Q&A: Two comedians discuss their journey from Northwestern to Twitter stardom
October 9, 2019
Twitter may be a fiery hellscape most of the time, but seeing a side-splittingly funny video makes scrolling through the pain worthwhile.
Never longer than a minute or two, comedians spend these short, short films depicting an absurd character or bit. They’re often recorded selfie-style and feature amateur production value. No one knows their origins, and the Twitterverse hasn’t quite decided on a name for them. Nevertheless, behind some of the Evil Bird App’s most popular examples of the art form are two Northwestern alums: Nick Lehmann (@NickStopTalking) and Eva Victor (@evaandheriud).
The two are basically making TikToks, except they’re not teenagers — though Lehmann does call his clips “stupid little funny videos.” I fired up my own front-facing camera to FaceTime them to ask about their lives as Wildcats — and the wild rides that came afterward.
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Halloween gays have a hero in serial screamer Nick Lehmann, a 26-year-old actor and writer who had folks around the world in stitches after a video of him being spooked dozens of times over went viral on Twitter in September. Jackson Rickun, Lehmann’s best friend, recorded himself scaring the Los Angeles resident over the course of a year and posted a compilation of his yelps in an endearing (and hilarious) birthday tribute.
Lehmann’s high-pitched shrieks –– prompted by Rickun’s shouts, friends appearing in a doorway and sometimes nothing at all –– amassed over 200,000 likes and over 51,000 retweets at the time of publication. The video captured the attention of folks like Ellen DeGeneres and Julia Louis-Dreyfus and catapulted Lehmann to Twitter icon status. There are definitely worse birthday presents.
Just as he’s always been gay and easily scared, Lehmann (Communication ’16) has always been funny. Since graduating, he’s worked his way up the L.A. entertainment ladder, created a popular web series and, most recently, had a show idea about a gay father who comes out to his already out-and-proud gay son picked up by NBC.
What drew you to Northwestern?
I have an older brother who went to Northwestern — he was a senior when I was a freshman. As I got older and got closer to going to college, I was visiting Northwestern all the time. And because of that, I went to the Cherubs theater program the summer before my senior year. I wanted to go to Northwestern so badly.
The poor freshmen stuck in Jones right now are dying to know which dorm you lived in.
I was in Bobb my freshman year, third floor. My brother was in Bobb his freshman and sophomore year, and he was actually the president. After I got into Northwestern, the next thing I needed to get into was Bobb.
What kinds of things were you involved in on campus?
It was definitely one of those things freshman year where I came in, I was confident, I applied to all these theater boards and different groups. And I kind of got into nothing. I did get into the Titanic Players, which was huge in my time at Northwestern. The comedy community there — it’s a big part of the reason I do what I do now.
You knew you always wanted to be an actor, but did you always know you wanted to pursue comedy specifically?
I knew that I loved comedy, but I also loved dramatic acting, so I did both at Northwestern, but it’s very hard to break into the industry, which is kind of why I started writing. Also, I’m a gay man. I was being placed in all these boxes of, “You can only play a gay man,” which I don’t think is true. So I started writing for myself.
What was your next step after graduating in 2016?
I knew that I wanted to move out to Los Angeles, and I knew that I wanted to act and write, but I couldn’t just move out there and get a waiting job. I think it’s incredible that a lot of people can do that, but I’m a very strict, scheduled person—I think Northwestern beat that into me. So I applied to some agency programs, and I got a job working at United Talent Agency, which is actually where I am repped now. They call agencies the grad school of entertainment, because you learn everything there is to know: the creative side, the executive side, managers, producers, actors. You work with every single person—it’s just the best way to learn. I was there a year and a day, and then I got a job working for a showrunner on “Forever,” which was on Amazon with Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen. It was a great show; it’s an incredible process.
You rose to social media fame pretty quickly this year. Did you ever think you’d become a staple of gay Twitter in just a few months?
No. I think a year ago I had, like, 700 followers. I definitely did not expect this. It blew up so quickly, and I love it. Obviously it’s fun, it’s great, it’s cool to interact with people, but I think the best part has been that I get DMs all the time from people around the world just being like, “Thank you so much for being you, for being funny, for making me smile.” That’s easily the best part—I’m doing something for someone else.
A big part of your popularity on Twitter came from that screaming video. Have you always been that easily spooked? Are your vocal cords OK?
Yes. I’m still a petrified little boy. If a fork drops, I scream. If a door closes, I scream.
Did you expect the video to go viral after Jackson tweeted it?
No. I saw it the morning of my birthday, and I was hysterically laughing because I thought it was so funny. But it picked up speed so quickly. I mean, I now have people coming up to me on the street scaring me. When I’m with Jackson, they’ll approach us and be like, “Oh my god you guys are the scare guys!” I’m like, “Have I become the ‘scare guy?’ Is that what they’re gonna put on my tombstone?”
Some pretty big names in entertainment wished you happy birthday because of that video. Who did you freak out about the most?
I was getting out of my car when Julia Louis-Dreyfus tweeted it, and I think the combination of her being one of my favorite actresses of all time, her going to Northwestern, her being super involved in comedy at Northwestern, that she’s someone I would be dying to work with in my career — I screamed like I screamed in the video. But just all of them—Seth Rogen, Sara Silverman, Chelsea Handler, Julianne Moore, it was just so cool.
You sound like you’re thanking people in an Academy Award acceptance speech.
Yeah, exactly. If I ever win an Emmy or an Oscar, I’m just going to thank people who tweeted my birthday video.
A big congrats on your television series “Like Son, Like Father,” which follows a gay man’s father coming out as gay himself later in life, being bought by NBC! Where did the inspiration for the show come from?
Gay voices, I think, are very important, and I think that there’s a lot of room for them in entertainment right now. There are people that I know and stories that I’ve heard where the dad or the mom reaches this place where they’re like, “I’m living a lie.” And I find it really interesting to see this dynamic between younger and older gay men—we have this privilege and opportunity that the older generation did not have before. There were a lot of things that they had to do to make it so easy for us to live our lives. I do think there is a way to make it happy, funny and exciting, where it’s about the celebration of this thing while also addressing it in a very human and honest way.
Few can capture the complexity of being an anxious, politically tormented young person in 2019 as well as Eva Victor. Born in Paris (and a self-described “queer Timothée Chalamet”), the 25-year-old New York City resident is known for her 1-2 minute videos covering subjects like awkwardly running into a friend whose life is going way too well, pooping at work and being a woman who definitely didn’t murder her husband.
Her most popular video –– captioned “me explaining to my boyfriend why we’re going to straight pride” –– was filmed in response to the scheduling of a “straight pride” parade in Boston in June and garnered over 375,000 likes and 106,000 retweets at the time of publication. To say the satirical tweet absolutely owned the parade participants would be an understatement.
Victor (Communication ’16) got her comedic start at Northwestern, then moved to the Big Apple. There, she got a job writing and editing for Reductress, the first satirical magazine written for women, by women. She’s done stand-up sets across the city and now writes and acts in sketches for Comedy Central. She’s also written for The New Yorker’s Daily Shouts satirical section. Whether she’s explaining pay equity to her boyfriend or imitating a wealthy West Coast mother from “Big Little Lies,” Victor’s comedy speaks to the news of the day in the most relatable of ways.
What were you involved in on campus?
I majored in theater and did the playwriting module. I did NSTV, Titanic Players, Mee-Ow and No Fun Mud Piranhas for a little bit. I was on Vertigo, and I did Griffin’s Tale. I was really afraid to do anything comedy — I had never done it before — but then I was like, “Wait, this looks fun!” And I’m glad I did.
Were you ever one of those theater majors who was always posted up in Norbucks?
No, that’s like…Get out of there! Go live your life!
What were your most memorable experiences at Northwestern?
One time I went to the Shakespeare Garden to just sit there, because I was having a sad moment, and there was this man laying there — man as in student. He was sleeping on the bench, and he was so hot, and there was this sunbeam streaming down onto his face, and I was like, “Wait, you’re so hot.” That’s probably not what you’re looking for.
Honestly, I spent a lot of my time at Northwestern being really stressed and spending time thinking about the future. My happiest moments are the ones when I was literally laying on the lakefill, when I wasn’t moving too fast. Is that the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard?
What was your next step after graduating in 2016?
A few days after graduation, I moved to New York. I had a job lined up from Chicago, a part-time day job at a gym.
Like Abbi Jacobson’s character in Broad City?
When I watch that show, I’m like, “OK, well, I’ve been there and done that!”
You interned and then became an editor at Reductress. What was that experience like?
It was my first time writing like that — writing headlines. I felt really scared that I was doing a bad job and I felt very comforted by the women who were editors there. The thing it gave me the most was that it forced me to have a work ethic, and it also gave me these incredible friendships with women I am so lucky to know and are truly amazing people in the business.
Your short, front-facing Twitter videos have done really well. Do you call them anything specific?
I don’t know what to call them. Someone at work was talking about them and they were like, “You know, your ‘Me’ series,” and I’m like, “Well, aren’t we all sort of doing that?”
What inspired you to start making them?
People have been doing front-facing videos for a long time. It’s a cool form because the pace is really exciting, but there’s so many fucking amazing people who’ve been doing the same style videos. I went on a trip to D.C. to visit my best friend. It was right after a breakup, and I was in her huge beautiful house for a lot of one day alone, and I made three videos that were just random characters. That was sort of the first moment I was like, “Oh my god, this is so fucking fun and helping me deal with things.” It was a nice outlet I could do by myself.
Do you have a favorite video that you made?
I’m proud of the straight pride one. That one was fun. I can’t believe those men really did a straight pride. I think about it every day.
More and more comedians are making their own content, whether it’s a web series or viral Tweets. How crucial is carving out your own opportunities in the comedy world?
It feels really cool that the things I made without anyone telling me the rules of what I could make were things that people responded to. But also, someone should be paying you to make things and supporting you while you make things. So put out the things you want to put out, and then also demand the respect you deserve and the compensation you deserve for these things.
What does it mean to be a good comedian?
I remember to never stop talking about what I think is important. You can be a good person and know what’s important in the world and also have that inform your comedy — you don’t have to be a dick. I’m trying to do that.