The Pain Makes It Funny: Christine Lakin Interview
Unlike many former child stars, Christine Lakin is healthy and well-adjusted, but it’s never too late to fix that.
Last summer the actress who grew up playing Al Lambert on Step by Step made herself the “subject” of a mockumentary called Lovin’ Lakin, in which a fictionalized version of herself attempts to re-establish her career right where it left off. Its short episodes feature guest stars like Seth MacFarlane and Kristin Chenoweth enduring the awkward desperation of a fame-hungry fool.
But while the character she carefully distinguishes as “Lakin” is painfully deluded, the actress Christine Lakin is a savvy delight who wrote, directed, starred in, and even sang the theme for this 10-part series. She cast herself in awful situations such as teaching a foul-mouthed, racist acting class for children, ambushing Kristen Bell in a “networking” attempt turned scream from the mouth of purgatory, and auditioning for a coming-of-age role while dressed in a whole lot of mini and not a lot of skirt.
Unlike Lakin, Christine has plenty to keep her busy. She regularly voices Family Guy‘s Joyce Kinney, guest stars as Jackie on Melissa & Joey, and judges the online viral video competition Internet Icon (returning the last week of May). She also created the live show Worst Audition Ever, in which entertainers share their most humiliating and horrifying experiences to comic effect.
Worst Audition Ever returns to Casita del Campo on Tuesday with a special “Worst Family Ever” episode, so it seemed the perfect time to get her thoughts about the comedy of existential horror. She answered our questions with a slight tinge of southern accent and a large serving of southern charm.
Man Cave Daily: When you’re playing a Bizarro version of yourself, do you try to find a middle ground between using your real personality and satirizing that kind of person who has a very different idea of themselves in the world?
Christine Lakin: It was more a satire of the idea of fame. The character is much more a person who can’t let go. These are people you meet every day in real life in California: people who have egos the size of an airplane, who just can’t seem to understand that life doesn’t revolve around them, and it certainly doesn’t revolve around the entertainment industry. Sorry, but there are things more important.
Especially in the celebrity-driven episodes, it really gives celebrities a chance to play a version of themselves, but to be the ones that are normal. I think that’s fun because it gives other people a sort of license to be the Jim from The Office in the situation, and Lakin is the Michael.
MCD: Is any of it based on real-life experiences?
CL: Well, there are people that say, “Oh my God, you were on that TV show? So did you just give up after that?”
Sometimes people don’t understand that the things they say are completely tactless. I guess if you don’t have any other sort of self-confidence that can completely destroy your ego. It doesn’t really bother me, but in an industry that very much prides itself on everyone still knowing their name, that could be really ego-shattering. That’s the fun that I wanted to make of her, that she thinks everyone knows exactly who she is., and everyone consistently is like, “Who are you? What show were you on? Oh, right, the robot—Small Wonder!”
In the last episode, when Seth MacFarlane says, “I loved you in Small Wonder,” she just nods her head, “Uh-huh, uh-huh,” because it’s better to be that girl than to be nobody, even if it’s wrong.
MCD: How did the running gag come about of you being mistaken for Tiffany Brissette, who played the robot VICI on Small Wonder? Had that actually happened?
CL: No, but there were times when I was younger, people would say, “You were on Family Matters, right?” I don’t think I was ever actually mistaken for her, but it was a show that I watched all the time growing up, and a show that I particularly loved. I just thought it would be funny. We’re kind of the same age, and that’s a show that’s always been one of my personal all-time favorites.
MCD: Watching you get into multiple versions of your real and perceived personas felt like an exercise in identity self-destruction. Has doing it changed your outlook on your career?
CL: In some ways, yes. Twofold: Number one, in some ways you can’t escape. And the people, especially child actors that try to escape, try to do something totally different or totally create a new image, are the ones who get themselves in trouble.
In order to own your image, you have to figure out a way to do that. For me that was humor. I’m very thankful for the childhood I had, especially in this day and age. I’m thankful that I had a job for so long [laughs]. I had a great time. I grew up on that show. Do I want to talk about what Patrick Duffy was like for the rest of my life? Not necessarily, I’ve done a lot since. It’s been a long time and I’m a different person now.
So the other side I wanted to write, produce, and create something. And in doing so, I was able to get a handle on a different side of my creativity and what I wanted to pursue. Lovin’ Lakin was really great because it was the first thing I ever wrote, and it showed me, “I think I can do this.” I had a good time doing it, so it took the mystique off of it.
A lot of actors or creative people say to themselves, “I have some great ideas; I just don’t know if I can put that together.” It was actually quite easy to do, and I really enjoyed it. It opened a new door for me in some respects.
MCD: How close was the final product to what was in your head? You guys did a lot of improv.
CL: It was pretty close, if not better in some regards. I wrote out all the episodes with Ross Patterson, who’s a really good friend of mine and I’ve done several of his movies. He helped me put all my ideas and thoughts into script form. We went back and forth I wrote a couple, he wrote a couple. I always ended up having final say on what I thought was good, and what went in.
Then we took the scripts and shot them, but in some ways threw the scripts out. I knew what the beginning, middle, and end of each episode was. I think some of the best stuff we got in each episode was from the improv.
MCD: A lot of where you go for comedy is where people would be crying in that moment.
CL: That ridiculous nature of life is my sense of humor. I like stuff that’s a little bit dark. One of my favorite series is that Lisa Kudrow show The Comeback. And I love The Office. So those were two big influences for me when I created Lovin’ Lakin.
MCD: What’s the official status of Lovin’ Lakin season two?
CL: Ha! You tell me. We won the Grand Jury Prize at the L.A. Webfest and I’m going to Marseilles in October for their webfest, which I’m completely stoked about. I’d love to do another season. I had a blast doing the first one. But you can only beg, borrow and steal from people’s talents so often. We’re hoping someone would like to come in and produce a second season so we can financially make it happen and actually pay actors in more than grape sodas this time around. Maybe a Kickstarter campaign is the answer. That’s in vogue now, right?
We arced it so that at the end of season one she booked a job. Season two would open with some footage we already shot of her getting to set, walking around, and it’s very rapidly clear that she’s been cast as an extra.
We’d also see more of her support group, which is called CAA: Child Actors Anonymous. It’s a play on words with the agency, CAA [Creative Artists Agency], the way we did the signage. Child Actors Anonymous would be a group of people you know from ‘90s TV — Melissa Joan Hart, Kellie Martin and my friend Rider Strong…it’d be a fun way for people to play versions of themselves.
I wrote Melissa Joan Hart as a total b****, smoking, and bitter that she acted opposite a stupid cat for years, and now she has to work with Joey Lawrence, and is she ever going to get her own show again? I’ve done Melissa & Joey and I pitched her the idea, and she’s like “I would love to do that anytime.”
MCD: Any chance of a showdown with Tiffany Brissette?
CL: Oh, God, that would be AWESOME!
MCD: Especially if she’s getting work because people keep mistaking her for you.
CL: Absolutely. I have to find her.
Continue reading for why pain is funny, and how chaos makes it more important to please the audience.