Can you explain a little about your path since graduating from UWC-USA in 2005? How did you end up in Los Angeles working as a writer and comedian?
My whole life was leading me towards becoming a comedian, but there were two specific moments at UWC-USA that helped me actually pursue it as a profession. The first was all my theater classes with Tim Crofton and my English classes with Hannah Tyson. They both introduced me to a whole world of art that I’d never seen before or even knew was possible. We didn’t have TV growing up for much of my life and it was in Tim’s class that I heard and saw improv for the first time, and it was a classmate named Ben who showed me Jon Stewart hosting The Daily Show on his laptop, introducing me to the man who would later become my boss. Another pivotal moment for me was writing and directing some material for the North American Day show. I wrote a sketch about George Bush and John Kerry and the next day a couple of teachers expressed how powerful and funny it was. That’s when I started to wonder if I could pursue writing and performing seriously; but a lot of fear was still holding me back.
Your first book will be published in the spring of 2023. Are there motifs in your book that echo your UWC-USA experience in some way?
Well thank you for saying my FIRST! I do mention my time at UWC-USA in the book and I think a possible motif is how much the community you build around you is the key to everything, the big things, the small things, any amount of success and true happiness will come from your community, not from outsiders — that’s something I wish I had invested more time into when I was in Montezuma.
You are meeting with great success in the entertainment industry in LA, an environment that is very challenging, crowded, and (maybe) hostile. How have you become so successful? What did you learn at UWC-USA that helped set you up for this success?
Oh it’s definitely hostile! My particular profession is cruel, unfair, and favors the privileged and already-famous. In the world of TV and Film the output and hard work someone puts in often doesn’t match up with the outcomes, and that’s a crazy maker. Being at UWC-USA was the first time I was ever around students who truly worked hard for really big goals and dreams that I had previously thought were impossible, or just for rich people. Watching my classmates pursue their dreams with such a ferocity, often with massive obstacles in front of them, taught me how to pursue mine.
How do you use creativity and comedy to comment on the shortcomings of our world? Therapists say that one of the best ways to heal trauma is to make meaning from it, and making comedy and art that has a greater message has done that for me in many ways. Funnily enough, the key to my comedy and a lot of great social and political satire, is anger and pain. To have a point of view and to say something that matters you have to feel passionately about the injustice, and UWC-USA introduced me to a lot of global injustices. Pain and anger can be such a corrosive burden to carry, and those emotions are often looked down upon in women especially, so to be able to take those feelings and use them in a productive way to create laughter has been my own miracle maker.
Is there an anecdote or brief incident from your time in Montezuma that captures or distills the UWC-USA experience for you?
To be honest, I always felt like I didn’t use my time at UWC well, and wished I had a second chance to go back and make more of the experience and make more friends. I want to share that here in case any students are reading this. I recently had the chance to connect with some former classmates, who I was never close with, and over the course of our conversation realized that many of us felt the same. Being a teenager, away from home, carrying whatever baggage you may have come in with, attempting to make more of your life and better the world can be quite a lot, and at times too much! But now I can look back and know that even in the ways I thought I fell short, I was doing my best, and to simply be at that school, existing and remaining open is enough, and a success. UWC-USA saved my spirit, and sent me down a path to build a life I was proud of.
Chelsea Devantez ‘05 is an Emmy-nominated writer, comedian, director, and actor. She was the head writer for The Problem with Jon Stewart which she left to work with 20th Century Fox to develop a number of her own TV shows. Her first book will be published next spring and she also hosts the very popular podcast: Celebrity Book Club with Chelsea Devantez.