Considering how funny he is in LINE, it comes as no surprise that Ben Lerner is a comedian as well as an actor. He is thrilled to be making his 13th Street Repertory debut in LINE! Ben studies improv at Upright Citizens Brigade and acting at Larry Singer Studios. In November, he’ll be pulling double duty, jumping off LINE to WalkerSpace to play Mushnik in Little Shop of Horrors. We caught the 2015 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, in between his numerous rehearsals:
We hear a lot about inspiration – or Muse – that drives an artist. What inspires you?
I am constantly inspired by other artists. I’ve consumed pop culture from a young age — first Broadway, then becoming a film and TV buff. Like everyone, I developed fandoms for certain performers, but I also have spent many hours listening to their talk show interviews and learning about their processes and how they got to the pinnacles of their careers. When I am inspired by the professional trajectory of a certain actor, I research and learn how they got there. Because they struggled too. Some longer than others. Some were luckier than others. But those with whom I connect, who have talent and whose paths inspire me — I love learning their history and past steps. Be it someone who wins a Tony playing a role I would kill for, or the newest featured player on SNL. We can all learn from each other.
What is your vision and process for the play/part
Playing Dolan is outside of my comfort zone because he’s not a type. I’m using to fulfilling character role tropes, and he (and the other characters) are complicated and multidimensional. He’s smart, he’s driven, he’s kind of awful. Audiences (and myself) will be constantly assessing the devil-angel proportions of these characters’ souls. That’s interesting, especially for a brisk comedy. Throughout this run, I hope to keep this performance fresh, funny and unusual the way Israel Horovitz’s show has maintained those qualities for 50 years.
What do you want most in your chosen profession? It’s OK to say “fame” or “wealth.”
Thank you for saying it’s okay! But really, I just want to perform professionally, full-time, and share it with as many people as possible. I want to work alongside people who inspire me (which I am in LINE) and hopefully rise to bigger platforms that make it professionally sustainable. Exposure? Yes, please. Wealth? Not a requirement, but I’ll take it…!
Sally Field and Paul Newman both said of their profession… “it’s all I can do.” Is this all you can do?
Yes. I went to an Ivy League university where almost all my classmates took preprofessional routes towards stable, high-paying jobs. Every person I’ve met in show business emphasizes that if you can be happy in another field, you’ll be happier in that field than this one. But I would never forgive myself for not trying. So here I am. Regardless of my sarcastic sense of humor, I don’t let my cynicism win. Childhood dreams don’t disappear, so I’m not apologizing for taking a risk. (And yes, I’m saying this only a year into trying. I am no Field/Newman-esque veteran expert. I don’t judge people for “giving up,” because it’s not quitting, it’s reevaluating.)
Along those lines, if you couldn’t so this, what would you do?
If I wasn’t acting, I would still be working in entertainment in some capacity. Perhaps writing or directing. I studied journalism in college and was the Film section editor for our school’s weekly arts magazine – I could definitely see myself as a critic or writing about pop culture. God knows I have enough opinions! (See my Twitter @LernerBen.)
How do you want [legit] history to remember you?
Oh boy, I’m probably too young to be writing my own eulogy, but I hope to leave an impact as a person and an artist by making people laugh. I think making someday’s day with your humor one of the greatest human gifts. If I move them along the way, that’s a-okay too. To quote the great Carol Channing, “Laughter is much more important than applause. Applause is almost a duty. Laughter is a reward.”
Rosebud. Just kidding. Get in LINE!