The Untold Truth Of Flo From Progressive

Flo from Progressive debuted in 2008, passed her 100th ad milestone in 2014, and is still going strong today (via Ad Age). But Flo would never have become a household name without actress Stephanie Courtney, whose comedic skills brought Flo to her larger-than-life status. CMO Jeff Charney of Arnold Worldwide (the agency behind the agency) said, "[Flo] was authentic and real. She was different than anything else in the industry."

As we've watched the character evolve over the years, Charney explained how Courtney first caught the company's eye: "We were trying to go back to our roots of improvisational comedy." Early on, Courtney, as Flo, appeared as a cashier in a spot called "Checkout," where ad libbing was encouraged. The actress came up with, "wow, I say it louder" — and the rest is history. 

Now, more than a decade since her character's beginning as a lowly cashier, Courtney's ad-libbing insurance skills and shining smile only scratch the surface of her story. Born in Stony Point, N.Y., the 50-year-old worked hard to earn her big break, moving first to Manhattan and then Los Angeles to make her mark on the acting scene.

Courtney is an alum of The Groundlings

Courtney had an acting career long before her insurance prowess was well-known. As a member of The Groundlings Theatre & School in Los Angeles, she starred in numerous productions, including comedy titles like Groundlings Good Time Pig Farm, Groundlings Space Camp, Cooking with Gas, and currently still appears online in The Crazy Uncle Joe Show (via The Groundlings Theatre & School). 

In fact, it was while with The Groundlings, Courtney met, and later married, lighting director Scott Kolanach. "Every crazy old lady character I ever walked out as on that stage had beautiful, peachy gem lighting because he liked me," she says (via People).

Known for its cultivation of talented actors through improv workshops and sketch comedy performances — including Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell – The Groundlings also helped launch the career of Flo's sidekick Jamie, played by Jim Cashman. He adds more amusing titles to his appearance list including Groundlings Zombie Apocalypse and Groundlings Showcase Showdown, showing that the two LA actors share not only onscreen chemistry, but also a fantastic and similar sense of humor. Uniting for the 45th anniversary of the organization, you can see the smiles and joy they share on the red carpet.

Courtney worked hard to earn her big break

Courtney's skills and appearances actually extend far beyond sketch comedy. If she looked familiar, you might recognize her from past guest spots on AngelEverybody Loves Raymond, Without a Trace, ER, Mad Men, and United States of Tara, according to IMDb. And in 1999, her first primetime appearance was as a blond — in stark contrast to Flo's brunette 'do — in a Bud Light Super Bowl commercial (via The News Wheel). 

Like many in Hollywood, Courtney worked her way up and had multiple "survival" jobs to keep her going (via Backstage). Before The Groundlings, she noted, "I delivered the Zone Diet. That was my first job that I had out here. I'd show up to someone's door at 3 p.m. with someone's breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I got fired pretty quickly because I did not know my way around." The soon-to-be-actress also relied heavily on babysitting and odd jobs like setting up the Coppertone display at CVS. 

Courtney is very different from her character Flo

Courtney said she doesn't often get recognized in public thanks to Flo's extreme bouffant and heavy makeup, including loads of black eyeliner and the signature bright red lips. The actress explained that her personal style and vibe is much more subtle and muted. "I'm sort of East Coast so I like the off-white and the navy blues and the low-key preppy kind of thing," she said to People

And if you were worried Flo might disappear soon from your television some time soon, rest assured, Courtney says Flo is here to stay. ""I don't know, how much plastic surgery would it take?" she joked. "I could be propped up on a gurney or something. Who knows?" (via Yahoo! Entertainment)