Lukas Thimm: “Don’t be afraid to fail and be transparent about your failure”

I struggle with this all the time, but I often remind myself not to chase what other people are doing and, instead, to make content that truly represents me. My generation is really impatient and wants success almost right away, but it’s important to take a moment to reassess and check in with yourself. If […]

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I struggle with this all the time, but I often remind myself not to chase what other people are doing and, instead, to make content that truly represents me. My generation is really impatient and wants success almost right away, but it’s important to take a moment to reassess and check in with yourself. If you keep working hard and making content that you’re proud of, success will come. Basically, tune out the noise and focus on what you’re passionate about.

As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lukas Thimm.

Lukas Thimm co-hosted Verizon Media’s pop culture talk show BUILD Brunch, which streamed live across Verizon Media’s platforms (HuffPost, AOL, Yahoo, BUILD Series) every weekday at noon. He also co-wrote and co-starred in the web-series Best Friends Give the Worst Advice, and previously worked at Imagine Entertainment. Lukas was born in Washington, DC– born into a family tied to both the restaurant and entertainment industries, which may explain his passion for pop culture, politics, and food!

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

I was working as an assistant at Imagine Entertainment in Los Angeles and was looking to move back to New York. After two years of driving a Prius and drinking kale smoothies (that’s a joke… I’d never willingly drink kale), I was ready to get back to being smushed in a subway car with strangers and eating dollar pizza at 3AM. I was trying to find a writer’s assistant job in late night TV, because I was growing increasingly obsessed with politics and needed a productive comedic outlet. Out of the blue, my friend Max Dameshek, who is a producer at BUILD, texted me about a millennial daytime show he was developing. He asked if I wanted to be a producer on it and I replied, “could I host it?” I was mostly kidding, since I had never had any prior on-camera experience aside from the videos I made in high school student government. Yes, I basically ran a state-run media propaganda machine in high school. I always wanted to be a talk show host, but didn’t really know how I was going to achieve that goal. Anyway, I sent in some materials and Max said, “why not?!” For most of my life, I was always someone who followed the “traditional” path and rarely took risks, but I knew if I didn’t take the job, I’d regret it. Though I didn’t have a guarantee I’d last on BUILD Brunch past the summer of 2018, I moved back to New York and a ripple of unexpected and transformative events started to happen in my life. I went on to co-host all 250 episodes of BUILD Brunch.

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

While I was hosting BUILD Brunch, I got to bartend on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen! I have been a Bravo fan since I first watched Vicki Gunvalson of The Real Housewives of Orange County scream on the phone to an employee of a car service company for sending a “family van” and not the limo she requested. I’ve also known Andy my whole life, so this was a big deal for me! I was not only going to be on Bravo, but also on Andy’s show! Not to mention, this was a “Housewives night” on WWHL, so I was appearing with big wigs (Melissa Gorga of New Jersey and LeaAnne Locken of Dallas). Luckily, I didn’t have to actually make any drinks as the “bartender” (because the only drink I can make is a vodka soda). Andy let me ask Melissa a question on-air and then in the after show, I was hit on by a caller. I told the caller to DM me, but like most men I’ve dated, he didn’t follow up….

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?

On the topic of Bravo, I was fortunate enough to interview many Real Housewives on BUILD Brunch, but I almost got myself in one of those infamous Housewives fights! Countess Luann de Lesseps and Sonja Morgan came on to promote the finale of season 11 of The Real Housewives of New York City and it was all fun and games until I asked a question involving Bethenny Frankel. I said something like, “Bethenny’s return revitalized RHONY and returned the show to its original DNA.” Well, Luann and Sonja did not like that! In fact, Sonja asked, “Lukas, have you lost your mind?” I saw my life flash before my eyes and thought about just running through the glass windows. I backpedaled as fast as I could, and reiterated that I was addressing the “original DNA” of the show that they were both a part of. In the end, Luann and Sonja were incredibly gracious and forgave me. The interview was picked up by a few reality TV blogs and I briefly thought about going into witness protection. To be honest, I knew that bringing up Bethenny was going to rile them up a little bit, so I learned to be ready to deal with the pushback if the guest doesn’t like a question. It was a great learning experience and now I get to say I caused some drama with two Real Housewives!

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

I write a weekly newsletter called “The Lukist” that started out as a way for me to practice writing topical jokes, but quickly became a way for me to joke/rant/cry about the news. As “the weekly list of lists, by Lukas” (Lukas + List = Lukist… get it?), the newsletter is all in list-form and covers the latest stories in politics and entertainment. Though I aim to make people laugh, I also strive to inform people on the issues, whether that be healthcare policy or Trump’s latest idiotic tweet. I just started to film weekly episodes of “The Lukist” that I am posting on my Instagram and YouTube. The concept is developing, but the episodes are in the vein of John Oliver and Samantha Bee. In my head, all the late-night hosts are mentors of mine, so I’m just trying to make them all proud! I also post stupid, purely comedic sketches on my Instagram once and awhile. I have to put that UCB training to use somehow!

My writing partner, Elle Vertes, and I are also working on a pilot based on our web-series. We are constantly coming up with ideas, videos, and memes that we can post on social media. Our latest concept is “Cuomo Would You Rather,” which is just us asking each other to choose between Andrew or Chris Cuomo in inappropriate situations. We are– at least– cracking each other up!

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

My favorite part of co-hosting BUILD Brunch was getting to interview incredible women in entertainment, politics, sports, and philanthropy. I talked to some great guys too, but the girls blew me way. The three that come to mind are Ibtihaj Muhammad (the first Muslim-American woman to wear a hijab in the Olympics), Nadya Okamota (22-year-old author and philanthropist), and Nina Davuluri (the first Indian-American woman to win Miss America). All three of them are so impressive, I believe I asked them all if they would one day run for president. Ibtihaj offered to train me in fencing for the now-postponed 2020 Olympics, so maybe I should follow up with her on that. Nina crowned me “Miss Build Brunch” after I guaranteed to stop climate change and give everyone cheesecake as part of my platform.

I was recently introduced to James Corden and had the opportunity to talk with him about hosting a late-night show. As I mentioned before, I really admire all the current late-night hosts, so it was a dream come true to get to sit down with James. James, of course, is more than just a host, so I enjoyed getting to ask him about his creative process as a writer and actor and his personal aspirations for the future. He could not have been nicer or more genuine! He gave me great advice and gave me a tour of the studio. I was so giddy the entire time that I’m pretty sure I levitated at one point! I could not stop smiling!

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

I struggle with this all the time, but I often remind myself not to chase what other people are doing and, instead, to make content that truly represents me. My generation is really impatient and wants success almost right away, but it’s important to take a moment to reassess and check in with yourself. If you keep working hard and making content that you’re proud of, success will come. Basically, tune out the noise and focus on what you’re passionate about.

Can you share with our readers any self-care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

I have a strict morning routine that helps me stay sane and centered. I may have oversold this “routine,” but I will happily share it. I try to work out almost every day, not only because eating a bag of Tates Cookies is also part of my “self-care,” but because of those natural endorphins. As I eat breakfast, I read various newsletters in my inbox from AXIOS, TheSkimm, and Cynopsis. As I work out, I listen to several podcasts: NPR’s Up First, Crooked Media’s What a Day and Pod Save America, and The New York Times’ The Daily. Yes, I lift weights to the soft voices of NPR anchors; they pump me up, bro! I also listen to comedy/culture podcasts like Las Culturistas, Bitch Sesh, and Keep It! Working out while consuming information and/or being entertained helps me feel productive and refreshed. At night, I watch a lot of TV. A lot.

I also try to learn chorography alone in my bedroom. Right now, I have all the choreography from Lady Gaga’s “Stupid Love” music video memorized but I am working on perfecting my technique. I am not a professional dancer, though I am known to own the dance floor at weddings!

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. There’s not one path to achieve your goals, and self-motivation is required in order to move forward. When I started hosting BUILD Brunch, I went from working 12 hours a day to about five. I had all this extra free time, and yes, I spent some of it watching reruns of The Golden Girls, but most of it went to making myself a better writer and host. I took improv and sketch-writing classes at UCB, which taught me technique, made me funnier, and introduced me to lots of hilarious people! I also began writing with my friend, Elle. Yes, many of our “meetings’ ended with us gossiping and splitting a bottle of Whispering Angel (by “many” I mean all of them), but we also started to write our web-series. We wrote seven scripts, brought in a director, rewrote and narrowed the series down to five episodes, and then eventually assembled a small but mighty crew to shoot the series. I am very proud of what we created because there were times when we just wanted to give up. I truly have no idea where I am going to end up in my career, but at least I know that I am doing all I can to prepare myself for whatever comes next.
  2. The wonderful people who do your hair and makeup will become your therapists, so you better be open and honest with them! They will make you beautiful and in return, you will tell them all of your secrets. This is how things work! I didn’t make the rules.
  3. Don’t be afraid to fail and be transparent about your failure. When I left LA, I knew that BUILD Brunch would not last forever. By the summer of 2019, I was aware we weren’t growing anymore, and we had yet to find an advertiser. When the show ended, I thought a lot about what we could have done differently, but in the end, I appreciated all that we achieved and all that I learned from the experience. Not every video I make or tweet that I write is a hit or even seen by more viewers than my mom, but I keep on posting and tweeting! Life is full of unexpected turns, good and bad, and things can end as quickly as they begin. As long as you’re centered and focused, you can handle anything.
  4. Be authentic! Whether as a writer or as a host, you cannot comment or joke about life without being upfront with who you are. Growing up, I hated the quirky sides of my personality, but now, I love all the qualities that make me unique. I love that I can talk about Real Housewives and the presidential election within the same breath or that my obsession for Madonna is only rivaled by my love for The Lord of the Rings. The parts of yourself that make you unique, will help you stand out from the many people who have similar dreams as yours. On a more serious note, I credit hosting BUILD Brunch with helping me come out of the closet. Yes, it took 25 years and a talk show for me to do that. I’d like to take the time to personally thank the troll who called me “gay Seinfeld” on Facebook. Though I wasn’t out at the time of your comment, I now consider that title to be a great honor. I’m not sure if everyone should have their “coming out year” basically documented like l did, but I do appreciate that the show forced me to be honest with myself. Not only was it somewhat wrong for me to comment on celebrities’ inauthenticity, but I also wasn’t reaching my full potential.
  5. Be careful of the stories you tell! I know I just told you to be authentic and you should tell your story, but just be aware that sometimes your story involves other people. I once made a joke about something that happened between myself and someone who used to be very close to me because I thought I was the butt of the joke. Turns out, it was not interpreted that way! I never want to hurt people, especially those I love, with my work. Basically, “think before you speak.” Nothing new here, I’m just repeating rules you learned in pre-k.

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

“Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in. And, when you stumble, keep faith. And, when you’re knocked down, get right back up and never listen to anyone who says you can’t or shouldn’t go on.”– Hillary Clinton ending her 2008 presidential campaign.

My friends and family know that my admiration for Secretary Clinton is fierce and that I often look to her as inspiration during difficult times. However, you might feel about her, you cannot deny that she has achieved great success and suffered hard defeats (cough cough Russia cough Comey cough). Whether in my personal or professional life, I always strive to do the best that I can and overcome whatever obstacles that present themselves. 2017 was a very difficult year for me for a variety of reasons and it definitely was a tough year for Hillary, so let’s just say I had a few cry sessions to “Fight Song” alone in my car thinking, “if Hillary can get through this year, so can I!”

Also, it is important to be passionate about what you believe in. We all have a platform, big and small, that should be used to advocate for the issues we care about. I know some of my followers would love for me to cool it on the political posts, but I’m not going to stop informing people on why this upcoming election is so important. Ignorance is what got us into the mess we are in now! Sometimes, I really just want to make people laugh, but most of the time, I strive to both entertain and educate. I know I am not expert, but I have a voice (a loud one according to my brothers) and I won’t ever stop using it.

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?

When I first started at Imagine Entertainment as a PA, I was overwhelmed by Los Angeles and the beast that is the entertainment industry. James Seidman, who is now a Vice President of development at Imagine, took me under his wing and gave me a lay of the land of the company as well as the industry as a whole. He allowed me to give notes on scripts and watch dailies, all while encouraging me to find my own creative voice. Throughout my two years at Imagine, James guided me as I went from wanting to be a producer to a writer. When I got the BUILD Brunch opportunity, many people didn’t quite understand why I would leave LA and leave the track I was on, but not James. He was incredibly supportive and pushed me to spread my wings. Recently, he’s been helping Elle and me develop our pilot and has even given me new show ideas to write. As Tina Turner sings, he’s “simply the best!”

You are a person of enormous 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 take this question very seriously! Maybe too seriously, but I can’t help it when someone grants me “enormous influence,” even it’s all hypothetical. I believe that climate change is an existential threat and we need to adapt quickly in order to save the planet. I believe healthcare is a right and we should move away from employer-based health insurance to Medicare-for-All (or something like it). I believe our criminal justice system is in dire need of reformation and that our education system needs more financial support. All of these issues come down to who we put into office. And how do we elect people? We vote! Voting is not just our civil duty; it is our superpower! It’s how we effect change and move our country forward. Unfortunately, our voting system is antiquated and often discriminates against people-of-color. Senator Kamala Harris introduced the VoteSafe Act of 2020, a 5 billion dollars bill that would require states to provide mail-in-voting and establish new methods like cub side voting. Legislation like Senator Harris’ are vital for the wellbeing of our democracy. I would also like to establish automatic voter registration to every United States citizen. Roughly 80,000 votes made Donald Trump president in 2016 and voter suppression tactics denied Stacey Abrams the governorship in Georgia in 2018. We are living with the consequences of elections every day. The COVID-19 crisis concerns me for many reasons, one of which is its effect on the presidential election. I am happy, that despite Republican efforts of voter suppression, Wisconsin voters came out and elected a liberal to the state’s supreme court, but no one should have to risk their lives in order to vote! In conclusion, please please please vote! VOTE! Should I get off my soapbox now?

We are very blessed that 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. 🙂

This is such a difficult question since I admire so many people! If I have to choose only one, I’d pick Tina Fey. 30 Rock is my favorite TV show of all time and is what got me through high school and my parent’s divorce, so I’d start off the private breakfast with “thank you.” Tina Fey is one of the most brilliant, creative, hardworking people in entertainment, so it would be a dream come true to be able to pick her brain and (poorly) act out my favorite scenes from 30 Rock. Perhaps, I’d even get the chance to pitch her an idea or two, but really, I’d simply love to ask questions about her career and get her advice on practically everything. I’d do whatever she told me to do.

How can our readers follow you online?

I am @LukasThimm on Instagram, Twitter, and all forms of social media. I am technically on TikTok, but I’m having a real hard time keeping up with the youths. I’m 26 but I feel like I am 72 on that app.

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

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