Lauren Adams ’04: Irresistibly funny
From a ‘little clown’ to a co-starring role in Netflix’s original series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” Lauren Adams ’04 has reached her professional destination: comedy stardom.
Lauren Adams ’04 recently headed to a beach house in Rhode Island to spend some time with friends she made while at Elon.
She loves life in Brooklyn, N.Y.—it’s where the Maryland native finally settled after graduating—but she was looking forward to being by the ocean and the possibilities it always seems to offer. After all, the actress and comedian has a good luck streak when it comes to beach visits. She was in the Bahamas during the spring of her senior year in high school when she learned via a phone call from her mother that she was accepted into Elon’s music theatre program. More recently, it was during a trip to Costa Rica when opportunity knocked again.
It was her agent who called that time, urging her to return to New York because she had a callback audition with comedian, writer and producer Tina Fey for a role in the Netflix original series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
“I left the next day at 3 a.m.,” Adams says, thinking back to that moment. And after dealing with customs, two planes, a really long cab ride and an audition with Fey via Skype, she landed the role of a lifetime as Gretchen Chalker, one of the four Indiana Mole Women who spent 15 years under the thumb of a cult leader in an underground bunker. It’s Adams’ first “TV job,” and the actress turned comedian thinks she might be onto something. “Maybe I should be taking more tropical vacations if I’m getting all this good news when I’m on the beach,” she jokes, wondering aloud if the Rhode Island excursion might lead to another job. “Maybe I’ll book something. I’ll keep my cell phone on.”
Adams has had plenty of dramatic roles throughout her career and has appeared in or has done voice-overs in commercials for a variety of products, including AT&T, ChapStick, Boar’s Head, IKEA, Downy and Corona. “It let me quit waiting tables,” she says. “I had a goal that I wanted to quit waiting tables before I was 30 and commercials allowed me to do that.”
But she thinks she might have finally found her niche with comedy. “It has taken me awhile to get there,” she says. “Since I’ve been in New York, I’ve become really invested in comedy and love the comedy community.”
When she looks at the breadth of her career, she has clearly arrived at the place she was always heading. “Looking back at my life, I guess I was a little clown,” she says. “I don’t think it was until I got to New York and started doing improv that I thought I could make comedy a career.”
After her graduation from Elon, Adams did regional and summer stock theater in California. When she moved to New York in 2006 and found herself lost in the shuffle of one audition after another, she started taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, or UCB for short, an improvisational and sketch comedy training center with two theaters in New York and two in Los Angeles. It was there that Adams found a community and a comedic voice she could call her own.
“I love making people laugh,” she says. “I think it’s a very important thing that we laugh and put a lot of value in it.”
Prior to landing the role on “Kimmy Schmidt,” she performed at UCB regularly with her sketch group, Onassis Comedy, and other improv groups. She also starred in a one-woman play called, “Pig: A Restaurant,” which she co-created with Leila Cohan-Miccio, a former editor for Grub Street Boston, a food and restaurant website. The satirical play lasted for six months and sold out in New York, Los Angeles and Boston. The two met at UCB and combined their love of New York’s food scene with comedy. “I knew a lot about crazy chefs and annoying waitresses,” says Adams, who played seven different characters, switching back and forth from a food critic to chef to urban farmer to publicist, to name a few. “It was really fun.”
In 2013 she did a segment on “Late Show with David Letterman” where she played the role of Daphne, a fashion expert, and ambushed Letterman with a summer fashion show. “I feel lucky that I got to sit with him before he was gone,” she says of Letterman, whose longstanding show ended in May. It was a whirlwind experience. She rehearsed the comedy sketch with the writers and then it was off to hair and make up. She didn’t see Letterman until the show was live. “Dave doesn’t pull punches,” she says. “If he doesn’t like it, he says it. It was a little nerve-racking but awesome. That bit was less than a minute, and I think I fully blacked out during it because it was so cool.”
Despite her healthy sense of humor and quick wit, Adams is serious about her work. Still, she can’t help but enjoy herself, especially now that her Netflix gig has her working with legends like Fey and Robert Carlock, who also wrote and produced “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock.” “It’s a really super long play that I get to be in,” she says. “I get to live as Gretchen for however many years we get to do this. I wonder what she’ll turn into. It seems really cool to be able to work on a character for a long time.”
The pilot was shot in spring 2014 and then they had the summer off while the rest of the show was written. Adams used the time wisely and watched “30 Rock” so she could get into the rhythm of Fey’s and Carlock’s writing style. “I’m a big fan of ‘30 Rock,’” she says. “I think it has the most jokes per minute, or JPM, of any show on TV.”
And while she has one season in the books, it still feels new to her. “I’m still getting used to the lay of the land,” Adams says. “I still feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t know what I’m doing.” The job certainly had its intimidating moments, especially given the talent of the cast, many of whom also worked on “30 Rock.” “Tina Fey was very cool, very nice and very professional,” Adams says. “I felt like I was in very good hands—talk about people who have incredible comedy careers.”
The show was written, produced and filmed for NBC, but it ended up on Netflix instead. “I think Netflix is the right home for it. It’s a quirkier and off-beat comedy,” says Adams, whose character was the most brainwashed by cult leader, the Rev. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, played by “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm. Like many shows on Netflix, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” which debuted in March, is also bingeable. Adams and a few of her co-workers watched all 13 episodes in one sitting. “We powered through,” she says. “It was kind of depressing when it was done. We all had this adrenaline rush and then a real sad low.”
And then she watched it again. “My first time through, I hated watching myself,” she says. “I was critical but when I watched it again, I really enjoyed it. It’s not as laugh out loud as it is for people who didn’t know any of the jokes beforehand, but it is surreal.”
Gretchen appeared in nine of the show’s 13 episodes. At this point, Adams has no idea how her character will be developed. Just like last year, she has the summer off while the upcoming season is written. Adams is eagerly awaiting a fresh new year, especially after the show was nominated for eight Emmy Awards.
“When we go back to shooting, I should get a new backpack and take my picture in front of my apartment holding a sign that says ‘season 2,’” she jokes. “It feels a lot like going back to school and that’s fun. I like it.”
By Roselee Papandrea