Today we’d like to introduce you to Cynthia Levin.
Cynthia, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I have a load of stories and virtually all of them fit under the title, “Unprepared for Life” which, luckily, is the title of the TV pilot I’m writing and have been writing and re-writing…It was originally a film script: “UNPREPARED FOR LIFE, An Almost True Story, Except for the Good Parts…Those had to be Made Up!” Fortunately, or unfortunately, the stories keep coming so it has to be a TV series.
It all started so innocently…I knew by the time I was four years old that I wanted to be a “movie star”. I grew up in Chicago, the best city in the world by all accounts and a great place to begin pursuing my acting career. At 14 years old, and with no time to waste, I began looking through The Yellow Pages to find an acting class. There was one on a street that I had been on before and I immediately rode my bike over there. Much to my discomfort, I was the tallest and the oldest person in the class. They were doing the play, The Sound of Music and because of my (teen) age and my height, I got to play both Liesl and The Baroness! We performed the play in the same place we had our “class”, a tiny triangular shaped room in front of an audience of 3 poor bastards. That by the way, will be the name of my new band. Anyway, I don’t have to tell you how rewarding that was! I went on to study at many acting schools in Chicago but the ones that were the best for me were The Second City, Players Workshop from Second City, and Training Centre for the Working Actor. They were the places where I felt the most inspired and excited. I moved to LA shortly thereafter where I began doing stand-up comedy, enjoyed some more waitressing and started therapy which all belong in the next section: “Obstacles/ Challenges”.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
From the time I came out of the hole…so to speak, I was always a bit of a clueless mess that lived life by the seat of her pants. I had to because I wasn’t prepared for anything I was supposed to be prepared for: school, tests, piano recitals, guitar class, the Brownies, picture day, college…you get it. But, let’s begin with when I started to get conscious, which was when I started to become aware of the fact that I was miserable! That happened one night while lying on my mattress in my studio apt, watching the movie, The Summer of ’42 to the smell of skunk, when I started to cry. I cried through the whole movie and the commercial breaks and even when it was over. I couldn’t stop crying! The next day, after realizing that it might not be the smell that was upsetting me, I called my friend’s therapist whose card was strangely on my desk.
The therapist was literally the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in person. She was American Indian and used to be a go-go dancer on Laugh In. Pictures of her in a bikini doing the swim with fake tattoos all over her were always very sobering to look at while trying to find the bathroom. She eventually gave up being a therapist to become a producer. Only in Hollywood!
My early 20’s were rough! I think they are the roughest for most of us. The road started to get bumpy when I moved out to LA with a “boyfriend” named “Goldilocks” for his long golden locks. He was an inspiration…for many jokes, like: ”When you’re making out with him and running your fingers through his thick, long hair, you’re like, “Is it me? Or is it you? Is it me or is it you?!” I know – you never heard anything funnier!
After my worst and first year with Goldilocks in LA, I broke up with him, got fired from my waitressing job at Ed Debevics for “eating too many pickle spears in back” and moved abruptly to NYC where I immediately started drinking beer and smoking cigars with old men in pubs! Oh the fun we had! I wasn’t even an alcoholic, that city just made me super thirsty. After about a year of fun, it was all brought to a sudden halt when I was on a plane flying back to LA for a quick trip. I was just sitting there, unconscious as usual, looking out the window with birds chirping in my fuzzy head when a voice spoke to me. It said, “Move back to LA.” It was so loud and so direct, I just said, “Okay” out loud. I think it was God and you can’t argue with God! And that was it, I moved back to LA, a place I hated. But it was also where things started to shift for me. I was even more miserable now! Because I was freaking conscious! I liked it better before. Thankfully, I started doing stand-up because a nice guy I was dating said I should take this class that it would be really good for me! Assuming it was an acting class, I went in and found out it was a stand-up class taught by Judy Carter. I got up on stage and started talking about my shitty life and my bodybuilder boyfriend named Goldilocks and Judy said, “You’re a natural!” That night, I felt like I found my soul and 30 years later, I still feel that way.
Standup did save my life! For years, I would cry all day and then go, “Oh shit! What time is it?!” Then I would start humming while looking in my closet for something to wear for my show. I think part of the reason for this misery was because for so many years, I couldn’t believe it! I mean, it’s like screaming while riding in a horse and buggy through the dirt roads of the Yukon Territory in Alaska in the 1800’s and bitching the entire time that you can’t believe how bumpy it is! I think that was the problem, I needed to start believing it. Accept what is, so that I could move on. I grew up Jewish and I think it’s in our DNA to not believe things. “I can’t believe it! This is ridiculous! I want to speak to the manager!” Which is the total opposite of Buddhism, “I accept what is. And I’m cool with it.”
The beauty of it is that I’ve been able to make fun of it the entire time. I’ve done 13 one-woman shows and 30 years of stand-up comedy. I would often do new material every night because I couldn’t stop having epiphanies. I even got an award in the “Alternative Comedy Scene” for being “The Least Likely to Repeat Material”! I know! I know! I think it’s my greatest achievement thus far!
I have had some successes (in the eyes of the world). I’ve gotten to do stand-up, sketch and panel on Comedy Central, BET, ABC and more. I’ve been a regular at The Comedy Store for many years due to Mitzi Shore who was like a mother to me. Mostly in the sense that she saw me and got me and when I left, she sent people to go find me. I became a new face at The Improv in my very early days of stand-up as well. I’ve performed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Japan, Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, Ireland, Scotland, the United Kingdom among other countries. I’ve done many plays, been in many films – features and shorts, a few stints on TV, most recently I was on an episode of Legion on Fx.
With all of the lessons that I have learned, the biggest and the most important lesson was to learn how to be happy. That it’s even okay to be happy! Who knew?! I think most of us learn, the more miserable you are, the more likely God will take you out of there. So, we just keep complaining! But it doesn’t work that way! Actually, the best thing you can do for yourself is to be happy! It doesn’t mean, don’t feel, it just means feel and then find a way to be happy! Think about things that make you feel good and do things that make you feel good! That’s really it! Then from that place of happiness, you have more belief that things can work out and the things you want, start to come to you. You don’t even have to be a super “efforting” Sunflower that flops over all of the sudden from all of that trying – trying to be a big, bright and sunny Sunflower! Don’t do it! Because after all of that efforting, you’re exhausted and you are done! Those bitches don’t even drop a petal as a warning. Their leaves don’t even brown, they just flop over! I prefer being a wildflower. Just throw those seeds and whatever happens, happens!
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into your story. Tell us more about the business.
Every time I learn something, I feel the need to share it. I think it’s because I want to keep people from feeling confused or bad about themselves. So, more than 20 years ago, I began teaching acting, which surprised me because I didn’t know I knew anything at all! I presently teach at Anthony Meindl’s Actor Workshop in Hollywood. Everyone teaches differently, with acting, my style is to help people learn to love themselves more. That way, they will love and accept all parts of themselves, and in the end be able to love and accept those parts of other people. When we do that, we stop judging the character we are trying to play as well as people in the world that do things we don’t dig. When we do that, we get to utilize those traits we have within ourselves (because we are all the same and we need all of them) and we stop “othering” people who seem different from us.
I also teach stand-up! I think the reason I do that is because I really want other people to find their soul too and it’s fun! For my standup classes, we do writing exercises to get them to explore their opinions and feelings about things that matter to them. There is so much humor in the truth or at least your version of it. I also love helping people tap into their own unique sense of humor and perspective and take them as far as they can go!
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I always make fun of the fact that people are always wishing me luck! It doesn’t matter what I tell them I’m going to do, they always wish me luck! “I think I’m going to go outside…” “Good luck!” It’s as if they believe in luck more than they believe in me! But if you believe that we are not alone on this planet and that we all have our own personal guides and they all have your back and always have then luck might be occurring all of the time, without us realizing it! I’ve unfortunately needed divine intervention several times in my life because I was obviously not doing a great job of listening to my own inner voice/instinct. Basically, voices have spoken to me at critical times, throughout my life and they ended up being the catalyst for my biggest changes.
I think we are spoken to a lot but may not always be paying attention to it. For example, early days before I ever even considered doing standup, I would find myself at a comedy show. And every time I was in the audience something specific would happen. The first time I ever went to a stand-up show, I was brought up on stage where I made the audience laugh, mostly because I wasn’t that bright. Another time, while on my first date with Goldilocks, the female comic on stage appreciated my laughter so much that she gave me an entire polyester outfit! Which I wear every Halloween regardless of the character. For my birthday one year, I went to see Elaine Boosler and I was laughing so hard and so honkingly that she called me out during her show and then sincerely thanked me afterwards for my laugh. One night, while living in NY, I had a dream (and I don’t sleep) that I was at a fancy party with white table cloths and I was making people laugh, saying big words that I didn’t even know I knew. That actually ended up happening in real life some years later. The last time was when I had taken an on-camera class in NYC and my acting teacher who had one glass eye and used the other one to look behind the lens, suggested I go up in front of everyone and be funny. Saying, “You’re funny! Why don’t you go up there and talk about girl things!” I said, “What, like pads?!” He said, “Yes!” So, I talked about how us girls would wear these giant pads and then ask our friends if they could see them. Of course, they could! You couldn’t miss them! Then I told a story about how I got a rubber stuck up inside me all night long while the guy slept. I spent all night trying to get it out and when I finally did, I had no one to celebrate with because he was still sleeping! The actors in the class just stared at me in horror. I was killing. That was my first time, thanks to the guy with the glass eye.
Today, I perform stand-up virtually anywhere and everywhere. Currently, I produce a show at The Hotel Cafe in Hollywood on the 3rd Wednesday of every month at 7 pm where I am also doing the live show of Unprepared for Life!, in segments. I am also finishing my TV pilot, “Unprepared for Life” which is great! Feel free to wish me luck!
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Rebecca Aranda, Nikki Leigh Scott