Hollie Harper: More to the Story
Taylor Harrington 8/25/2021 12:18pm EST
Stand-up comedian Hollie Harper is making waves in the entertainment industry as a woman to look out for. Her show, Hella Late! with Hollie Harper is available on BRIC TV, and this comedy nerd brings all the laughs to her audience via standup, funny songs, and mockumentary! Join us in getting to know Hollie a little bit better!
Thank you for being here today, Hollie!
Oh, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Of course. So Holly, how did you first get into the comedy world?
It’s funny, I became a writer before I became an actress. I always wrote as a child, and then just wrote for fun. I went to theater school, which we did a conservatory for acting. All the roles that I was always getting were funny roles, but I got into stand-up comedy because I was a waitress at a blues club and they had an open mic on Sunday nights. One night the host didn’t show up and they were like, ‘Can you just host and bring up people? There’s a list.’ I was really getting into it like I was really hosting, and it was so much fun. After that, I took a stand-up comedy class and I did stand-up for about two years. Then I actually quit for a really long time, for like over a decade, but I came back to stand-up and to my sketch comedy show., the opening my sketch comedy show. So that’s how I got in.
That is so much fun. I want to know, where did you grow up?
I grew up in Philadelphia in Germantown until I was eight or nine, and then I grew up in South Jersey right outside of Cape May.
Okay, nice. I’m actually from New Jersey! So Hollie, who were your comedic icons growing up?
My comedy icons growing up, honestly, were Whoopi Goldberg and Joan Rivers. I really love them. I had never seen a black woman who could do all these characters the way Whoopi did and it was so funny and they were really heartfelt, too. She had this groundbreaking show, an HBO special That was all for a one-woman play here in New York. I think it was somewhere in the mid-80s and it was just incredible. I was obsessed with Whoopi Goldberg, and then as far as stand-up, Joan Rivers just had me dying. I’ll never forget, a pivotal moment for me looking back on my childhood was my parents asking me what I wanted for Christmas and I was like, ‘I just want a Joan Rivers tape.’ It was “Joan Rivers live at Harrah’s”, and I would listen to it and wear it out over and over. I knew every single joke and I would break down the jokes and why they were funny. I was really into Whoopi Goldberg and Joan Rivers.
I love that so much because they are such different entities, but you’re learning from both of them. Where do you pull your inspiration from when you’re writing your own sketch comedy or stand-up routines?
Honestly, they pop into my head. I ran a sketch comedy show for 12 years and still have another running sketch comedy show. I have a group, it’s called American Candy and we’ve done 52 original shows and they’re all themed out differently. So, basically, I just look for juicy cultural themes. I’m not really interested in topical humor meaning I love SNL, but I’m not really interested in someone playing Kim or someone playing Kanye. That’s wonderful. That’s great. That’s not what I do. I’m really interested in cultural phenomenons or just things like we did a show called ‘The Wild Wild West’. So it could have been about Wild Wild West saloons, it could be about LA culture, it can be about 70s LA, it could be about anything. As far as Hella Late! goes, I really wanted to bring that thematic structure to a late-night comedy talk show where each episode is themed out very differently. The first episode is “Blurred Nation”, so all of the segments are leaned into blurred culture in some sort of way. Then we have the mom squad, and everything is geared towards something interesting with motherhood. I really learned that from working on my show American Candy. The thematic structure of American Candy really led me to learning and really perfecting it.
Amazing. What does inclusivity in this part of the entertainment industry mean to you and how can that be achieved?
Well, for me, as a Black woman in this industry, it’s been really interesting, because I’ve always known that I’m good, you know? I’ve always known that I can write jokes. I used to watch Three’s Company and I would predict the jokes. I would be like, “they’re gonna say this, they’re gonna say that”. I really always thought I was good, but it was honestly going into theater school and realizing how much racism lied within how you choose plays. How you choose plays at a university is just a microcosm of how movies and TV shows get chosen in Hollywood. They’re usually run by well-meaning white people, you know what I mean? People who are like, ‘No, I’m dedicated to not being racist’, but then they just choose everything white. I found that to me, inclusivity means at the ground level there are people of color and women of color all the way to high up. You can’t really have a bunch of people at one level at the ground level, and then the higher-ups who were greenlighting things are not people of color, are not black women, so it needs to be all the way through. One thing that really got me was that I have a friend who is a comedy club booker and we were talking about inclusivity in comedy clubs and she said that she has a friend, a woman, a white woman, from another club who’s a booker, and she honestly just told her straight to her face, she was like, ‘Well, you know, I usually like to book more white women, I just identify with them more.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s racism. That’s racist.’ I actually went to the website of the club, I’m not gonna names because I don’t want my name to be synonymous with conflict with this woman, but I actually went to their site, and it was crazy. They listed all of these comedians that are regulars, and only three out of about 100 were Black women. Three or four, and they all had major TV credits, whereas they had a sea of sorry, mediocre White men. This is how racism perpetuates, because you have people at the level where you’re choosing to say, ‘Well, I just identify with so and so more’. No shit. You’re a white woman, you probably have more white women friends. I’m a black woman, I probably have more black women friends, but if you’re in if you’re a gatekeeper, you have to look outside of yourself. You have to, you just simply have to.
Do you think that that can be changed? How can this be improved upon?
I think that if you really want to see diversity, and on television, and in the movies, you really need to take a look at how people come through. You need to look at comedy institutions that train, everything from Second City to IO to UCB. A lot of these places do have some nice track records, but all you need to look at is comedy clubs. I was talking to my friend who’s a booker and I was explaining to her the rite of passage is to get booked to do late-night. This is how everybody feels, Sebastian Maniscalco, to Ali Wong, Jerry Seinfeld, they all come through and they get five minutes on the Tonight Show or whatever kind of late-night show. If the booker at the comedy clubs doesn’t put them on, they don’t get seen by the booker’s the late-night shows. It’s harder to have a real career, and then you need to take a look at writers’ rooms of TV shows, and then take a look at who is in development at networks of shows. Every entry-level where someone’s a gatekeeper and has the power to escalate someone’s career, that is what you need to take a look at.
Completely. So Hollie, do you have any projects that you are working on right now that you would like to share with us?
Right now I’m working on a lot of pitches. Pitching myself here, pitching myself there, pitching this project, pitching that project. I’m trying to work with a BRIC TV hopefully for Season Two of Hella Late! with Hollie Harper, and we’ll see how it goes. Nothing is set in stone yet, but it looks nice, and I’m just shining a light on all the segments of Hella Late! with Hollie Harper. Career-wise, I’m working on a Spotify project for another really amazing writer, an Indian writer, who has a Spotify project. I directed a sketch for a pilot for another Black female comedy writer and director named Latasha Mercer. She’s really amazing. So you know, I’m working on a lot of different side projects and I teach. I just finished teaching a summer camp teaching stand-up comedy to 13 and 14-year-olds. I’m just immersing myself in comedy in many different ways. I don’t have a huge big project. Well, I guess my huge project is just me and my career.
In five years, where would you like to see yourself both professionally and personally?
Well, personally, I have a fourteen-year-old daughter and have a nine-year-old son here right now, and I would like to see my daughter in her second or third year of college and doing well. I would like to see both of them happy with a lot of friends. I see my nine-year-old son, he’ll be in high school, I would like to see him continue on and just do really well at school, and all of us be really healthy. I see my husband happy and healthy. He’s wonderful. He’s my best friend. Professionally, I would like to see Hella Late! with Hollie Harper on it’s fifth or sixth season and have a lot of other projects pitched. I write a lot and have a lot of different TV shows that I would like to develop, so that’s what I would like to see. Let’s see Hella Late! and three or four other shows on TV that are Hollie Harper creations.
Amen. Amen. How can our readers follow you on social media?
Absolutely, they can find me on Instagram @HollieHarper5. I have a YouTube channel I actually just started, so it’s skinny right now, but it’s called A Hella Hollie, like Hella Late! Then I’m always on Facebook because I’m a grown woman. That’s what we do. We drink wine and go on Facebook. You gotta own it.
How can people watch Hella Late! with Hollie Harper?
You can watch it on BRIC TV. BRIC TV also has a YouTube channel, and if you type in Hella Late! with Hollie Harper, you will find all four episodes.
Hollie, I just thank you so much for sharing a little bit of your story with us! Follow Hollie Harper and just keep sharing comedy and laughter, because that’s what everybody needs more than anything right now.
Absolutely. Support women in comedy!
Originally from Edison, New Jersey, Taylor won the 2005 “Middlesex County Caring Award”, and hasn’t stopped caring since. When she is not writing or hosting More to the Story, Taylor can be found chasing her two mutts around Athens, Ohio where she currently resides with her husband. Moving to Appalachia has made a huge impact on her life, and she can’t wait to share some of her stories, laughs, and (mis)adventures with you!
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