Eighteen months ago, ColdTowne Theater alumni Chrissy Shackelford moved to New York City to pursue her comedy writing and acting career. In that time, she’s ascended to the Characters Welcome House Team at UCB and has landed a coveted faculty position at the same theater.
Her one-person show, Diane Shangri-La Presents, debuted at the Pit Theatre’s SOLOCOM in November of last year:
“Diane Shangri-La, legendary star of the 60s and 70s, is back and she’s got something to prove – can she be a star again? Join her while she uses her talents and minuscule budget to explore women throughout history using only one blonde wig. Just be careful not to fall in love with her, she’s intoxicating. “
You’ve been in NYC for a few years at this point. What was the adjustment like for you?
Chrissy Shackelford: Yeah, I’ve been here for a little over a year and a half now. I’ll hit my two year anniversary in September. The adjustment was hard. Austin is such a great city, with a lot of comforts, like driving to the grocery store or driving to the laundromat or just being in charge of your own transportation without the subway system dictating if you’re going to be late or if you’re going to be spit on by a man yelling bible verses at you.
Just little life things were immediately more difficult, but it was also jarring to leave a community that I felt a part of and that I cared a lot about to go to a place where I knew virtually no one. What helped me ease the adjustment was trying to jump in as quickly as I could. There were a lot of setbacks. For a while I would say it was only setbacks, but things started to click in about a year into living in NYC. I got a new day-job that is flexible and allows me to pay bills and live as an actor, I got cast on the UCBT House Team Characters Welcome. After kicking around an idea for a solo show, I submitted the idea to a solo comedy festival here in the city and got accepted.
But as many triumphs that happen, there is always a setback, there’s always an audition you didn’t book, always a show that you didn’t crush, there’s always someone who’s going to vomit on you (always). New York is a place that feels like things can change drastically in the course of a day, so you’re just trying to make it to the next day and make cool stuff, but you’re also playing a long game. Because the most worthwhile careers are marathons not sprints.
So I think, for me, it’s a constant balancing act of that sprint vs. marathon. I always want things to be moving faster, especially in regards to my career, but I have to take myself out of it and remember that the most important thing is hard work and persistence and making sure to give myself the space to be a real human being who goes to parks and watches baseball games and other normal people stuff. (Going to parks and watching baseball games legitimately sounds like what a robot thinks humans do.) There’s a real trap of getting so involved in comedy that you spend every night at a rehearsal or show, especially since there is so much going on in the city, but I think it’s just as important to maybe stay home one night and google conspiracy theories about mysterious celebrity deaths.
As far as city life goes, the food here is great.
Writing a one woman show – what’s your process like? What changes did you have to make, going from group collaboration?
Chrissy: My writing process for solo work is still pretty collaborative. I’m someone who really likes to talk ideas out, and I find that if I can’t describe an idea to someone, but I feel passionate about it, I just have to go write the piece/sketch by myself. Then once it’s a piece, I’m still going to ask someone I know and respect for feedback. Or if I’m feeling really ballsy, I’ll write something on my own, not consult anyone and put it up on a show in a bar basement and let the audience be my sounding board.
What I’ve learned the most from writing this solo show is that I can always make the work better. I can always finesse a beat in a sketch/monologue to make it hit harder and I really rely on audiences for that. As far as collaboration on this particular show, Diane Shangri-La Presents, to say that this is completely of my own design is a real disservice to my amazing director Matt Gehring. Most of the rehearsal process was just me rambling to him about ideas I had or things I wasn’t sure were working or things I was positive were working, and he really helped give the show shape and form.
Who are your influences?
Chrissy: SO MANY INFLUENCES. I love great character work from great actors: Molly Shannon, Kristin Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Lisa Kudrow, June Diane Raphael, Amy Sedaris, Casey Wilson, to name just a few. I’m also drawn to performers who seem to have an agency over their own career. I was in love with Reno 911! when I was younger, and still to this day I talk about that show as a model of a television show I’d like to do one day. Same with Strangers with Candy.
What performers have blown your mind?
Chrissy: It’s hard to remember everything that’s blown my mind comedically because the farther I am from that mind blown moment the more it just becomes part of my comedy DNA. Recently I’ve been really amazed by Sam Richardson’s performance in Veep, which I’ve just caught up on. In terms of sketch comedy, something that impressed me recently was John Early and Tim Robinsons’ episodes of Netflix’s The Characters and the SNL sketch from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting in December, called “Meet Your Second Wife” – such an amazing premise and played so well.
What’s the best thing about NYC’s comedy scene?
Chrissy: There is always someone you haven’t met or heard of yet that you see do a show and then are totally inspired by. There’s so many different comedic voices and there’s a lot of different approaches to comedy happening in NYC.
What are you looking forward to at this year’s ASF?
Chrissy: I’m looking forward to seeing Nephew from UCBTLA and looking forward to seeing Girls With Brown Hair‘s new show. I’ve seen them for the past two years at ASF and they are always a highlight for me. Also looking forward to Vanessa Gonzalez, I saw her show last year and it was insanely good.
What should people interested in comedy know that you didn’t know when you started?
Chrissy: There are one million different ways to be funny.
We need to increase the visibility of this article. Any suggestions for a click-bait headline?
Chrissy: “Click Here for Free Pies” “5 Reasons Your Boyfriend Might Actually Be a Lizard” and “This Article is Not About Donald Trump”
Chrissy Shackelford will be performing in Dian Shangri-La Presents on Thursday, May 26th at 8:30pm at the Hideout Theater, along with Jonestroch and Pat Dean. TICKETS HERE