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Success Stories

Amanda LiffordCreative EntrepreneurFormer Digital and Wardrobe Intern at "Full Front with Samantha Bee"

"You have to make sure you’re doing the work that’s not glamorous so, if someone ever does take you up on it, you’re ready to excel."

Biography

Improviser, writer, actor, and New England Patriots enthusiast Amanda Lifford hails from Boston, Massachusetts. She has lived in Rome and Sydney, facts which she works quickly into conversations or includes as the second line of her bios. Amanda is double majoring in Radio/Television/Film and Legal Studies at Northwestern. She spent the summer interning at Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and has trained and performed improvisation at Second City, iO, and ComedySportz. When she isn't at Trader Joes or stuck in traffic the way to an improv class, Amanda writes and acts for the late-night comedy show The Blackout, improvises with her Titanic teammates, volunteers at Girls on the Run 5K races, and bakes challah. She can occasionally (read: weekly) be found yelling at the television during football games and explaining the facts of Deflategate to Uber drivers.

Farley Q&A

Tell us about your business and how you became an entrepreneur!

My company is me. It’s my personal brand. I found entrepreneurship by taking a class with Heather Aranyi called growing and monetizing your personal fanbase. That was really revolutionary because I never thought about myself, as a comedian and improviser, as the product. Before the class, whenever I thought about entrepreneurship, I thought about Silicon Valley and Startups and that whole culture of having something—whether it’s an app or a physical product—to market and sell. It’s been interesting changing my philosophy on that and learning, that as a comedian, I am the one who’s creating content. Therefore, I am in the product.

How has comedy been a natural segway into entrepreneurship?

With improv, I was booking a lot of my own shows and I went through the improv program at iO Theater and graduated. Initially, it’s structured—you’re in classes and you meet people. It’s the perfect incubator, in a sense, because you meet creatives who are like-minded and are pursuing similar passions. From there, you are able to form independent teams and get up and start performing.

As I started to do improv I realized how much of me doing improve was dependent on me finding opportunities for myself. I realized that I needed to be “on it” and have a strong sense of who I was and be able to reach out to people and have a more professional sense of it. Even though I do think improv is a super fun, wonky, weird, creative thing, there’s also this underlying necessity for organization, for professionalism.

What advice would you give aspiring creative entrepreneurs?

I would echo what Vanessa Bayer (a cast member on SNL for several seasons that has done  television and film), said when she came to campus a few days ago. She was giving advice for the Chicago comedy scene and she said, “Be professional. Show up on time.”
With comedy so much of it is DIY and friend performing for friends, it can be easy to relax a little bit too much. So, the advice I would give for aspiring comedians is: be on time, reach out to people, be professional. If you say you’re going to do a show, do the show. By being present and making your word and commitment mean something, you become so much more appealing as an act because beyond your talent and content, they know they can rely on you as a person as well.

We've heard there's a unique story behind how you landed your creative internship with comedian Samantha Bee. Can you share it with us?

My freshman year, Samantha Bee came to campus. I was with my best friend, we were the first people in line to see her interview because we both love her. I love her content. As a joke, I said, “I should have brought a resume.” My friend said, “Go print out your resume. Do it!”

I ran to the library, I printed out my resume, I wrote a cover letter on notebook paper, and at the very end of the show I walked up to the stage and passed my materials to Samantha Bee. I didn’t hear anything for over a year. Then, on the eve of my 21st birthday, I got an email from her Internship Coordinator that said, “Hi. Sam passed on your materials. We’d love for you to actually apply.”

It’s really cool that this longshot thing got me a chance to apply, but it didn’t get me the job. I still had to go through three rounds of interviews. There was an initial cover letter and resume scan, there was a Q&A, and then there was a formal Skype interview. Having the gumption—or lapse in judgement—to initially take that risk is great, but also having the foundation to back that up is necessary.

I grew up with wonderfully supportive parents, grandparents, and friends who made me feel hilarious. They also made me feel that, in comedy, I could have a wonderful Cinderella-story moment where the right person would recognize me and I’d get to skip the line to success. But, after doing comedy in Chicago, I’ve learned that grunt work—performing in loud bars where nobody realizes there’s a stage and in empty theaters where the only audience members are your two friends—is part of the process.

As an entrepreneur, you have to be happy doing tiny shows but you also have to keep pushing for crazy opportunities because maybe one of them will pay off. You have to make sure you’re doing the work that’s not glamorous and not exciting so, if someone ever does take you up on it, you’re right there and ready to excel.

What materials did you create in the ENTREP 310 “Growing and Monetizing Your Fanbase” class that are helping you with your business?

I didn’t have a website before and I made a website. I learned from my professors, Heather Aranyi and Genevieve Thiers, what types of tabs I should have on my site. I’d written and acted in a few sketches through Northwestern comedy groups, so I learned to make sure those were on my website. Also, having a schedule on my site means if people like my work they could some see me live.

Our professors framed our efforts by explaining that the creative arts is a very challenging space to be in because there is so much content now and there are so many compelling, interesting artists. To make yourself distinct and give yourself the best possible odds of doing what you love you have to make it really easy for people to come endorse you and root for you. Laying it all out for them and making it a user-friendly experience for anyone who could be a potential investor, someone who might be a mentor or someone who can help and contribute to your personal journey in any way is key.

I’ve also learned that having personalized, more compelling marketing is more effective than just sharing events on social media.

Are there any other moments from the class that stand out for you? What did you learn from them?

During one class, Professor Aranyi had us do an exercise where we all said our names, what we were passionate about, and what we were entrepreneurs in. She would correct people’s language and say, “You know, you’re a master filmmaker. You have done this.”

That’s one thing that got a lot of pushback, especially from the female students, because they didn’t feel comfortable identifying as a master choreographer, for example. They said, “Sure, I’ve done a lot of choreography for students shows but I don’t think that makes me this level of choreographer.” I think there was this fear of sounding too arrogant.

Professor Aranyi then asked everyone who didn’t feel comfortable describing themselves as a master to raise their hands and all of the women in the class raised their hands. It was a very telling moment.

I’m sure a wide range of people struggle with wanting to come off as humble and want to make sure that their humility is present while also wanting to promote themselves. But I think it’s especially hard for women.

Seeing these challenges, what advice do you have for other women working as creative entrepreneurs?

In these situations, I like to take a step back and ask myself, “If a guy—or anyone else for that matter—said this to me, would I think it was arrogant?”

A lot of times, the answer is no. I think we can be too harsh on ourselves. And, I think as women entrepreneurs, not gaslighting yourself is important when you hear a voice in your head that says you’re being over-sensitive or over-dramatic. If I feel like a piece of feedback is really gendered, it’s been helpful for me check in with other people that have a large knowledge base on the subject. After getting their insights, I decide if I need to advocate for myself. I give myself space and validation to investigate my feelings further.

Being an artist, feedback can feel hyper-personal, even if they’re critiquing your act. For me, my act is so intrinsically linked to my life experiences. Taking a step back and handling feedback with clarity, poise, and an analytical eye can be helpful for untangling the mess of feelings that arise.

What are the benefits of being a creative entrepreneur? The challenges?

One of the reasons it’s so rewarding being a creative entrepreneur is because when something you create does well you get this hyper-personal validation and this sense of satisfaction where you’ve felt like you’ve put yourself out there and people are not only celebrating your message, they’re also celebrating that piece of you. Conversely, it presents a challenge because it’s like having extra dogs in the fight.

...And how has comedy helped you become a better entrepreneur?

I find difficult situations much more tolerable when I’m laughing about them or when I’m finding the humor or the ridiculousness in them. That’s been ultra helpful in terms of being able to promote my personal brand. Being creative is inherently not formulaic. I don’t expect problems to have a solution that is going to be a formula. I approach problems expecting to approach them in a lot of different ways and willing to try out a bunch of different things. I’m used the problem-solving process being non-linear and that’s helped me view setbacks as challenges. And I view challenges as really enjoyable.

What’s up next for you?

While I have two majors that could easily go down separate paths, the mentality of doing what the next best option is and being observational about it so I learn whatever I can from each opportunity I am involved in. I I don’t have a specific path in mind. I am really curious to see what comes next and I’m keeping my eyes open and not putting on blinders so I can see all of the potential opportunities that are arising from each experience.

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for publication

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