Undercover prankster | Work of Arts
Undercover prankster | Work of Arts

Undercover prankster

As the host of a popular comedy TV show, Arts alumna Lisa Gilroy uses her improv and drama skills to prank unsuspecting students

“Everything in the acting world is a longshot,” says Lisa Gilroy (’14 BA/BEd, Drama), host of the popular YTV program Undercover High. The new graduate was busy applying to the Edmonton School Board when news of a nation-wide casting call broke. “I didn’t really think the acting portion of my degree was possible,” she says. “I was ready to teach drama and have that be my career.”

But life had other plans. The effusive former camp counselor and drama geek won over the producers with her audition — filmed on an iPhone — and within days she was packing her bags for Toronto. “I’d love to sit down with new graduates and say ‘this is how you get to where I am,’ but honestly I don’t even know how it happened,” laughs Gilroy.

Lisa Gilroy tarantula

The premise of Undercover High is straightforward: at the behest of their teachers, outrageous pranks are visited upon unsuspecting students in classrooms across Ontario. The comic format and snappy interplay of Undercover High are a natural fit for Gilroy, long active in the improvisational (improv) theatre and Fringe scene in Edmonton. “Some parts of it are my natural personality, who I am, and what I’m naturally inclined towards, and the rest is definitely training.”

As a drama major, Gilroy studied everything from production to playwriting, and credits her teachers for helping her develop the versatility and confidence that would eventually make the transition from stage to television possible. “Every single teacher had a different idea, a different strategy or approach,” says Gilroy. “We did such crazy stuff in those classes! It just expands everything you know about what it means to have confidence, to trust yourself and your impulses. My personality is what brought me to drama, but then, studying drama has also had a huge influence on my personality.

“Lessons that have transferred amazingly well to real life,” she adds.

“My personality is what brought me to drama, but then, studying drama has also had a huge influence on my personality.”

Intent on honing her skills in playwriting and improv, Gilroy has been taking classes at the famed Second City in Toronto. Second City is the largest school of improv and sketch comedy in the world, with branches in Chicago, Toronto and Hollywood. “I feel totally in my element,” she says.

Lisa Gilroy lockers

“I really want to make people laugh. I love writing. I’m learning to write sketches. It’s funny — only one of the five plays that I had produced in Edmonton was a drama, the rest were all comedies in one sense or the other,” laughs Gilroy. “I don’t know what that means for me in the future, whether it’s hosting, or the stage, or whether it’s on TV — or whatever it is! I really don’t know what’s next.”

The trajectory of her career may be atypical, but as Gilroy observes, you don’t have to wait around for opportunity to strike. “I wouldn’t have made the move (to Toronto) if I didn’t have a job, but I’ve met a lot of people who have just stepped into it, and been so courageous and are finding work. It’s a combination of passion to do what you want to do and also your education backing you up. You can do it!”

New episodes of Undercover High are playing throughout October and November on YTV.

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