Interview with Comedienne Renée Santos.
What was your first show and what was it like; did you bomb out like most comedians do?
My first show was at The Hollywood Improv in Los Angeles, a large platform for my first go at it, but I loved having the opportunity to take a risk. I stumbled onto that stage by taking a Stand-Up Comedy writing class with Lesley Wolff. Her class was designed to prepare each student to write their first ever 5 minute set, and the class ended with a showcase on the main stage at The Improv. I was shaky and messy, but I held my own as best I could. I got great feedback from my friends, but when I look back at the evidence in the YouTube video posted by Lesley Wolff, I realize my friends were blatantly lying to me. But God bless them for protecting my feelings. I felt like a bit of a train wreck on the day of the show, I had the worst cotton mouth ever and you could hear it in the mic. When I got off the stage, I was like “That could have been worse if somebody noticed my lips were stuck to my teeth…” Then Lesley, snuck over to me and said, “ Hey next time if you put Vaseline on your teeth, you won’t get cotton mouth.” I left the stage thinking I’d never do Stand-up again…and what the? Vaseline on my teeth? That is disgusting, she has no idea what she is talking about…I still use Vaseline on my teeth to this day.
A lot of people think comedy is all jokes, but it’s also a business. What was the toughest part about establish- ing a fee and getting paid when you got off stage?
It is a business, and the business I own is “Renée Santos.” It took me a long time to realize I had to become a good business woman. The toughest part was knowing that I was worth being compensated. I’ve learned that we teach people how to treat us. I absolutely believe paying dues, but for me, I did free shows for a long time and I wasn’t able to step into my power. I realized I was telling people I didn’t need to get paid because my vibe was, “I’ll do it for free.” In my opinion, if you are saying to yourself “I’ll do it for free,” what you get back is a plethora of “free” opportunities. The moment I decided I deserved to be paid for my art, I experience a bit of a drought. But, I stayed persistently patient, and within months I was offered my first paid gig. I’ll do charity shows, but I refuse to perpetuate the attitude that artists must struggle.
How did the opportunity to appear on NuvoTV’s, Stand-Up & Deliver, come about?
Lesley Wolff, the teacher I spoke about earlier, is now a Casting Director for NuvoTV. She offered me a part on the show without auditioning; it was surreal! Over the years, I have done many of Lesley’s shows, volunteered to stuff envelopes at her office, written referrals, attended her performances, and most importantly stayed on her radar because I actually value her as a per- son. I’ll say this with great conviction; my career is blossoming because of the genuine relationships I am building, not just because I am funny. Yes, being funny is critical, but there are a lot of funny comedians. I believe, what separates me is my desire and commitment to creating authentic relationships. When I meet somebody I think, “What can I nurture?”, not “what can they do for me now.” That attitude has afforded me so many opportunities and I am blessed.
What’s the first step an aspiring female comedian should take to establish herself in the business?
Be authentic, take your time to learn who you are, because Stand-up comedy is a caricature of our own human folly and perceptions. If you don’t understand your place in the world and feel confident about who you are, it’s nearly impossible to get an audience to believe in your story. Also, be persistently patient and be willing to be on the journey. I remember the first time I interviewed with a comedy agent in LA, t was an embarrassing interview, but the biggest blessing too. I had only done Lesley’s showcase and 2 open mics and I asked Adam if he would meet with me in regards to comedy representation. I happened to have gone to college with Adam and we bumped into each other at a Starbucks, so in my head I thought, “Ooohh, this is meant to be.” He agreed to sit down and chat with me. In my naivete, (I was not yet living the whole “building relationships slowly, not, what can you do for me immediately” philosophy), I definitely bit off more than I was ready to chew. I am grateful I had the courage to ask, don’t get me wrong, as I do believe close mouths don’t get fed, it’s just my timing was simply premature. Meeting with Adam was an incredible lesson for me. He chose not to represent me and what he said to me in that interview changed my life, he said, “Renee I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I never represent anybody until they have been on 1000 stages. You must be willing to do the work, you have a spark, go get great, stumble, shine, fall, glow, find your gold, and then you’ll be ready. It’s never too late…but it can be too early.” That stayed with me forever. I realized this whole illusion of how celebrities become successful has infiltrated our society and people expect to perform once and make it, when in reality, most successful people in any field get their feet wet for a decade before they are really successful. So every woman I meet who wants to be a comic, I say this, don’t be scared to shine your light, but be willing to do the work. And remember fear is just a sign that your dream is big enough. Never fear the critics. The only fear you should have is dying with your song still inside you.