Being an actor is tough enough, but being a child actor can be even more challenging. Not only are you grappling with the social and parental pressures accompanying childhood, you’re also trying to balance starting a potential livelihood with the practicalities of just being a kid.
For comedian Courtney Scheuerman, life as a child actor gave rise to a working actress, predominantly in theater. Her journey then found its way to stand-up comedy, and in a twist of fate, back to theater with her upcoming one-woman show Holding Court, which recently debuted in Los Angeles at the Hudson Guild Theatre.
When we connect by phone, Courtney is excited to showcase what she’s been working on for more than a year — finally, on stage, under the lights, in front of a live audience — and opens up about the show’s incarnation, its themes and inspirations and how winning monologue competitions as a child propelled her on a path to follow her acting desires.
The News Station: You grew up as a child actor in Los Angeles. How did you initially find your way into show business?
Courtney Scheuerman: I started doing musical theater as a kid working with the LA Shakespeare troupe and also competing in DTASC [Drama Teachers Association of Southern California] Festivals in the monologue category. I won first place seven times, beating out Kevin Spacey and Tiffany Haddish for the record. Off the first-place wins, I booked an unaired pilot for Nickelodeon and continued booking and auditioning for film and TV.
TNS: What was it about stand-up comedy that pulled you away from theater?
Courtney Scheuerman : Stand-up was born out of the need and desire to get up and perform live and take control of when I could do that. It really is the only comedic artform where you can get up — or attempt to get up — on the stage every night in front of a live audience.
I started doing stand-up by taking the characters I was working on at The Groundlings and tried to find a way to put them into a cohesive set, but then discovered the two worlds of improv and stand-up have very little in common. They’re two very different beasts, and I ended up falling in love with the art of stand-up. The insane anxiety and thrill that I got from it I think is what really pulled me in and became really addictive.
TNS: How does the rush or thrill of stand-up compare to improv?
Courtney Scheuerman : For me, they’re not even comparable. With improv, you’re up [on stage] with a bunch of people. You’re relying on other people. It is all “improv” but you’re relying on a lot of things that have worked in practice or on a lot of taglines that you’ve said that you know land well. It’s the same for stand-up in that you’re obviously telling your jokes but there’s nothing to rely on. There’s no follow-up. If a joke doesn’t land, you’re not redirecting to a whole other situation or skit.
TNS: Was there an early experience that gave you the reaffirming confidence that you should be following the path of a performer?
I was really grateful that at the age of 4 I knew that [acting and performing] was what I wanted to do. I begged my mom to let me audition for Annie the musical, and I got cast as Molly, the youngest orphan, at the age of 4. By the time I was 18, I’d done 52 musical productions. That was my entire childhood.
I’d say the nugget was probably the theater competitions in junior high and high school. After winning seven competitions in a row, I got a really strong agent and was booking film and TV off of that. You’re up there alone as a child performing a five-minute monologue and winning, so that was the nugget that told me it was what I was supposed to be doing.
TNS: How did you navigate continuing your education while still maintaining acting?
Courtney Scheuerman : I’d actually gotten cast in a film but my parents wouldn’t let me do it. I’d just taken on the responsibility of being student body president and they didn’t want to pull me out of school for the rest of the year, so Lindsay Lohan ended up getting the role. It was pretty much me, Kirsten Storms and Lindsay Lohan every time. You’d see the same kids and the same moms get called in to every audition.
We would see [Lindsay’s mom] in audition rooms and it was a very different vibe. My mom was more like “Are you doing your homework?” while her mom was like “Get this line down!” Like it was a job and they were in the job together. Whereas I was pursuing acting for fun because I loved it and my mom was trying to treat it like an extracurricular activity as much as possible, even though it’s a hell of a business.
Going to college was something that was important to me and I had this idea that if I continued to hone my craft and really worked on the art of acting and got my education that, after I graduated, I’d come back and doors would open. But that’s not how things went. I graduated and came back [to Los Angeles] like, “I’m ready,” and at 21 [was told], “Umm, yeah, you’re a little old now.”
TNS: So you start pursuing stand-up and you’ve had a lot of success with it. How then did stand-up lead to the formation and creation of your one-woman show?
Courtney Scheuerman : The one-woman show really came out of my desire to get back into theater. Although I was doing stand-up, I’ve never left my acting world. I’ve been of the mindset and of the knowing that you should never be out of class. If you want to be an actor, you should always be acting, so I’ve always been in an acting class or studio since I was child.
From my acting studio that I’m currently working in, I started putting up some of my characters, just small little monologues. From that, I realized I had a cohesive story, or theme, that was running through all.
I was planning on doing the show before the pandemic, but [it was actually] the pandemic that gave me the time to sit down and really focus. A lot of things happened for me during the pandemic — major events in my life — and I was able to put them into this story.
TNS: Given your theater beginnings, things have almost come full circle in a way.
Courtney Scheuerman : It has. Now being able to pull the mechanics and the knowing of what I know from the stand-up world and bring that a little bit into the theater, I think it’s really cool because they are so different, and yet they’re not. [Theater and stand-up] are both live performances, but the way we perceive comedy and the way we perceive theater are very different, so bringing those two together I think is a really cool thing that I’m playing with right now and I think that’s what’s special about the show.
TNS: Was the motivation for the show simply the merging of different characters or was there something grander?
Courtney Scheuerman : It definitely was grander. On top of doing the characters, laughing through your pain is why I think most comedians do what they do. I had had a pretty rough eight years really falling into the lifestyle of being out late at night at a comedy club. It’s a boys’ world and it can breed a very unhealthy lifestyle. I definitely allowed myself to fall victim to that, just not living clean and I lost myself. I made a lot of decisions I wasn’t proud of and made a lot of mistakes that I regretted for a long time. The writing of this play has really helped me navigate through the mistakes I made and helped me learn to forgive myself. The telling of the story through comedy and through sharing these characters is kind of my way of putting my story out there.
TNS: Do you feel what you’re sharing and how it’s being received hits differently than a stand-up bit?
Courtney Scheuerman : [The one-woman show] is brutally honest. It’s confronting a lot of things that maybe in a joke you might hint at, but it goes by so quickly we laugh through the moment and then later think back, Wait, was that person being serious? It doesn’t actually matter because we laughed, right?
[The show] is actually holding up a mirror and being like, This is actually true, this is how I dealt with it and moved through it. The more vocal I’ve become about the topics in the show to others, the more people, especially women, have opened up and been like, Yeah, that happened to me too. But you never talk about it because there’s guilt and shame and all this other stuff surrounding it. Or it’s just not socially acceptable to talk about these things, for no other reason than that’s how our culture is accustomed to behaving.
I think to put up a piece and have people come and sit in the dark and watch somebody else be so honest about their journey and what they’ve experienced, a lot of people will leave like, Oh shit, I guess the things that I’ve been through really aren’t that bad, or, Maybe I can forgive myself for the things that I’ve done if this person is standing on stage admitting to the mistakes they’ve made, and actually come out the other end with forgiveness and love for themselves.