When your heart’s not into something, it doesn’t matter how lucrative or practical a path it may be, you’ll never succeed if something else is tugging at you. Robin Siegel Lakin has twice tried to lean into a conventional career when all along she knew she belonged on stage.
As a young teen, the Brooklyn native spent her weekends trekking into New York City to study acting at the Strasberg Theatre. When she wasn’t in class she was auditioning. She landed parts for AT&T, Maxwell House, Hardees, and more. “I had a great agent early on and so I got steady work. I even did a couple of spots on soap operas. I loved it.”
It was a bit surprising, then, that at 18 she decided she should go to college and major in accounting. Guess how long that lasted?
“I stayed in college for one year. What can I say? I was very good at math and science, and so I thought it would be good to have a practical skill to fall back on. But I missed acting.”
Back in the city, now living on her own, Lakin continued to secure regular gigs, and in a few years made her way out to sunny LA with dreams of big things happening.
Lakin’s LA life was exciting. She lived in an old Hollywood complex of cottages where James Cagney had once lived while starting out in “the business” and she was surrounded by others dreaming of making their mark. Everyone around her defined themselves by how many degrees they were from a star. The complex manager was Marlon Brando’s old secretary, she took the apartment from a former star of the Flip Wilson show, and Lakin herself got hired to teach roller skating at Janet Jackson’s birthday party. That was fun, but it wasn’t why she came out to LA.
“I really felt like I was a born to act. It was very fulfilling to me and I had the emotional instrument to do it.”
Lakin had gotten close to securing gigs, but after three years had never actually gotten one. “I felt like my window of opportunity was closing and I missed New York.”
Lakin’s practical side told her to pack up, head back to NYC where she still had an apartment (sublet by a friend) and march herself over to Hunter College where she could complete her college education for just $33 a credit.
“I met with an advisor and said, ‘I only have one year of college but I want to go to medical school’. Medical schools were interested in people with diverse backgrounds, and that was certainly what I could offer.”
In three years, Lakin walked out with straight A’s and an acceptance letter to NY’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She met her future husband and was married and pregnant by the end of her first year. But just like her first go around at college, it was already clear to her this wasn’t meant to be.
“I hated it. Hated it. Hated it,” says Lakin. “My husband kept saying, ‘just finish and get the degree and then decide’, but I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor.”
And then, in the middle of med school, Lakin had her second baby, born 12 weeks premature. He died at five weeks old, never having left the NICU. A devastated Lakin went to the head of the medical school and declared she was leaving, but he convinced her to take a year off, continue to live in campus housing with her family, and come back the following year. She did, but her own experience as a patient in the hospital following the birth of her son cemented the belief that it wasn’t the place for her. “The residents treating me were almost babies themselves. They were so young and yet I could see the arrogance building because they were doctors.”
Lakin pushed through, earning that medical degree that her husband said she might want to use some day. It turns out she did use it. “I hung it on the wall. It’s the most expensive piece of artwork in my house.”
In the ensuing years, Lakin focused on raising her three children. But three years ago when her youngest was enrolling in college, she started flipping through the course catalog and thought maybe she should take a class. She ended up taking a comedy class at Caroline’s in New York City. From the minute she got back on stage, she knew it was where she belonged after all.
“It felt amazing to be back on stage after all these years. And it felt even better being part of a creative community again! My son is an actor, so as a mom I got to nurture and support his talent and career ambitions, and seeing the pure joy and love of acting he had inspired me to restart my own career. It’s never too late!!”
And as it turned out, restarting her career as a performer was a cinch. After her class at Caroline’s with “comedy God” Linda Smith, she continued to take classes and started pushing herself to do open mic nights around New York City. “Linda is an amazing teacher and was a great support to me. Then I found Gladys Simon, another comedy god, at the Comic Street. She runs an amazing room and supports new comics. Linda and Gladys were both a source of strength to me.”
While there’s no predetermined path in comedy, Lakin is thankful for all the comics she’s met along the way who have helped her. “It’s a snowball effect. I now do all kinds of shows, from paid road gigs to charity events.”
Perhaps her biggest “get” so far was when a booker recommended her to the Wendy Williams show for their “man on the street” segments. She has now shot six shows.
She’s not taking any more detours – to accounting, medicine, or any other practical career. The now 59-year-old knows she’s finally where she belongs. Did you hear the one about the doctor that became a comedian? That’s no joke!
- Love what you do! And only do it if you really love it and are willing to sacrifice.
- Find a support network of other comics on your level. You can run jokes by each other, network and have each other’s backs.
- Write, write, write. The best comics write all the time.