50-for-50 interview: Julie Welch, comedy mentor

julie welch, teacher and comedienne supreme

The seeds of the blog I’ve been writing for almost seven years now were sown by one Julie Welch, during a series of improv sessions she led for me and my writing partner, Jan Pessin, to help us craft our two-women, four-person show. Julie and I met during the infamous Level 3 at the Groundlings School—the level that separates the pikers from the true believers, when you do your first writing that ends up on stage before an actual audience. She went on to become one of the finest teachers of improv the world may ever know, while yours truly flamed out as she was clearly intended to do. Like the best teachers, Julie draws from you things you did not realize you were capable of. All of this while remaining one of the five funniest people I’ve ever seen on stage, partly because she brings her full truth to every moment, never winking at things, but mostly because she is sharp, baby, sharp.

When did you decide to become a writer?

I still hesitate to call myself a writer. I’m more of a teacher who writes things sometimes. But I became interested in writing when I took classes at the Groundling Theater. I started out interested in improv, and that led to an interest in sketch writing, which led to an interest in writing in general.

Who was your favorite teacher?

My fourth grade teacher, Virginia, was a fantastic lady. She exuded warmth and goodness, and made you want to be a better person. In high school I had the pleasure of learning English history from Mr. Coombs, whose enthusiasm was contagious. When he told us about murder of the Princes in the Tower of London, for example, he turned off all the classroom lights and spoke in a low, guttural whisper, just to set the mood. More recently, I would say my most influential teacher was Michael McDonald, my first improv instructor. His story of being in the world of banking, and making the risky choice to become a comedy actor/writer instead was a bit of a life-changer for me.

What do you love to write about?

Awkward situations. Human flaws. The minutiae of relationships.

What has writing taught you?

To pay more attention to everything. They say it’s all in the details. And the only way to notice the details is to pay closer attention.

How has writing made you stronger?

It’s certainly been a huge confidence booster when folks have responded positively to something I’ve written. Mostly, though, writing has made me more humble. I’m in awe of folks who do it a lot, and do it well.

If you could go back in time and tell 10-year-old you anything, what would it be?

I would beg, scream, plead with her to be less afraid. But, sadly, I don’t think she would listen. She was pretty stubborn in her fearfulness. I would also tell her to revel in her nerdiness. Don’t be ashamed of it. It’ll become cool someday.

What are your five favorite books, blogs or things to read?

It’s easier for me to think about writers than specific pieces. I adored Roald Dahl and E.B. White as a kid, but I’m including them here, because they were so influential. In later years, I enjoyed everything from Margaret Atwood to Dean Koontz to Jonathan Franzen. These days I read much more non-fiction. I think Bill Bryson has changed the way I look at a few things. Just reread In Cold Blood, which is pretty great.

Julie Welch has written and performed sketch comedy and improv at The Groundling Theater, and is a former member of the Groundlings Sunday Company. She has appeared as a recurring character in the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. She has also written and directed several sketch comedy shows at various theaters in Los Angeles. Currently, she teaches improvisational acting to professional actors and non-actors at The Groundling Theater and is a professor at USC.

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