• Jasen T. Davis

The Art of Julia Ogilvie

Julia Ogilvie as Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream

Julia Ogilvie is a professional stage thespian, sketch comedy performer, musician, film actress and stand-up comic. While she got her start with theater, it was behind the curtain where the young lady first became inspired to be funny. "When I was a kid there was this one day I pretended to snore backstage." Ogilvie was just messing around with her fellow performers, and the reaction was positive. "I made them laugh. That was so cool!"

Life, talent, experience and qualified instruction gave Ogilvie the opportunity to perfect her craft at The Juilliard School, a private performing arts college in New York City, and the same prestigious learning institution that trained legends like Robin Williams. Even after she graduated, her education didn't stop.

"I took a stand-up class at The Comedy Cellar in New York City, where Rick Crom taught joke construction." The older comic ended up becoming her coach and mentor. By then she was in her teens. "I did stand-up at 16." Years have passed since then and she still enjoys performing. "I've done sketch comedy and music. I needed to express myself. I've also done spoken word poetry."

Years later, all of that experience helped, but the road to Hollywood is long, rough, and paved with typecasting. "My manager told me I had to look thin. Many people in Hollywood are hired for how they look and being connected, not for what they did. I struggled. I had representation, but wasn't getting opportunities."

Julia Ogilvie in Timon of Athens

Her first manager was far from supportive. "He told me to lose ten pounds and that I was attractive enough to lose weight." He said she either had to be Jenny McCarthy or Rebel Wilson. There was no in between. "It's hard to be an artist in Hollywood. They'll tell you your ass is too big or you're too old. It's no joke how the industry wants you to be an object. Don't take up space, don't speak up for yourself."

Actors have to memorize lines somebody else wrote. Comedians write their own dialogue, and with that comes power. Ogilvie remembers how being on the stage performing comedy meant freedom, and after a short hiatus returned to stand-up. "I was doing something of value based on my material. When jokes crush, that's empowerment."

After years of performing dramatic plays, musical theater, sketch comedy and stand-up, she ended up opening for veteran comedian and Mad TV performer, Bobby Lee. "He really took me under his wing. Because of the huge demand for stand-up comedy I ended up with so much stage time."

Going full circle taught Ogilvie the value of being confident in herself. "I'm less scared. I've earned my chops. I have an unapologetic attack." She doesn't worry if the audience likes everything. "I've worked my ass off. I feel present with the crowd when I execute my material so there's more of a give and take to get real with their response...I'm one with my id."

For Ogilvie, being a comedian means taking her destiny out of the control of other people and their opinions. In Hollywood, being an actor can be easy. Making people laugh isn't. Stand-up comedy is an immediate calibration of success. "We know who crushed. We know who bombed. For actors there isn't a clear assessment when someone else gives you a green light."

Ogilvie knows that comedians must be honest, first. "It's all about telling the truth. If you acknowledge this the audience will love you. If you lie they'll hate you." Without honesty, the entertainment industry can make women live a lie. "Hollywood categorizes women. It's brutal. Heartbreaking. It's like you have to be thin and hot, or big enough to be a punchline."

When an actress walks into a room full of casting directors and delivers lines written by somebody else with emotion, conviction and ability, the best she can expect is dead quiet and then, "Thank you, NEXT!" Stand-up offers a real arena to test her talents. "Someone else gives you a green light. You can end up feeling unfulfilled, artistically. I've succesfully auditioned for producers who told me later they weren't moving forward with me." No reason given. That's the business.

Her advice to a person in the same position is to be confident as well as practical, despite the misogyny in the industry. "It's hard to be an artist. I was always terrified of taking up space." No matter what anybody says, Ogilvie has learned to stay strong, mentally, despite the harsh realities of show business and move on."You don't have to make it proportional to your self worth."

Although #MeToo and #TimesUp changed a lot of highly problematic habits in the world of entertainment, abusing women for ‘fun‘ can be the norm. "I have to be honest. In the stand-up world they've been nice. Awesome. I've been supported." Doing sketch comedy wasn't always a lot of fun. "I was on a house team. Six actors, six writers, and an original show every month. It was so sexist. So chauvinist. I'd be called a cum dumpster, and then they'd do a sketch about rape." Sometimes the pain was overwhelming. "I would cry." All of the writers went on to work for major Hollywood television studios.

If a young woman has an interest in doing stand-up comedy, how should they begin? Ogilvie knows. Begin with yourself, and then study the basics. "Start with the truth of what has meaning to you. The truth. If it isn't real, it isn't funny." After that, it's important to understand the proper structure of a joke. "Read these two books, The Comedy Bible by Judy Carter, and The Tao of Comedy by Bobbie Oliver.'"

Writing comedy takes discipline. Ogilvie suggests using a calendar and tracking your progress every day. "Make an 'X' when you write. Write for ten minutes at least. Ten premises." What are her subjects? "Things I'm passionate about." In comedy, fear is a factor, which is why she also suggests possible future female stand-up comics write about, "What they're scared of. Write every day, and then start going to open mics."

It takes a while for a comedian to consistently crush. Audiences can be fickle. Failure happens to the best and the worst. Don't let it get to you. "Bombing onstage is like getting a bad haircut." Stay motivated and keep moving. "Hair grows back," she says.

"Every opportunity is an opportunity to grow," she says. The positive vibe is that you are not alone. "Pay attention to people you connect with. Foster that connection." Experience teaches self-confidence. One day, you'll be good, you'll know it, and nobody can take that from you. "If you're funny, you're funny."

Is there a difference between men and women in stand-up comedy? Ogilvie says there is none. "We're all human. It's all the same. We just have different perspectives and different genitalia." She's learned that regardless of whether you are a woman in stand-up comedy it comes down to just the writing, the performance and the laughter. "It's an undeniable auditory calibration of success."

After a decade on the stage performing, what would Ogilvie do different if she could do it all again? "I wish I had started sooner," she says. "I'm really impatient to be good." Her advice to anyone interested in making people laugh? "Start now. Do it and in ten years you'll know if you're good."

What keeps her motivated, despite the negativity? "I think of the dream ... writing a pilot that tells my truth about my life, like Everybody Loves Raymond." While Ogilvie has her own talent, she is now blessed with a manager that is supportive of her journey. She's also learned what really works - being honest with yourself. "Tell the truth. Don't box yourself in."

In an age where the difference between a stand-up comic and actor have become increasingly blurred due to the film industry influence of Hollywood (Netflix paid former pro wrestler Christian Baptiste millions to perform stand-up after his success as a comedic actor in numerous Marvel films including Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Infinity War), what does Ogilvie consider the definition of success to be? "If you can pay your rent and earn a comfortable living doing it. It's so hard."

Like many other professional performers, the young actress has a life that was interrupted by Covid-19. Ogilvie was performing Timandra in the Shakespeare play Timon of Athens off-Broadway at The New Audience theater, directed by Simon Godwin, in New York City, and followed the production to Washington, D.C. at The Shakespeare Theater as a co-production between the two groups, when the outbreak shut down the whole world.

Fortunately for the young performer, her family lives in Honolulu, Hawaii: "I started out by visiting my parents during Covid and decided to stay with my mom and dad instead of being all alone."

Since then, Ogilvie has kept her skills sharp and herself busy, despite the lockdowns everyone has experienced, thanks to online social media. "During Covid I've done a lot of Zoom comedy shows," she says.

Now that the world is opening up, she's already working on a live solo comedy project called, "Everybody's Got Something," and looks forward to a finer future. "I have a bunch of live gigs scheduled and post on Instagram."

Julia Ogilvie is a film and stage actress whose stand-up comedy and sketch credits include The Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre, The Pit, The Magnet and The Brooklyn Comedy Collective in New York City, New York. She's also performed music and comedy at locations in Los Angeles, California, that include The Comedy Store, Flappers and Improv Olympics West, to name just a few. Her Off-Broadway production theatre credits include That Beautiful Laugh with Alan Tudyk. Ogilvie has also performed internationally at The Macau Arts Festival in China and has live performances scheduled throughout Hawaii during the month of May.

Find out more about Julia Ogilvie at www.juliaogilvie.com and on Instagram: @julia_ogilvie.


Words: Jasen T. Davis