I wish someone told me to NOT BE AFRAID to step out front. I’ve always been a team player with my shows. I wish someone told me “It’s okay to have it be ALL about YOU”. The isolation of Covid made me think about myself. I thought ‘what if I died and NEVER stood out front in my own show?’ I actually started to cry at the thought because ‘I KNOW WHAT I CAN DO.’ I was just scared of people saying “who does she think she is?” Now, I welcome it. That just lets me know you see me.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Hollie Harper.
From Cape May, New Jersey, Hollie Harper is a writer and comedian with a Bachelor in Fine Arts for acting from The Theatre School at DePaul University, formerly the Goodman School of Drama.
Harper’s work, including numerous plays and films, has been featured in the Samuel French One Act Play Festival, the Denver Pan African Film Festival and Urbanworld. Harper has also acted and starred in the Off-Broadway production of The White Blacks by Melanie Goodreaux.
Her skills are not limited to just acting, but also encompasses many years of experience in comedy and stand-up. AMERICAN CANDY, the sketch and musical comedy group Harper is a member of, has been recognized during its 12-year tenure of sold-out shows by Time Out Chicago’s Top 5 for sketch comedy. The group’s latest show done during the pandemic, The Edge of Zoom, reached over 32k views. In addition to performing, Harper also teaches at Gold Comedy, and in addition, is a board member and teacher for Stand Up! Girls.
Currently, you can find Harper as the in-house host for the West Side Comedy Club, and as creative director of the 2021 Black Women in Comedy Laff Fest. She is also the co-host of Twitter Chat Blerd Dating.
Recently, Harper landed the role as host of Hella Late with Hollie Harper, where in addition, she is also a writer and Co-Executive Producer on the Emmy Award-winning network, Bric TV. The show premiered June 8th at 10 pm EST.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Philadelphia and South Jersey (Cape May). I’m part of a large blended family and I’m married 22 years with 2 kids and live in Brooklyn.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’m very much a comedy nerd and love ALL forms of comedy, but when I was 15 I rushed home from a high school football game to watch David Letterman. I loved David Letterman to my core. I could not imagine a sweeter life. In the moments that they would announce his name at the start of the show, and David would come out to greet his audience, I would close my eyes and imagined it was me.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I was doing my sketch comedy show at the Triad theatre and backstage in the dressing room a radiator fell on my foot and sliced it clean open. I felt like I was dying but when they said “we should cancel the show” my soul completely shifted. I wrapped that sucker up and the moment the lights went up I felt no pain. I’ve had excruciating sciatica from 3rd term pregnancy, the flu; NOTHING stops me on show day.
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?
The first sketch show I ever did I had 40,000 flyers made with “West 3rd instead of East 3rd” on the address. I cried for about an hour. I learned sloppy mistakes can truly mess with you.
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?
I’ve had several angels. In my current project, “Hella Late! with Hollie Harper” my angel was my showrunner Okema T. Moore. She drove this train. And Justin Bryant from BRIC TV asked me to pitch. But real talk, my husband has been my best friend in the whole world, has impeccable comedic taste and has coached me from the side since we met at Stand Up New York a hundred years ago.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Early projects often fail. That’s because you don’t know what you don’t know. That super young, super successful creative is rare and mostly in movies. I say “pay attention to your voice and spirit,” it’s the most powerful thing you have going for you. Mediums, platforms and gatekeepers change. Your voice and spirit do not.
What drives you to get up every day and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?
The fact I’m getting closer REALLY drives me. I feel like I’m in that Hot and Cold Game and God’s voice is in my heart saying “you’re getting warmer.” I actually see myself, my show on TV. I just wonder where. That’s the mystery. The change I want to see moving forward in TV is very specific; Black artists that are not super young, but overlooked in their youth, getting chances. I’m not new to this but I’m true to this and I’m good at this.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
Thank you so much! Right now I’m finishing projects I started last year with my sketch group AMERICAN CANDY and fleshing out a docu-series I created. My goal is to create and sell shows. For a long time, I felt like I was all over the place until I realized these ideas are shows that can be developed and sold. My creative brain is strong and I want to leave a legacy on TV.
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?
It’s very important to have diversity represented in the media because having your face as the dominant one speaks of POWER and NARRATIVE. If you look at ten comedy films from the 80’s you’ll see ten sets of white faces. Yet everyone else was here. And when you grow up a Black or brown kid and see white faces having all the stories and you are on the peripheral or only mentioned for something sad, sports or singing/dancing, you fight a sense of NOT belonging to the main conversation. It’s that Langston Hughes poem, “I Too Sing America.” Seeing your face is a powerful thing. It’s a cultural mirror. A woman like Issa Rae brings forth 20 Issa Raes the same way Janet Jackson brought a cavalry of beautiful Black pop stars. Amber Ruffin, she’s absolutely incredible, and Ziwe and Sam Jay are there too, but we need more of US in Late Night TV.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. I wish someone told me to take my writing more seriously when I was young. I came up as an actor that wrote tons of short stories and short plays. But I can’t blame anyone for not seeing my writing because I largely kept it to myself until I was 29.
2. I wish someone told me to accept and use how good-looking I was. I know that’s shallow but I’m too old to mince words. Beauty is currency and I was fine as hell in my 20’s and did not use it to get ahead whatsoever. MISTAKE. People listen to your ideas just because they like looking at your face. That’s a fact.
3. I wish someone told me that we’re all making it up as we go along. I thought everyone had all the answers, except me. Now I realize most people really don’t know MORE than you. They just know their field. So stop being scared of looking dumb in front of people no smarter than you and get the information you need.
4. Might be a silly one but I wish someone told me about CrossFit way sooner. It dialed my body back 15 years and matched the Black that hasn’t cracked.
5. I wish someone told me to NOT BE AFRAID to step out front. I’ve always been a team player with my shows. I wish someone told me “It’s okay to have it be ALL about YOU”. The isolation of Covid made me think about myself. I thought ‘what if I died and NEVER stood out front in my own show?’ I actually started to cry at the thought because ‘I KNOW WHAT I CAN DO.’ I was just scared of people saying “who does she think she is?” Now, I welcome it. That just lets me know you see me.
Can you share with our readers any selfcare routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
I take walks with my kids. Experiencing the world with them on foot helps me recalibrate my soul. We walked past an apartment I used to live in 20 years ago and I explained what the neighborhood was like and so many ideas came rushing back and through me. The best is walking over the Brooklyn Bridge with them. We do it at least three times a summer. It’s important to me to show them how walking a mile or two can change your perspective.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite: “There are people less qualified than you doing the things you want to do simply because they believe in themselves.” We see bad actors, bad singers, bad comedians, bad whatever everyday and feel mad they made it. We should feel mad at ourselves for not having the pair of brass balls they do. We can say whatever we want about them, while they take meetings with studios and we take the G train. Believe in yourself. PERIOD.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would do away with the 40 under 40 or 30 under 30 features we see every year. We literally leave people off because they were born 6 months before some silly cut-off point. People feel bad about themselves and discount others because they haven’t become magazine cover successful by 40. It’s so injurious to the well-being of people that want to achieve their goals and it centers young people way too much. I was young. It was fun. But I have MORE value now that I’ve done a few things. You wanna impress me? Show me the 50 over 50; the people that made it AFTER 50, the ones with kids and families and high school reunions where people were cheering for them just to break through. People doing their kid’s science projects with them while making their own cue cards for their show (that was me). Hanging in there though time. That’s Strength. That’s Impressive.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why?
Maybe we can tag them and see what happens! Follow me on IG — @hollieharper5
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!