Olivia Munn stars in two television series and graces the current cover of Maxim, but eight years ago, armed with a freshly earned journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma, Munn was slugging it out for 12 hours a day on the assignments desk at KJRH-TV in Tulsa.
And she was counting the minutes until she could leave.
“I was killing myself,” said Munn, who can be seen as Leigh on the series premiere of “Perfect Couples” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on KFOR-TV Channel 4. “I sat at the assignment desk listening to the scanners. I promised my mom I would work someplace for a year. A year to the day, I walked out of that place. I was literally logging in time like I was in prison.”
Just three years after packing it in at KJRH and leaving for California, Munn fully established herself as the geek goddess extraordinaire on G4's “Attack of the Show,” a live daily series in which she and co-host Kevin Pereira spotlighted new technology, games and pop culture. It is where Munn earned a reputation for deadly comic timing and for knowing and loving what guys like. In one famous segment, she appeared at the 2009 Comic-Con in San Diego dressed like Princess Leia in her metal bikini — a move guaranteed to turn the brains of most Jedi knights into useless ooze.
Munn left her perch at “AOTS” in 2010, but only because her time is in short supply these days. Last year, she became the “Senior Asian Correspondent” for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” (a nod to the Chinese half of her ancestry), and when “Perfect Couples” creators Jon Pollack and Scott Silveri asked for casting ideas, Munn received high praise from experts in the field.
“Scott and Jon asked Tina Fey and Robert Carlock at ‘30 Rock' for recommendations of who they thought should be in a show, and both Tina and Robert recommended me,” Munn said during a recent phone interview. “So, Scott and Jon wrote the role with me in mind after seeing my stuff.
“They were actually telling me a story yesterday — they said, ‘We were the guys who didn't want to hire you based on your looks. We hired you because we heard you were funny — we're the only guys in the world who didn't know you were on the cover of Maxim,'” she said.
Apparently, Silveri and Pollack were not among the nearly 200,000 people following Munn on Twitter, where she regularly posts the where, when and how of her life and career, along with Twitpics that stoke the fires of geek love among her fans. With the two series, a role in the upcoming Sarah Jessica Parker film, “I Don't Know How She Does It” and tweeting all her in-between moves, Munn is constantly in the thick of things. She doesn't know how she does it, but she knows why.
“You know what it is? It's just being so appreciative. This business can be so arbitrary and success is so hard to attain and can be fleeting,” Munn said. “When you're out here and you see how hard it is to get these opportunities, when they come around you just want to put all the effort to make sure you can do it all and not say no to anything.
“For me, to be able to have an NBC show and do ‘The Daily Show' and being able to start a movie, there is nothing else I would want to do. I would be devastated to lose any of them,” she said.
Born Lisa Olivia Munn in 1980, she spent her first eight years living in Oklahoma City before life in a military family took her to Tokyo. At 16, after her parents divorced, Munn moved back to Oklahoma City and attended Putnam City North High School for her junior and senior years before enrolling at OU.
During her studies, Munn held an internship at KWTV Channel 9, and it started on one of the worst days in that station's history: Jan. 26, 2001, when the station lost its longtime sports anchor, Bill Teegins.
“My first day was the day of the Oklahoma State basketball plane crash, and Bill was on it,” she said. “I just remember having to call his cell phone, over and over, and it went straight to voice mail every time.”
After her one-year stint at KJRH, she moved to California and got a gig doing women's basketball sideline reporting for Fox Sports. Meanwhile, she was going to auditions, appeared in some direct-to-DVD schlock as Lisa Munn (she's “Girl No. 1” in 2004's “Scarecrow Gone Wild”) and eventually earned her spot as the most visible personality on G4. Her four years on “Attack of the Show” were marked by Munn's unique fearlessness when it came to comedy and her tongue-in-cheek willingness to exploit her looks.
“That's the beauty of live television,” she said. “To many people, they curb back and are so afraid of offending anyone that they, I think, end up offending everyone by being vanilla and boring. I was just trying to be very honest and real and have the same humor that I have around my friends. It was really big for us that we wanted ... it to feel like you were still hanging out with your friends. It was one of the best experiences of my career.”
Her willingness to go all out is on full display on the February 2011 cover of Maxim — the image was provocative enough to receive denunciations from the conservative Media Research Center. (“You know, I think these people need to find a hobby, because I can't be their hobby anymore,” she said of the brouhaha.) But for Munn, this is par for the course: a Jan. 13 Twitpic of her eating cookies backstage at “The Late Show with David Letterman” caused almost as much palpitation. As Entertainment Weekly noted, “Poor girl can't even eat a cookie without causing a scene.”
But frequently, quietly and without causing a scene, Munn comes back to Oklahoma to visit her mother, who lives in Nichols Hills. She said she is proud to be from here, and even told Letterman that when she moved back to Oklahoma City, Munn found that her Tokyo-bred sense of style was outpaced by her new classmates at PC North.
“Wait a minute,” Letterman said. “You're telling me that Oklahoma, in terms of fashion and culture, is more advanced than Japan? Well, that's food for thought.”
Munn said she will continue to stay busy: she has already shot 13 episodes of “Perfect Couples.” It's a work ethic she adopted during those days of having her ears glued to police scanners in Tulsa.
“I decided that I would never be the reason that I heard ‘No,'” she said.