Photography by: Samuel Hanson
By: Zeke Hanson
It might actually be shorter to list the creative endeavors that Maxi Witrak doesn’t partake in.
“Horseback riding, competitively, was definitely a performance,” Witrak reflected. “That’s where I decided that I liked the feeling of being seen, and putting on a show, because that’s still what you’re doing is putting on a show for the crowd, and I loved it. I loved that other people saw it and that there was that element to it.”
She was a world champion equestrian. Still is, as those types of accolades ever go away.
That performance didn’t immediately spark a career path into the entertainment industry, though. It wasn’t even a blip on her radar when she went to college until she discovered TV and Film on her own terms.
“When I was choosing colleges, it was between USC and Johns Hopkins, and USC was glamorous and Cali, but if I had gone there I never would have started in TV and Film. I would have been too intimidated,” Maxi said. “I’d never gotten the chance to try it. I went to Johns Hopkins and suddenly it was this fun, nerdy hang out with the acting classes, and theater department and I’d never experienced that before. So many people had been theater kids, and that wasn’t me, so it was this whole new world there that I’d discovered. And it wasn’t until I was getting ready to graduate that I decided to actually go for it, and it was out of left field for everybody. Everyone I knew in the actual creative majors, ended up going on to be doctors and lawyers and scientists. It was a total switch.”
When you watch Maxi now, there’s nothing timid or even intimidatable (it’s a word, I looked) about her. She has a force that can’t be contained on stage. It is a naturally insatiable creative presence.
Which is why she isn’t just an actor. She is more than a comedian. Bigger than a musician.
She is truly and simply, a creative.
Honestly, and this goes back to the idea of limiting the word count by listing what she does not do, she writes, edits, directs, produces, acts, performs stand-up, and because she hails from Seattle and wants to do it right…she is also a drummer in a pop-punk band called Mik & Maxi.
Raised in Seattle, schooled in Baltimore, she moved to LA after the Film and TV schooling took hold.
“I moved to LA to act, and a year or two in, I was in a class and I was always drawn to the funny scenes and comedic characters and my teacher asked if I’d ever tried stand-up. I said I was too bashful to try it.”
All it took to step up to the proverbial microphone was to be stood up on what she thought was a date. “A personal trainer that I had a crush on was like, ‘hey, I’m going to an open mic, I heard you were thinking about getting into stand-up, you wanna come?’
And I was like, ‘sure,’ she laughed. “So, I went to three, thinking it was a date, and then… turns out it wasn’t. By the third one, watching his set, I was like, ‘well shit, I could do this.’
And then I found out how much I loved it.”
That’s how the insecurity went away…at least the part about walking fearlessly onto the stage.
“I think the hardest thing to go after is anything where I don’t feel I’ve done the work to prepare myself, because then I feel like I’ve let everyone down,” Witrak said. “Whereas if I come really satisfied with what I’ve prepared to bring, whatever it is, I feel a lot more free that no one is going to fault me for ruining their precious project or anything. So, I think just doing the work to where you feel comfortable is what helps me launch myself into these things.”
When she’s not performing, or on the road traveling to one of her many endeavors, Maxi also teaches spin class. “I know, when I’m taking a class, or even just getting motivation from someone, if it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from a real place in them, I know that it doesn’t really inspire me that much,” Maxie continued, “I much prefer people who are making jokes about the pitfalls of it and what sucks about it, and so I try to be as authentic as I can in the teaching. Not mean, but I have the information there for anyone who actually wants it, and some people… it’s kind of like The Matrix, they don’t want to know the realistic side, so I keep it glossy for them. And that’s just fine for them. But, I’m the same way whenever anyone asks for advice in comedy for instance. I kind of take the temperature of, are you asking because you really want to know and do something with it, or are you asking because you want a quick sound bite and you don’t really care?”
All of this gives her perspective on how advice can be received en masse. Witrak reflected on good and bad advice, “I think, recognizing who has good intentions and not, and listening to their feedback helps me get out of my head, where I’m going to say the worst things to myself about my set, or whatever it is, and having people on my side to tell me, ‘no, this was great, you did this well,’ and letting that in and actually receiving that is really helpful. I’m sure big celebrities have ‘yes men’ that tell them anything they want to hear, but I’m not that big where I have people lying to my face yet. So, if people are telling me that I’m doing okay, I try to believe them. I try to videotape my sets so I have objective proof of, ‘oh, that silence wasn’t as long as I thought it was.’ And I just try to get as objective about it as possible. That reassures me.”
Often, it can be easier to take a criticism than a compliment. But that can limit your growth.
You have to be able to keep a healthy perspective within your craft. It’s all a process.
Witrack says, “every person that I’ve talked to or made friends with who I view to be further along than I am, is always asking themselves the same questions, going through the same thing.” Witrak exclaimed, “it’s so comforting… it sucks to know that all these doubts persist, ‘oh, that’s what I have to look forward to!?,’ but just knowing that you’re not crazy and you’re not less-than, just because you’re experiencing that, makes it so much more reassuring… whatever level they’re at. And I realize that anyone that doesn’t admit to that, or admit to having those fears is trying to gaslight everyone. I don’t need that kind of person who’s pretending it’s easy just to make us feel badly. So, I really latch on to people who are willing to share the struggles they’ve encountered.”
Knowing that you aren’t alone is nice, but it doesn’t make the journey less daunting.
Everything comes with a cost, and it’s okay to walk into an early sunset. Maxi shares, “I think that not doing ‘it’, is an okay option.” In Maxi’s standup she has a bit about being an unmotivational spin instructor. She says, ‘maybe you can’t.’ “I think there’s a healthy-ness to that perspective too, ‘you know what, my ego doesn't have to be tied up in this.’ There's been several times where I’ve been like, ‘okay, I could leave standup and just be okay, just be a person.’ And knowing that’s in my back pocket, makes me care so much less about the bad days of it.”
No matter where you are, or what you are doing, there eventually comes the realization that you don’t know what you don’t know. Maxi has some strong advice for competing and idolizing people who you only see the shiny and polished parts of.
She says, “something I wish that I’d known earlier is that social media totally pumps up the image of what other people are doing without all the behind the scenes work. If you’re ever looking at someone and thinking ‘they’re where I want to be,’ just knowing that the only way to get there is through work. If you’re in a different city and you’re imagining, ‘man, if I just lived at that place, I’d have what they have,’ it’s not categorically untrue. I used to follow my favorite bands on tours thinking, ‘man, if I could just get close enough to the tour bus some of their magic would rub off on me,’ and that I’d have this more special, glittery life. I did that to death, and finally kind of let go of it, but now when I’m hanging with musician friends or I’m doing my own show and someone comes out after, who drove eight hours just to see it and it’s like the biggest thing of their weekend…I feel honored. I also feel like telling them, ‘look, none of it’s gonna rub off on you. You have to make that magic for yourself and go get it. You deserve it and you can make it happen, but it’s not going to happen just by being around the people that you view as glitzy or buzzing with magic. That doesn’t matter. The work will get you there.’ Which is not a nice answer, because no one wants to have to work more.”
It’s the truth.
The world is filled with wishers, dreamers, and yes men. But there are also a lot of doers out there. Maxi is one of them.
Her website is maxiwitrak.com