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Meet Trailblazer Lisa Sundstedt

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lisa Sundstedt.

Lisa, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My professional career in showbiz started out with me being a “showgirl.” I performed all over the world. I sang in the Tomorrowland band at Tokyo Disneyland, danced on cruise ships, worked Vegas, did a ton of musical theater and even toured the country with the 50s rock band, “Sha Na Na” as the only girl in the group.

In 1994, I was dating a talent agent and I told him I wanted to act on a sitcom and he encouraged me to start doing stand up comedy so I could be seen by the industry. I immediately put a stand-up act together and one week later I was onstage at the Laugh Factory performing at their open mic. My set was just okay but I loved it and found it to be the most exhilarating and terrifying art form I had ever experienced. Shortly thereafter, I was hanging out at the Hollywood Improv (trying to get stage time) and some guy I was talking to told me I was too pretty to be funny. At that time I had a few girlfriends who were also stand up comics so we all got together and produced the first ever, “Pretty, Funny Women” show. We invited all the friends we had and cold called every single casting director, agent, manager, and producer we had ever heard of. This was pre-internet so we had to make postcards and fliers and send them snail mail or hand deliver them to every casting agency in town. We ended up selling it out and all of us got representation from it. It was very empowering to take our careers into our own hands and we were on top of the world.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The biggest challenge I have faced, even till this day, is people saying or thinking “women aren’t funny.” It’s so frustrating for me because some of my very best friends in the world are stand up comics and writers and they are the funniest people I’ve ever met. Stefanie Wilder Taylor, Shawn Pelofsky, Courtney Cronin are just a few of the top comedy writers and performers in this town but they’re not a household name because it can be really difficult for women to break through in comedy. It also wears on you when you constantly have to prove yourself and make people see that you have something special to offer. Thankfully, I do believe in a higher power and I meditate, pray and ask for guidance on a daily basis. It’s all about trial and error for me. When one door closes in my face, I just try the next one until someone lets me in. I believe with every fiber of my being that I am destined to do this with my life so I keep trudging and creating opportunities for myself, my friends and my students.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Pretty, Funny Women – what should we know?
Over the past 14 years, I’ve taught hundreds of women how to do stand up comedy, but… Pretty, Funny Women hasn’t always been a school. In the late 90s, it started out as the hottest showcase in Hollywood for up and coming female comedians. I booked comics who I believed were going to be stars before they were famous and when they were just a couple years into stand up. The show was called “Pretty, Funny Women” and it ran at the Hollywood Improv for over ten years. Some of the regular comics I had on my shows were Sheri Shepherd, Chelsea Handler, Tig Notaro, Retta, Natasha Leggero, Maria Bamford, Sarah Tiana, Vicki Barbolak, and Heather McDonald. I even booked Tiffany Haddish and Iliza at one point in my career. There were many nights where comics like Sarah Silverman, Margaret Cho, and Kathleen Madigan dropped in. Often times, I would have three or four of those women on the same bill. The shows were always packed and the industry came down to scout new talent. Many of the comics featured on PFW booked jobs and got representation from being seen on my show.

In 2005, I started teaching stand up, and I’ve been able to mentor thousands of women through my classes and even help manage some of their careers. PFW is almost like a comedy sorority except there is no hazing or rushing and all women are welcome into the fold.

I have branded myself as “The Madame of Comedy.” I’m all about “pimping” my students out and giving them as much stage time as possible. Currently, I produce and book a PFW industry showcase at the Laugh Factory on Sunset. The PFW grad shows run twice a month at Flappers. I have another show I created that plays at the Comedy Store monthly called “Funny Girls.” I’m so incredibly proud of my students who have stayed in the game and decided to go for it with everything they’ve got. There are way too many to mention by name but, trust me… they have very impressive resumes. A lot of them are now doing festivals, starring on TV shows, recording comedy albums, and have become social media influencers. I love this business because there are no rules. If you work hard and really believe in yourself, you can do anything you want.

So much of the media coverage is focused on the challenges facing women today, but what about the opportunities? Do you feel there are any opportunities that women are particularly well positioned for?
I produce five shows a month in Los Angeles and book about 12 women on each of them.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Brian Parillo Photography for the headshots

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