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August 24, 2016

Enter Laughing

VIP role models and a love of laughs lead to one pro’s pursuit of comedy.

Libby Slate
  • Lacey Terrell
  • Fred Norris/HBO
  • Lacey Terrell
  • Lacey Terrell

As she’s forged her career in TV funny-dom, Stephanie Laing, executive producer of HBO’s new high-school comedy, Vice Principals, has had some powerful role models: Tracey Ullman and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

“I’ve been really supported by these two women,” says Laing, a two-time Emmy winner, as an associate producer of Ullman’s HBO sketch comedy, Tracey Takes On, and an executive producer of HBO’s Veep. “I’m a producer because of Tracey. And in a lot of ways, I’m a director because of Julia.”

When Veep moved from Baltimore to Los Angeles after last season, Laing left the show, not wanting to uproot her three kids. Her move to Vice Principals — a dark comedy starring Danny McBride and Walton Goggins that premiered in July — came at the invitation of McBride, a star of HBO’s Eastbound & Down (Laing had been an executive producer on the series).

“I’d do anything for Danny McBride,” Laing says. “He’s such a creative inspiration.” She also served as a coexecutive producer of several episodes of HBO’s upcoming comedy series Divorce, starring Sarah Jessica Parker.

Laing gravitates to comedy. “Humor is the best way into an uncomfortable conversation,” she observes. “When you take a look at something but put a humorous spin on it, it tends to become more acceptable. And laughter is an emotional release — we need that.”

Initially aspiring to be a broadcast journalist,  Laing worked as a bank teller while studying at the University of Cincinnati. When a frequent customer invited her to join a local commercial production company, she accepted. Eventually she landed in L.A., becoming a production  coordinator on Ullman’s show.

While looking forward to her next primetime gig, Laing is paying it forward by mentoring women in comedy. In January she launched PYPO.com  (Put Your Pretty On), an online network that specializes in scripted comedy. She was inspired in part by an early-career special she worked on for Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney.

“They were fearless,” she recalls. “They were trailblazing for women, taking risks. Now with PYPO, I can help level the playing field for women.”

Onscreen or online, Laing plans to continue in comedy. “Life is so hard,” she reflects. “It’s better to laugh.”

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