‘Conan’ writer Mike Lawrence rewrites the rules of success through comedy

On December 23rd, the day the comedy community learned that 34-year-old LA actor Neel Nanda had died, Mike Lawrence took to social media. «There are more opportunities to succeed in comedy, which means there are more opportunities to fail,» he wrote. “Rejected packets, low count videos, problematic podcasts… be kind to yourself. Celebrate wins and personal milestones. Pursue real happiness, not algorithms.”

That’s when a veteran writer for «Late Night With Conan O’Brien» decided to offer free Zoom seminars on writing scripts and sending packets to uninsured comedians. After two two-hour sessions in early January, a third is scheduled for Saturday from noon to 2:00 p.m. (with attendance limited to 150), and that same evening, Lawrence will appear at Pasadena Ice House at 8:00 p.m. in the Legendary Room.

«What people are charging and what they are promising is criminal,» he wrote after the Jan. 4 initial session. «I don’t charge anything, but I promise!» He planned more, refusing to charge a fee or collect donations.

Lawrence reappeared on screen on January 9 wearing a black X-Men T-shirt, a growing Letterman beard and thick, if stylish, glasses. The advice to “have a plan” and “know who you are” were at the very top. «Follow the rules» was another big thing. «Except when you need to break them!» References included Jo Koy’s Golden Globes bombshell and Marvel movies.

“The impetus for me wanting to do this,” Lawrence says of his Zoom sessions, “is the amount of comedians dying, dealing with health issues, all kinds of things. You can travel across the country and still not be covered. It’s a rough existence. Too bad it’s a luxury.»

Lawrence’s parents divorced early. He lived with his father at the Paradise Village trailer park in Davie, Florida. His mother, Alice Colin, was a SoFlo comedian at Uncle Funny’s and Coconuts along with Todd Barry and Dan «Larry the Cable Guy» Whitney.

«Nobody wants to do what their mom did when they’re 15,» Lawrence says, «but I still needed attention and validation from strangers.»

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At first he devoted himself to slam poetry. His parents supported his hobby, driving him around South Florida for seven years to read to teenagers at the library (until they kicked him out at 18), to Borders Books senior audiences, and to the Chocolate Moose coffee shop. In 2005, when Lawrence first tried comedy in the latter, he says, “It was like Dylan going electric.

Fourteen months later, he moved to New York with $2,000 and nothing but McDonald’s on his resume. There, Lawrence worked at Pinkberry, set up alt open mics on the Lower East Side, and slowly found his community in Long Island City’s the Creek and the Cave.

Socialization was not easy. Lawrence was quick and punchy, yet he had trouble connecting to the stage. He was seen as hostile, with difficulty maintaining relationships. Comics and wrestling were all consuming. There was his lifelong difficulty with mathematics, but an uncanny ability to remember details; constant anxiety – fear of being watched or judged. It is still impossible to shop if he is the only customer. Returning professional emails gives him panic attacks. He still doesn’t drive.

In 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president, Lawrence was bedridden with Crohn’s disease. It caused a severe rectal abscess. There was also chronic depression and the feeling that something else was psychologically different. Without health insurance, he said, «I literally couldn’t take care of any of it.»

About half a dozen people stand on a small stage.  A bearded man in a green t-shirt is holding a microphone and waving.

Mike Lawrence, far left, performs at the 2016 Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal.

(Troy Conrad)

A 2012 pilot writing job for comedian and radio host Tom Papa and two for E! came and went Lawrence recorded his 2013 Comedy Central Records album «Sadamantium» at the now-defunct Meltdown Comics Sunset Boulevard. It wasn’t until he became a writer for «Inside Amy Schumer» in 2016 — in his early 30s — that he became eligible to join the writers’ guild, insurance included.

«Finally, I could afford to let all these things be dealt with,» he recalls. “I basically bought my diagnoses.

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After 10 years in New York and several notable appearances on Comedy Central’s original show «@Midnight» in 2017, Lawrence moved to Los Angeles. @Midnight was canceled six months later, but Comedy Central brought him aboard «The Comedy Jam» and kept him in the rotation as the writer of the roast specials. Recurring gigs have included «Drop the Mic» on TBS, Jimmy Carr’s «The Fix,» co-productions on «Crashing,» the Independent Spirit Awards, reality fare, and more. He won a Writers Guild Award for «Triumph’s Election Watch» and received three Primetime Emmy nominations.

Lawrence and producer Adina Pliskin («Sesame Street,» «Mission Unstoppable With Miranda Cosgrove») married in 2014. In 2019, he started anti-depressants and began appreciating the importance of self-care. Lawrence’s low sperm count started the adoption process in the summer of 2020.

«It was really, really important for me to understand exactly who I was,» she says of the time.

While Lawrence and Pliskin created colorful profiles containing photos and letters, attended parenting and CPR classes and completed a home study from Child Protective Services, his therapist recommended a specialist. A lengthy, three-part process diagnosed him with autism, bringing with it transformational clarity.

Giving Pliskin the results «was like RuPaul telling his friends he’s gay, ‘Well, I’m glad ‘you’ can say it now!’ She always knew. And she said, ‘I love you for who you are.’ Watching ‘Love on the Spectrum’ together was an eye-opener.»

Their adoption process took two years and three months, with two games forfeited. Son Logan — named after Lawrence’s favorite superhero — arrived in November 2022. Lawrence’s father died three months later.

«He could have just told me he didn’t want to be a grandfather,» Lawrence began joking on stage. It bothered him that his father worked full-time until the end.

«It’s a testament to my parents that they were really supportive of any stupid thing I did,» he says of their influence. “It’s a template for how I want to be with Logan. Even if we think he’s wrong, whatever he does, he’s fine.’

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During the 2023 Strikes, Lawrence learned from Pete Davidson, who had originally sought out his comic experience for the DC project. For six months, he opened the Davidson Theater and entertained the former «Saturday Night Live» cast member with tales of troubled fatherhood. Lawrence was a guest writer on «SNL» the week of October when Davidson returned to host.

It was a delayed season premiere after the strikes. There were no new writers on board. The bombing of the Gaza Strip began two days before. Lawrence was startled.

“It’s an institution. can i hang Am I good enough?» he asked himself. Although he was discouraged when the pitched sketch failed, his jokes with exaggeration successfully made it onto the air.

«I don’t have to feel like a fraud,» Lawrence realized. «With impostor syndrome – am I worthy? Can I say I’m a dad just like the person says he is a dad?» – those are the things that go through your head.

Lawrence left Twitter in 2020. His professional focus is writing series, though he continues to perform live «a few times a month». Recent venues include Blind Barber as well as nights at Largo Comedy Club with Sarah Silverman, Pete Holmes and comedy hero Patton Oswalt.

«Because I don’t drive,» he insists, «it’s still the New York mentality that a show costs me 60 to 80 bucks!»

Along with a Jan. 20 writing workshop and an Ice House set, Lawrence returned to work this week on Season 2 of Davidson’s Peacock series, «Bupkis.»

«I’m still often terribly depressed,» she admits. “But now I have a child, so I can’t think about killing myself anymore.

With a revived career and fatherhood on his plate, Lawrence’s perspective on success has shifted significantly.

«The key to success is to lower your expectations,» he said. «It’s healthier to do (your passion) because you like it and not obsess to the point where it defines you,» says Lawrence. “I’ve never felt the fulfillment I have in this.

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