Stephanie Leke got deep in the hardcore punk scene

Stephanie Leke is a first-generation, Cameroonian-American writer, singer, and filmmaker currently based in Los Angeles. After graduating with a degree in music merchandising from Hofstra University, she started her professional career as a publicist for luxury and contemporary fashion, beauty, and lifestyle brands. Working in this industry she learned the art of mimicking voices, a skill that would prove useful as she pivoted into the world of storytelling and video production.

Her first production role was on an Animal Planet special where she got paid to watch Youtube videos all day and be a designated “puppy handler” on set. While searches for more “puppy handler” roles came up empty, her experience led her to design assisting on lifestyle and renovation shows. Her strong desire to write however eventually led her to documentary film as a route to writing for television, allowing her to continue learning and developing her voice as a storyteller. Most recently, she served as the associate story producer on an upcoming documentary about Mary J. Blige for Amazon Studios. 

She has studied at Gotham Writers Workshop, UCB, On the Page, and in UCLA’s Extension Writers’ Program. She is also a former writer for Boogiemanja, an NYC-based sketch collective. When she’s not writing or working, you can find her singing, at a concert or play, binge-watching an excessive amount of television, or trying to finish all the books in her stack before buying more. She also writes the monthly music/culture newsletter, No, I’m Not An Aries.

What were you like as a teen? 
I was the quiet (but internally very angry) teenager who thankfully found music as an escape. At my high school, I was known as the singer and participated in just about every music ensemble at my school. I made it onto district and all-state ensembles most years, and was also writing original songs.
Outside of school, I got deep into the local indie and punk/hardcore scene where I grew up. When you’re an angry teen, you seek out fellow outsiders so I frequently went to shows around New England. I can honestly say that I wasn’t funny at all. Aside from getting into the comedy group The State as a teen, music was more of my focus as a teenager.
Did you have an un-sexy starter job? 
The most un-sexy job I’ve ever had was as a server in a country club over college holiday breaks. The uniform was very Jennifer Lopez in Maid In Manhattan and it was all formal dining. Open-hand service was required. When I tell you my arm would SHAKE trying to balance a platter on one forearm serving mostly old rich men.
The biggest perk was that the job paid pretty well. Shoutout to my savings at the time since the job funded my weekend excursions to concerts, museums, and other cultural experiences in the city once I got back to school in New York. I also used to be a holiday caroler (sans a silly costume) at another country club. Not un-sexy, but gotta balance out the one country club experience with one that was more fun.
What do you consider to be your biggest comedy achievement to date?
This one is still a work in progress. Successfully taking steps to get back into comedy this year after a long hiatus has been a huge win. I have a long way to go when it comes to some of the goals I have for myself specifically as a writer, but glad to have landed on two sketch teams this year (including Auntie Uncle at GOLD). Who knows what may be next!
When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it? 
The community amongst women of color and just the way we support one another fully was a big factor. That also played a role in why I decided to get back on the comedy train.
Have you ever dealt with trolls? Hecklers? Toxic colleagues?
Thankfully no trolls yet, but I’ve definitely had toxic colleagues. In situations where there hasn’t been HR available, I’ve tried to nip it in the bud directly.
I’m very big about choosing my battles wisely. When a situation starts to impact my ability to do my job, I try to have a conversation with the person and that’s usually after making adjustments on my end. Should neither of those work, I go to a superior who hopefully can take steps to rectify the situation. I will say though that the beauty of being freelance is that contracts end. I’ve also reached a point in my life where if I had the financial means to do so, I’ve given my notice and moved right on.
On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young  comedian? 
Two things: 1. Build your own table. 2. It’s okay to go at your own pace/move slowly.
Best comedy advice you ever got?
“Be the role model for yourself.”
Worst comedy advice you ever got? 
“It’s all about who you know.”
How has being funny helped you in your life? 
Confession time: I don’t consider myself to be funny at all, especially not in person. That’s something to be unpacked at some point in therapy, lol. What I will say is that comedy has been a very helpful tool in working towards becoming more uninhibited creatively, and less precious about my work, and it opened the door for more play.
What specific things do you think a novice comedy writer should do to shape their voice? 
Ask me this again in 5 years. In this new world of post-pandemic isolation, I’m very much in the process of figuring out what my voice is now.
Do you have a writing routine? 
I’m currently trying to figure out a new writing routine.
While I thankfully show up for myself most days of the week, sometimes that ends up being in the form of just reading a script or book. On days when I just don’t feel motivated to get anything done at home, I’ll hit a library for about 2 hours and usually end up getting a bit of writing work done.
I’ve reached the point where I know which library branches to hit based on the work vibe I want. The best routine I ever had though was when I was in a writing accountability group for about a year that would meet virtually before I started work. We would hop on a Google Meet from 7-9 am PT  and work on our projects every day.
At the start of each session, we’d each share what we’re trying to get through and then have a check-in at the end to see how people felt about their progress. Mondays were also weekly goal-setting days for the week. I probably got through the most during that time. I’m in the process of trying to get back to this schedule and finding other people who may be interested in a crazy early writing schedule.
What is your go-to movie when you’ve had a bad day? 
Pride & Prejudice. Specifically, the 2005 Joe Wright-directed adaptation starring Kiera Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen.
What single word always cracks you up?
Tie between “callipygous” and “fickle.”9o