Comedian and YouTube Star Grace Helbig Shares Why She Loves Tina Fey, Dealing With the Haters and When to Leave
Editor’s note: Builders Series features no-holds-barred in-depth interviews with female leaders in different industries to give you insight into what successful women have done to push through feeling stuck, frustrated and uncreative in order to build incredible brands and businesses.
Grace Helbig is a comedian, YouTube personality, actress, producer and New York Times bestselling author. She is one busy lady, which is why I was thrilled that she took the time to sit down with me at last year’s Cannes Lions festival to discuss everything that she’s built.
I feel like "real" and "down-to-earth" are descriptors that we throw around when it comes to celebrities, but it comes across in everything that Grace does -- and it certainly came through in our conversation. Dive into my interview with Grace Helbig below to get the full scoop on the highs and lows of her journey and where she’s going next.
What have you built, and what inspired you to build it?
I have built a brand that I feel really proud of. I've built a comedy brand for myself that is one, really satisfying and fulfilling personally, and two, has been able to cultivate this young female audience that's hungry for knowledge, information and entertainment. It's been really wonderful to watch it grow across platforms.
Were you born a builder, or did you have to learn to be one?
A bit of both. I've always had an appetite for creating in some capacity. Even if it was just putting mosaic tiles on a mirror, I was constantly making something. My dad was an insane workaholic, and watching his work ethic gave me a lot of motivation. I've also met some really inspiring females that are hungry for their creative passions, and that's been a real driving force.
Who was the first woman you looked up to, and why did you want to be like her?
Tina Fey. When I was starting in comedy, she was starting to be more in front of the camera on Saturday Night Live and she was becoming this very powerful female writer and performer. Especially in such a male-dominated environment, which can be so intimidating, she seemed so strong and fearless. I always say "Follow your fear," and she embodied that so much.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?
Back in 2013, I left a company that I had been with for four years. I had built a brand within that company, but I didn't own it. I was in a bad contractual situation. I took a risk and left, hoping the audience I had cultivated online would follow me and not the name of the series that I had built. It worked out really well, actually. It was a big risk but ultimately had big rewards.
When have you broken down, personally or professionally? How did you break through?
There's a lot of ebb and flow in being creative, especially in this world of digital content. You can only be independently creative for so long until your brain burns out. The most important thing for me is having open conversations with my friends. Feeling camaraderie and seeing that they also felt that way gave me a lot of power to say to myself, "It's ok to be tired and ok to take a break."
My friend Mamrie gave me the best piece of advice ever: "You're outputting more than you're inputting, so you need to take a second and stop pouring things into the world, and instead do something that inspires you creatively, whether that is travel, TV, movies, playing with your dog." Do things in the world that provide experiences that provide future output.
What makes you doubt yourself, and how do you manage it?
It's easy to doubt yourself when you're an online entertainer. The wonderful and terrible thing about the internet is that the conversations can be two-way. People can leave comments on everything and really break you down in every aspect of your physical form and your opinions. Thankfully, I have this wonderful lens of comedy that can defuse anything that feels too hurtful.
How do you know when to leave someone or something?
It's about sitting with yourself and asking, "Is this making me better or happier?" If it's not doing either, then you have to leave it. I used to be of the mindset that I can make anything work, and I only recently realized that it's ok to walk away from things. It's about being honest with yourself. What helps, too, is having people that you can have an open dialogue with to get a perspective on things you may be subconsciously shielding yourself from.
When was your bravest moment? How do you practice being brave?
I once had the opportunity to take a level one improv class. I was so afraid of that. I've come to learn if you're afraid of something, it means you care about it, whether good or bad, and it's best to investigate that. So, I took the level one class, and I fell in love with it. It's really shaped me as a human.
Knowing what you know now, was it worth it?
Absolutely! Everything was worth it. My mom is a very spiritual person and very much believes that everything happens for a reason and is endlessly optimistic. I've picked up a lot from her. Things happen as they should, because better things could be coming along. Everything is going to be ok no matter what.
What can you see yourself building next?
I see myself continuing to build off the brand that I have and figuring out the most creative, exciting things I can do with it. When I first started making videos, no one I knew was really doing that. That's what made it really exciting. Now I'm trying to figure out what else no one is doing that is equally as exciting. I haven't totally figured it out yet, but I'm on the path.