Lisa Valentine Clark graduated with a B.S. in English from Brigham Young University. She was part of the sketch comedy/improv troupe “The Garrens” in Provo from 1995-2000, and co-founded the theater-as-improv troupe “The Thrillionaires,” which performs original, improvised plays and musicals in a variety of genres. She starred as “Gracie,” the lead actor of Pretty Darn Funny, an award-winning web series that she also wrote and executive produced and starred as “Carrie Carrington” in the film Once I Was a Beehive, which she also wrote and produced. Her book, Real Moms; Making it Up as We Go was published in 2015, which is a humorous take on motherhood and life. Lisa is the spokesperson for Chatbooks, and works as a freelance writer and actress for local and national businesses, and is currently filming the third season as a host on the tv show Random Acts. She spends most of her time living in Provo with her husband, Christopher Clark. They are the parents of five children.
For those in our audience who are unfamiliar with you and your dynamic career, please share a few words about yourself and your work.
My name is Lisa Valentine Clark, and I’ve done a lot with my English degree, but mostly doing things that have nothing to do with English. I’m a writer, producer and an actress, in things that have come my way or I’ve made. It’s been an interesting work career that I could have in no way predicted.
What led you to it and what’s the muse that keeps you rolling forward when work is work?
Oh, that’s a good question. When the work is work, I just feel really lucky to have people trust me. Working with your friends [means] I can give them my best and have fun. And I love being able to hire my friends. Isn’t that the dream? Making funny stuff with your friends?
Honestly, most of what I do with comes with connections I made from what started with hobby. I was in a comedy troupe, The Garrens. I did a lot of sketch comedy and from there created the Thrillionaires group where I went when I tucked my kids away in their beds at night. It led to voice-overs, to commercials and small parts in movies, and Once I was a Beehive, Chatbooks Ads, and Random Acts. Voice overs lead to writing to Real Moms: Making It Up As We Go that came from the web series Pretty Darn Funny. It’s nice that one thing led to another because I don’t really love auditioning nor am I really good at it.
You’re an actress, producer, and writer (and even a fellow BYU English Grad)- what order do you rank those roles, and what freedoms and limits cause you to flip back and forth through them?
First and foremost as an actress (I probably get the most of my work through that), then writer and producer. Since I’ve been through all of them I appreciate the distinct role of each of them have. Specifically writing- there is no substitute for clever writing. When you write you write for a specific feeling or voice and that has helped acting. Producing has been eye-opening for me- how many people it takes to make something extra special for lack of a better term, and it’s really creatively fulfilling to find the people with specific talents in their field to come together on a collaboration. A good producer will let each department really do their job well. I’ve sees that first hand that as a writer and actor, where some producers have and some haven’t. It has given me a new appreciation for that. But I like acting best because-it’s the most freeing.
How does your faith inform your work and how has your work informed your faith?
I have a strong faith, I would call myself a super-Mormony mom- go to three hours of church and everything. My faith has given me a lot of courage to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I feel like specifically in the Mormon faith tradition, I was encouraged to develop talents and arts had an important role in my life, whether that would be a career or not. I feel like putting good things out into the world is a moral responsibility for Christians. It doesn’t mean that you hit people over the head with morality, it just means that all good things come from God.
That has been encouraging when the work is hard or tough. I feel like there is a need to make people laugh and put good work out there and there is value in that. I think that a faith tradition that encourages that instead of treating like it something is not important in life has given me more creative freedom than I would otherwise. It has helped me be more creative in other ways.
It hasn’t held me back because I don’t get the kind or roles or have the kind of acting style that would, how do I say this, put me in line for questionable roles anyway. I’ve never had to turn down a role because it’s too sexy. I don’t get those kind of roles. I’ve had to hustle for so much work. Everything you write and act is so personal it objectifies your point of view and mine is very Mormon. I’m sure I’m not even aware of how Mormon it is.
Have you had negative feedback with everything you put out there? How do you deal with the haters?
I deal with the haters the same way I deal with negativity, whether it’s a bad day or whatever- I acknowledge it for what it is and try not to take myself too seriously. I’m always acknowledging that I can always improve and do better. I try to just move forward and not stay stuck on it. I don’t ignore it, I acknowledge it and just move forward.
I always say to myself, at least I did something, instead of just wondering [if I could]. Even if I make a fool out of myself- which I’ve made a career on- it’s better than just wondering. I’m not for everybody, so I move forward, and keep making stuff and doing things. The more you do the more you care, and you get better.
The internet does bring out the weirdos, sometimes I have to stop reading comments. For Once I was a Beehive was such a labor of love. You can read something great about it, but when I read something I thought was dumb or misinformed, I would get too mad and care too much. Like: “That’s not what girls’ camp is really like” or “there’s no way a bear would ever come.” Nothing dramatic happens with that, it’s run of the mill but I just have to stop reading negative things- We get it, we know it’s a movie, a story– it’s just the feeling that people would take a movie so seriously to take time to make a comment. Something mean or how much you hate Mormons. Who are these people? It makes you depressed over the human family. I think I did some writing, some acting, and the laundry today, but wow, you took time out of your day to write those things on the internet. Okay.
Tell me about your writing process. Is there a ritual, place or time that helps you write regularly and at your best?
I do in my mind: A quiet room, a frosty diet coke, I’m well-fed and relaxed and that never happens. Living in a house with my family means I just have to get it done. I don’t have the luxury of the ideal. I write on scraps of paper, put notes on my phone while I’m running errands, and go home and write in a notebook and on my laptop. I write early in the morning, late at night, or middle of the day- I’m sure a routine would help, but we’ll never know, right? I try to put it all together – all those scraps and fragments together and look for patterns and connections. I trick myself to say I am just arranging thoughts instead of sitting down and writing a book or a sketch- that’s not too much pressure. Saying, let’s put some funny things together. And, well just do this part, and then do this part. And keep going and keep going. I write in fragmented pieces out of necessity out of anything. But I do it.
Creative people are often great readers, who do you admire and what do you read to satisfy your heart and need for pleasure?
This is a weird time in my life where there isn’t a lot of room for time for myself, but I do like exercise because it helps clear my head. I feel like if my body is really tired it hones my mind and I’m ready to work out my head. I love to read novels and science fiction – Ray Bradbury- I have never not liked to read him. And lately, I’ve been reading a lot of female comedian’s books, Bossy Pants by Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling’s books and such. I like their perspective on improv and their lives and things- I like finding their perspective on things.
And I’m reading a lot about grief and how people get through things they don’t think they can get through. It’s a release to hear people open about their own difficult times. Fiction is a nice escape. I loved Player One, and Crossing to Safety. I find a lot of inspiration there. Reading is the number one thing that makes you a better writer- I probably need to read more.
What aspect of your career comes easily to you?
Sometimes a moment when I’m acting and a director will say to me, “Okay do whatever you want here,” and that’s a little slice of Christmas morning to me, and someone is paying me to be myself and take a chance and those little moments can really pay off. There’s this little kid in me that’s so excited to have someone say how would you do this? Or put in something that’s fun for you. And that’s really just a fun thing that when I get to do it, it’s awesome.
Whom do you imagine reading on the other side of your text as you write or in the audience when you rehearse?
My friends. In fact, it’s two groups. One is my really close girlfriends that get my sense of humor. I can see their faces, and think oh my gosh they would think this is so funny. They would know what I mean, especially with the writing.
The performance stuff is more for my improv friends- I think if they were there would they like it?
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How has that changed over time as your work has grown and you have become more well-known?
I think it’s just confidence and getting older too. Everyone is faking it and no one knows what they’re doing. We just do what they need to do. It’s given me a voice to say, just because things have they’ve always been done this way, doesn’t mean they need to be that way anymore.
Earlier in my career, I was more concerned about doing it the right way- getting a client what they wanted, getting an A, “the right way.” And now that I’m older, I think, let me show you what I can do and taking a bit of a risk in a commercial, a book, or a movie, let me show you my perspective, just like everyone else does- it has value too. Instead of trying to bend my career to what other people want, or what I think they want, I’m getting more confident at saying, you know, I have some experience with that. And I think if someone’s authentic and coming from a real place with feelings instead of what you think people want, it has more value. People want real things. Myself included.
How has it changed with your life- your kids growing and your husband’s health challenges?
That whole work-life balance- it’s something, isn’t it? First of all, I hate the word balance. I think I wrote about it in my book. You can’t be killing it at work, at home, and your personal life. You can’t have it all all the time. I’m more resolved in that now than I was in my early twenties. I thought that if you really work hard… I now appreciate women who do blaze the trail of changing what that looks like. I believe in focus more than balance. My focus is my husband and my family. It doesn’t mean I don’t do anything else, but they are my focus. Obviously, there are times of crisis or intense times when my family needs me and I didn’t do any projects or work and I have no regrets about that. And there are times when things are going well and there is time to work on creative projects or just work because I need to.
I didn’t initially realize how things change through the years- your kids get older, the get big, your husband gets sick, an opportunity comes up. . . a million unexpecteds. I would like to think improv helped me go with the flow, but I’ve had a hard time adjusting, but I’m doing better at that now.
There’s no short answer. I wish that there were “As long as you do these 3 things.” No. Just don’t give up. I don’t know any woman who doesn’t work hard- paid or unpaid- and has to balance a lot. I don’t know anyone who has only one thing. I can’t name one. The more that other women help each other out, other women who have helped me and that’s been a huge help for me with my focus, the better for everyone. Another thing is who I work for- Chatbooks and Random Acts, and freelance- they’ve all been really understanding with my time. Those are little things that are really encouraging for me to do my best work when I’m there because they’ve been generous with time requirements and saying, “What do you need?” They’re very understanding, it’s a huge difference in being to focus it all. I feel like it’s a growing cultural climate- a community – that I didn’t know it was a possibility when I was in my twenties and now I rely on it. Just because things have been one way, they don’t have to be anymore. Being generous to each other brings out the best in each area and creates better work. Wins all around.
You mentioned that your husband is sick, can you share a bit of context with our audience?
Yes. My husband was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease or ALS in March 2016. It’s a terminal disease with no treatment and a life expectancy of 2-5 years. So it’s changed everything. Now all of our life is before ALS and after. Talk about trying to adapt to a new life balance. You never know what’s up around the bend. Being adaptable is just a life skill. It’s basically the worst case scenario and my husband Topher is the very best person I know.
What advice do you give yourself on hard days?
I let myself feel what I need to feel. I let myself wallow, but not for too long. I remind myself that it’s normal to feel what I feel today, but I won’t always feel this way. Yes, it’s really that simple and this is awful but you won’t always feel what you feel right now.
Your work (Chatbooks lady, films such as Once I was a Beehive, Random Acts, etc.) amuses, cheers and inspires others. What inspires you and makes you laugh?
My husband, Christopher Clark, is the funniest person I know. He has such a great attitude. Even with his horrible disease and his body deteriorating, he’s such a good husband and such a good father. The disease doesn’t stop his mind at all. It’s inspiring to me. He’s worked hard his whole life and he’s still working hard. Literally, a terminal disease can’t get him down.
My kids- they’re so funny, sweet, talented, and intense. Seeing life through their life is full of hope and content and excitement that is contagious. They have the weirdest senses of humor and know how to make me laugh.
I also surround myself with very funny, clever people. My biggest brag is that I have the funniest friends.
What role has been your favorite?
That’s hard there are so many. Though my heart will always belong to the Chatbook’s lady. Never has a role been so easily relatable to my life. I went into that audition and they asked me what I would say if one of your kids jumped off the roof, and I was like, you mean, what did I say when one of my kids did jump off the roof? I said, “that was so stupid.” It was the perfect role that validated years and years of mothering- akin to Daniel Day-Lewis, where I became the character, right? Method acting, right in the moment.
What are you working on right now?
Now we are in the middle of filming the 3rd season of Random Acts. I finished another Chatbooks video that will release in the spring. Doing some freelance. I’m the full-time caregiver for my husband, taking care of my 5 kids at home and trying to get a nap where I can. Good times.
Looking forward, what would you like to do creatively that you haven’t yet?
I would love to write and produce another movie with my female friends. Kind of a funny girl power movie. Write and act on a sitcom.
That would be really fun.
Anything else you’d like to share with our audience that loves you and read here?
One thing that has been so encouraging, I find it very ironic that I am writing and performing comedy while I am going through a devastating personal crisis. The juxtaposition between those two is particularly poignant. Many reasons that I’m sure I’ll discover later. The people who are able to respond to what we do on Random Acts, the Beehive movie, and have said that was like for me, and can relate and connect has been very surprising and encouraging for me. When we’re filming and working you hope that someone gets what’s in your head. When the Beehive movie came out it felt like: judge my baby, my newborn baby, what do you think of it? You don’t really want them to tell you. We felt like it was a great movie, but you just don’t know.
A lot of times I’ll think, what have I done? What have I put out there? It could be really awesome or really horrible. There’s always that moment but it’s also a place for people to connect and say yeah, that’s how I feel too. Not everyone acts or writes for public consumption, but it is important as writers to make connections to other people and encourage others. It has helped me and propelled me forward, whether it is music, or writing, or whatever. Put it out there and you’ll find your audience.