Make It Happen: Become a Comedian

Living the dream. How Emily Wilson became a comedian.
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Emily Wilson
Age 34
Married, Comedian

My Goal
To be a comedian

How I Did It
When I was growing up I would do anything to get a laugh. I was very skinny and short, wore enormous glasses, and had bright-red hair. I compensated for being different by being funny. One time in fifth grade I ate an onion as if it were a raw apple. I thought it would be hilarious.

After college I got a job in advertising. I started as a receptionist and because I was witty I was eventually promoted to writer. At about the same time I got engaged to my college boyfriend. He and I went to see a comedy improv show at a theater here in Chicago one night and loved it so much we both signed up for improv classes. If you were any good, the instructors at the school let you perform in front of an audience, and I found out I had been selected right before we went on our honeymoon. I had performance anxiety the whole trip, which stressed us both out so much it made my new husband wonder whether he'd made a huge mistake in marrying me.

After that I began performing every night while still going to my day job. It was fun but grueling. I hoped to make comedy my full-time -- and only! -- career and do my own stuff.

So my husband and I wrote a show together. Then I wrote one on my own and organized a group of female improv and sketch artists called the Ragdolls to perform it. That show, called Moist, ended up going to the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, in Aspen, which was sponsored by HBO, Turner Broadcasting, and others. In January 2008 I was offered a job at Second City Mainstage, where comedians like Tina Fey, Bill Murray, and John Belushi kicked off their careers. It was so amazing and scary. But I took the job and quit the ad biz. Now I do shows six nights a week and -- actually get paid for it!

What I Learned
Life is full of surprises. If you're open to them great things can happen for you. I can't believe I went from performing for 20 people max to standing in front of an audience of 300-plus. On the other hand, none of my family or friends are really shocked that this is what I wound up doing with my life. The kid who was always trying to get attention is now getting paid to do it! I've learned that it's fun to be fearless and cathartic to talk about whatever is on your mind. But mostly what I've learned through all this is that there is absolutely nothing you can't laugh at. Nothing.

I was funny even as a kid, but my sister just thought I was embarrassing.

The Essentials
Strong Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee
Notebook and pen
Thick skin

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2010.


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