stARTist Spotlight #1
One funny bride
I figure the best way to show the power of stARTistry is to shine a light on some stARTists – all different kinds.
I’m starting close to home…with my kid…who lives in New York. I’m with her as I write this, because she just got remarried – to the guy I watched her marry two years ago via Zoom. Yep, sometimes you don’t like the way things start, so you restart – just for the dance party.
Taylor Kay Phillips showed startistic bravado at age 3, and now, at 29, she’s killing it. She’s a comedy writer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, her dream job; she’s the author of the funny book, A Guide to Midwestern Conversation, to be released April 11, and she’s the email writer of “sorry for the delay on this, Mom!!!”
Here’s what Taylor has to say about starting.
Becky: Hi honey.
Taylor: Hi mom.
You’re a startist. How do you know?
I did not consider myself a stARTist (Fin-poster syndrome – a new term I invented for when you think you’re too focused on finishing to actually start stuff…does it work? eh?) But then you, my mom, the literal world expert in stARTistry, said I was one and, despite years of precedent, I did not argue.
Truthfully, it mostly shows up at 6:12 a.m. when I’ve thought of something new and/or am working on something and can’t go back to sleep, so I (often reluctantly) bring whatever I can’t stop thinking about into being. I am not always a stARTist by choice, it is literally in my blood.
Which stARTs are you most proud of?
I wrote a book that stARTed as a humor piece in McSweeney’s and then took on a life of its own. In a fun way, not in a haunted/anthropomorphized illustration way.
I also have an Emmy, just like Obama.
Why do you like starting new things?
I don’t. It is, unfortunately, not optional for me. If I neglect to start something that’s gnawing at me, I turn into a wretched monster and my husband is forced to cower in a corner living on string cheese and Peach/Pear LaCroix until I finally come around and begin the thing.
Are you self-motivated, or do you need help and encouragement to begin ideas?
I’m “motivated” to start the way that a hiker is “motivated” to run when there is a wolf chasing her. My friends help by saying things like “Wow, you are way further from the wolf than you feel like you are!” or “I am also being chased by a wolf, do you want to hold hands and run together?” and sometimes I get help from other artists who say things through their work like “Here is what I do when I am being hunted by the bloodthirsty monster that is also tailing you!” or “Look! The wolf made me run all the way up this mountain, look at the view!” and then for a brief shining moment I think about the possibility ahead instead of the terror behind.
Your starting muscles are impressive. I lived with you for 18 years, and I am in awe of their power. How did you build them?
I treated them like they were muscles.
I was prepared for them to get tired, sore, and possibly injured on their way to getting stronger.
It doesn’t mean all those things didn’t hurt or that they weren’t discouraging, but it meant that I wasn’t surprised or scared when it happened. If I acknowledge that obstacles, resistance, and difficulty are part of the path, I am less tempted to stray when I encounter them.
Besides scripts, jokes and adorable text threads with your sister, what do you start?
I start letters, poems, essays, budget spreadsheets, group chats, cookies, trivia shows, cakes, icing, pies, podcasts, classes, elaborate gift exchanges, coffee shop guides, speeches, t-shirt designs, and a whole-ass wedding.
(This is Taylor’s mom wondering if that last adjective was necessary. But she writes for a guy that uses the f-bomb on every show, so I’ll just keep to my script.)
What do you now start easily that used to be difficult?
Short humor pieces – I used to wait until I knew I had enough jokes to serve a premise, but now that I’ve been professionally writing jokes for a year, I only need a premise and I trust the jokes will come.
Give us your best pep talk for someone struggling to start an idea.
I’d say this: Think of an idea or a piece of art or a part of the world that you hold dear, something that brings you joy, comfort or peace.
Now, remember that someone was once deciding whether or not to bring that thing into existence, very possibly even agonizing over it. Feel your own relief, gratitude, and reverence for their start. And then get to f#cking work.
What power tools do you know how to use?
Curling iron, blender, staple gun, nail gun, drill, propane grill (I feel like this should count).
How would you begin to cut your own hair?
With mom on Facetime.
(I’m giddy with anticipation.)
Dressing tossed in or on the side?
Over easy or sunny side up?
Mild or spicy?
PDA, yes or no?
Erasers, yes or no?
Yes, especially those ones that are like the putty stuff and you can erase with them but also they are toys? I love those.
What would your parents be surprised to learn about you?
Nothing. I was a very well-behaved child and had no secrets and they (you) were visibly disappointed by my lack of rebellion. But nice try, Mom.
Almost done, Tay…just finish these statements.
The best way to kill an idea is to …trust your own prediction that it won’t work more than the creator’s prediction that it will.
Once I start, the worst that can happen is …an earthquake.
The best thing I ever started that I didn’t finish is …a musical about Marie Curie.
My startist crush is …Amber Ruffin. The woman never stops! And she always has so much joy!
If I had never started …improv classes, I would never have …met my husband, found a best friend, gotten my dream job, bought a Beta fish.
Post script: In Start More Than You Can Finish, I tell the story of Taylor creating her first show – at age 5. The show was Annie, and she played Annie. It might be worth buying the book for this inspiring tale.
Learn more about Taylor Kay Phillips at :
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