Lauren Servideo didn't intend for any of this to happen. The 26-year-old never dreamed of becoming a comedian, of taking UCB classes, of descending the stairs of the Comedy Cellar and performing in front of a live audience drinking their minimums and eating nachos. She never wrote a pilot. She never acted.
After college, she wanted to be a journalist—to move to New York, she says, smiling, and "turn Cosmopolitan around or something." She thought of Joan Didion and Tina Brown, female writers and editors of a lost era, of a time when magazines were flush with cash and you could expense things you never needed to begin with. She applied widely for positions in the media, but came up empty. Instead, she fell into employment working as an assistant in medical publishing.
"I honestly don't even remember applying for the job," she tells me, as we're sitting in her Brooklyn apartment. "I was an assistant—like, my mom must have sent in the application or something."
During that time, though, Servideo says she was living a kind of double life—she would come home from the office, go into her bedroom, and make absurdist, character-driven videos on Instagram.
That is until this past March, when the company discovered her on the Explore page and hired her as a creative researcher, where she's tasked, essentially, with finding others like her—young people who are building followers around whatever it is they do (music or memes, stunts or satire).
Since then, Servideo has amassed a considerable following (up to 20,000, including at least one cast member of SNL). She's landed a manager who represents reputable comedians and actors, and will soon have an agent, she says. She's been wined and dined at "Wolf of Wall Street–esque restaurants" with industry players. And though it's premature to say this has coalesced into anything major, like a television deal, or any money at all, there's no doubt Servideo is a prime example of how, through social media, a hobby can potentially transform into a professional career.
Servideo has a solid rotating cast of characters she's imagined over the years, though she certainly has a main staple, and there's a particular Tri-State ethos to all these personas. It would seem as if Servideo is building a collection of every single person you'd ever come across on the East Coast. (She's from Upstate New York.)
There's Anubis, a vampire who's an LA transplant and basks in the sun.
There's Victoria, a loud, brash woman from Pittsburgh who tends to get very angry at minor slights (she's the type who saves receipts and disputes small charges).
There's Dolores, an old, jump-suit-clad Italian lady from Bensonhurst who's never been to Manhattan in her life.
And there's Cole (or Kyle, Servideo couldn't quite land on a definitive name when I asked), an exaggerated skater boy.
Being plucked from obscurity on the internet and thrust into the spotlight is nothing new—look no further than the kid who went from yodeling in the aisles of Walmart to a record deal almost instantaneously or "Mrs. Funky White Sister." But what's unique here is Servideo is fleshing out her characters, and her entire comedic approach, at the same time others are attempting to professionalize her.
What allows Servideo to succeed with each of her made-up men and women, she emphasizes, is the free-flowing, ephemeral nature of Instagram. Though she laughs to herself as she says it, Servideo tells me the platform has become her "digital stage," a sort of open mic for the fictional people she conjures. She can test things out and fail. And even when the videos she makes are, as the captions sometime suggest, "for [her] alone and nobody else," they still strike a chord with an audience that stays connected and engaged. Her growing fanbase is dedicated, and she's building a community of repeat viewers and commenters.
"It's like a little social network in and of itself," she says. "I try to make sure my humour is really inclusive, for everyone."
Scroll down to see glamour shots of Lauren Servideo in character taken by VICE's photo editor Elizabeth Renstrom, as well as a few details about each.
Anubis is a vampire whose whole life is one networking opportunity after another. She does look at you when she's speaking, but it's almost a bit over your shoulder, as if someone—anyone—more important is about to walk through the door. She adores Los Angeles, but she doesn't know it—its roads, its shapes, its people. She moved there, and lives there, without having to work. She's rich, but she didn't make any of her own money.
Victoria is no bullshit, Servideo explains. She leads her girlfriends. She's a regular at local chain restaurants, like T.G.I. Friday's. She has a "complicated relationship" with her ex-boyfriend. You know her—we all do. People underestimate her, because she sounds dumb, but she's a fighter—and, Servideo says, "You better not underestimate her."
"Dolores is my grandpa," Servideo tells me, "but a lady." She is not a grandmother, but has a ton of grand nieces and nephews—and she spoils the fuck out of them. She revels in vigilante justice: She recognizes when someone is doing something wrong or unethical, and she's going to say something. She also smokes. "But only she can smoke," Servideo says. "You can't smoke."
Cole, or Kyle, sleeps on a mattress on the floor. He doesn't have a bed frame, and never will. He steals, but only clothes from his favourite store. "He always just drank six micheladas at 169 Bar," Servideo says. "And he's missing his girl."
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Alex Norcia on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.