Actress Lisa Linke: “I’d love to start a movement to inspire people to listen to understand instead of waiting to respond”

It’s a skill we learn in improv, and it’s scary to put into practice out in the real world with complications, but very worthwhile.

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You’ve asked me to pick one thing, and I hate picking favorites because it gives me such anxiety. I think if I could pick one thing though, that would be to listen to understand instead of waiting to respond. It’s a skill we learn in improv, and it’s scary to put into practice out in the real world with complications, but very worthwhile. When planning a response, your brain shortchanges you information in an effort to sound smart (when you’ll reply) instead of listening. It’s a skill that you get better at with practice, and you can answer authentically, fully, and meaningfully when you’ve listened completely. Try it at home, your significant other will love it.

I had the pleasure to interview Actress Lisa Linke. Lisa is best known for her role on The Amazon Prime series Successful People, a comedy series about a songwriting duo struggling to make it big surrounded by a world full of successful people. She plays Kimberly Hawkes, the past high school classmate of the lead character, who attempts to help him jumpstart his career. You can view the series here. Things aren’t slowing down for Lisa. She is the creator of the web series Dog Moms a parody of the Lifetime series Dance Moms, in the series she plays the equivalent of Abby Lee “Waggy Lee.” The series is now streaming on Amazon Prime. She can currently be seen guest starring on the popular television shows such as Bunk’D, LOVE and most recently guest starred Grey’s Anatomy. She will also be returning to her recurring role on Teachers for the upcoming season. Other appearances includeBlack-ish, Shameless, This Is Us and Modern Family, to name a few. Lisa also has a very strong background in improvisation and sketch comedy. Lisa studied and performed in Chicago at well known theaters such as Second City and The Annoyance. She has also performed in a variety of critically-acclaimed shows including “Close Quarters, “Out Of Character,” and “A Woman’s Path.”

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for having me!

Let me tell you about when I worked in my former life as a consultant, right out of grad school. While I loved the firm I worked for — and still can’t speak highly enough about them — it was not the right path for me. If you looked at my cubicle, it looked like someone had just a party there, with cards and streamers still up from my birthday (though it was probably months before), knick-knacks and decorations galore. It did not look anything like the cubicle next to me, where an actuary had stuffed their shelves with binders. I was a different bird, an odd little duck in the wrong pond. When St. Patrick’s Day rolled around, the admin staff (much of whom were my dear friends) asked me to play the leprechaun, dressing up in a green outfit with a huge foam hat. I was more than happy to, passing out green beers at our department luncheon, riffing on and interacting with our partners and company leaders. That day was the most fun I had at work, ever. It solidified for me that I needed to start making a major change in my life. While extricating myself from a high-paying job to be a full-time performer was not easy or without doubts, I have never looked back because this odd little duck needs a different pond.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

Hmmm. Probably the most interesting to me isn’t the most interesting to others — people like to hear what it’s like to be an actor, as they have no idea what that means for 99% of working actors out there. Most of us are unemployed 95% of the time. Most of us have a patchwork quilt of jobs to make ends meet. Most of us would feel that earning enough in our union to qualify for insurance on any given year is a huge success. Most of us wouldn’t choose any other career.

What I will say is that the most interesting thing has been reframing my understanding about working as a tv and film actor here in Los Angeles. To me, the job is booking the job. I am not currently a series regular on any show, so I have to constantly book work as a guest star or co-star, and that means auditions. And realizing that to even get the chance to audition is a real win. There are thousands of people who could be called in to audition, and you got the lucky ticket to be one of the 10 or 20 who get the chance. So, in a way, you have to view that as you’ve already won! Putting the process above the product has been important for me, because I have such little control of the outcome. Whether or not I get cast ultimately has so much to do with things that are beyond my control, so I can just focus on what I can do while I’m auditioning and do that the very best I can. As Steve Martin said, “be undeniably good.” That’s my aim.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was first starting out improvising back in Chicago, I was like every other improviser — I thought it was about making the audience laugh. But it’s really more about listening. I don’t know if it’s the funniest mistake, but every improviser learns the hard way about not listening on stage — during a live performance — and the visceral disappointment from the audience is uncomfortable, palpable, and you decide it’s actually more uncomfortable to not listen than it is to listen and have no idea what you’re going to say until you say it. So, you start truly improvising, and it becomes fun and freeing in that way.

How that’s helped me is immeasurable. While I was burning the candle at both ends, improvising at night and consulting by day — it impacted my work life immediately. I became a better listener overnight, and therefore a better consultant. I approached each conversation with clients and colleagues authentically, without agendas, and managed to get information from clients quite quickly. How my listening has helped me personally is immeasurable as well. You can’t truly listen to someone while you’re planning your response. While I was first starting out as a full-time performer, I made my living as a corporate communication workshop facilitator. Most improv-based exercises, my ability to listen in the moment and not have a pre-planned response made me a good facilitator. It helps me still to this day, when I get a note from a casting director, I can really listen and hear them all the way through without starting to plan my performance and how I’ll change it.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Thank you for asking! Right now, I have a few fun things going on or coming down the pike. First, every Sunday I improvise live on Instagram on my weekly show, #SuggestionSunday. I take suggestions in the comments, create 60-second characters and have special guests to do scenes and games! It’s really fun and the audiences seem to love being able to watch and participate as much or as little as they like from wherever they are around the world! I’m also launching a podcast in January, called Go Help Yourself, with my friend Misty. We review self-help books from two very different angles: she loves them, and I hate them. We have a great time and I love how it’s shaping up! I also have a few shows that some co-stars releasing in 2019.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

Everyone on set is fascinating because who grows up thinking “I want to light movie sets for a living?” Each person in this huge collaboration has an important role to play, and it’s fun to interact with everyone and learn their story. One of the most exciting was when I was on Modern Family — my episode was full of celebrities, and I got to interact with Chris Martin from Cold Play. He was truly one of the nicest people I’ve ever met! He played songs for the crew in between takes.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Oh gosh, can someone give me tips! Everyone gets tired, everyone gets worn out. Some days you just don’t have it in you to do another ten things on your list of thirty things that you need to do when you’re a freelancer. I think it’s important to realize on days like that, you’re not going to get that stuff done. And that’s okay! It’s a long journey, this span of a career, and it can’t all get done today. The stuff that is on deadline, you’ll get done. The other stuff you’ll just do as you have time and energy. Grit doesn’t mean you go and go until you honestly want to quit everything. It means that you can get up the next day when the day before was terrible. That’s been a helpful thing to learn.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I mean, from your mouth to the universe’s ear, right!? You’ve asked me to pick one thing, and I hate picking favorites because it gives me such anxiety. I think if I could pick one thing though, that would be to listen to understand instead of waiting to respond. It’s a skill we learn in improv, and it’s scary to put into practice out in the real world with complications, but very worthwhile. When planning a response, your brain shortchanges you information in an effort to sound smart (when you’ll reply) instead of listening. It’s a skill that you get better at with practice, and you can answer authentically, fully, and meaningfully when you’ve listened completely. Try it at home, your significant other will love it.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I wish someone would have told me that there is no set path. Everyone has to figure out their own way, and everyone is in charge of their careers. Especially in a non-traditional setting, like being an actor, I’m responsible for my career development. But there is no right way, and as long as I’m putting effort and energy into it, that’s great.

I wish someone would have told me that people will judge being an artist much more freely than they will any other profession. I’ve never heard anyone ask a CPA what made them chose that line of work and to explain how they plan on making a living. It’s none of anyone’s business, but they will project their fears onto you regardless. You don’t have to explain yourself to them.

I wish someone would have told me earlier to keep my eyes on my own paper. Comparison is the thief of joy, and since everyone is responsible for their own path, it only benefits you to figure out what you can do on your own path. Everyone is selling their own flavor of diet cola, and some day someone will want to buy yours.

I wish someone would have told me that performing and working from home would turn me into an introvert, and that it’s totally normal and okay. Giving my energy to others when I’m performing and then working in solitude with my dogs while I’m at home makes me enjoy quiet time! And there is nothing wrong with that.

I wish someone would have told me that doing what you love doesn’t mean you won’t work. You’ll work harder at it than anything in your life. And if not, you really don’t want it bad enough.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My Grammy’s side of the family were hard-working coal miners. Her dad went to work in the mines when he was so little his lunch pail dragged on the ground. Her mom raised six kids with no running water or electricity and they always said “do the best you can.” That’s how our family operates. And yet, when you start to do something that is abstract, and subjective, like improv and auditioning for a one-line co-star, and you don’t book it, it’s hard to know when you did your best. That’s been a real accomplishment for me, starting to learn when I’ve done my best and also when and where I can do better next time, while not being hard on myself. It’s a delicate balance, but I’m grateful for the journey.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Of course! I wouldn’t be here without my family, who gave me the gift of a work ethic and a sense of humor. My acting teacher here in Los Angeles, Lesly Kahn, really helped reframe my perspective about being a bookable actor in TV and film, and because of her, I’ve become a working actor. I’m indebted to her! She really helped me understand how hard I have to work and also how little control I have over the outcome, so I better not let my acting and my marketing be the thing that keeps me from booking the job.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Oh, are you kidding? Well, in that case, I would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with someone on the board of a plastic industry association, to convince them to create a huge market for recycled plastic — by moving to a minimum requirement of 50% of all plastic created be from recycled or reclaimed plastic. It’s estimated that of all the plastic waste created from 1950–2015, only 9% has been recycled. Or with someone on the board of the National Restaurant Association, so I can pitch to them to return to the paper straw (or no straws at all), and to demand from their POS software developers that they require an additional “yes/no” button for napkins and utensils on all takeout and delivery orders to reduce waste and control costs. Let’s make it happen, interwebs!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Yes, please!

@itslinke on all platforms

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!

Thank YOU! I loved it. 🙂

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