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Everyone Knows Flo. How Could You Not? But Who Is Stephanie Courtney?

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Flo, whose real name is Stephanie Courtney, has starred in commercials for Progressive insurance since 2008. (X/ItsFlo)
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She is recognizable to almost every American — at least those who watch television.

And, yet, it’s doubtful if one in 10 million knows her real name.

We’re talking about Stephanie Courtney, 53, who dreamed of starring on Broadway and then focused on becoming a comedic actor.

You know here as Flo from Progressive, the star of those sometimes funny, sometimes annoying — but virtually inescapable — insurance ads.

After proving her comedic chops with the Groundlings troupe — a spawning ground for the likes of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, and Lisa Kudrow — Courtney set her sights on joining “Saturday Night Live.”

But SNL said don’t call us, we’ll call you, and Courtney turned to commercials while keeping the dream alive in Los Angeles.

Her first: a 1999 Bud Light Super Bowl commercial. However, Courtney didn’t land enough work to pay the bills and went from tryout to tryout in a wreck of a car that wouldn’t shift into reverse.

So what did she do when she had to back out of a spot?

Trot out her acting skills for passers-by: ” ‘Oh, shoot! Oh, no! My car won’t start!’ And then I’d flag down someone and be like: ‘Oh, I have an idea! What if I put it in neutral, and you pushed it?’ ”

In 2007, on a tryout for a Progressive shoot, Courtney ad-libbed instead of sticking to the script. That impressed the bosses. And, over the next three years, she went from fending off debt collectors to getting a business manager.

Read more at The New York Times Magazine.

Behind the Apron: The Story of Flo from Ninety6 on Vimeo.

 

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