On a recent afternoon, between read-throughs at a Nickelodeon studio in Hollywood, Jennette McCurdy balances two worlds. The first: Her role on the kiddie sitcom Sam and Cat – she plays Sam Puckett, formerly of the network's hit iCarly, to which the 21-year-old actress owes seven years of steady work, the adoration of tweens everywhere and awkward brushes with aggressive parents (“They scream at you”).
The second: Comedy writing. McCurdy's informal joke portfolio, updated daily, is social media catnip (she has 5 million Twitter followers and 9.5 million “likes” on Facebook).
During a five-minute break, an idea strikes. The petite blonde recalls a line from a Harry Potter movie, ducks into her dressing room (which has “Poop like a champion today” taped to the door) and grabs her iPhone. In a goofy British accent, she addresses the camera: “You must choose between what is right – and what is easy.”
Pause. Eye roll.
“What's easy,” McCurdy deadpans.
She uploads the quickie creation to video-sharing app Vine and hustles back to the set. Within hours, 4,000 fans repost it.
“I'm not saying someone else's words – that's coming solely from me,” McCurdy says of her side grind. “My dream is to be on a writing staff for a sitcom. To sit in a room with a lot of well-rounded, funny people and just talk about things.”
See also: Our interview with Jenna Marbles
To prepare, McCurdy carries a green notebook – now nearly filled with jokes in her neat cursive. (“Why do people always brag about being in lots of relationships? Congratulations on being unsuccessful.”) She keeps another at home in Studio City, by her bed. She writes sitcom pilots, a weekly romance column for Seventeen and a monthly pop culture essay for the Wall Street Journal. (Sample topics: “Do I look fat in this article?” and “I was a teenage hashtag.”)
“It's a lifestyle,” she says. “It's something I'm always thinking about.”
The actress intensified this routine last year after her mother and best friend, Debra McCurdy, died from breast cancer. “To get through it, I lived in sitcom-land,” she says. “I thought, these people go through tragedy and are able to make light of it. It was what I had to do to survive.”
She attends two or three comedy shows each week; her L.A. favorites are ASSSSCAT, Shitty Jobs and “anything with the Groundlings.” “My friends tell me I don't laugh,” she says. “Not because I don't think it's funny! I just sit there analyzing the material.”
McCurdy's web persona only grows as her child-star image fades. (Sam and Cat is on hiatus.) Earlier this year, she found herself part of a celebrity couple of sorts. No sticky-sweet teen idol for this girl; McCurdy's boyfriend was Detroit Pistons forward Andre Drummond, and the relationship sparked when Drummond set off a social media frenzy by hashtagging McCurdy as his “Woman Crush Wednesday.”
They've since broken up, and in March, the actress handled her first real scandal. After someone leaked private photos of McCurdy in lingerie, she bashed the culprit on Twitter, adding: “In related news, I'm blasting 'Let It Go' on repeat.”
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