It’s rare for “creating art” and “paying the bills” to mean the same thing, so lots of artists lead double lives. The writer Kurt Vonnegut owned a car dealership (until it folded). Composer Philip Glass drove a taxi in New York City.
Comedian Courtney Maginnis has a day job, too — and it’s as unusual as her stand-up routine. She designs lingerie.
“I think actually it is pretty similar, the way I write jokes and come up with ideas for underwear,” she says. “As you go through the season designing something, it evolves and changes the same way when you start telling a joke. In six months if you're still telling that joke, it's not going to be the same.”
The New York-based Maginnis says she does stand-up every single day — a surprise to her colleagues at the lingerie firm, who always ask if comedy is a weekend gig. But her design career has taken hard work, too.
“I studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology and then I started working for Oscar de la Renta lingerie, and then I was at Victoria's Secret, and now I am working at a lingerie and sleepwear brand which shall not be mentioned so I don't get in trouble,” she says.
By day, she works in a chic office with big worktables, large windows and abundant fake flowers. “It's like a young women’s brand — very girly, very sweet.” This season’s lingerie colors read like a nail polish rack: Preppy Pink, Balmy Teal, Toboggan Brown and Walnut Tree. “You feel really sexy in a Walnut undie,” she offers.
Maginnis says her conversations and relationships at work are “more intimate and more sensitive.” But at night, it all changes: “And then I go over, and I'm just in an open mic with a bunch of boys.”
“My real personality comes out, like anybody’s does, right? When you leave work, you’re finally like, ‘Ahhhh, I can be me!’”
At EastVille Comedy Club in Manhattan, recently, Maginnis tried a joke about the undead: “I’ve been reading a lot about ghosts lately. I read this one thing that was like, ‘Ghosts are like, very sad and lonely, and they’re just craving attention.’ And I immediately was like, ‘Have I been dead this whole time?’” Several audience members cackled appreciatively.
“I like silly,” she says. “I’ll even act out. You have to be willing to humiliate yourself in order to better yourself. I mean, you just have to keep pushing. You just gotta keep going. You have to really want to do it, because it sucks most of the time.”
But despite feeling tired “100 percent of the time” between the demands of her day and moonlight gigs, Maginnis sees herself split elsewhere, in a good way:
“I feel like my life is in two parts, like before I started doing stand-up and once I started doing stand-up,” she says. “It’s the first time I’ve been, like, honestly confident in myself as a person, and not just for my looks or the way I dress or something superficial. It makes me love myself. And the fact that I push myself to do something like that, that's so vulnerable. It's pretty crazy.”
This article is based on an interview that aired on PRI's Studio 360. Studio 360’s new series, Day Jobs, peeks at the double lives of many artists.
Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.