how i get it done

Ana Fabrega Was Supposed to Work in Finance, Not Comedy

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Arin Sang-Urai

Ana Fabrega never expected to pursue a career in comedy. After graduating from Fordham University with an economics degree in 2013, she went to work for a credit-risk-management company and began performing at the occasional open-mic night for fun. “I would write a lot and make videos in college but keep them private,” she recalls. “At the time, I was like, I don’t want to be applying for a job at a bank and they Google me and find a video of me acting foolish. … When I started performing live, I was like, Oh, I can show people the things I make and not worry so much about what my boss is gonna think.

While her boss was supportive and even allowed her to work part time when she started booking enough stand-up gigs that it interfered with her day job, Fabrega eventually resigned and found her true calling as an actor, writer, and comedian. She cut her teeth on Portlandia, At Home With Amy Sedaris, and The Chris Gethard Show before co-creating Los Espookys with Saturday Night Live alums Fred Armisen and Julio Torres.

Three years after its critically acclaimed freshman run, the absurdist HBO comedy, which centers around an eccentric group of friends who turn their love of horror into a business creating the illusion of supernatural events for various clients, has returned to conjure up a number of new thrills and chills. Fabrega plays Tati, the group’s endearingly naïve test subject who works a variety of odd jobs. “It’s just so fun to play a character where she’s a funnel for any joke that I want to play with,” Fabrega says. “It’s so easy to just dump whatever is making me laugh into Tati and make it work. I really love playing people that lack self-awareness.”

Below, Fabrega, who lives in New York City, shares how she gets it done.

On her morning routine:
I usually wake up at six or 6:30. I’ll make coffee, I’ll write a little bit, then I’ll go for a run. After I shower, I’ll eat breakfast: oatmeal with banana and pea protein. When we were in production, I would wake up as early as I needed to get a run in before we started. Some days we’d start at 7 a.m., some days we’d start at 10 a.m., so it varied and also depended on how long I was trying to run. I had my running routine laid out in a way where Sundays were like a prep day, so I wasn’t actually going to be on set, and I wouldn’t start working until later, so I could plan my long run on those days.

On creating a show that is principally performed in Spanish and celebrates Latin American cultures:
We’re portraying Latinx people, and they speak Spanish. If the show was set in Germany, they would speak German there. The cultural references were things that just kind of organically wound up in the show because of our backgrounds. It wasn’t like we set out with the intention of displaying the culture of different places that we’re from. It just naturally came out.

When Fred pitched it to HBO, he wanted to make a show in Spanish, and they were onboard with that, so there was no push back from them about “Oh, too much is in Spanish.” We were really like, “Let us make the show that we wanted to make,” which I’m very grateful for, and we wrote it with no particular target audience in mind. On the one hand, you could say, sure, it’s for people who speak Spanish, but also the sense of humor is so specific that just because you speak Spanish doesn’t mean you’re going to like it. I’m really happy that the show did find the audience it did.

On the challenges of losing meaning in translation:
There are certain expressions that you just can’t translate or certain ways that you can play with the language in Spanish that you can’t quite in English — and vice versa. So there are certain dialogues where we would have to take creative liberties, where if someone who’s bilingual watched, they would see, Oh, okay, the actor is saying X, but the subtitle says Y. But I understand why you had to do that. There were times where, instead of the words, we would translate the intention. “Emotionally, what is he getting at by saying this?” And then we’d make that the subtitles.

On the importance of asking for help when you need it:
When we went back to shoot the second season of Los Espookys at the beginning of this year, our director of the first four episodes, Sebastián Silva, had COVID, and there was suddenly this fear of Uh-oh, what if he’s still testing positive and he can’t be here? That means Julio or I will have to direct. I was stressed: Oh my gosh, it’s gonna be our first day of shooting, I have the most dialogue, I haven’t been speaking Spanish much, and I need time to get back into the rhythm of it. But I had said I would do it, so I was feeling overwhelmed.

I reached out to Julio and was like, “Hey, I actually think this is too much for me. Would you mind taking these days if Sebastián can’t make it?” He was like, “Yeah, sure!” Ultimately, Sebastián was able to come and do it, but there was this moment of I took on too much. What helped me get over it was being like, Oh, yeah, it’s okay to ask for support. That’s what your collaborators are there for. If anything, that’s what I run into the most — this feeling of I’m putting too much on my plate and then having to take a step back and be honest with whoever and either ask for help or say, “Actually, this is too much for me right now.”

On her creative process:
Oftentimes I’ll sit down and start freewriting with no plan in mind. As I’m going along, I’ll find the joke or find something that’s fun to me. But it is a free-flowing process. I’m not the type of writer that’s like, All right, from noon to 5 p.m., I’m gonna sit at my desk, and I’m gonna write no matter how good or bad. I don’t enjoy writing if I treat it like that. I have to just let it be something that’s fun.

On the advice she’d give to rising comedians:
Make things and meet people you like and want to work with. I feel like such a big part of it is collaborating and getting to know people. I really wouldn’t encourage anyone to go into it like, How do I get reps? How do I get famous? How do I get more followers? It’s not going to be fun if that’s all you’re focused on. You should be doing it because you enjoy it. Just go out and meet people and don’t worry about trying to get things, because it’ll happen organically. If you try to force that, you’re just going to feel disappointed and frustrated that it’s not happening as fast as you’d like it to.

On dealing with criticism:
I just don’t read it. I don’t look at notifications from people I don’t know on social media. I only see things from my friends and people I follow. I don’t need to know that someone I don’t know and will never meet doesn’t like me. Sure, I’ll see positive press sometimes that someone will send me, but I don’t want to go looking and find the bad stuff so that I can feel bad about myself. I’m not devastated that the entire world doesn’t love what I do and get it, and I remind myself that if I like it and I feel good about it, that’s what’s important.

On imposter syndrome:
There are times where I’ll be like, Oh my God, are people gonna realize how stupid I act? And I know that it sounds funny, but I do sometimes have this feeling of, like, Oh, I’m not like a trained writer. They’re gonna find out. I’m gonna get caught. But then I’m like, Wait, no, that’s fine. I’ve come to this in my own way. I’ll definitely go through periods of time where I don’t feel creative or I’m not writing enough, and I just remind myself that it comes in waves, and sometimes I’ll have those down periods, and eventually I’ll get excited again.

On how she manages stress:
Running is a huge de-stressor for me. It helps me so much mentally. It’s my time to be alone and meditate and not be thinking about anything. I’m just with my body. There’s no music; there’s no nothing. It’s just me and my breath and my steps. And the days that I don’t run or I can’t run for some reason, I definitely feel myself lacking that type of outlet.

On her nighttime routine:
I tend to go to bed pretty early, like around nine. I floss, I brush my teeth, I wash my face, I put on my skin-care products — I do the whole thing. Sometimes I’ll put on a mask and wait 20 minutes for that. Just because I realized how much it affects my sleep, I don’t look at my phone for at least 30 minutes before I go to bed. I’ll put my phone somewhere not near me, usually in another room, and I use the half hour or so before I go to sleep to read or do a meditation or write a little bit. Then I’m asleep by ten or 10:30 every night.

Ana Fabrega Was Supposed to Work in Finance, Not Comedy