Popularity is relative, and especially in the digital age. You could have hundreds of thousands of followers online, but be completely unknown in the streets — massively famous on Instagram, YouTube or Twitter, but lack any kind of real, authentic cool in person. For our new series, Coolest Person in the Room, New York-based photographer Megan Walschlager pinpoints all the people whose energy is contagious regardless of their following count or celebrity. Meet Lauren Servideo, the NYC-based funny girl known for her poignant Instagram characterizations and sketches.
Tell us about your day job.
I work at Instagram on a team called Community Lab, which is a division of marketing.
How did you get there?
Standard application process.
Did you always want to work in marketing?
No. I worked at this scholarly publishing job for 5.5 years, which I did really love and it was really fulfilling in a lot of ways because — even though I was a publishing assistant — I was on track to become a publisher (if I wanted to be) for all these clinical journals. And my portfolio at the end was obstetrics and gynecology.
But yeah, I had no intention of working in marketing at all.
So, you went to school for journalism. Where did you go?
SUNY Albany. I feel like I always joke about going to NYU — or that I still am at NYU. But it's because I really, really wanted to go to NYU.
Photo by Megan Walschlager
I did too. I'm from Indiana.
Right! It's just this urbanite dream where you just get to prance around and sneak into bars and parties when you're 19 and get your fake ID.
But now after the Operation Varsity Blues scandal, I finally feel like everybody who had to go to community college for two years before they could go to their school — it's a win for us.
How long have you been making your videos? Well, first — do you consider yourself a comedian?
I don't know! It's funny you should say that because this girl Emily who worked at the Cut, which was one of the first larger publications that had reached out to me, she was asking about my skincare and I think that was like last June, but she asked if I went by comedian and I was like... That's such a larger existential question. You know? You're calling into question my whole identity. I don't get paid to do comedy, like can I be a [comedian]? I don't do standup. I don't know.
Then the other day I was out with my boyfriend and somehow that question got asked again, like, "Well, what do you do?" And I was kind of like I don't know? Am I digital creator? I kind of don't want to be. I guess it's one of those things where I have to fake it til I make it because ideally I would like to say, "I'm a filmmaker."
So is that where you are looking to take this?
Absolutely. I mean I always did the on camera stuff for Instagram because I am impatient. And it's one of those things that started as an exercise when I was at this 9-5, academic publishing job, where I just had to get home and do something that I felt could exercise my creative muscle. So I just did it myself. I went in my room and turned on the camera.
I think I would eventually like to shadow or study under someone who's a show runner or does that. Filmmaking is really vague because I don't do cinematography and I don't really do writing either. So I'm trying to figure it out. It's a little late in life kinda thing. Bu I do always thing about — I know Kristen Wiig didn't get started on SNL until she was 32. I think she was like slinging hot dogs at Auntie Anne's or something until she was like 29. And I think she's brilliant and she's definitely segued into that. I definitely have a penchant for rushing to the end — or wanting to get to the end — of every process. But I guess I should just enjoy the journey.
Well I think you're a good example of — people always want to go viral, and you did — but there's a lot of back work to going viral that people don't always see.
There really is! It's this weird thing where I definitely have never had any real desire for fame. I think fame is a disease that people do not realize they don't want until they have it. Like a bubonic plague. It's bad. And especially not any sort of short-term fame. Like I want a merit-based recognition. I don't want cheap laughs. And it's funny because I love the community that's popped up around the things that I create. You know, like seeing commenters become friends. I love fostering a community. That said, I do feel like the older I get, the more it feels like when I do a silly, like, vine-ish quality video, it's depleting. It's not enriching the way it used to be. And it's not a sad thing; it's just a growth thing. Like I want to make something bigger and better than "doing Victoria" in my bathroom. You know, I'm 27 and it's starting to feel like, "Hello, my fellow kids." But I love making people laugh! And if that's what it has to be right now, I'll work behind the scenes to make it so that I can do something bigger.
So, for those people who aren't familiar with your work, my two favorite narratives of yours are the Brandy Melville Employee and the Basic Vampire. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration for those and who these girls are?
Well, Anubis is this 800-year-old vampire. It's funny because I've been trying to write her into this bigger character — and a lot of what would dictate her being on a show interacting with other characters is writing this canon of who she is. Then once you have this 45 page long scribe on her personality and her background that almost every single action she could take would make sense given who she is.
So yeah, she's this 800-year-old vampire who's maybe from LA but lives in NYC — you know she has a little bit of both. Vapid and artificial, but in a way that's justified because she's the only vampire in her friend group — that everyone else being mortal — she knows inevitably, given the past you know 800 years of her life, they're gonna disappear so it's like a coping mechanism so she doesn't suffer from loss time and time and time again.
That one came about because my office is over in Astor Place and there's that huge costume store over there, you know?
Photo by Megan Walschlager
Yes, my friends and I say it's the 24/7 Halloween store but it's not 24 hours, it's just open all year.
I get that because it seems like it would be open all the time. Very interesting branding. I just had this thought during the day like, Wouldn't it be funny if there was this fashion vampire and then the voice just kind of popped out?
The Brandy Melville one — well, I love those sweaters. The white, crop top sweater that I wore in that first video? I love it. I have it in every color. And I feel bad. I do think it's ok to steal from a Brandy Melville. My theory is if there is a chain of 10 or more it's okay to steal from them. Not that I do that, but for anyone else that doesn't believe in this terrible, toxic idea of selling one size in everything.
It's insane. And the size is like... so small.
I have heard from other curvy women that this particular sweater, in a weird way, is flattering even if you have a rounder stomach like I do. But yeah, that one I was just like, How funny would it be to have that key chain around your arm and have a power trip sort of thing?
Right, like you're 15.
Yes, but you're also like 27 and filled out and working there. People are like, "Oh my god! You bought all those sweaters for the video! That's such commitment!" But it's like no; I actually do really like these. If you can get your hands on them they're really nice.
"I think fame is a disease that people do not realize they don't want until they have it. Like a bubonic plague. It's bad."
Do you have a getting ready routine before you do a video or is it just off the cuff?
Typically off the cuff. Nothing is ever written or rehearsed. Sometimes I'll get the idea early in the day, and I'm a huge proponent of walking or exercising — it allows me to ruminate and think about these ideas, but also I feel like the ideas pop up. Something about the endorphins, I don't know. And then I really do just let the camera roll and try it out. And there definitely is a backlog of stuff that has not worked.
How many shots does it take you to get the video you want to post?
It's hard to say. I think at most maybe an hour at a time. And even that is a lot. That would be like an Anubis start to finish. It takes me about a half an hour to get those contacts in.
Oh, I've put those in before they are really hard to get in there.
They're bananas, right? They're really hard. I actually read an article from this Village Voice journalist from the '90s, who was doing this investigation-
About the contacts?
Photo by Megan Walschlager
Oh, well you know they are being sued by like ophthalmologists everywhere?
Oh, yes. They are so hard to get your hands on now it's absolutely crazy.
But they were doing this reporting on the occult and the Russian mob and it somehow led her to that costume store and there is a spot in the basement where this guy for like the last 30 or 40 years has been making custom fangs and it was a part of the story. She actually ended up going missing, she had a son, and it was this huge thing.
But out of that, I was like I was like, Oh my god that's my goal. If I can get any project off the ground that would make me money off Anubis, the first things I will get are real contacts that don't burn my retinas out-
I think all costume contacts do.
Right, who can I contact for these? Acuvue? Do they have a scary line? They have like their astigmatism line and their scary line.
There's a lot of discussion in comedy right now about how it's too hard to be funny these days because everything needs so "politically correct," but then the counter point is our generation has developed this internet humor that isn't really offensive. I know you don't consider what you're doing standup or improv, but I think you've done a really good job of bringing internet humor into that space.
I guess I would consider what I do absurd. There's this clip that is going around now that was from Tyler, the Creators show, I think, on Adult Swim with all the Wolf Gang members and I think it's Earl Sweatshirt who's doing this part of a skit and he keeps saying like, "Oh you got a necklace? Oh YOU got a necklace on?" And somebody re-captioned it like, "When a 2 year old sees you're wearing a necklace." And I thought to myself: the person that would laugh at that is the kind of person that would I would want to watch the future show or movie that I make. It's almost this absurdist — almost Dadaist — humor. It's hard to articulate.
It is! I feel like John Early does it really well too. Have you seen his and Kate Berlant's study abroad sketch?
Of course. See, they're the types of people that I look to and — I would hate for them to read this and see I called them older millenials — but they are older millenials. But they definitely really got that early injection of eBaum's World and Rotten.com and Something Awful that I think has really dictated what everyone born between like 1985 and 1999 thinks is funny. Which is just like absurd stuff that doesn't even really make sense at all. Not even to the people enjoying it. It's not even like, "Oh I don't get it cuz I'm 50," it's like we don't even get it either it's just something that's funny.
What do you think are some of the coolest places in NYC?
Well, my favorite Italian restaurant is Forlini's for sure, which is on Baxter St. Then you can go down the street after to Asia Roma and they do karaoke in the basement and it's just a great block. I also love James Veloria. And it smells like mint in here, which reminds me of The Commodore which is another one of my favorite spots. Absolutely love it there.
I also love Club Cumming on Wednesdays with Cat Cohen. She is so magnificent. She does Cabernet Cabaret with Henry Koperski? And it's like an hour where she does her cabaret show and she'll have other comedians on and Henry will kind of improvise — it's packed in there every single Wednesday. It's so much fun. It's one of those things, like, if you're going to someone you like's standup shows, you'll go maybe three times. I think I've gone like six or seven — maybe even eight times. It never gets old for me.
What's next for you?
I would like to hold myself accountable for making something, something like a digital series and then maybe a TV series.
Photo by Megan Walschlager
Well, there are lots of examples of that happening: Broad City, High Maintenance-
High Maintenance and PEN15 are two of my favorite shows and if I could make anything close to what those are, I'll be happy with just that one thing and then I'll go become an oncology nurse and use all my findings from working in scholarly publishing.
But yeah, stay here in New York, but travel more, make that stuff and help other people make things too. There are a lot of goals. Some I want to speak into existence and some I want to keep festering.
Last thing: is your real last name Servideo?
Yes, it is my real last name!
Do you think it's funny that your last name is Servideo and you make videos?
It's like a guy named Jeeves becoming a butler or a girl named Harmony working at a medical marijuana dispensary.
Follow Lauren Servideo on Instagram (@servideo).