Lauren Lapkus has tossed the script on what makes most podcasts a hit.
At a time when many of the most downloaded shows are true crime investigations or celebrity interviews, she’s doing something entirely different on each episode of “With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus.” Each hour-long installment is a free-wheeling, completely improvised ride. One show finds Santa Claus and a naughty elf providing dispatches on life at the North Pole, another unfurls as fanboys do deep dives into “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” picking apart each minute of the sci-fi epic. Every outlandish scenario is as much a surprise for Lapkus as it is for her devoted listeners.
Here’s how it works. Her guests, comedians such as Paul F. Tompkins or Matt Walsh, come up with the set up. Lapkus often doesn’t know what role she’ll be playing until recording starts, meaning that she gets to discover whether she’s getting cast as a woman fresh out of detox or as Jesus Christ in real time.
“When I got the opportunity to do a podcast, I knew I didn’t want to be myself each week,” says Lapkus. “And I also wanted to do something sustainable. So this allows me to not have to think of a new thing for every episode. It was borne out of wanting to do as little work as possible.”
It’s a high-wire act, one that leaves Lapkus and her guests wrung out by the end of the episode from the exertion of having to maintain a character for 60 minutes.
“I’m usually sweating by the end of it,” says Lapkus. But the pleasures outweigh the creeping sense of exhaustion. “When it’s working, it feels amazing. You don’t think of any of the other stuff in your life or any dumb problems,” she says. “It’s almost a meditative act.”
Lapkus regularly performs at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, the legendary improvisational venue and training center that counts Amy Poehler among its founders. She first started improv as a high school student.
“It came out of fact that I couldn’t get into any plays,” she remembers. “Every time one would roll around and I wouldn’t get cast, I’d be devastated. That all changed when I started to take improv classes.”
Lapkus had been a guest on podcasts before launching “With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus” in 2014, but she admits she wasn’t all that familiar with the format. She quickly embraced the platform and has since launched several other spinoff series. All this in addition to a busy acting career that’s seen Lapkus pop up in everything from “Orange is the New Black” to “Jurassic World” to the upcoming “Between Two Ferns: The Movie.” As it currently stands, she’s recording three other shows — “Raised by TV,” “Threedom” and “The Wild Horses Show.” She’s also coming up with ideas for other programs, even though she admits she’s a bit over-scheduled.
“I’m in peak podcast mode,” says Lapkus.
And while she’s going to keep doing movies and television, podcasting has become her performed venue.
“I love all different forms of performing, but I find something valuable in doing podcasts,” she adds. “I have no filter. I have no one to report to. I’m not getting notes on what I can and can’t say. It’s a cool way to share my comedy.”