“There is no I in TEAM.” We all know the phrase and exactly what it means; don’t be motivated to be the star. Yet, in some situations there are those individuals who are team players that still manage to get noticed. Monika Smith is one such individual. Although she has spent her entire life being part of a group, she has carved out a very unique career for herself. As a successful model, improv comedian, and actress, she has established herself in Hollywood as a “go to” actress with the skill, looks, and intense work ethic to make any role believable. It is ironic that by spending her entire life aspiring to be part of an ensemble she has become the most memorable person in any group. In a conversation with Smith, she continually directs the praise to those she has worked with and often refers to influences that are ensemble players. Actors frequently use the word generous to describe those acting partners whom enable them to explore creativity and enhance the scene with honesty. If this is the acting benchmark, it seems that being a generous person has resulted in Smith becoming one of Hollywood’s most noticed comedic actresses.
As a young girl, Monika was always pulled towards comedy. It was always the edgy and experimental forms that gained her attention, such as Saturday Night Live and Canada’s own Kids in the Hall. From an early age, Smith knew that she wanted to act and that comedy was the correct expression of that desire. Years later Monika would work with Cheri Oteri (SNL) and Kevin McDonald (Kids in the Hall) while being one of the stars of TBS’s Who Gets the Last Laugh. Smith states that she considers it an important personal achievement, “Making Cheri and Kevin laugh so much was a very gratifying moment for me. When someone who has had such impact on you from a very young age proceeds to give you such compliments and praise about how funny you are it is almost unbelievable.”
Before devoting her life to acting and comedy, Smith had a bright future with both the Ford and Elite modeling agencies. Working as an international model may have been lucrative and enticing for a young girl but she soon realized that denying her true passion of comedic acting would only serve to frustrate her. Charging forward, she began to work with the Second City Touring Company in Toronto. Soon realizing that Los Angeles held even greater opportunities for someone who is driven, she relocated and began working with the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) as well as Second City and Nerdist. Improv sketch comedy was instinctual for her and it wasn’t long before she was teaching at these sketch comedy institutions, including travelling to China to help start their first long form improv school and direct their first show. Second City and UCB have given us some of the most important and recognizable names in comedy including; Bill Murray, Tina Fey, John Candy, Amy Poehler, Adam McKay, among others. Smith confirms that her time with these groups taught her one of the cornerstones of improv sketch comedy. She states, “I think the most important skill I learned from improv is ‘yes-ing’ your partner and what they say to you. It’s a wonderful thing to trust another person implicitly and know that whatever they say I’ll add to and we’ll create something together. I have no idea how many improv scenes or shows I’ve done at this point, but all of them have been different and special.” This perspective and demeanor led to Monika’s starring roles of multiple seasons of shows like MTV’s Disaster Date and TBS’s Who Gets the Last Laugh. These type of shows required actors who were at the highest level of improv comedy. Nick Kriess (Who Gets the Last Laugh producer) comments, “Who Gets the Last Laugh? was a hit due in large part to Monika’s extensive improv background. Monika has managed to make a strong career out of her fantastic comedic sensibilities and her amazing way of always knowing the best direction to take a scene in no matter what is thrown her way.” Joel Zimmer (Disaster Date producer) adds, “There was no possible way that Disaster Date would work without Monika taking control. The show called for Monika to play her character for hours at a time. There were no cuts like a normal production. Only an actor with an abundance of improv talent like Monika could convince unsuspecting contestants that this was a real date and that she was a real person.”
While becoming established as one of LA’s most in demand comedy improv actors, Smith has also directed her career path towards film and television. Adult Swim’s Newsreaders, The Tonight Show, and even Funny or Die (which garnered Smith a best actress award at the 48 Hour Film Festival for ‘Les Douchbags Horribles’) have all made use of Monika’s exceptional talent, among many others. Actress Brea Grant (Friday Night Lights, Heroes, Dexter) is one of the many highly notable actresses who recognize Smith’s abilities and presence. Grant comments, “Monika Smith is one of the best improvisers in Los Angeles right now. She has worked very hard to hone her skills and is both a great teacher and performer. I love working with her because she is always professional and hilarious but also really supports and lifts up anyone who she is working with. She is a comedian to watch as she will be huge in the next few years.”
Most recently, Monika has been known to viewers as Sylvia on the STARZ series Blunt Talk. Playing a porn star involved with Adrian Scarborough (Gosford Park, The King’s Speech)’s character and acting in scenes with luminaries like Patrick Stewart (the star of Blunt Talk), she brings an endearing side to her character’s provocative profession. The ensemble cast could easily be intimidating for any actor but Smith seems to handle herself with the same confidence and comfort she has exhibited in so many less scripted venues. Duncan Birmingham (writer/producer for Blunt Talk) declares, “Monika is one of the best actors I have worked with during my illustrious career. I have worked with the likes of the tremendously gifted, Oscar nominated director David Fincher, and currently, the legendary Patrick Stewart (who was nominated for a Golden Globe for Blunt Talk), but Monika holds her ground with those luminaries with ease.” Smith’s performances became so successful that her role, which was added part way through season one, was added to the second season of Blunt Talk.
Monika Smith’s story is literally the Hollywood Dream. A small girl from another country, with stars in her eyes, works hard to become a peer to the gifted creative individuals who inspired her. With self determination, hard work, and a large dose of talent, Smith has created the situations that have led to her success while constantly challenging herself to evolve. Part of what makes it so endearing is that she is constantly focusing on the opportunity to place focus on the talented professionals with whom she is surrounded. As the arc of her career continues to ascend, it will be exciting to see the new challenges that she will undoubtedly take on.