“If there’s one thing I’m willing to bet on, it’s myself.”
Elyssa Philips is not only an actor, writer, and contributor to Ms. In The Biz, she is also the new Artistic Director of The Pack Theater. Elyssa is killing it in the comedy world so without further ado… here’s Elyssa!
How does it feel to be the first Artistic Director of The Pack Theater?
Pretty damn great! It’s a killer feeling to be able to support the crazy ideas of our writers, performers, and producers. The Pack represents a community of bad-ass artists who challenge each other – and comedy in general. It’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of this community, onstage and behind the scenes.
Have you ever felt like you were at either an advantage or a disadvantage in this executive position because you’re a woman?
Not at all. I think my work onstage, my work ethic offstage, and the growing success of the theater speaks for itself. Sometimes I think people are a little afraid of me – which is silly because I think I’m insanely approachable – come say hi! But I don’t think that has to do with me being a woman. I think it has to do with the fact that I’m a confident, unapologetic fierce individual who will listen 110% to everything you have to say – and then make my own decisions accordingly. If people ARE treating me a certain way because I’m a woman – then uh – they’re doing a bad job at it – it doesn’t phase me.
I truly admire how candid and open you are about your eating disorder, and you are very passionate when it comes to staying healthy in this business. I won’t even bring up the word “cleanse”, I promise.
I HATE THE WORD “CLEANSE!”. I struggled with an eating disorder in my 20’s. Treated for anorexia – I was technically diagnosed as EDNOS – Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. They couldn’t say I was anorexic because I WAS technically eating. But I ate the exact same thing, every 4 hours, for 3 years. It was 4 oz. of grilled chicken or fish that had NOTHING on it, 9 baby carrots, and a quarter cup of brown rice. Every 4 hours. For 3 years. So no dietary fat at all. I got down to 109 lbs. at my lowest – and I’m 5’8. I lost my period for many years, and even when I got healthy in my head, it took about a year and a half of being misdiagnosed by doctors before they were able to properly figure out what was wrong with me and what I needed to do to get better.
Did this have an affect on your career?
Honestly, not really professionally. Just a lot of my personal relationships. However, I will say this: learning about why I had an eating disorder, and what the underlying factors were as to how I got there, helped me grow as a person – which only made me as an artist more vulnerable and…accessible, if that makes sense.
It definitely does.
I’m a person who lives and works in extremes. All or nothing. Go hard or don’t show up at all. It’s my best attribute – and my worst attribute. I have a really hard time with the word “moderation”, and I’ve learned that this all stems back to my childhood, my parents’ divorce, and the lack of stability I had in my life while growing up. So as a person, I became self-absorbed, for fear of letting people see the real me. And as an actor, I became one-dimensional. One of my favorite teachers ever, Aaron Poser, once said to me, “But Elyssa, what’s the note below the note?” I had to learn to let myself go that uncomfortable, vulnerable, scary place. And I had to learn to trust myself that I could go there, and be okay living in that place. Now that I’m capable of being honest with myself as a person – I’m capable of being a fearless warrior in both my personal relationships and my art.
How has all of this affected you now?
I am the epitome of everything in moderation. They say that having an eating disorder is similar to alcoholism – where it’s always with you – and sometimes I can feel it creeping up; the feelings of beating myself up if I want to have a glass of wine at a networking event – or if friends want to grab tacos after a late-night comedy show. But I work really hard to remind myself that I am strong, and beautiful, and hey – it’s gonna be okay. Everything in moderation, including moderation. I have no regrets, because I wouldn’t be who I am today – and I’m pretty happy with where I’m at. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I just had the self-confidence to be ME when I was in my 20s. If I didn’t feel the need to get some sort of validation – and then I wouldn’t have sought that validation by making myself so dangerously thin. But you know what – it happened. It’s just part of my journey. And it’s made me a stronger, more confident, and for sure funnier woman.
You’ve been praised as being “Strong Woman In Comedy”. What does that mean to you?
To be a strong woman in comedy means to be unapologetically yourself. To be unfiltered and unafraid. And if you ARE afraid, to embrace that fear and see what happens. Comedy is scary. In the best of ways. To be silly, unsexy, uncouth, uncool – it can be really frightening. Even harder sometimes – to be silly AND cool? Or silly AND sexy! Aaaa!! But to let yourself go there. To give yourself the permission to look stupid. To give yourself freedom to FAIL – that is what makes a strong woman in comedy to me. It is our job as comedians to take the risks and chances that other women don’t feel they can take. People love to watch women in comedy because we say and do exactly what we want to. We say and do exactly what other women want to say and do, but maybe don’t feel like they can. Empowered women empower women. I truly believe that. And one of the best ways women can empower other women is through laughter. Laughter is the biggest release. When you laugh, you get to let go of all your inhibitions. A lot of women don’t let themselves go to that place. But the strong women in comedy do. Your orgasms will get a lot better too. You’re welcome.
You stopped yourself, but you wanted to say something else.
I just look forward to the day when we don’t have to be “women in comedy”. When we can just be writers, and actors. Producers and directors. When we don’t need to preface it with our sex or our credits, because who we are speaks for itself. I just don’t think we’re there as s society yet. But we will be.
If you could give other women in comedy advice, what would it be?
That you are enough. That your comedy is enough. Because your comedy is YOU. No one else can bring that comedy to the table. Because your “funny” is inherently YOURS. So trust it. Have faith in it. Relish in it. Roll around in it. Channel it. Stand up for others. Stand up for yourself. Stand up for what you think is funny – and screw the people who don’t agree. And if all else fails – take it out on a punching bag. It really does wonders. Also, I’ve come up with some of my best ideas while doing lunges at the gym – because I hate lunges – so I need to think of funny things to get through them.
Do you have any affirmations you say to yourself that you want to leave us with?
If there’s one thing I’m willing to bet on, it’s myself.