Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Miami, Rebecca Delgado Smith started acting when she was 10 years old. She says she was always drawn to comedic roles, even when she enrolled in New York University and studied at the Atlantic Theater Company Acting School. While at NYU, she became friends with Jen Curran, Clayton Early, Faryn Einhorn, Katie Larsen, Adam Lustick, Billy Scafuri, Sara Taylor, and Chris Smith, a group of fellow actors who would go on to form the award-winning Harvard Sailing Team sketch comedy troupe in New York City.
"The biggest lesson I've learned writing and performing with [Harvard Sailing Team] is collaboration," Smith says. "When you have nine people with different personalities and opinions trying to put up one sketch, you learn how to build on an idea in a positive manner. I think our comedic voice comes from being great friends for such a long time. We know each other so well, it's scary. There's a familial element that comes out in our style that I believe is very unique. We really enjoy each others' company, even when we want to kill each other."
After earning notoriety as a team, HST's members are now finding individual success. Smith had a successful pilot season in L.A. this year when she was cast in the half-hour comedy "How to Live With Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life," starring Sarah Chalke. She also continues to tour with Harvard Sailing Team – which will perform Tuesday, July 17 at Largo in L.A. – and as a duo with her husband, HST's Chris Smith.
Read our Back Stage Q&A with Rebecca Delgado Smith:
Do you remember your first time performing on stage? What made you want to turn comedy into a career?
Rebecca Delgado Smith: The first time I performed on stage was at a community theater in Miami. I played Elf #1 in the Spanish children's play "La Cigarra y las Hormigas" ("The Cricket and the Ants"). I had terrible stage fright, so my dad, who is not an actor, accepted the role of the "Lawyer Rabbit" so that I would feel comfortable on stage.
I started pursuing comedy after college because it was the most accessible to me. I was intent on starting my own theater company, but renting a theater and putting up Off-Off-Broadway productions can be extremely costly. I realized that if we wrote our own material we could perform it at different comedy venues, for free! So, along with HST, we started putting together shows and inviting all of our friends and family. I felt like I had won the lottery when I realized this NYC performance loophole.
You were cast in the pilot for "How to Live With Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life," but you won't be continuing with the series. Can you describe the pilot season audition process and your feelings when you found out that that you won't be on the show?
Smith: My best audition experience was during this pilot season when I was up for "How to Live." I had heard horror stories about the testing process, but the team behind the pilot was very supportive. They were all warm and very interested in what I had to bring to the character. Plus, I got to read with Sarah Chalke during my test, who is one of the nicest people out there.
The whole "How to Live" process was a really positive experience and it all happened really fast. My first audition was on a Friday, my callback was later that same day, my producers session was Monday, and my test was Tuesday. I found out I got the part that Friday, so from my first audition to finding out I got the role was one week. Then came the whirlwind of the table read and shooting the pilot. Of course, that was the most fun.
When I found out my role was being changed for the series, I was sad but felt very at peace. It's part of the process and if I could go back and do it all over again, I wouldn't do anything differently. When it comes to "the business" I try to focus on the things that I actually have control over, like my preparation, getting enough sleep, my outfit – seriously, think about your outfits – and I don't worry about the other variables.
Was it always your goal to be on a TV series?
Smith: Yes, I've always wanted to be on a comedy series. Coming from a theater background, I feel like it allows me to have the best of both worlds. Every week I get to perform my character, yet there's always a new journey it goes on. I also enjoy the sense of community that being in a comedy series creates.
Who are your comedic influences? And how do you describe your writing and performance style?
Smith: Some of my big comedic influences are Billy Wilder ("The Apartment," "Some Like it Hot"), "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," Maya Rudolph, and pop country music.
I listen to the pop country station while driving in L.A. It's like my favorite comedy podcast because I can't believe the things they're singing about! They have no problem talking about the little things in life in a grandiose way, and that makes for some really funny songs, like "I Want You to Love Me Like My Dog Does."
I would describe my writing and performance style as grounded. Not to say that I don't like absurd, over-the-top comedy, just as long as it's rooted in reality. I'm also a sucker for romantic comedies.
Where can comedy fans see you perform most regularly?
Smith: Harvard Sailing Team now performs bi-coastally, usually at The PIT when in NYC, and our latest show in L.A. was at Largo. Now that we are split between New York and L.A., we are focusing as a team on writing and development opportunities. Of course, performing together is what we enjoy the most, so we make our almost monthly shows a priority.
My husband Chris Smith [who is also a member of Harvard Sailing Team] and I also perform a two-person sketch show as "The New York Smiths." Our brand new show, "Speed Dating," goes up Thursday, July 26 at 8 p.m. at the UCB Theatre in L.A.
Follow @SmithRebe on Twitter.
Read more about Smith and the rest of Back Stage's "10 Comics to Watch" in 2012.