We had the good fortune of connecting with Jesse Robinson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jesse, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
For me there has always been a certain level of risk involved in working (and attempting to trend upward) in the entertainment industry. My life could be completely different right now had I not taken certain risks or said “yes” to various projects and people. Risk, as it pertains to the entertainment industry, is both immediate and enduring. Should I get in my car to drive ten hours to another city to audition for this role and put my steady day job in jeopardy? Should I move across the country with no guarantees of employment, connections or success? Should I try this brand new joke out on a packed mainstage show? Should I take on the role of an unwelcome individual with a highly questionable sociopolitical stance much different from my own, even if it is for a major network/streaming service? My answer to each of those was “yes”, and I would say that those risks, among several others, have paid off. I think a healthy level of risk taking is key in advancing in this industry. I took (and still take) jobs and projects (both in acting and writing/story) where the end-game was/is unknown. As is the frequent case with creative endeavors, there’s no promise of result, completion or success. Any time you start or take on a creative project, you are risking your time, energy and money. Risk doesn’t always pay off, and that can be frustrating in a business that has a tendency to feel high-stakes. With that said, I think that risk in entertainment can be mitigated by asking questions, knowing whatever your material is inside and out, and being a decent person. When it comes to stand up, every time I type a new thought into my Notes app or open my mouth on stage is a risk. With comedy, you’ll know immediately if your risk pays off. It is the harshest and quickest example of risk-reward. My risk can either translate to instant gratification or instant rejection, and for some crazy reason I absolutely love that. The reverberations of that risk’s success or failure, as I mentioned before, can be long-lasting as well. If you are constantly killing with solid material, you’ll get booked on more and more shows. You can imagine what the case is if you constantly bomb. I currently work as a story producer, SAG actor and broadcast operations specialist in Los Angeles. As an actor I’ve had the fortune of appearing in national commercials and a handful of TV shows, and as a writer/story producer I’ve been able to create and develop segments for TV networks nationally. As a stand up comedian I’ve been able to feature on shows at many LA clubs (HaHa Comedy Club, The Comedy Store, etc) and even feature on a few west coast comedy tours. None of that would have been, or could continue to be possible without risk.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I think the “jack of all trades, master of none” adage is a bit of a fallacy when it comes to entertainment. I’ve managed to find success in several different areas of the industry because I showed an interest, studied and worked hard in those areas, and put myself in rooms where those skills could be put on display. Am I a master of everything I’ve tried to do in entertainment? Absolutely not. However, I do believe that you can find notable success in several areas of the industry (not just “plugging holes”), and it truly comes down to the time and effort you are willing to invest in yourself and the various creative career interests you’re pursuing. I told myself that if I was going to make the move to Los Angeles in search of success in the entertainment industry, I would need to be as marketable and, for lack of a better word, usable as possible. There is such a high volume of competition for such a small amount of roles/positions/stage time, even in a large city like LA. It’s my position that you have to cast the widest net possible when it comes to industry skillsets if you want to survive, work and eventually thrive in entertainment. Before making the LA move, I wanted to be better at both stand up and improv comedy. Every night after working my 9-5 job at a local DC-area radio station, I would go to open mics, improv jams, house shows and club shows to get better and put my talents on display. This was every single night after working a full day, because I wanted to hone in, receive feedback and develop these skills. The year before moving to LA I was managing a radio station, working local TV and voiceover gigs and performing on 2 improv teams (hitting open mics on the nights in between). I was staying sharp for a move to the hub of a very demanding and unpredictable industry. Since moving to the Los Angeles area, I’ve found opportunities and success in acting, writing, story producing, voiceover, stand up comedy, radio, media production and arts education. I am finding constant work because I have several different “lanes” that I have put considerable time and energy into, and each of these lanes has a network of different connections. I would not have survived my first 3 years in Los Angeles without these different lanes. Whenever acting work has been slow, there has always been something to jump to in these other lanes. Even in the pandemic, an old connection from my radio “lane” was able to help me find a job when the media production industry went virtually nonexistent. To be clear – just because you have connections in different areas and work in several industry departments doesn’t necessarily make you a master of those areas (you should see me try to back up a production van!) However, if you work hard, show others kindness and respect, and know your material/position and do it well, (to the point where you stand out and are marketable or bookable) I believe you can eventually achieve notable skill and success. In 2020 I worked a speaking role for a new streaming show and was the lead in a national commercial spot, story produced ten episodes of a docu-reality series in postproduction, featured in the Comedy Store Belly Room and opened for Jeff Garlin at the HaHa Comedy Club (before the pandemic), drove a production van for 3 streaming service shows, PA’d for two other productions, and booked a snack brand voiceover spot (all while managing a flexible telework position during Covid). If you can work to be a jack of many entertainment-based trades, you can attempt to survive in (and maybe even master) one crazy industry. I’m proud to call myself an entertainer and a creative, and I’m looking forward to what the rest of 2021 has in store!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
**A pre-Covid itinerary from a comedian who likes to eat food** Monday: Late diner lunch at Mel’s on Sunset in WeHo, drinks on the Comedy Store porch 2 blocks down then the Comedy Madness show up in the Belly Room of the Store on Mondays. I’ve been on that show a few times. You could also sign up to get on one of the downstairs shows if you want to try your hand at stand up. Stay at the Store for the evening – it’s great. Tuesday: Lunch at California Grill on Virgil (a hole in the wall with the best pupusas. Try three different combinations.) Walk that feast off with 3-4 laps around Echo Park’s lake – it’s a pretty walk. Hit one of the many excellent taco stands around that area for an early dinner. When I lived closer, I would always walk to the stand near Sunset and Coronado. In the same 2-block radius, you can hang out and enjoy beers at Bar Bandini for the night. The space is low key and pleasant. Wednesday: Coffee and a treat from Paris Baguette on Western for breakfast. Drive up to Griffith Park/Observatory for the obligatory but nice walk around. I just found out last week that the old carousel in the park may be haunted? Who knows! Several great walk options in the park. Just down from the park on Hollywood Blvd is Hollywood Thai – great noodles for a big lunch. If you were visiting, you could walk the Hollywood stars to regain consciousness and see a few fun names. I would’ve walked it off to the UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) Inner Sanctum. Coffee, water and writing. (Alas, UCB has closed this location as a result of Covid, but still has their location on Franklin once things open up). In that same area, I’d get on the paper sign-up sheet for Jitlada’s dinner service (Southern Thai – excellent) to end the night! Thursday: Coffee and a jalapeno breakfast bagel from Reggie’s in Echo Park. Reggie himself will make your breakfast and he’s the nicest guy for miles. If you’d rather sit, Brite Spot diner has a really good hash scramble right next door. Studio day! I would usually take a visitor to a backlot that a friend or myself had access to in order to check out the old/current sets and walk around for a while. After that, we’d head back towards Silverlake to Night + Market Song for spicy dinner and drinks! (Get there a bit early, there tends to be a wait with another paper sign up list) Friday: Early coffee on the go from Tom N Toms on Western then a drive towards the coast and Will Rogers State Beach. After the beach. get hosed off and back into the city. Head to Cole’s French Dip in Downtown LA for great drinks and food, slip into the speakeasy at the back of the restaurant at the end of dinner to cap off the night. Saturday: Brunch at Mohawk Bend in Echo Park to kick off the weekend. Twice when friends have visited LA, I’ve driven them to Chandler Valley Center Studios (they were huge fans of The Office) and let them run around and yell their favorite quotes from the show’s outdoor parking lot scenes. Let’s reserve the afternoon for quoting Michael Scott and getting chased away by security. Then we’re heading to the HaHa Comedy Club – I’m frequently on the 7pm or 8:30pm shows at the club on Saturdays. Enjoy the show! Sunday: One last day to enjoy LA! We’ll spend it in the Arts District. Coffee at Blue Bottle, brunch at Manuela (great Shrimp & Grits) then walk around the murals and structures of the area. Early dinner options that are great and close by: Guerilla Tacos, Al and Bea’s. Find a rooftop stand up mic to hit at the end of the evening. Honorable mention: Tons of great sushi and ramen in Little Tokyo! The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are a ton of people who have taught, supported and guided me through my entertainment journey thus far: Sydney K: a talented producer, editor in the Los Angeles TV/Film industry (IMDb: Sydney K) and an amazing partner. Thank you for your love and unwavering support both personally and professionally. The only thing that outweighs your industry talent is your compassion. My mom Kim, dad Jesse Sr. and grandparents: Thank you for supporting my choice to pursue a career in entertainment. For all of the auditions, rehearsals and workshops you drove me to growing up, it brings me great joy every time I get to call and tell you about a new role or project. You showed me how to take risks and find success, and I’m forever grateful for that. I love you! (Amanda and Mark, Jordan, Shane, Bryant, Jason, Mel and many aunts and uncles are proof that I’ve been truly blessed with a never ending hoard of support) Groups: BBA Agency (Christine Tarallo, Commercial), Get Me Out Productions, Arvold Casting, The Mason Improv Association, WGMU Radio, “This Is” Series, HaHa Comedy Club, The Comedy Store, The Young Actors Camp, Unified Scene Theater, Laugh Index, Dragonuk Connects, GMU Theatre, Clarke County (as a whole). Creative Friends: Keenan Gibson, Morgan Smalley, Erik Beringer, Kira Omans, Gabbie Sundberg, Alex Galloway, Danny Dobyns, Madison Landis, Connor Rohan, Conor Kyle, Emily Berry, Alex Strauch, Eli Sloan, Jackie Mass, Matt Dotson, Becca Ward, Bryan Thren, Chris Lancashire, Ali Malik, Hailey Hackett, Joe Luther, Rebecca Wahls, Adam Cohen, Michael Burgos, Ryan Hill, Andrew Fox and Khaya Fraites. (This is an immensely talented group of writers, actors, directors, comedians, improvisers, radio hosts and creatives. I have the utmost respect and admiration for each of them. Thank you for your creative minds, your kindness and the opportunities you’ve afforded me. Find me in the parking lot later if I forgot you!) Creative Mentors: Rodger Smith, Ed Gero, Andy Kiser, Kevin Murray, Christine Brewer, Mary Lechter. Your guidance transcended simple creative direction. Each of you taught me how to be a better human. Thank you. Finally, thank you to the late, great Robin Williams. After we finished doing Looney Toons impressions together in 2013, he gave me advice about comedy and acting, and reminded me to never give up. No worries there, Mork-guy. Bangarang!
Sydney K Full Circle Brewing Co. Get Me Out Productions