Ever wanted to get inside the head of an impossibly funny woman? We caught up with actor, improvisor and comedian Rachel Crane to find out all about the most horrifying thing she can’t help but find funny, the unlikely places she looks to first when searching for new comedy material, and her first memories of making people laugh before Hollywood came calling…
Give us a snippet about you. What should people know?
I’m an actor, improvisor, and comedian living in Los Angeles, which is a big jump from where I grew up on a rural farm in Kansas. As a day job, I manage my family farm’s finances from afar, but I also go home for wheat and bean harvest to drive the combine. (I’ve been driving the combine every summer since I was 12!) I’m annoyingly determined… my friends joke my story is “I Must Win: The Rachel Crane Story.” Ha! I love improvising, playing volleyball, and hanging out and being goofy with my husband of nine years, Edward Howard, who is an amazing artist/illustrator.
How did you get involved with Second City and what have been some of your wildest experiences there thus far?
The summer after my freshman year in college (1999). I went to see Second City’s 84th Main Stage Revue “The Psychopath Not Taken” with Kevin Dorff, TJ Jagodowski, Susan Messing, Rami Sagher, Rich Talarico, and Stephanie Weir, and it changed my life. I was like, “Oh, right, now I know why I’m on this earth. I must do this.” So I worked very hard to get an internship in Chicago one summer and then a job in Chicago once I graduated so that I could take classes at Second City. When I was in Level B (the second to the lowest possible level you can be in), I left class crying because I wasn’t perfect at the improv game we were learning. I was so frustrated! My teacher, Jonathan Pitts, was like, “Um crazy girl… you can’t be perfect at improv, you’ve got to let go!” Thirteen years later, I can definitely say that improv has taught me to roll with the punches and accept (some) imperfection!
When did you know you were funny? When did you first realize you could make people laugh?
Well, when I was little I used to do this goofy dance and my parents would laugh and call me rubber lips, but I don’t think I actually really, really knew I was funny until my senior year of high school. My best friend and I did improvised duet acting at high school Forensics meets. When we first started as freshmen we had absolutely no clue what made comedy work and were terrible! But by our senior year we had it somewhat figured out… I remember one competition, word had spread that we were up next and like 60 students showed up to see us perform. They were standing outside the room and crammed in the room because they’d heard that we were really good. I couldn’t believe it, and I loved it!
Give us one of your jokes that has killed it in the past, either on stage or just in life?
A few years ago, Second City created House Improv Ensemble teams. You had to be a graduate of their conservatory and long form programs to audition, and they only cast eight people in the first round. There was a lot of pressure put on us to be good… you’re the best of the best of the best of the best… blah, blah, blah. We had two weeks of rehearsal before our first show, and we were dead nervous! The house was packed, because everyone wanted to see this new group of the best people, and I’m sure some wanted proof that there had been some mistake in casting. So the show was going along well enough, and then one guy said something like, “Hey they’re coming in through that little window thingy above the door!” And I looked at him, house dead silent, and said, “You mean the transom?” And the house seriously erupted. Madness! It was like one of the biggest laughs I’ve ever had, and I wasn’t trying to be funny at all! I mean it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but at that moment it was just so killer. Someone actually just mentioned that moment to me again a few months ago. It sort of solidified our group as capable.
When you’re looking for new comedy material, where do you look for inspiration or what kind of things do you do to hopefully find new material to work with?
When I write sketches or characters, I typically pull from things that are affecting my life at the moment (like when I got fired from my first fancy corporate job because I was an actor even though I had the highest possible review score in the office) or from documentaries of people who are interesting (like hoarders or far right/left wingers). Then, I usually mix and match in stories from other friends or peoples’ lives. For example, a little old lady character I wrote talks about how her husband slipped on a bar of soap and hit his head on a cast iron tub and it made him a “little ding dong a lingy.” It’s a funny moment in her monologue, but I actually pulled it from a friend’s real life story that wasn’t so funny. I try not to dismiss any ideas because even a moment that’s not so funny in real life can really hit the comedy spot in the right context. I also like to sprinkle in a little science, songs or sayings from my rural Kansas childhood, and word play when I can. Smart, real material is always the most interesting.
Who have been some of the most influential comedians on your career and who are some of the funniest people alive today in your opinion?
Well certainly all the people I ever watched on stage at the Second City made me choose this path. I particularly remember watching Nyima Funk, Keegan-Michael Key, Jen Bills, TJ Jagodowski, Dave Pasquesi, Stephanie Weir, Maribeth Monroe, David Pompeii, Brian Boland, Martin Garcia, Brian Gallivan, Claudia Wallis, and Al Samuels. This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, but I can distinctly remember scenes that these folks were in that blew me away. As for currently, I’m a big Ricky Gervais fan, think Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin in 30 Rock were brilliant, and loved the original Arrested Development. I also like when typically dramatic actors do comedy. Liam Neeson in Life’s Too Short with Ricky Gervais kills! And probably my favourite sketch of all time is the SNL census taker sketch with Christopher Walken and Tim Meadows. Non-sequetor and smart humour are my favourites! I’m not that well versed on many other comedians as I’m more drawn to dramatic actors… Kate Winslet’s career path has always been enviable to me.
What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?
Honestly, being cast in my very first student sketch show at Second City Chicago back in 2003/04 was such a big milestone for me. My roommate made me a star for my bedroom door. It was the beginning! Booking my first commercial was huge too. I’d been auditioning for commercials for like three years in Chicago and booked nothing. Then I moved to LA and literally booked my very first audition in LA; it was for a national commercial! Talk about validation of my choice to move! More recently, being in the Best of the Second City archival revue on the Hollywood stage was a huge achievement. Getting to do material written and performed by some of my Second City Main Stage idols was such an honour and a blast!
What’s the big dream? And what would you settle for as a “next best big dream”?
The big dream is to star in a dramatic movie. I would take a comedy as well, but I feel like it’s easier to transition from drama to comedy than vice versa. I want to be on a path that ensures longevity. Next best would be a series regular on a TV show… I don’t care what kind!
What is one possibly disturbing thing that never stops being funny to you no matter what?
I sometimes joke that if I had a baby I would just put it in a box and ship it to Kansas. Something about a baby arriving (safely) in a cardboard shipping box at my mom’s front door is disturbingly funny to me.
Let’s get social for a mo’. How can people stay up-to-date with your busy life?
You can tag me on Facebook. I have a Twitter account, but I never use it (I just think: who cares what I’m doing!). The best way to follow me is via my website, rachel-crane.com, and imdb.com.