It is one of the greatest compliments and personal treats for any entertainment journalist when talent gives a private performance for him or her. During her recent Q&A with Working Author Danielle Kasen reenacted a small portion of The Vagina Monologues to cap off the interview and while the show has been around for some time, Kasen’s performance left a lasting impression. The ease with which she slips into her character and how completely the new persona fills her form is startling. Listening to the recorded playback one could easily think that another person walked into the interview, pushed Kasen out of the way and started talking about her own nether regions. Ready to perform at a moment’s notice and with energy so bountiful it’s almost overwhelming, Danielle Kasen sat down with Working Author to discuss her history and current projects over salad and panini sandwiches.
If she had to pick a day that marked her beginning as a performer, it would be her first birthday. “According to my father,” Kasen recounts, “when I turned one year old…apparently I was actually singing Happy Birthday and my father said, ‘I think we’re in trouble here.’” Ironically, it wasn’t her parents that inspired Kasen to pursue entertainment while she was growing up. “Great attention from my uncle and grandmother…they said I had a gift of gaining the attention of a room and I loved talking….” So with the support of various members of her family, bolstering her with encouraging comments, Kasen decided that entertainment was something she wanted to explore.
Yet her life almost took a very different path. In college, Kasen studied theater and political science, which seems like an odd combination to the layman. “To me they seem like the exact same thing,” Kasen explains. “Any artist [has] a message – painters, sculptors, dancers – there’s a message behind everything.” It was in college where Kasen discovered two more skills: directing and writing. Both discoveries were made through politics. When she was asked to direct The Vagina Monologues Kasen’s take was less about male-bashing and more about shining a light on a societal and systemic failure. When Kasen was assigned to write an essay arguing against capitalism, her paper was singled out by professors and she was asked to read it to the class. “I was supposed to go to law school,” she confesses, but after The Vagina Monologues Kasen decided that she couldn’t make a difference as an attorney, but could as a performer. “I know that what I do…will get the most attention and get people to think.”
Since then Kasen has quickly built a career of accomplishments and accolades, including choreographing and producing award-winning videos for Elle Magazine, booking national commercials, landing a guest role on One Life to Live, performing several times on New York stages and landing a lead role in the short film The Big Search, which screened at Sundance in 2009. With her belt quickly running out of room for more notches, Danielle Kasen decided it was finally time to move to Los Angeles. She packed her gear, including her black Labrador Guster, and drove across the country to California.
Once on the west coast, Kasen was booked to go on tour for the show called The Weenie Man-O-Logs, which was the male response to The Vagina Monologues and written and produced by Murray Langston, who Kasen describes as a “genius comedian”. The show toured in Honolulu, Hawaii. “All actors should really work under such awful working conditions,” Kasen jokes. After returning, she had been recommended to choreograph some music videos for Jay-Z and Kanye West, which later turned into choreographing and writing jokes for the MTV Movie Awards. Her writing caught the eye of Saturday Night Live and Danielle Kasen became one of six female writers that were brought on board in late 2009.
Currently, Kasen is part of several high-profile projects, including the hilarious Web series LOST at Da Jersey Shore where she plays the character Rousseau. “Since Rousseau is at the Jersey Shore…it’s more like ‘Rousseau – the drunken cracked out homeless woman,’” Kasen clarifies. As a capable voice actor, she was given the opportunity to record children’s audio books for Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass at the Audio Works studios in New York City. Starring in another Web series The Worst Generation led to her breakout role as Marcy in Drunk Talk – an avant-garde live show from the creators of Point Break Live! “The cast, writer and director are all exceptional,” Kasen says, “It feels like having a family and being back in NYC again. Every performance, the audience seems to love and they all seem to get hysterical, which makes the show such a rewarding experience.”
Danielle Kasen also recently joined the Cheap Shots Comedy sketch group – brought on by comic Bill Harvanek. “Love these guys!” she gushes, “Bill Harvanek is fantastic…. These guys are genius and it’s so my comedy, meaning it’s so simple and so hilarious.” One sketch is a spoof of Pay It Forward except instead of doing nice things for strangers, people do mean things. The concept is intuitively funny and requires almost no setup to enjoy. Another sketch revolving around a couple trying to get pregnant who visit the most absurd fertility clinic ever and the situation becomes a test of how much the couple is willing to put up with in order to have a child. The video was so popular it was picked up by the comedy Web site Funny or Die.
Those who meet Danielle Kasen for the first time can’t help but like her. She is perpetually upbeat, genuinely concerned about others and absolutely ravenous when it comes to her career. When asked what she does for a living she’s likely to reply “What’s today?” She writes, directs, acts, dances, choreographs, does standup comedy and pretty much anything else people find entertaining. “I don’t sleep,” she admits, “It’s hard…I’m always [wondering] what’s next? Did I forget something? My motto has always been ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’”
When that day finally comes, it’s obvious that Danielle Kasen will look back on a long and lustrous career and the world will have been happy to go along for the ride.