You probably recognize Lauren Lapkus’s face from the myriad of television shows and movies the comedian has been featured in, like Susan Fischer in “Orange is the New Black” and Vivian in “Jurassic World.” What you probably don’t know about her is that she is a master of improvisation and constantly changes mediums from television to the Internet to live performance and finally podcasts.
What began as a series of guest appearances on podcasts like “Comedy Bang! Bang!,” where Lapkus proved herself a hilarious and flexible performer, led to an offer to head her own show. Lapkus was initially uncomfortable with the idea of hosting a show, but when her husband suggested that she could be the guest every week, “With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus” was born.
This may come across as strange at first. If the guest is the same every week, where is the variety? However, the setup of the show is extremely fluid, covering a different “topic” each week. What’s more is that Lapkus and her guest hosts create new characters with every episode, so the possibilities seem endless.
What is best about the show is that Lapkus is able to create characters wholly unlike herself. On camera, she mostly fits into the same trope of the quiet, cute and sometimes-sassy sidekick. Though she has stolen many a scene on “Orange is the New Black,” she does not get to flex every comedy muscle she possesses.
On “With Special Guest,” however, she’s not on screen, which allows for freedom to create memorable characters like Traci Reardon, a 17 year-old with butt piercings, a mohawk and two jobs at Baskin Robbin’s 31 Flavors and Claire’s—a boutique for girls; Ho-Ho the elf, a genderless elf from the North Pole with a fantastically naughty mouth; and Rachel Rachel-Stoyd, one half of a gymnastic/acrobatic duo with dark past regarding the Grand Canyon. Her guest hosts have similar freedom that is unique to podcasting: the ability to be whomever they want without regard to physicality.
This setup works best when Lapkus is paired with a host with whom she has established rapport. The best episodes feature her improv group “Wild Horses,” composed of Erin Whitehead, Stephanie Allynne, Mary Holland and Lapkus, with whom she has worked for years. Each of the women fills a specific trope that has created many memorable scenes and characters, smashing ideas of gender roles and challenging all who dare say women can’t be funny.
If you’re just starting out listening to the show, an excellent place to begin is episode one “Public Domain with Paul F. Tompkins.” Tompkins, another popular improv podcaster, plays a version of himself, and his guest is a character Lapkus created on “Comedy Bang! Bang!,” Traci Reardon, who you can, and probably should, follow on twitter. Reardon appears in every episode following, offering the sage advice only a 17 year-old can. Other great episodes include Kate Berlant’s “Healthy You,” Mary Holland and Erin Whitehead in “Sister Speak with Sheila and Margo” and Stephanie Allynne in “The Jillian Palmer Arbonne Podcast.”