“You should always find a stranger to obsess over, and then genetically modify yourself for that stranger!” True, it’s no, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” or “Thou shalt not kill,” but the sage counsel offered by Danielle Uhlarik in the guise of the Little Mermaid in her series of “Advice From A Cartoon Princess” YouTube videos has reached one and a half million viewers. The popularity of her ironic creations notwithstanding, Danielle — a writer, filmmaker and established performer with The Second City improv and sketch comedy club — has plenty left to say in her own voice.
As an actor, writer, filmmaker and comedian, you seem to wear more hats than the average sufferer of male pattern baldness. Which of your roles do you most relish?
That’s so hard! I love them all. I know that there are these real defined boxes in Hollywood that people want you to fit into — either actor, writer, producer. But I guess it depends on the project. I write all the time: I wake up in the middle of the night and write. Most of the 4 a.m. stuff is probably not worthy of seeing the light of day. I really, really enjoy performing, too, but I can’t imagine doing just one forever.
But if you had to do one for the rest of your life?
If I had to do one for the rest of my life, I would have the best writers in the world create roles for me to perform while I produced the show… and wrote the script for it.
Oh, so you’re being crafty?
I would also think that being a performer and providing people with a face to associate your name with might be a good jumping-off point when trying to get your work produced. Have you found that to be true?
Yeah, definitely. The other thing that helps, too, is that I usually write roles for myself, roles that I know I want to play.
So you’ve had a lot of success Second City — first, writing and performing at the club’s Chicago location, and now as a writer and performer for The Second City Network YouTube channel. So how have you evolved as a comedian from where you started with Second City to where you are now?
Well, I’ve had lots of birthdays and I’ve literally grown inches. But outside of that, I think the experiences I’ve had have helped me to get more stories out through writing. I’ve written a film that I produced and starred in — it’s already gone around the festival circuit and won some comedy awards. I’ve really honed my writing craft and have what people call a voice, I guess. But the older I get, I think mainly I’ve really just gotten more comfortable wearing princess dresses.
You were born and raised in Chicago and also attended Northwestern University. Does being a lifelong Chicagoan affect your comedy at all?
I think it does. Chicagoans are probably the nicest people in the world — they’re too nice to move out of a city that’s so cold.
I never realized that the only reason people stay in Chicago is for fear of hurting the city’s feelings.
Growing up in an environment like that is really great because you get to take a lot of risks and experiments knowing that people are extremely supportive.
Your short film, “Stages of Emily,” features Saturday Night Live’s Vanessa Bayer — a fellow alumna of Second City — and you have a long history of collaborating with other comics and writers. Has being a part of the comedy community helped your career, or has it mostly been useful just as a means of making friends and forging connections?
The comedy community is really collaborative. I’ve trained with a ton of people over the years — I’ve done two-person improv shows to casts numbering in the teens. It all helps you grow as a writer and performer, just playing with friends. Also, when you work with someone else in the comedy community, it’s not always just to have someone who can bring your comedy up, sometimes you just want someone who laughs at your jokes. If they’re laughing, then you know it’s good.
The more laughing bodies in the room, the better, right?
Definitely. Confidence is a big part of comedy, so I think the community can definitely help you build up confidence, too.
What’s the most gratifying part of what you do?
I like getting people to laugh. I also like to make them think and then make them laugh again after thinking I think the “Advice From A Cartoon Princess” videos were an example of that. I know I’m not the first person to ever make those observations — it’s kind of obvious — but it was fun to put a spin on it where the princesses were giving advice but still fun and girly and kind of fancy.
I really just want to do comedy that’s fancy, in a nutshell.
I think that’s a qualifier you’ll find in every fourth grader’s career ambition: They all want to be fancy vets, fancy doctors…
I have a lot in common with fourth graders, except I can write bigger checks than they can. No big deal.
When you’re working with other people, is it hard to negotiate collaborations with other writers because you have such a definitive voice? Do you ever butt heads or is it usually an easy-going process?
It depends who you’re working with. I don’t really butt heads with most people — I like hearing other people’s suggestions, that’s usually the reason I choose to work with them. And they know that if things aren’t really working out, I can always take ’em outside to the playground.
What can Daily BR!NK readers do to contribute to your success?
My next comedy feature film is accepting investors and donations. I’m always open to people connecting on YouTube (youtube.com/danielle) and Twitter (@danielleu). And of course, for Judd Apatow, all of the casting offers sent to me must have gone to spam folder, so if his people can resend, that would be awesome.