“I broke my elbow during reading period last spring,” second-year Liva Pierce explains. “So I spent much of the first half of the summer inside watching movies or going on my phone… I think I just watched so many that I wanted to try making them myself.”
That one broken bone eventually tickled a million others — or, to be exact, about seven million. As of this writing, that’s the number of times Pierce’s first video, “when characters in musicals transition from speaking to singing” has been viewed on Twitter.
When she’s not rehearsing or performing as a member of the registered student organization Off-Off Campus—the oldest student improvisational theater troupe in the country—Pierce regularly posts comedy videos that rack up hundreds of thousands of views.
For Pierce, UChicago offers the opportunity to explore the Chicago improv scene while pursuing her academic curiosities. As she hones her narrative voice through her non-fiction creative writing major and considers matters of identity such as gender and sexuality in the classroom, she examines these interests through her comedy as well. Read more about what influences her work — and how she’s dealt with internet notoriety — below.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Have you always been interested in comedy? Do you plan on pursuing it in any professional capacity after college?
I started getting seriously interested in comedy in middle school. Before that, I participated in a lot of theater, which is how I was introduced to improv. My high school didn't have an improv club, so I started one with my friend.
After high school, I decided to take a gap year to focus on comedy. I moved to Chicago and took classes at Second City, and worked at two different comedy theaters in Chicago. I have a much clearer idea of what working in comedy could look like because of that year and I do plan on pursuing it after I graduate. I mostly want to write for television and film, however, as I also love to perform. Perhaps one day I will do both, or maybe I’ll just give up and become a consultant or something [laughs].
What do you like about Off-Off Campus?
I love Off-Off because I love the people I do it with. Rehearsing at night most weekdays keeps me sane and has been very therapeutic as an outlet.
This past quarter, my generation of Off-Off (as well as members from other generations who directed/composed with us) wrote a short original musical which parodied the genre of made-for-TV movies about high school. It was super fun and definitely was one of my favorite shows I've done so far.
After your videos went viral, how did you feel?
I felt really excited and then really anxious. I was used to just posting videos for my friends and no one else. I felt a huge pressure to follow up the video with even funnier content. Plus, people who I absolutely idolize were suddenly aware of who I was, and I was terrified of saying something that would make them dislike me or whatever.
Have you gotten a reaction from someone you admire that's been particularly shocking?
Bowen Yang, a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live, reposted my video and said some very nice things about it. That was fully crazy to me. I have followed his work for years and listen to his podcast regularly. There were so many people who saw the video that shocked me. I was sweating a lot.
What kind of comedy motivates and inspires you?
I never want to be apolitical, and I always want to write and perform comedy which has a distinct point of view. For a while, there was a lot of annoying dialogue about how ‘PC culture’ was killing comedy. I think that's fully untrue and that you should never have to put down individuals or groups of people to be funny.
Comedy is not the same thing as political activism, but I do feel that it can make people's lives just a little bit less painful. In TV right now, there are so many examples of creators exploring topics of identity and community in interesting ways. Shows like The Good Place, Desus and Mero, Pen15, Atlanta, Fleabag, Insecure, and so many others have been very inspiring to me. Right now, I am really liking Astronomy Club on Netflix.
Why did you decide to focus on nonfiction in your creative writing major?
I came to nonfiction because I thought it would be a good way to work on voice. After doing so much academic writing first year, I feel like I didn’t really have a voice yet, as a writer. That’s why I liked Twitter so much — it was really my creative outlet for writing, and a place where I felt like I was sharpening my voice.
What do you like to read?
I wanted to get into comedy, because I’d grown up reading memoirs by comedians. I love the memoirs by Tina Fey, Trevor Noah, Jessie Klein, Steve Martin, and Jacqueline Novak especially. I also read a lot of film criticism, art criticism, and pop culture criticism. I like any sort of writer that intertwines anecdote with analysis — Jia Tolentino, Wesley Morris, people like that.
What do you like to write about in workshops?
I’m a gender studies minor, and taking those classes has influenced my reflections about myself. Last quarter, for instance, I wrote about masculinity and male celebrity and how those things influenced me coming into my own sexuality.
However, I don’t want to just write about being gay even though I do that a lot [laughs]. Right now, I’m in a phrase of writing stuff I haven’t worked through — relationships with family, coming out, stuff like that.
I’d like to write more than that, though, more than the things that happened to me that have made me sad in the past [laughs]. Coming to college has made me better at challenging my own thinking, and I want to explore other things.
What does making comedy about being queer feel like for you? What has the response been?
I think being very publicly gay online has been rewarding — I’ve found a lot of release in writing queer humor. Before, I’d make jokes to my gay friends, who I’m lucky to have a lot of, and I make the same sort of jokes online now. Being online in a public way has been really sweet, because there have been many young people who are like, “oh, this really speaks to me, I don’t typically see a lot of young, funny, lesbian people.”
It’s always nice to find another person who is going through the same discomforting things that you’re going through and the same joys that you’re going through, and I know that when I personally find a new voice that’s articulating something that I couldn’t on my own, it is so gratifying, so the fact that me joking about being a lesbian — and being a lesbian in college — has resonated with people, has been nice.
There have been a lot of people I’ve blocked who have been being homophobic. I tend to get like boring, run-of-the-mill homophobia, the most canned responses. That stuff is obviously gross, but it’s definitely in the minority, and I feel lucky.
I noticed that you’ve been offline for a while. Can we expect you back soon?
I wanted to save stuff… I thought, “you need to write for yourself.” So I’ve been doing that. Writing stand-up. And study abroad apps. I’m back in February, though.