by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move
You’re not good enough.
It’s the classic hang-up that so many performers apologetically submerge themselves in. Everyone you meet, famous or otherwise, has an opprobrious story about the business. One that pushed their buttons and either fed their insecurities enough to made them give up or got them pissed enough to keep going. Situations that stand-up comic, writer, actor, dancer and model Ellyn Daniels says stayed with her for too long creating “the many debilitating voices in my head”.
Ellyn’s solo show Emotional Terrorism, debuting at the 2017 Hollywood Fringe Festival, puts a hilarious spin on her own unapologetic, soul-bearing journey from humiliation to liberation. So I got right to the point and asked…
What’s one of your own stories?
A manager who represented a lot of series regulars on shows was recommended to me through my modeling agent in New York. He asked me, “What do you see yourself doing?” I was really young. Twenty-two, I think.
I told him my acting teacher suggested I do sitcoms. He said, “Yeah, but there’s nobody that looks like you that’s funny. Cheryl Hines? She’s the only one.” I was talking a lot about dancing and modeling, having to lose weight. And he says, “It’s interesting that you brought up the weight thing.” I thought to myself, great, I’ve played right into his hand. “You need to lose a few pounds. You’re lucky that it doesn’t show on your face, but on your legs, you can see it.” I literally looked down. It was a ridiculous thing to say. I had on this long skirt that was down to my ankles. You couldn’t see my legs.
You’re in these situations, and you think to yourself, how do I make this right? How do I turn this around? Instead of saying, look bro, what the fuck are you talking about? This doesn’t even make sense. I appreciate you having an opinion about my weight, but let’s talk about the parts you can see here.
Ultimately, what I’ve come to learn is, it’s a power struggle.
Yet you’ve overcome the negatives. How?
I’m really strong. I definitely had a lot of moments where I was completely unsure. I mean, I did run away to Germany for a while, let my life be full of chaos, abused drugs and alcohol. But when I got sober, I was able to honestly evaluate my life. And I’ve also had a lot of opportunities to do other things. The fates just kept pushing me back to doing this. At some point I just relaxed into it and decided okay, this is what I’m doing now. The failure, the feeling of insecurity, the nerves, the gongs, the firings. That’s all part of this journey. If I can look at it as a journey instead of a competition, that keeps me grounded.
We’re in a fishbowl in our own lives. It takes a while to look back on your life to see what actually happened. As a kid, you can’t really speak up necessarily. I wasn’t physically abused or anything like that. But there were incidences where directors, teachers at my boarding school, agents, people with power, were saying really abusive things to me. Today, my responses would be completely different.
I think because I swallowed that negativity for so long, I lost my voice, and it became trapped in me as anger and anxiety, and an inability to be okay with who I am.
It’s about getting to a place where you’re not afraid of people telling you you’re not good enough. A lot of that stuff is projection from others.
What got you to a better place mentally?
Amazing people and mentors who have been successful in this business, giving me kind, encouraging words. That’s really new for me. The people I worked with in the past were very harsh. What they were saying never really resonated.
What was the idea for the show?
It started out just being stories from my life. Not me really trying to say anything. After a podcast interview a while back, my director Desmond, reached out and said, “Have you ever thought about doing a one woman show? You’ve gone through a lot of psychological trauma and tests.” Desmond thought my stories were really entertaining. So that became the theme. He showed me the monologues of Spalding Grey and opened my mind to what it could actually be. What Spalding talks about a lot is that your memories are fictitious at a certain point anyway. It clicked.
What do you think is the dark side of the showbiz experience?
We’re in a business where big things…they’re not big enough or they don’t last. You’re always thinking, ‘Where do I go from here?’. Our priorities being very much outward priorities like success, money, things.
The American fame dream…You’re a series regular on a TV show, you make bazillions of dollars, you’re a household fixture, and everybody talks about you like you’re their cousin. What does that mean? There are more important things. I think my show is about demystifying that. I think my own obsession with becoming successful in this business is part of the show, and how that destroyed me for a long time. I wasn’t able to value myself as a person.
What’s the real pressure of finding success?
It used to be, “What credits do you have?” Now it’s about how many Twitter followers. I don’t understand how anybody becomes a comic anymore, for instance.
You hear these stories of the old days like about Larry David, how Bud Friedman would put him up at The Improv. He would bomb. And Bud would put him up again. If you bomb somewhere today, nobody will ask you back. How do you even get good if you can’t be bad?
If you talk to old time comics, the grind idea is really valued. They’ll say, keep working. I think with young people, we feel such a pressure to be perfect. Especially now.
I myself had an agent at Paradigm who told me that if I wanted to be a comedian, I should move to New York. L.A was the wrong place. I said, “Cool. So, if I move here, are you going to be able to help me get spots?” He said, “I’ll get you one spot in every club, but you’d better kill. If you don’t kill, they won’t ask you back. I’ve only been doing this for a year. How am I going to kill?
I’d get things like, “You’ve just got to find that little piece of lightning in a bottle.” And you think, what the fuck? I’ve got to go figure out how to make lightning? I’m trying to figure out my next joke. You want lightning, call Ben Franklin.
I started doing stand-up, and then immediately got representation. It was too soon. I hadn’t developed at all. I literally had done four or five shows, and then I was showcasing for the Montreal Comedy Festival. I was meeting network executives. It was pretty bonkers. I knew how to do my seven minute set. I knew nothing about comedy. I literally just started doing it. It created a lot of hardship on both sides.
There are a lot of weird metaphors that get passed around, but think about it. Does anyone even know what they’re talking about? You realize, no. No one does know. When all is said and done, it’s the trust factor. It’s always relationships.
You’re going to Edinburgh. How did that happen?
I’ve wanted to do Edinburgh for about two years now. While doing stand up in London the assistant of a big names comic rep insisted I needed to go. At the time I didn’t know the process was a whole year lead up thing.
My writing partner and I had a pilot in the New York Television Festival. At that moment I’d been wondering what to do next? I just started making things up.
It was late and the submission deadline to theaters was right around the corner. So I made up a show. I started setting it up, asking my friends, “Does this sound good? Okay. There we go.”
I submitted and I didn’t even have a show written yet. I didn’t really know what would happen. Ultimately, a theater that I applied to with my made-up show synopsis, said they wanted to support me and have me in their venue.
I think that would really depend on the reception. Of course I’d be happy to expand it or take it further. That would be ideal. Going to Edinburgh and then immediately booking in London. That would be the dream come true.