5 Weirdly Awesome Ways Working in Netflix HR Helped Leslie Liao Blow Up in Comedy

Watch out for Liao’s performance reviews
5 Weirdly Awesome Ways Working in Netflix HR Helped Leslie Liao Blow Up in Comedy

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People trying to make it in comedy are often told, “Don’t quit your day job,” and for many years as an up-and-coming comic, Leslie Liao didn’t. Even after a crazy 2023 that saw Liao blow up on social media, land the New Faces showcase at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, and nail spots on The Tonight Show and comedian showcase Verified Stand-Up, she didn’t leave her job in Netflix’s HR department until last December. Crazy, right? Liao, who’s now on her first headlining tour (go ahead, check out tour dates), is happy to have left the corporate world behind, but she talked to me about all the unexpected ways that her HR background helped pave the way for comedy success.

Pay Attention to Performance Reviews

As a comedy fan, Liao prides herself on good taste, following the early careers of comics like Taylor Tomlinson and Nate Bargatze while she was getting her start. But Liao’s comedy origin story includes a fateful night when she attended a show featuring mostly terrible stand-ups. Her inner HR persona kicked in, and it fired off some scathing performance reviews. 

“You're fired!” was Liao’s reaction to the crappy comedy. “I'm doing this job now! Who allowed you in this company?” 

Looking at a job performance objectively, evaluating its effectiveness and figuring out how to improve? HR 101. “I'm a hardcore stand-up fan,” she says. “I knew who was good and why. So when I saw bad stand-up, I was like, ‘Oh my God, who the hell let you touch a microphone?’”

“Performance reviews were always part of my day job as a manager,” she says, and evaluating performances, good and bad, became an essential part of her comedy development. Even after her recent success, “if I can stay at the show I'm doing in LA and watch a comic I've never seen or a comic I love, I'll totally stay and watch it. It’s like, ‘Oh wow, they pulled this joke off!’ I’m always watching for inspiration.”

Time-Management Skills Are Killer

To put it politely, comedians can be chaotic. Scattered thinking might lead to creativity (or not), but it doesn’t help build a career. “I love the schedule,” Liao says of the Monday-through-Friday life she left behind. “I don't love the back-to-back hectic meetings, but I do love my color-coded calendar.” These days, those colors represent different blocks Liao dedicates to writing, podcast appearances, and club sets. 

“I give myself a very strict schedule because, you know, it’s manic,” she says, even blocking off time for morning coffee and lunch with friends. “So I’m going to try to keep that going in my solo comedy schedule.”

Always Have an Agenda

In every Netflix meeting, Liao went in with an agenda: “Here's what we're going to discuss today. Let's make this meeting productive.”

So why not bring that goal-setting mindset to comedy sets? Rather than hitting the stage and winging it, “I want every set to be productive,” Liao says. “I have an agenda with bullet points of what I want to talk about, what I want to achieve, what I want to walk away with. I totally do that with my shows.”

Develop a System of Incentives

If you didn’t get it already, discipline is a big key to Liao’s success. But what happens when self-discipline isn’t enough? “I torture myself and punish myself,” she admits. On the other hand, “I give myself little rewards if I do something well.”

Find a Mentor

Liao didn’t have established comics in her life who took her under their wing, but she’s found comedy spirit guides nonetheless. “I took a stand-up writing class years ago when I started, and the instructor totally became a mentor person. He taught us fundamentals of how to structure jokes and always gave advice. I would have a weird college gig and be like, ‘Who can I talk to about how awful that was?’ So I would call him. He was like a stand-up shaman. And he wasn't a comic, which was weirdly helpful.”

Peer mentors are another part of the equation. “There's a ton of other comics from that class that I bonded with,” she says. “Your fellow comics take a a weird mentor role, like you complain together and ask questions like, ‘Did this happen to you too? Is this normal?’ I find it very comforting having comic friends to do that with.”


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