini-dachshounds, Gator and Graham—making her way in the world one stage at a time.
“If I’ve done my job right, I’ve left the stage making them laugh every 30 seconds and think every minute, and also feel a little confused as to what in the world they’ve just witnessed,” she said.
Check out more of Carrera’s work at www.seedandspark.com/fine.