1.What is your earliest memory of writing?
My earliest memories of writing ((I can’t pick just one) are really memories of playing — making up stories and worlds with my sisters, or at recess, or after school, or just daydreaming during school, looking out the window when I was bored.
2. When did you know you were a “writer?”
From about 7th grade through college, I was often told I had a real gift for writing. I wasn’t interested in being a writer, though, and didn’t think I was talented or inspired enough. I’d gotten into acting, and the social belonging and physical/emotional challenges of theater were far more exciting and appealing to me than the internal, lonely world of writing. By age 24, I was frustrated with being an actor because I wasn’t working as much as I felt I deserved to (LOL), so I wrote a solo show for myself about my experience going to an all-girls’ Catholic high school. I never thought I could do it until I just did it. I worked on it for about two and a half years, on and off, and even now, when I pull out that script, I still want to go back in and improve it. But after I wrote that show and thought about doing another one, that’s when I considered myself to have become a writer. It wasn’t an assignment, it came from within me, and I found it painful (even agonizing) sometimes and also fulfilling.
3. What do you think makes a good story, and what kinds of stories are you drawn to?
Anything can make a good story if told with gripping language, stakes, and good structure. I’m drawn to stories that feel exciting and/or painfully true.
4. What are some of your favorite books, movies, TV shows?
Favorite books – Tenth of December (a collection of short stories by George Saunders), The Stench of Honolulu (hilarious comic novel) by Jack Handey, The Door (disturbing historical allegory) by Magda Szabo, Delicious Foods (wild and dark novel) by James Hannaham, The Vegetarian (seductive nightmarish novel) by Han Kang, The Company (CIA history as page turner) by Philip Littell. Nonfiction: Banvard’s Folly (stories of failures & losers) by Paul Collins and Heat (culinary adventures in Italy) by Bill Buford.
Favorite movies: I love pitch-black comedies, espionage movies, paranoid
70s conspiracy thrillers, heists, and art films. My favorite pitch-black comedies are Four Lions (young jihadists try to blow up the London Marathon), Klown (brutal Danish satire of masculinity), Network (freakishly prescient mid-70s farce about perversion of public trust and taste), The Death of Stalin (historically grounded madcap nightmare of fascism), This is Spinal Tap (fake-u-mentary about a heavy metal band), and Wild Tales (Argentinian insane fantasies of revenge). My favorite espionage movies are the Jason Bourne and Mission Impossible movies, The Lives of Others, The 39 Steps, and The Third Man. Heist movies: Topkapi, Hell or High Water, Dog Day Afternoon, The Sting, Rififi, The Killing, Oceans‘s 11/12/13/8, Le Cercle Rouge. 70s paranoid conspiracy thrillers: The Conversation, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor (this is also a spy movie). Art films: Vagabond by Agnes Varda (about a shitty/lost young woman), Landscape in the Mist by Theo Angelopoulos (two kids go looking for their mom), The Idiots by Lars von Trier (a commune where privileged adults pretend to be developmentally disabled), The Conformist (gorgeous agony of betrayal) by Bernardo Bertolucci, and The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (turgid lesbian love triangle!) by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
Favorite TV shows: Sketch comedy/late night faves include early episodes of Late Night with David Letterman, Mr. Show, In Living Color, MADtv, early Conan, Key & Peele, The Muppet Show, SCTV, Saturday Night Live, Sherman’s Showcase. Sitcoms/comic series: Veep, Community, Larry Sanders, Who is America?, Party Down, The Boondocks, Golden Girls, Good Times, Cheers, Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Tyler Moore, Three’s Company. Reality: RuPaul’s Drag Race, Top Chef, MasterChef Jr. Dramas: The Americans, The Wire, Rubicon, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos, Homeland, Game of Thrones, Lost. Game shows: Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy. Sports: Bull riding, gymnastics, American Ninja Warrior. International shows: Borgen, Spiral, The Bureau, Mone Heis Occupied, Mossad 101, Fauda, Tehran.
5. What inspires you?
What inspires me? Sometimes thoughts inside of myself, sometimes things I notice, things I wish for, things I’m mad about, things I regret, long-simmering grudges, gossip, crushes, alternate possibilities. The best way to get inspired is to relax and unclench my sphincter and empty my mind, and then sooner or later, something shows up. I need to remind myself all the time to be patient and not spaz, because sometimes a minute of mulling something over can feel like 20 minutes.
6. What is your writing process like?
My writing process is to sit down and write. I’m not saying that to be sassy — but once I make up my mind to do it, I’m fairly disciplined. I like it to be quiet, and I prefer working by myself — as opposed to in teams or pitching out loud in a room, which (unfortunately for me) is how a lot of comedy gets made. I generally do better when I’m caffeinated but not TOO caffeinated. I also eat healthy and eat fiber-y things and nuts, so I feel full and am not stressed.
Oftentimes when I know I have a writing session coming up, I’ll suddenly find myself doing some cleaning around the house. There’s something about manual activity that gets the mind working on the back burner.
7. What is the most surprising thing you have learned from writing?
The most surprising thing I have learned from writing is how much infinity we each contain inside ourselves.
8. Do you have a “writing quirk” – if so, what is it?
My writing quirk is that if I feel anxious or I had a fleeting thought that I can’t remember, I close my eyes and say to myself, “I’m an ever-rushing river.” In other words, I will continue to have a font of ideas and thoughts, just as I always have and always will.
9. How does writing comedy differ from other types of writing?
I am not sure how comedy writing differs from other kinds of writing, except that you need to have a LOT of jokes. Everyone can be serious, but not everyone can be funny. And comedy can be super idiosyncratic, especially these days — the comedic climate is so identity-oriented and personal and political. So, when you make a joke that’s funny to a lot of people, it feels wonderful because you’ve touched on some kind of basic human truth in a hopefully surprising new way.
10. Any advice or tips for anyone struggling with writing?
To anyone struggling with writing: First of all, do not call it “writer’s block.” That’s a very pretentious way of saying, “I’m afraid
and/or I don’t have any good ideas right now.” Second, get over yourself, force yourself to quit wigging out about not writing, and just put ANYTHING on the page. Sometimes if I feel freaked out by a blank page, I’ll just take my pen and draw a squiggle on it to “break the seal.” Or, alternately, turn it around 180 degrees. Say, “I don’t want to write. I’m not going to. and here’s why I won’t.” Just take the pressure off \yourself. It may free you up and unclench your sphincter, and you might get an idea. Finally, remember that writing CAN be fun. It’s actually not a punishment. You’re doing this for you, not anyone else. Writing can often be many other things besides fun, but when I’m writing, what I chase is the fun: the feeling of, “Wait till they get a load of this.” Plus, if you put something down you really like, you get to reward yourself with a snack. Art is fine, but snacks are the shit.