Students and faculty alike filed into a small room in the basement of Tisch on Saturday afternoon to see one of the most highly anticipated panels at this year’s Fusion Film Festival: “Queens of Comedy Writing.” The panel featured established and successful writers from well-known, critically acclaimed shows — Azie Mira Dungey from Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” Glenn Boozan from the webseries “Above Average,” Robin Thede from Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore,” and Julie Rottenberg from Bravo’s “Odd Mom Out.” These ladies sat down with Ophira Eisenberg of NPR’s The Moth to talk about their careers and to have a frank discussion on race and gender in comedy.
Each woman spoke about their paths to success and the roadblocks they faced, which aligned perfectly with Fusion’s theme of female empowerment in the entertainment industry. Thede, who has worked as the head writer on “The Nightly Show” and “The Queen Latifah Show,” recalled the years of her career when she had been the only female staff writer.
“I would be referred to as ‘The Girl Writer,’” Thede said. “They’d say, ‘let’s ask the girl writer!’”
Dungey echoed the same sentiment, saying that if you’re the only minority in the room, you feel pressure to be the voice of “your people.”
As they moved up in the industry and gained the power to hire people, they had a heightened sense of the importance of spreading diversity within the industry. Thede proudly told the crowd that eight of the thirteen writers on “The Nightly Show” are women or people of color. Rottenberg added that when she and her writing partner were finding writers for “Odd Mom Out, they focused on hiring people from all backgrounds.
“The joke was that we could not find a straight, white guy who was funny!” Rottenberg said.
They all encouraged writers to draw from their backgrounds rather than ignore them, with Dungey saying that her background as an American-Indian helped her write “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
When they weren’t discussing topics like race and gender, the panelists were using their comedic chops to make the audience laugh, as is often the case in comedy. When a woman awkwardly made her way out from the center of a row to leave the panel, Thede and Boozan cracked jokes about times they’ve been in a similar situation.
The panelists also had some sound advice for students entering the industry.
“Take the note, take the note, take the note,” Thede said. “The writer’s worst enemy is defensiveness.”
Boozan advised aspiring writers to promote perseverance and kindness.
“Be pleasant to work with,”Boozan said. “Let rejection fuel you.”
Email Colin Burke at [email protected]