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What I Learned From SNL's Chloe Fineman
From the underbelly of LA to the bright lights of Studio 8H
There are very few things that have followed me from my 18 months of acting in LA. Beyond some questionable short films, hundreds of headshots, and one or two lasting friendships, I mainly have memories of what happened there.
Seeing Chloe Fineman make it and then truly succeed on Saturday Night Live is one blast from the past that I should have seen coming.
The Dark Side of Hollywood
First, some background. You see when you’re grinding at the bottom of the acting world in Los Angeles you are desperate for direction. You’re pretty bad at acting, you quickly lost any semblance of the confidence you rode in on, and you are searching everywhere for some magic potion to give you stardom (or even just a line on a psoriasis commercial).
The dirty little secret of Hollywood is most of the kids who drive in from Portland, Tallahassee, Chicago, and Tampa don’t actually like acting - they like the idea of acting. They like the finished product of the 2 hours on the screen. And they’ve read enough of the acting blogs to know that there actually have been a few overnight successes, so why not them too?
But when a hot dude, fresh from Houston, hops out of his truck and doesn’t get the call for Top Gun 2, he realizes that “overnight” might be a bit longer. In fact, it might actually be forever. When success, not acting, was the goal, and that success is proving elusive, then the magic potion becomes the thing everyone looks for. Yeah, acting a lot is the way to get better at acting, but that’s a grind.
Fortunately for all of us in LA, the magic potion is everywhere. It has thousands of names, and only costs ten sessions, $100 each, payable upfront. Cash please but checks work too. They are acting classes, image classes, and voice classes. Taught mostly by those who had that one appearance in that one movie in 1989, they promise to teach you the secrets of how to make it onto the big screen. In reality, they are four hours out of your week where you get to sit in a chair and pretend you are improving your skills when really 90% of your time is spent watching others act badly.
My First Impression of Chloe
So where does Chloe come into this? She and I both signed up for the same magic potion class. This one took Joseph Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces” book and created some sort of acting course out of it. It promised to find your core myths and descriptors so you could then embody those fully in your acting. 5 classes. $500 total.
The first $100 was spent getting to know our classmates. Chloe was a quirky, bright eyed girl who stood out mostly because she was the first person I had met in LA who didn’t have a car. She was all in on Ubers. This was 2015, back when Ubers were $7, so the math actually kind of worked.
When I got home of course I looked up everyone in the class. What I found on Chloe’s facebook profile was a ton of short videos of her doing impressions or wacky solo skits. Some of her friends would give her a sympathy like or two, maybe even a “love this!” comment, but most lacked any appreciation at all. So there I sat, judging this girl I had met earlier that day for being the over-posting weirdo. Remember, this was 2015: TikTok didn’t exist; Instagram was basically all photos. She was definitely an outlier.
What I Missed Completely
Looking back, what I labeled as weird was actually a frightening amount of self-confidence to put out to the world your “bad” beginning work. It was a dedication to the journey of “acting to get better at acting”, knowing that you have to start somewhere to get to the place you want. She actually understood it more than the rest of us. Posting those videos and working with the Groundlings improv troupe eventually led to a cult following on Instagram, exposure to people who mattered, and finally a chance to be on SNL 4 years later.
It’s an incredibly compelling lesson in consistency, perseverance, and playing a longer-term game. 4 years feels like a lifetime from today. But what if you started doing something now that you will almost certainly be bad at, for the purpose of being great at that thing 4 years from now? Are you able to endure the cadre of perceived doubters in your head, the weird looks from people you know, or the self-doubt that improvement won’t actually come?
I was one of those doubters and judgers of Chloe very early on. I wrote her off. She had no idea obviously, nor do I think she would have cared if she had. Recognizing her ability to keep going and recognizing how inconsequential I was as a doubter is a reminder I’ve kept with me as I try new things.
Looks like Hollywood taught me something after all.