Arts & Entertainment

With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus: The host who's always her own guest

Lauren Lapkus with Shaun Diston, a guest on her show
Lauren Lapkus with Shaun Diston, a guest on her show "With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus."

You may have seen actress/comedian Lauren Lapkus in "Jurassic World" or on Netflix's "Orange Is The New Black," but she made her name in the Los Angeles improv comedy scene, and she carries on that tradition with her podcast, "With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus," which celebrates its two-year anniversary on Monday.

On her show, she's always the guest, and the guest is always the host of a different talk show each episode, creating a brand new world every time out. The guest decides what the show should be about, either acting as a character or acting as themselves, then they create a character for Lapkus — without telling her what her character will be until the show starts. Then she has to improvise her way through this show as that character.

"I'm really thankful for my improv background. I think it's the only way I could do a show like mine; it's so dependent on the improv," Lapkus told KPCC. "I think my show has helped me become a better improviser, because I've had to push myself in ways that I didn't expect. Especially with having my guest-slash-host decide what my character's going to be, it really gives me no opportunity to plan or rest on my old standbys. So it's kind of fun to be able to push myself to have to do characters I would never have come up with myself, and I've definitely been delighted to see what people come up with for me to do."

If that's got you confused, Lapkus offered two of her favorite episodes to illustrate:

#22: Joe Wengert: The California Supreme WinShow

A taping of the podcast
A taping of the podcast "With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus." Left to right: Joe Wengert, Lauren Lapkus.

"It was all based on a window commercial, basically, that the two characters were doing. He's the guy giving a commercial for his window company, and I was his brother — what he decided on for me. And it ended up being so funny because, I think one of the things that makes it stand out as favorite episode, is that right when we were starting, I was thinking, 'How can this continue for an hour? We're going to talk about windows for an hour and have it be funny?' And we did! I felt like we really pulled off a feat with that one, and Joe's just so talented that he made it easy."

#53: Shaun Diston: The Wishing Well with Skee-Lo

A taping of the podcast
A taping of the podcast "With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus." Left to right: Lauren Lapkus, Shaun Diston.

"The episode was based on Skee-Lo, the song, 'I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller.' So he played Skee-Lo in the episode, hosting an episode about wishes, and he made me Frank Dorito, the world's all-time record holder for most wishes granted. So it was a very absurd premise, and also based on something really familiar to people, so I think that made it really fun to do."

Want to know more about the imaginary worlds Lapkus creates? Read more from our interview with her and find out why she still loves improv, the roles that she gets to play that she wouldn't without improv and whether she'd ever want to host a TV talk show.

Interview highlights

Why Lapkus still loves improv

"I personally love how surprising it continues to be. I think that's something that I didn't expect about doing improv. I think I thought that, at a certain point, you kind of know what to expect out of your castmates and the people you're performing with, and I'm just continuously blown away by what people come up with."

Being able to play anyone

"That's what's so great, I get to play any character in the world. And I think that's one of the things that makes doing 'Comedy Bang Bang' or other improv podcasts so fun, as well as my own, is that you can really explore a character deeply for a long period of time that is nothing like yourself. And I have a lot of fun doing that. It's even better than just doing an improv show on stage, because you can do the character for a full hour and really get to dig deep into what makes this character tick. So that's been something that's been really enjoyable for me, is getting to pay an old man, and not just have it be a quick bit for a scene, but something where it's like, no, he's a fully actualized person, and I would never get to play him on screen, so it's really enjoyable."

Her feelings on hosting a TV talk show someday

"I think that'd be really fun. What's interesting about my show is that one of the reasons I made the guest be the host is that I don't like hosting, so I don't know if it's something that I would eventually want to do over time, but maybe someday. I think that by doing the podcast, I've grown to actually enjoy hosting a little more and realize that my role is a bit of a host, even though I thought I was totally avoiding that by creating this construct. But hosting a late night show has never really been a goal of mine in particular, but it could be fun. I mean, it'd be great if the other person did all the work, so yeah!"