Postcard from LA
Sarah Colonna, Farmington native, UA grad, stays busy in West Coast showbiz, comedy clubs
By Maylon T. Rice
Catching up with Sarah Colonna requires West Coast reflexes and Hollywood warp speed. The Farmington native and University of Arkansas theater graduate has found some unique opportunities in the E! Channel and other associated television gigs these days. She is still a headliner at some of the West Coast hottest comedy clubs and is now making some cameo appearances on TV shows like “Monk” as well as a bevy of popular brand advertisements.
For instance, last year, Colonna appeared in the Christmas holiday episode of “Monk,” that quirky San Francisco detective and there are more appearances coming.
“Yeah, I appeared in a Christmas episode on “Monk,”” Colonna said. “I am a regular guest on “Chelsea Lately” this season, just finished shooting a commercial for “Go Daddy” with Danica Patrick (the race car driver).”
It was Colonna’s appearance on “Monk” that provided another steppingstone in advancing her career.
“I auditioned and they were casting a few roles at once,” she said. “I was cast as a costar role, it was very small, but fun. It was a great experience. Everybody on the production was great. They treat you very well, give you your own trailer and all that good stuff since you are cast as a principal character.”
And how was the Emmy-award winning star of “Monk” to work with?
“Tony Shalhoub was so nice,” Colonna said. “He even made sure that I got my face time on the show. It’s crazy how much work you go through just to get a line on a hit TV show. There were so many people that auditioned even for that one part. That’s just how it goes. So many people are trying to get work in this field, you have to really appreciate work when you get it.”
All that work, Colonna says, is worth it.
“Such appearances add to your resume and your experience. The only part that sucks is telling your Mom to watch and then she almost blinks and misses you!”
Family back home is still an important part of Colonna’s life. Her mom and step-dad, Cheryl and Eric Henderson keep the home fires burning, while her sister, Jennifer Colonna of Fayetteville, has a radio gig in Fort Smith. Jennifer was a former partner with Jon Williams on the “Jon and Jen” show a few years ago. A nephew Nicholas and a new brother-in-law round out the immediate family in Northwest Arkansas.
Colonna is still playing the comedy club circuit in LA, including one of LA’s hottest comedy addresses.
“The club most people would recognize….is The Improv in Hollywood. It’s a great club.
“One night I was doing a set and Ray Romano showed up to do one. I was blown away. He was great. There are a lot of other clubs in town that book me, it’s best to perform as often as you can.”
But Colonna isn’t just an LA comedian anymore. “I have, luckily, branched out and went to San Francisco, Seattle, and, oh yeah, London. That was amazing.”
Across the pond, she got to tape an English show.
“I taped “The World Stands Up”” for BBC. They flew me over for five days, but I only taped one show. Needless to say, I had a great time.”
One unique aspect of Colonna’s work, that it’s all self-written. So where does she get her ideas?
“I definitely take ideas when friends want to give them to me….if it’s an idea that I think works for me and I can make it my own,” she said. “Sometimes people give me terrible ideas and I look at them like they’re a moron. That’s fun, too,” she said and laughed.
She did not take sides in the writer’s strike and carefully chose her words when she was asked about it.
“I don’t want to speak out of turn since it’s hard to really know all of the details and demands on each side. The part that I really understand about it, I can give you….the writers want to get a percentage of what is now becoming a huge profit for the networks and studios–online media. People are watching TV shows and movies online now and the writers are getting nothing for it, while the studios take it all.
“I definitely think the writers should be getting a part of that, without them, we have nothing. They create it, they should be profiting from what is happening in that area. This wasn’t something negotiated years ago, because it didn’t exist. Now that it’s changing, the wealth should be spread.
“People work very hard, and they should be compensated. I hear the studios argue that since it’s fairly new, they don’t know how much money they will make, so they don’t want to negotiate for the writers. That makes no sense to me, as what they want is a percentage. If the studios don’t make anything, which is not the case, of course, it’ll be a huge profit I believe, neither will the writers. It’s completely fair to seek percentage.”
Colonna said that being a guest on the Chelsea Lately show was one fun experience.
Chelsea’s show is a blast,” Colonna said. “I can’t even tell you how great the people that work on that show are, especially Chelsea. She’s absolutely hilarious…and yep, it’s as live as it looks.”
What does a typical show involve?
“They call me to give me the topics around noon—they want it as current as possible since it’s entertainment news—and it shoots at 3:30 p.m. that day. We just shoot the segment, no reshoots or attempts to get a better joke in. It’s edited for the airing at night, but usually just for time, meaning they may have to take some stuff out to keep the show to the half hour.”
Colonna has known the show’s host for a while.
“I’ve known Chelsea since I moved to LA, and I’ve watched her work harder than anyone that I know. She deserves every bit of recognition that she is getting now and then some.”
When asked about her academic background, Colonna gave a deadpan reply: “I graduated from Farmington High School and from the University of Arkansas with a BA in Theater. Just like all famous people.”
When she makes us laugh at her jokes, it’s often not about family members, friends and others. So who is she making us laugh about?
“I think I bear most of the brunt,” she said. “I feel if you can find a way to laugh at yourself, you will be much better off. The best part of that is that the audience always finds a way to relate to it. They think ‘Oh, yeah. I’ve been there.’ and it connects to them. I sometimes definitely have some stuff about family and friends. You can’t really make an ass of yourself around me and not expect me to work it in
But the road to the comedy clubs and TV shows has not been instant for Colonna. While working “other jobs” Colonna has worn several different job hats.
“I guess mainly I have been bartending, which is fun,” she said. But there have been the not-so-fun jobs, too.
“I did a terrible job for awhile where I called hotels and made fake reservations to check that the people working there met certain criteria. It totally sucked. I still have nightmares.”
One of her better known gigs that has been seen here in Arkansas is “50 Most
“I’ve done a couple of them, it’s pretty fun to do. They give you the topics a week or so in advance. Since it’s not live it’s not as quick as Chelsea’s show. I just do a lot of googling on the topics to see what or who they are talking about if I don’t know, then I get an opinion on it and fire away. It’s usually just making fun of people like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton, which isn’t too hard to do.”
While Colonna travels quite a bit, she still makes it home to Northwest Arkansas, usually for the holidays. And she still follows the Razorbacks.
“I watch the football games sometimes, mainly so my step dad doesn’t disown me. I wear my Razorback t-shirt and give USC fans dirty looks like a good alumni.”
Colonna is still remembered for her early commercial work for Pace Picante Sauce.
“I ate like 75 eggs for that Pace spot. It was disgusting. They put mashed potatoes inside the omelet to make it look “fluffy” for camera. Not a good mix, I don’t recommend it,” she said laughing about the memory of eggs and mashed potatoes times 75 bites for the camera.
So what is the biggest hurdle in making it in LA?
“Getting in the door to meet people that can cast you or represent you is the biggest hurdle,” Colonna said. “There are a lot of people out here trying to do the same thing. You really have to beat down doors. Some people are nice, some are jackasses. Just like everywhere else, I guess.”
How was appearing on “Last Comic Standing?”
“Fun, terrifying, weird. The first audition is in the morning for three people. It’s a strange environment to do stand up in, that’s for sure. But after that, it’s great audiences and a ton of fun, but still scary and a lot of work.
“When I taped the semifinal and saw the 2,000 or so people in the audience and there was a large camera in my face, I think I peed in my slacks a little.”
So who has been Colonna’s inspiration?
“I love, love, love, Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball, no matter how cheesy that sounds. For Stand Up, I have met people here that inspire me, that I learn from…great comics you may not have heard of, but will someday.
“My family is pretty great, too. They are so supportive. If Jay Leno doesn’t have me on his show one day, my mother may fly out to LA and kick his ass.”
We, here in Northwest Arkansas, will watch and see, betting that Sarah Colonna gets on Jay Leno, so he won’t get his butt kicked by Cheryl Henderson in her Razorback t-shirt.