It was the Sycamore sixth-grade class production of “Fiddler on the Roof” that sparked a fire in the mind of then-second-grader Briana Hansen.
“I was so blown away – I went home and wrote my own version of it and gave all my friends parts,” she remembers.
Today she’s doing the same thing, but on a much larger scale – pursuing a career in what she calls “comedy and creativity” in Los Angeles. In addition to working as a stand-up comedian and performing with sketch-comedy companies, she has also written a novel and is producing her own comedy webseries.
Hansen has come a long way – literally and figuratively – from Xavier University in Cincinnati, where she earned her B.A. degree in the school’s Philosophy, Politics & the Public Honors Program and went on to become an adjunct professor there.
Although she participated in improvisational comedy in Cincinnati, “I never thought it was something I would pursue,” she says. But in the back of her mind, the arts were calling. She realized that if she wanted to focus on a career in comedy, she would need to move to a bigger market.
So she picked up and moved to Chicago, where she was selected to train with the famous “Second City” company, the starting ground for many well-known comedians. She wrote a solo show, “Femoir,” that she performed on a Second City stage and took on tour.
There came a point when she felt she had “reached a ceiling and it was time to start over.” “I loved Chicago, but it’s a theatre town,” she notes, and what she really wanted to do was make people laugh.
Los Angeles was the place to be, so she picked up yet again and moved there two years ago. “When I moved to L.A. I had no money, but I did have a microphone as a gift,” which she used to record a weekly comedy podcast on the subject of happiness.
She quickly picked up gigs, including a bit part in a Comedy Central roast of Rosanne Barr. She performs with UCBComedy and The Groundlings, does stand-up shows at least twice a week, auditions for commercials, and works on projects at Second City in Hollywood.
She supports herself by working a “really great day job” as a paralegal, but it’s early in the morning and late into the evening that she pursues her chosen career. Calling herself “hyperorganized,” she rises early and writes for her blog or podcast before heading to work at the law firm. She also is writing and producing a ten-episode webshow called “The Other Client List,” which will debut in August. She funded the comedy through crowdsourcing.
“I sleep sometimes,” she says with a laugh.
Her persistence is paying off. Earlier this year she won second place in the national NBA All-Star Reporter Competition sponsored by KIA. She created a comedy video of herself playing basketball with a group of men “while they quivered at my basketball skills.” She was one of four national finalists.
Hansen is driven to succeed. “This is what I love; I’ve worked really hard to get out here, and I’m good at it – it’s just a matter of time. I couldn’t fathom a world where I wasn’t producing and creating. That’s why I keep so many irons in the fire – if one of them takes off, you never know,” she says.
She credits Sycamore School with fostering her confidence. “I often think about how lucky I was to have such important development years at Sycamore – it created a foundation for me to be OK with myself, to have people around me who are intelligent high-achievers. I loved it and I love it going back there.”
Her best friend at Sycamore, who remains her best friend today, is Amanda Burney, a jet pilot in the U.S. Navy. “She’s part of the reason I’m so driven and disciplined,” Hansen says. “She always believed in me so much – she’s so hardworking and so disciplined.”
Hansen says comedy makes her a happier person. “Stand-up helps me to have a little voice,” she says.
She refuses to put a timeframe on achieving her career goals. “I’ve had so much support from Sycamore, people from home and my parents. Part of the reason I want to do it is because so many people believed in me.”