After a steady climb the past couple years, thanks to a supporting role on Orange Is The New Black and numerous appearances in the comedy-podcast world, the summer of 2015 looks to be a big one for Lauren Lapkus. She has a role in one of the year’s most anticipated blockbusters, Jurassic World, and a co-starring role in TBS’ new ensemble comedy, Clipped. On it, she plays bubbly naïf Joy, the receptionist at a Boston salon alongside the likes of Ashley Tisdale and George Wendt. As she ascends to mainstream notoriety, Lapkus remains one of the best performers and improvisers in the indie comedy world, where her breakout appearances on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast quickly made her a fan favorite. (“She’s become, so quickly, one of my favorite people to play with,” podcast all-star Paul F. Tompkins told us.) That led to her own podcast on the Earwolf network, With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus, where she plays a different character in each episode opposite a guest “host.” Although she tends to play wide-eyed innocents on-screen, she gleefully explores the darkest and filthiest of territories on podcasts and onstage. (She’s a regular performer at the UCB Theatre in L.A. and is a member of the Wild Horses improv team.) She talked with The A.V. Club about that dichotomy and more ahead of Clipped’s June 16 premiere.
The A.V. Club: How did Clipped come together?
Lauren Lapkus: Well, we basically shot the pilot last year, so last pilot season. It must have been April that we got picked up, so we had to wait about a year to actually start shooting for various reasons. But we’re finally doing it, which is great, and we’re about halfway done now.
AVC: How many pilot seasons have you been in at this point? Are You There, Chelsea? was your first, right?
LL: Yeah, that was my first pilot season, and one of the first pilots I auditioned for. It might have been even the first one, which is crazy. It’s just one of those things that was totally lucky. And then the following season, I was on hold with Chelsea, so I didn’t do any pilots, but then the season after that, I did Joe, Joe & Jane, another pilot that didn’t go, and then I think that brings us to Clipped, which was formally called Buzzy’s.
AVC: Have you gotten sort of used to the—maybe “hustle” isn’t the right word—of pilot season?
LL: Yeah, it’s just madness. It’s definitely a crazy time, and there’s so much going on and so many auditions. I do find that fun. I like the thrill of it and seeing what’s going to happen. I find testing to be exciting and fun, even though it’s definitely the most nervous I’ve ever been.
AVC: Given that you’ve been on a couple shows that have at least gone for a season or a couple of seasons, it doesn’t sound like you have the sort of soul-crushing dread of pilot season that you sometimes hear from people.
LL: Yeah, no. I think it probably helps my first pilot season was such a lucky one. I’m sure that has something to do with why I find it fun. [Laughs.] I know it’s a tough time most of the time, so I feel very thankful that I’ve been lucky enough to book work during these last few pilot seasons.
AVC: You’ve said in another interview you tend to play these sort of wide-eyed, nice characters, and it seems like Joy is in that wheelhouse.
LL: Yeah, she definitely is naive and wholesome, and she’s very religious and straitlaced. But it’s really fun. It’s really funny to me because I don’t play that way in my improv, or any of my characters I do on podcasts. It’s very much not like that; they’re usually pretty raunchy or ridiculous characters. I have a lot of fun getting to do that on TV. I think it has something to do with my look—it must have something to do with that at this point. I think I’ve figured that out. I’ve never seen myself that way, so it’s pretty funny to be put into that sort of wheelhouse, like you said.
The thing about Joy, she’s a little different than my other characters. She’s almost sweeter and not as dumb as the characters, like maybe Dee Dee on Are You There, Chelsea? I wouldn’t say Susan Fischer [from Orange Is The New Black] was dumb, but she’s so innocent that it made her really nervous and skittish. Joy doesn’t have that skittish side to her. She’s just happy-go-lucky.
AVC: George Wendt is a Chicago guy, like you, and a longtime Second City sketch/improv veteran. Have you talked to him at all about that? In general, can you sense when another actor has a comedy or improv background when you work together?
LL: George has so many great stories about his Second City days, and he’s quick to recall a bit or blackout sketch from back in the day and make me laugh. I really love getting to talk to him about those memories and share my own improv stories. You can definitely sense when someone has that background; we all can’t help but do dumb bits all day long to crack each other up.
AVC: When did you shoot Jurassic World?
LL: Well, that all kind of coincided with Clipped, when we shot the pilot. Then I had to fly to Hawaii for Jurassic World, and I got married the week after that. So, it was a very crazy time in my life. And then I did the rest of Jurassic in New Orleans in, I believe it was June of last year, June or July.
AVC: How did all that fit in with when you started With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus?
LL: I started that almost six months ago, I think… Well, I have no sense of time because I live in California. Once I had lived here for a couple years, I realized I don’t know when anything happened because I don’t have weather as a sense of memory when they occurred. So yeah, I started talking about the podcast a while ago with the guys at Earwolf, and planning to do it. That started on my honeymoon, that we were talking about it initially, so that was in June of last year. I started working on it a little bit after that, and ended up releasing my first one around Thanksgiving. So yeah, it’s been a little while. I was trying to bank a bunch of episodes before I released any so that I wouldn’t feel rushed to get one done every week once my schedule got busier. That worked for a while, but now I’m at a point where I just have a couple stored, and I’m a couple ahead. It’s nice, but I don’t have that comfort of having those 10 episodes sitting there.
AVC: It’s all improvised, and the person is helping create the character that you’re going to do, right? That first episode with Paul F. Tompkins, you did an established character.
LL: Yeah, it was fun. In the beginning, I started planning out my character myself. Traci Reardon, Paul is very familiar with that character, and I knew I wanted to start with that character because people knew it. It would be an easy way to ease into the podcast. After that, the first few episodes, I created characters in advance I had never done before, and then would tell my host what my character name was and a short description for them to introduce me, and then we would just improvise together. I wouldn’t know what they were going to do, either. I found that after doing a few of those, I was like, “It might be more cohesive if they come up with the character,” because it will go with the theme they want to talk about, and it’ll be more fluid that way. I love improvising on the spot. I like that pressure. That ended up a really fun way to do it. Even with Scott Aukerman’s episode where I played Regina Crimp, who is a character I’ve done on Comedy Bang! Bang! a bunch, I didn’t know that who he was going to choose for me. So, I didn’t plan anything in advance with that, either. He introduced me as Regina as we were going, so it was fun to have to remember the voice in the moment.
AVC: When you were on the Comedy Bang! Bang! TV show, that was a different character, right?
LL: Yeah, Whitney Peeps. That one was just a one-off for the show as well.
AVC: It’s always a little trickier when people do the TV show, because now you have to think of a visual element for these characters.
LL: Yeah, in terms of the characters you’ve already done?
AVC: Yeah. Someone like Traci Reardon, because her attributes are so bizarre, it’d be difficult to pull off.
LL: I know, it’s one of things that would definitely be hard to do on the show. It would require a lot of prosthetics. That one might be too difficult, but I would definitely love to try to make it happen at some point in life. I don’t know when or where, but it would be fun to look like that for a day.
AVC: When you’re on Comedy Bang! Bang!, you can pop in every few months for a couple hours, and you always sound like you’re having a blast. How much tougher is it when it’s your own show, something you do every week?
LL: Yeah, there’s definitely more pressure, first in terms of getting it done, making sure I have one every week, have it edited, and all that stuff. It’s obviously more work than just popping into a room and leaving. I don’t find it to be negative in any way, though. I really have a fun time doing it. One of the best parts to me is getting to ask people that I really admire to be on the show, and to see what they’re going to bring to the table. It’s so much fun. It’s definitely going to be really surprising to see what people come in with. I’ve been having a great time with that. It keeps it really fun and light for me in that I don’t know what’s going to happen, so I like that.
AVC: How often do you perform with Wild Horses?
LL: We do a monthly show at UCB Franklin the first Saturday of every month, and that’s our consistent show. We’ll do some indie shows around town, and we have a project in the works that we’re working on that will be available hopefully soon for people. Other than that, we do the Funny Or Die videos, and we’re doing another one of those. We’ll hopefully keep doing those, too, so it’s great.
AVC: What can you say about the thing you’re working on with them?
LL: I can say that if you don’t live in L.A., you’ll be able to enjoy the experience of our live show. [Laughs.] Vague.
AVC: Audio? Video?
LL: I’m not going to say. I’m going to hold back and let it be a surprise. [Laughs.]
AVC: Do you have a timetable for that?
LL: Yeah, it’ll be in the summer. Soon.
AVC: How long has Wild Horses has been together?
LL: I think it’s been about a year and a half. I basically put the team together because I was invited to perform in an all-women comedy festival in Portland called All Jane No Dick. They asked me if I had a team. At the time, I wasn’t performing with a team of all girls, but I thought, “Well, I can put together a team of people that will be fun who I want to travel with and everything.” It was mainly like, “Who do I want to hang out with for a weekend in Portland?” It ended up being that we had great shows, and we wanted to perform together a bunch. It’s been so great. I’m so happy with how that’s turned out.
AVC: The chemistry you all have together seems like it would have come from working together longer than that.
LL: Yeah, it does seem short. We realized once I put the team together, we looked back through Instagram and everything and we found out we hung out, the four of us, a bunch. We didn’t really realize that we kind of were our own little friend-group already. I think that probably has a lot to do with it, that we’ve spent a lot of time around each other. We’re all in a book club together. [Laughs.]
AVC: So much of your work has been comedic, but it seems like you’re stretching out farther into more dramatic territory, especially after something like Orange Is The New Black. Obviously, you can’t say a whole lot about Jurassic World, but is that continuing this year with some of the projects you’re working on?
LL: Yeah, I would say definitely. Jurassic World is definitely more dramatic than comedic, and even the same is true for my role. It was cool, because the director, Colin Trevorrow, who is so awesome, he let us play around a little bit. There are definitely some fun moments that weren’t necessarily scripted in advance, but, you know a lot of what’s happening, as you can just tell from the trailers alone. I definitely got to do more of that dramatic stuff, which is really fun for me.
AVC: Like you said, you shot in Hawaii, you shot in New Orleans, and this is going to be this huge, blockbuster film. Did it take you long to adjust to that sort of environment?
LL: I definitely felt the grandeur of it all when I was in Hawaii. That was kind of epic, which is a word that I don’t really like to use, but it really applies to the situation. It was so beautiful. I teared up on my first day on set because it was so amazing to think about how I was involved in this that’s bigger anything I can imagine. I definitely don’t take it for granted.
AVC: You’ve said how you used to watch every TV show and sitcom and movie as a kid. It has to be so strange to be suddenly a part of a hallmark of your youth.
LL: Yeah, totally. It’s very weird. I think it’s probably equally weird for my family and friends who just know me from growing up. You know, that’s the kind of movie I think I would go see with a group of friends if I wasn’t in it. I’m excited about this movie in general, just the fact it’s a new Jurassic Park movie. It’s been so long since there has been one, and the fact this one harkens back to the original.
AVC: This seems like this is a big year for you, to state the obvious, after bubbling up for a while. Does it feel like a turning point?
LL: Yeah, it does a little bit. I mean, Orange Is The New Black was such an amazing experience, and so unexpected in terms of how well received it was and how many people watched it. I was really shocked. My role was relatively small, a recurring role—there are so many characters on that show—I’ve been so surprised at how many people remember me from the show or recognize me on the street. I couldn’t have imagined that with that role. That alone felt like a big thing. Winning the SAG Award with the cast was extremely thrilling and amazing, and that felt really important in my life. These roles that are coming now, that are coming, I definitely feel like I’m in a different place than I was last year. I can say that for sure. I don’t know what it means, but even just having the podcast, getting to put out something every week that is mine and my sense of humor, that feels really special, too.
AVC: Do you have any sort of dream gets that you’d want to get for the podcast?
LL: Definitely. Pee-wee Herman I would love to have. [Laughs.] It’s funny because it’s a specific format that I feel like not everyone would want to necessarily have to be in that position. But people who are character actors and that type of thing, I think they could really fit. Pee-wee Herman would be a dream come true.