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Meet Progressive's Flo: Standup Comic Stephanie Courtney

Take off the trademark headband and wash away a pound of makeup, and you might not recognise Flo, the super-peppy insurance cashier for Progressive.

Her real name is Stephanie Courtney, a comedian and actress from Los Angeles who has taken the insurance world by storm.

As Flo she was an overnight hit when Progressive introduced her in 2008. Four years later, she is one of the most recognisable characters in advertising. But did you know that you have probably seen her before?

We looked behind the white name badge to find out a little more about America’s favourite female insurance character.

She just celebrated a birthday!

Stephanie Courtney was born Feb. 8, 1970, in Stony Point, N.Y. Her mother is a singer and her father is a retired high school history teacher.

And in case you were wondering, this is what she looks like without all that makeup on.

She's a Bearcat

She worked for Smith Barney

After graduating, Courtney moved to New York City. There she took classes at the neighbourhood Playhouse, a school where Gregory Peck, Robert Duvall, and Diane Keaton also studied.

Since studying theatre doesn't pay much, and neither did acting, she made ends meet by working as the evening secretary for Robert S. Greenhill, then chairman of Smith Barney.

Her roommate at the time was, now author and L.A. Times columnist, Megan Daum.

But Tinseltown was calling!

After living in New York for some time, Courtney headed out to the other coast and started doing stand-up (there's a clip below).

In Los Angeles, she and her sister, Jennifer Courtney, who is also an actress, moved in together. They also wrote a play, called 'Those Courtney Girls,' that they performed in L.A. and at the Aspen Comedy Festival, where it attracted the attention of some television studios (although nothing has yet come of that).

She's a Groundling

After moving to L.A., Courtney joined The Groundlings, a skit and improve troupe that that counts Will Ferrell, Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig and Lisa Kudrow in its alumni.

She met Scott Kolanach, the lighting director, while performing with the group and married him in 2008. 'Every crazy old lady character I ever walked out as on that stage had beautiful, peachy gem lighting because he liked me,' she told People.

Flo is lucrative

Courtney has filmed more than 50 commercials as Flo since 2008 and some sources estimate that she earns $500,000 a year playing the character.

According to an interview she did with The Daily Beast, her favourite commercial is this one, featuring the guy with the man bag.

But commercials didn't always pay so well

She's not just in commercials

Courtney has also appeared in a number of TV shows and movies, including Blades of Glory, The Heartbreak Kid, House, and The United States of Tara.

She even had a recurring role on our favourite drama, Mad Men, as Madge the telephone operator.

She shared the screen with the Geico Caveman

Two alternate universes collided by accident when Courtney appeared opposite Geico's spokesman in three episodes of his short-lived sitcom, Caveman, before she landed the gig as Flo.

She made Flo so popular that people dress up like her for Halloween.

She does not use a Bumpit

Courtney is all natural and there are no enhancements used to create that hair. In fact, Flo's hair ritual, which includes a lot of back-combing and teasing--takes a full hour. Her trademark face of makeup takes another full hour.

Flo is based on her mum

Judging by her stand-up, the whole bubbly act is just that, an act. So Courtney drew inspiration from close to home.

'Nobody is naturally that perky! They'd strain something. I'd say at times Flo is like my mum when she's at her most chipper,' she is quoted saying on IMDB.

She clarifies in an interview with Cleveland.com, that Flo is just 'a very positive version of my mum. But, of course, amped up to 1,000.'

She has a crush on the caveman

Despite the legions of male fans and Facebook groups dedicated to Flo, Courtney still doesn't think that Flo is sexy. This despite the fact that one blogger waxes on about her 'kissable red lips' in his article titled 'The Cult of the Progressive Insurance Chick.'

She told Adweek, 'The way I play her, she's pretty much the most asexual thing on TV right now. I think the Geico lizard puts out more sexual vibes than Flo does. But I do think the cavemen are totally crushable.'

Seems like there's no bad blood between competitors here.

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