Robyn Lynne Norris: How I Broke Into The Acting Industry & Created a Second City Show #DateMe

Robyn Lynne Norris is one Balanced Babe we love. Not only is she funny as hell, she is extremely down to earth. Read on to learn about how she broke into the acting industry and created a Second City hit show, #DateMe!

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© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2016

If you know me well, then you know I absolutely love comedy shows. Laughter is the best medicine, and in Chicago it’s something different to do than the usual “let’s go to a foodie spot and stuff our face with meat that’s smothered in butter and sauce and then cry the next day when our face balloons up like a dog who’s been stung by a bee”. 

SO yea, it’s nice to experience shows and activities in the city that are unique and entertaining. Recently, I was invited to a comedy show, #DateMe, by the creator and total sweetheart, Robyn Lynne Norris. It was an absolute hoot. I laughed hard. Not the type of laugh that you do to fit in with 20 other people who are laughing, but I belched out genuine belly laughs the entire time. And my belly laughs aren’t pretty. 

#DateMe is a show that discusses the perils of online dating and some of the crazy sh*t that users will send to other users. I don’t want to give too much away, cause I’m hoping you’ll be inspired to check it out at Second City, but it was freakin’ fabulous. 

Anyway, I am lucky enough to be interviewing the writer and star of #DateMe, Robyn, so that you can really see what the acting industry is like. Robyn talks about the hustle that goes into an acting career, how she handles failure, and of course how she lives the Balanced Babe lifestyle. Read on for some major motivation. 

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I’m a Balanced Babe and.. I’m a Second City Star: Robyn Lynne Norris

BB: Was there a particular moment during your acting career that catapulted your success?

Great question! There have been two very pivotal moments that stand out for me. I have always felt I had to work very hard to make my own opportunities. I spent years in Chicago writing several shows and just trying to achieve my dream of working for Second City. I auditioned several times and didn’t make it. And I figured I just wasn’t what they were looking for. I never had a “buzz” about me and I knew that I probably never would.

I was sad but ready to move on and was planning to move to Los Angeles. Second City only had general auditions once a year so I decided that I would do it one more time and then move to LA. And then I got this thing called Belle’s Palsy where half of my face was completely PARALYZED! I looked awful but decided I would do the audition anyway. What did I have to lose?

About two weeks before the auditions I was at ComedySportz rehearsal and it was just too loud for me due to all the clapping and cheering (my eardrum was also partially paralyzed making some sounds VERY loud and grating).

I stepped into the lobby, sat down, crossed my legs, and did something I had never done before — meditated. I said “If I’m meant to get Second City, let me get it. And if not, I’m ready to let go.”

 The very next day I got an email from Beth Kligerman telling me to call her. And she hired me as an understudy for the Second City Touring Company — Two Weeks Before Auditions! And then everything spiraled from there. Beth had been terrific about coming out to see all the little shows I had written over the years. But I didn’t even know I was on her radar. I will never forget that moment.

The other HUGE moment has been #DateMe.

The success of #DateMe is definitely the most surreal thing that’s happened to me career-wise. We started three years ago as a smaller show called Undateable and were supposed to run for three months at Second City Hollywood. But once the show opened I could tell there was a buzz that was different from anything I’d ever done. 

Next thing I knew our producer (the Amazing Diane Alexander) saw the show and loved it. And she put into play a series of events that led to the co-founder of OkCupid (Sam Yagan) flying in to see it, giving us permission to continue doing the show (I was SO nervous. He could’ve shut us down that night!) Because of that we were able to build it out into the much bigger 2-act show that you see today.

Diane also stressed the importance of adding the personal narrative to my storyline. I tend to write for, and focus on, other people. I never would’ve written a show centered around myself without her pushing me to do so. But she was right. It’s just what the show needed to take it from being a really funny comedy show to something with a bit more heart. I am forever grateful to her for that.

There are so many other little moments, people I’ve met and worked with, theaters that supported me, etc. But those two things stand out as the big ones.

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© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2016

BB: Have you ever failed? If so, share how you learned and overcame this failure.

I have failed SO many times! I think I’m actually a success because of my failure. Things have never come easy for me. I’m kind of shy sometimes so I’m not the kind of actor who walks into a room and people go “We love her! Let’s cast her!”

I realized this very early on. So I started writing my own shows. Some were great and lots of fun. But I also have some sketches I’ve written in the past that I cringe when I think about.

The first show I wrote with my friend Hans was called “Hans & Robyn are Searching For a Great Review!” It was a fun and goofy show that audiences seemed to like but we got a TERRIBLE, devastating review from the Chicago Reader. Like truly awful.

But we picked ourselves up and added a segment at the end of the show the following week where we read the review as if it was the best review of our lives. I think the reviewer said something like “Hans and Robyn are performing as if they are seeking out a sitcom deal” She meant it as an insult but we read it to the audience and then jumped around the stage excitedly saying, “We’re gonna be on TV!!! YESSSSSSS!!”

I thought Undateable was going to be a failure. If you look back at the initial publicity photos for the show I was so stressed. My friend Bob and I had worked on the actual experiment for over a year. But putting it onto the stage with a cast and crew was more difficult than I anticipated. Second City is known for creating sketch shows from improvisation. But that’s not what I wanted this show to be. I had a vision but didn’t know how to communicate it.

Second City Hollywood is unique and wonderful in that it gives you four weeks to test out your material before you officially open. Our very first preview was one of the least prepared things I’ve ever put onto the stage. We were holding iPads for the script. We didn’t have the profile names on the slides and people were just saying the name before each of their lines. Painful. But we got through it.

By the next week it was already in much better shape. And by week four we knew we had something special. But fear of failure keeps me motivated. And I’ve probably failed more than I’ve succeeded. I have little fear when it comes to constantly putting myself out there even if the product isn’t quite perfect when I start. It’s one of the only things I’m NOT afraid of.

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© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2016

BB: What are some details about the acting industry that readers may not know about?

I mean there’s the basic thing where people think it’s all glamorous and fun and EASY. Which is not the case. It IS fun. 🙂 And sometimes glamorous if you get to that level. But a lot of people want to do what we do so you have to work hard to stand out. Every day you face rejection via auditions and even online in regards to social media and putting yourself out there.

It’s not just about showing up and performing. There is so much work behind the scenes (headshots, classes, auditions, writing, networking, marketing, etc.)

Some of it is luck and looks and charm. But for the rest of us I think it’s perseverance. If it doesn’t come easy, keep going. I’ve seen many people hit success later in their careers because they kept going even after they were told ‘No’ or rejected several times. Also, it helps if you’re a nice person who is good to work with. That can carry you a long way, at least in my book.

BB: What is your typical morning routine?

#1 Priority: Coffee first. Always. Then breakfast. I can’t function if I don't eat something in the morning. And I’m talking hearty eggs or oatmeal. I don’t do the continental fruit or yogurt thing. I need something heavier. Then I check my email. But I try to check the fun stuff first to kind of ease into the day. So any blogs, newsletters I subscribe to I allow myself at least a half an hour to read and watch TV (I’m a multi-tasker and it’s literally always on in the background while I work).

I used to wake up, panic when I saw all the emails I’d missed while doing something so unproductive as SLEEPING! (so lazy!) So I’d work for five hours straight without eating and then realize I was starving. So unhealthy! So now I try to give myself those moments in the morning to veg out (and eat!) before I tackle the bigger stuff. I guess it’s my weird way of meditating?? 🙂

BB: What do you do once a week for your health? 

I’m a workaholic and have only recently begun being better about balancing things in my life. It’s a struggle! Most notably, the past two years I realized the work will NEVER STOP. So I set hours during the day to work and then anything that comes in at night I don’t stress about until the next day.

Just giving myself permission to know that my to-do list is ongoing and that I can only do my best has made a world of difference. I used to stay up until all hours of the night working. Now I still stay up late but I also do things for me during that time like reading and relaxing.

Also, I do try to get to the gym regularly. Weight training is my favorite and when I’m truly balanced it’s part of my regular routine.

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© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2016

BB: How do you maintain the Balanced Babe lifestyle?

As I said before, I struggle with this. Which is why I love reading your blog and other wellness and lifestyle blogs. I’ve always been big on reading. And whether it’s reading a self-help book or something inspiring on the internet, it motivates me to focus on the positive and not get overwhelmed. But I have to constantly remind myself.

Work takes up the majority of my time. But I have set up a system where I can work from home during the day and that is HUGE. Doing things on my time helps me balance myself. I can get enough sleep, workout, eat healthy food from the grocery, and not worry about commuting.

I have also gotten better about carving out time for friends, family, and romance. I used to be all work all the time. And in our profession, the work usually feels like play so I was okay with that. Now I make it a priority to make sure I socialize after shows and reach out to people to connect during the week. If I don’t do that I’ll fall into a cocoon of working nonstop.

It’s important to get out and be around people. One thing I try to do every week is practice gratitude. I am a HUGE lover of cards and notes. And I try to give handwritten cards whenever I get the chance. I want people to know I appreciate them. And these small things bring me joy and help keep me centered. I tend to worry about everything and taking the focus off my neurosis and focusing on others truly makes me feel peaceful.

I also allow myself to have true nights off, which is something I never did when I was coming up in comedy and doing 10 shows a week all around town. Now I don’t feel guilty staying in and watching a marathon of Shonda Rhimes shows.

BB: What is one thing that you wished someone would ask you? 

Actually, you’ve already done it. A lot of people ask me about the show or the experiment. But not many people ask about the struggles of getting here or what goes into a daily routine in order to balance my life and keep this show running.

I guess sometimes people see the show and think it was an overnight success and that it’s just easy street now and I just show up and perform. I wish anyone who thought that would ask about my background. It was a long road to get here. But I think that tends to be the same with anyone in our industry. I just don’t want anyone to ever think I just stumbled into this or take it for granted.

Also, I wish someone would ask me: “Do you want to go to Disneyland? Harry Potter World?” The answer will always be YES! I love things that are designed for pure fun and I always feel most relaxed in these environments. So ask me that. And then let’s plan a trip!

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BB: What advice do you have for other women that are wanting to pursue their passion?

Don’t give up and never let people’s judgments keep you from moving forward. As successful as #DateMe is, there have been a lot of times where I knew people were doubting me. I have a lot of ideas that seem crazy but I dream big. And I just kept pushing forward.

If you have a weird idea, go for it! Put yourself out there. It might be the one thing that sets you apart. And you will find like minded people who support you. One truly supportive person will make up for anyone who’s not on your side. I have that with my producer Diane Alexander. And I’ve also had it with so many friends along the way from the original cast, the co-writers, etc. Find the people that support you and lift you up and focus on them. The rest aren’t worth your energy.

BB: What have you learned about self-love in the past year? 

I have learned that it’s okay to put yourself first sometimes. It’s hard because it feels selfish. But it’s actually not because if you’re healthier you can better serve your friends and the people around you, which is very important to me.

Also, I’m still crazy and neurotic and that will never go away. But I’ve learned to embrace that side of myself. Once I did that I found my true comedic voice and was able to put myself out there in a more vulnerable way. I’m overly emotional and have spent so much of my life trying to hide it. Now I just tell people that’s who I am. I cry when I’m sad but also when I’m happy. And I like that about me. So deal with it!

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