People assume that because we’re the creators, writers, actors and executive producers on our own television show (Teachers on TV Land, Tuesday nights 10:30/9:30c — always gotta work it!) that our careers have always been a success, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Up until now, we’ve spent our entire lives being told “no,” to quit, or to “please stop.” Our mothers were our only fans.
Growing up in the Midwest, we both fell in love with theater and performing at a young age and knew that’s what we wanted to do. I, Katy Colloton, auditioned for every musical or community theater production that Overland Park, Kansas, had to offer and was known as the queen of the “non-speaking role.” And I, Katie O’Brien, convinced my parents to pay $5,000 to fly me down to Florida to compete in a knock-off Star Search scam. So, then, one might ask, “Why did two people who never found success in acting decide to major in Theater in college?” Because we both freaking loved it — that’s why!
After college, we each moved to Chicago to pursue our dreams of becoming real actresses and comediennes. We performed sketch and improv around town in countless theaters and bars for free, and typically to little or no audience at all. We did shows where no one laughed once and we performed for drunk audience members who would yell that we “sucked.” Now, we’re not bringing this up for you to feel sorry for us, but as a reminder that you have to love it if you want to pursue a career in comedy.
Chicago is a wonderful training ground for comedy and we were lucky to be able to perform and hone our skills there, but after a while, we wanted more. We wanted someone to point to us and say, “You’ve got the goods, kid!” And, as we continued to perform night after night, week in and week out, we both struggled as we watched our friends get hired for paid acting jobs. We auditioned for hundreds of commercials, television shows, and even a few movies, hoping that each one might lead to our big break, but we never got the call. We worked relentlessly to try and get on a stage at The Second City, but we were never hired. We both auditioned for Saturday Night Live, but never got the job. Our careers in Chicago consisted of repeatedly being told “no.”
You’d think with all this, two normal, stable-minded people would think to themselves, “Well, we tried. We had a good run, but it’s time to pack up our things and go home.” But not us. Either because of our pride, or just pure delusion, we persisted. Constant rejection can lead to a slew of responses, but oftentimes the most common ones are bitterness and anger. How dare someone else get what we felt we rightfully deserved and had worked so hard to achieve? And while we definitely dabbled in those thoughts over the years (how could you not?), we also found ourselves gravitating toward another kind of response: we needed to find another way to make it. If no one else was going to give us an opportunity, then we needed to create our own.
So we, along with our comedy group, The Katydids, started to write and film short comedic videos that we released online to promote our live improv shows. The videos were often dumb bits or short sketches, but they eventually found a small audience on YouTube. And as a result of this, a director friend, Matt Miller, approached us with the idea of creating a web series about teachers and teaching. With the help of Matt and an amazing production company in Chicago called Cap Gun Collective, we began to create what would become the web series Teachers. In 2014, we released 22 episodes of Teachers on YouTube and, after a couple of months, it started to gain traction. We didn’t exactly go viral, but we were mentioned on Perez Hilton, so we felt like we’d made it. With that success online, we decided to try and package the series to sell as a television show. But as we were getting ready to pitch, we were approached by TV Land, who offered to buy a pilot outright — no pitch, nothing. They had seen the web series, liked it, and offered to make it. We were dumbfounded. This had never happened before. After years of trying to make it, someone was finally willing to give us an opportunity — a huge opportunity. It was absolutely surreal.
Fast forward to four years later, now 50 episodes into our show Teachers. It’s an absolute dream come true and an opportunity few have. To say that we’re grateful is an understatement.
But how did we end up here? A lot of rejection. If we hadn’t been rejected so many times over the years, we would never be where we are now. Rejection shaped who we are and forced us to become hard workers and even better performers, because we had that much more to prove. It led us to create our own content. And while all of those “no’s” were difficult to hear at the time, they led us to an incredible opportunity that we never could have imagined. Now, looking back, we wouldn’t trade one “no” for a “yes.”