Editor's Three Key Takeaways:
- Monetizing what you love is not a recipe for happiness. It's not about having a job where you do something you love, it's about having a job that you love.
- Remove yourself from the hustle if you ever feel uncomfortable with it. As a creative, if your shit is good, that's all that matters.
- The cool thing about Penn and similar schools is you're surrounded by people who are similarly driven and ready to create and tell stories together.
If you like what you're reading, and want personalized career advice reach out here.
Lizzie Sivitz finished her undergraduate degree, majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, at University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences in 2013. She has worked as an independent writer's assistant, content creator, and production assistant for Warner Bros, all while working with her growing Fresh Prints team since her senior year at Penn. While Lizzie was at Penn she was the head writer for the Bloomers comedy group. Check out her hilarious YouTube channel.
Tell us about your undergraduate experience.
So I actually transferred to Penn my sophomore year. I spent my first year at Middlebury College in Vermont. But it wasn't the right fit for me. I had grown up in a small town, I wanted to break free a little bit, and Middlebury didn't have the diversity that I was looking for. There wasn't a very large lesbian population to be honest with you, nor was there a very large Jewish population and I felt like I didn't fit in.
It just wasn't the best experience for me. I found myself trying a lot of new things that were very unlike me which was cool, such as playing rugby. But also at the same time there weren’t outlets for the things I really wanted to be doing.
So I transferred to Penn.
I had always been a debater in high school. I was the captain of our team and I was the 2009 Washington State Lincoln Douglass Debate champion. Naturally, I thought I was going to be debating at Penn. But then, I met somebody who said, "You're really funny, you should try comedy." So on a whim, I auditioned for Bloomers, Penn’s all female sketch comedy group. I had a whole lot of fun auditioning, which also ended up becoming my “big time.” I got in and I fell in love with it. It felt like, “Oh wow, this is the missing piece.”
My skill was communicating, so I was naturally great at debate. But when I started doing comedy, I realized that this is was I should be doing.
Were you always funny or did you have to train for the bloomers audition?
I think I always had that sense of humor. I think that the thing that I had to learn was how to format my humor in a way other people could find funny, not just off the cuff stuff but things that are performed again and again.
When I first was in Bloomers I wasn't the head writer. My senior year I was the head writer. We all had a lot of input in the direction of the show and we would all submit sketches submit work and work on stuff together.
So in my junior summer before my senior year I interned for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York. I was in New York and I was seeing as many shows as I could and trying to write as much as possible really with the intention of trying to be a performer and a comedian when I graduated. Also at Penn I wrote for 34th Street Magazine, and senior year I was the editor of the Low Brow section. I also took a comedy writing seminar that is not offered right now but was taught by this amazing guy, Lew Schneider, one of the executive producers and writers of Everybody Loves Raymond. He's really well known in the entertainment industry.
Now he is a producer for The Goldbergs. And he had a seminar where he had a few months off from the business, so he would Skype with us and fly in once a month to Penn and we would all meet.
When did the YouTube videos start and when did you decide you were going to try this comedy thing for real?
So I started doing video stuff when I was 10. I worked on a video trailer with the people who did Classless TV. I don't know if that's still a thing at Penn, but we did this thing where we can crashed Bid Day. Everyone was passing out bids and we made up a fake sorority called DTF, Delta Theta Feta, and we had these ridiculous shirts made. Kelly Diamond was the one who came up with this idea.
Before graduation, I was trying to decide between New York and L.A. and I honestly just felt like I didn't really like New York City enough. I felt it was the kind of city where you had to be rich to really feel comfortable. I had friends in L.A. and I'm from Seattle so I wanted to go back to the West Coast. I moved out a couple of weeks after I graduated. And then when I was out here I started doing more sketches.
When I was a young kid I wrote a lot of songs, like about being a lesbian or coming out of the closet. They were really emotional songs on the ukulele. And so I had this library of music that wasn't really usable anymore. And I asked, what if these melodies and songs I've written could be turned into jokes? So I started writing comedy songs and I didn’t have videos for all of them but I did them live in comedy for clubs in L.A, and then Sex By Numbers was one of my favorites. And I thought it'd be really cool to do it visually so that's why I did the puppet video with an audio recording from a live performance and put that up. I got the idea for Sex By Numbers because I was thinking about how silly it was that 69 was named 69 because of the actual shape that people were in, and I was like that's so stupid.
And so I thought about what other names you could play with if you started on that sex by numbers concept. And so then I started writing out numbers and thinking what do they look like sexually.
I thought 22 looked like you were doubled over in pain, so what if we say it's two people in the fetal position because they have food poisoning? So that was sort of the base idea for that.
And then the 10 Hours of Walking in LA as a Woman With a Dog?
I watched the original 10 Hours of Walking as a Woman in New York which was exposing catcalling and I realized that's never happened to me in LA. But what does happen to me is whenever I walk my dog people pull their cars over and literally catcall to him. I thought it’d be funny to show how much dogs get called too and at the same time bring more light to the original video. It's really funny if you actually look at some of the comments.
What did you do after Penn?
I was just trying to make as much content as I could. The first job I got was as a producer for a celebrity news television show called OK TV based on OK magazine. I would go to red carpets and I'd be off camera and interview celebrities or I would produce segments and then I would actually edit the segments together for the show. I was totally out of my element, I'd never done anything like that before, but I learned fast and it was something I enjoyed. Then I got offered a job through my friend Caroline Yost, who was a Bloomer. She was working as a production assistant on Mozart in the Jungle and they needed a new one because Carolyn had to leave. They only needed me for a couple months, but I knew the opportunity was in scripted TV, which was what I wanted to be moving toward anyway. I left my job to do it and then after a couple months they were pretty much done, the writers’ room had disbanded, and so I started working one on one with some of the writers a little bit, helping them out with pitch documents or editing. I felt like for the first time I was doing more writer’s assistant-y stuff which is what everybody who wants to be a writer wants to to first. That's different from a writer’s production assistant who sort of gets you coffee which is what my job was in Mozart in the Jungle. The writer’s assistant is sort of an assistant writer, they help keep track of everything. So I started doing sort of freelance writer’s assistant work for some of the writers on the show. I was Luke Wilson's personal assistant for ten seconds, that was fun.
But then I left that job to work as the story and editorial production assistant on the Scooby Doo movie at Warner Brothers.
So that's what I was doing before I left the entertainment industry.
Where does Fresh Prints come in?
This whole time I was also working as an artist for Fresh Prints, and even since my since my senior year at Penn. A friend at Penn was friends with the guy who started Fresh Prints. I got hired to work freelance as one of the designers. And then I did that up until up until I started working with them full time, and now it has been four amazing years.
Fresh Prints is where you want to go for custom apparel. There are local sales managers that make sure your order experience is top notch and they deliver the best artwork for Student Groups, Greek Organizations, University Administrations, and Intramural Teams thanks to Lizzie's hard work
And how long have you been illustrating.
My whole life. I was always obsessed with drawing. When I was a kid, at recess I'd be in the library drawing instead of outside playing. And I just loved it.
And what spurred the full time commitment to Fresh Prints
I had a bit of a complicated moment. I always thought that the key to being happy in your job, was taking something that you love doing for free, and make money doing it. I loved comedy and writing and performing and coming up with funny ideas. And so I thought that if I could find a way to make money doing that or in that realm that I would be happy.
But that was a misconception.
I realized that there were parts of the entertainment industry that I really didn't like: the way people treated each other, the way that the product is viewed as more important than the people who are making the product, the way that money is prioritized above everything, and the way there's a lot of instability.
And I decided that, at that time, I thought I wanted to be a rabbi because I had always been interested in Judaism and I felt like there wasn't any soul in the business. And so I wanted to go as far from that as possible to something that had a lot of soul in it which is like being a rabbi. So my idea was I'll quit and I'll work for Fresh Prints and then after a couple of years I'll go to school to be a rabbi.
I'm still very religious and spiritual. I'm actually planning on writing a musical about a famous Jewish figure with a fellow Penn alum. So I still want to write and create things. I just needed to take some time off because I realized I loved performing but when I started performing every single night the same shit over and over again, it became a job. And so I realized it's not about doing what you like. No matter how much you love it there's going to be a day where you don't want to do it. There's going to be a time when you don't want to get out of bed and get up and do it. And at that point it becomes a job. And so it's not something you like anymore.
And it's probably something you take for granted but I felt it had been PUMPED into me: "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life, find something you love." And what I realized was that it's not about having a job where you do something you love, it's about having a job that you love.
And so there are things about my job now that I love so much like working with amazing people, creating something that actually gets produced and made, getting to create art all day, getting to work from home and having that flexibility.
That type of environment I love. And so I love my job.
So a big thing I think I realized career-wise was that you kind of get told to take something you love and monetize it. But I don't think that that's necessarily a recipe for happiness.
Do you want to go back to the entertainment industry?
It's not that I want to go back into the industry. It's that I want to create stuff again. So I don't want to go work as an assistant again, ever. I don't want to go work on some production that I'm not invested in, ever. I love my job. But it is important to me to write and create and it is not the case that you need to be an assistant in order to get somebody to read your shit. And if your shit is good, that's all that matters. I'm just removing myself from the hustle, and I'm going to create and work on stuff because I want to do creative work and if people are into it they're into it. It's not a money making thing for me.
What did you do each of your summers at Penn?
Summer before I came to Penn I did nothing, I went home and just did nothing the summer between my sophomore and junior year. I studied PPE, so the summer before my sophomore and junior year. I worked for the Decision Education Foundation which was an internship program to help devise a program to help teach concepts from decision theory to fifth and sixth graders. I also worked as a researcher for the School of Public Policy for Dr. Susan Sorenson, who is an incredible person and academic who's still a Penn. At one point I interviewed for an internship at The Daily Show. But I fucked it up so I didn't get it. They saw my resume and thought I wanted to be a lawyer. And soon as I started talking about wanting to be a comedian, they were like, “No.”
So at the end of the day what would you consider yourself an illustrator a comedian or a storyteller?
Only time will tell what the narrative connecting everything is in my life. But I think the biggest thing is just creating things and trying to bring that into everything I do in my life. It's kind of been a blessing and a curse for me, I have a lot of interest which is cool but it's also hard. It's not like there is one thing I can devote my whole life to.
That said, Fresh Prints is a huge part of my life. We're doing real cool stuff and growing really really fast.
What is something you're definitely going to do in the future?
The play I’m writing is religious. It's going to be more dark humor. I'm working on it with my friend Sam Pasternack, who's also a Penn alum.
I think the biggest theme of what I've been saying is all these names are all people who went to Penn and we're all still friends who have a common goal. I think just keeping in touch with the people from Penn and creating with them is so important.
You really never know when you're going to need to know a composer or when you're going to need a designer. Right now I'm helping my friend design a thing for a flyer for my friend's play that’s going to be in a Fringe festival in Edinburgh. The cool thing about Penn is you're surrounded by people who are similarly driven and who similarly have stories to tell and the creatives all help each other out. It's cool.
Tell me more about Fresh Prints.
Our goal is to help student entrepreneurs grow businesses on their campuses. Three of the four execs right now, not including me, started their own businesses and sold them before they were 20. So they want to help give similar opportunities to kids.
We want to help kids grow their own businesses. So we print custom apparel T-shirts growing really quickly. Our best campus manager did over 200,000 dollars last semester in sales.
It's an amazing experience to actually talk to all these college students and work with them. We have a team of artists, both student artists who work freelance and employees who are overseas, who I work with really closely and we can create custom art for whatever you need from the ground up. So that's my side of it, everything creative. And we get to grow really fast and be part of a really exciting business.
Disclaimers: The views presented here are solely those of the interviewee. They do not represent Warner Bros, Fresh Prints, or any of the other individuals or institutions named above.