It's just about impossible to keep anything good a secret these days. An underground favorite will not stay underground for long, especially now that everyone watches the internet. And so it is that one of my favorite home-brew media makers has made the leap from the embedded screen to the small screen.
Late last summer, I began following the online videos of a certain "LisaNova." This was a complete accident, because I can barely stand YouTube. The cluttered interface and its chunky, pixilated content make for a less than picturesque experience. My visits are as perfunctory as possible.
I'm attempting to quickly check out a friend's video when I come across LisaNova's Lonely Teardrops. The thumbnail image reminds me of a fifties film for some reason. What is this? I debate getting sucked in...then click.
A young woman in a black sequined dress waits by the phone in a darkened living room, no, it's a kitchen, no wait, it's a stage set (?) before donning a pair of gold lame pumps, tying a scarf under her chin and heading out to run (desperately) through the night-time streets of L.A. Shadows fall over highly saturated colors and you wonder, is it the bottle, Lisa? Is that evil elixir the reason you're lovelorn, the reason someone isn't coming home?
Low-angle camera shots, noir street lights bouncing off damp asphalt, dynamic editing, the dress, the music -- it all works together to create a shadowy glamour that hints at the tawdry without ever revealing it.
I look at her other videos. There are four. Completely different.
Introducing LisaNova sets her up as a pretty girl who loves the camera. LisaNova Takes the Bus brilliantly renders the mundane with a subtext of subtle humor and larger meaning. LL Apologizes is a fascinating and subtle good-girl response to another video.
I watch Lonely Teardrops again. Who is she? Is she an actress? Who has access to a set like that?
Over the next several months the videos keep appearing, and they get smarter. LisaNova takes the piss out of people. And in most cases she does it with an understated humor that evokes themes far beyond what you'd expect to see in a television sketch. LisaNova Does Lonleygirl15, her hilarious send up of the Lonelygirl15 phenomenon touches on feminism, cultural shortsightedness, and pompous up-and-coming advertising execs, nee celebrity pimps.
LisaNova Does P. Diddy looks at celebrity from yet another angle, and LisaNova does Rush Limbaugh from still another. Many of her made-up characters are morally flawed individuals. We sometimes get a peek inside the "industry," as we do in the over the top LisaNova is a B!%@H! These are fresh, hella funny videos with a solid narrative structure and semi-professional production values. They also feature excellent acting by a rotating cast that includes a familiar face now and then.
(For some great acting, watch Passionate About the Lips in which Lisa solicits feedback on her plan to enter a competition to dance on stage with the Flaming Lips. She plays a "Dalmatian-Ben-Franklin," and watching her friends' reaction to her performance is painful and hilarious. She won, btw, and she and her friends danced on stage with the Lips in December.)
The combination of light and dark, humor and insight evident in these short videos brings to mind the work of another woman who offered her characters often-missed opportunities for grace: Flannery O'Connor. And now it seems, LisaNova's own experience in this buzzword-filled atmosphere of user-generated media is bringing new meaning to O'Connor's beautifully turned phrase "Everything that Rises Must Converge."
Because LisaNova -- whose real name is Lisa Donovan -- can now be seen on MADtv.
In just ten months, she's built a huge following online, with her videos on YouTube consistently ranking among the most viewed. That popularity has suddenly opened doors for her that were previously shut.
The 26-year old Donovan's real-life back-story includes moving to L.A. from Colorado to become an actress, auditioning for MADtv, getting rejected, then starting her own production company. She began posting to YouTube in an effort to find an outlet for her creative aspirations, and that got her a second audition with MAD.
She's made two appearances on the show, and is due for two more before the end of the season.
I suspect this is just the beginning though...especially because Donovan's strengths lie more in the total package than in her talent as a performer. The understated writing and creative vision evident in her YouTube videos are in some ways more sophisticated than what we see in a lot of mainstream commercial media. She's too much more than an actress to be the next Lonelygirl15. My advice to her would be to dabble only briefly in MADtv, then pitch a show idea to HBO.
In the meantime, she's one to watch, and she's worth wading into the YouTube morass to do so. Or...you could just wait.