The original post for this episode can now be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 457 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast we’re going to be talking about comedy and variety shows, how they’re written, and how you get a job writing them. We’ll also be talking about studio diversity programs. Now, you might say John and Craig how much do you really know about these things?
Craig: Oh so much. So much. [laughs]
John: And the truth is not a lot.
Craig: Oh, right, sorry.
John: Which is why we have a very special guest joining us.
Craig: I forgot, it was not a lot.
John: Ashley Nicole Black is a writer and performer whose credits include Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Bless this Mess, and a Black Lady Sketch Show on HBO. Ashely, welcome to the program.
Ashley Nicole Black: Hi, thanks for having me. It’s so weird to be able to talk back to you guys.
Craig: I know. Finally. I mean, all of those moments where you were frustrated or angry or disgusted, you get to express them directly at us in real time.
Ashley: Well usually I’m just washing the dishes more so than very angry.
Craig: All right. Well don’t do that now. Right now I think you’ve earned the right to not wash your dishes while you do this particular episode.
John: But we wouldn’t be upset if you were washing your dishes. If we hear some clinking it’s absolutely fine. Now, starting any conversation with a person these days has to begin with how are you holding up. So, how are you holding up, Ashley?
Ashley: You know, I had really found a rhythm with isolation and was doing really well. And then with George Floyd and the protests I got sucked back into that 24-hour news cycle. So I’m just starting to get back to the like being able to work and not being glued to the news portion of quarantine.
John: Now, you are working now, right? Because we’re scheduling this after you just finished a writer’s room. So are you back in a virtual room?
Ashley: Yeah. I’m in a virtual room on an Apple show. I don’t know if I’m allowed to ever say the show exists.
John: Craig is also on an Apple show. So you guys both have Emmys. You both have Apple shows. You are pretty much the same person.
Craig: Yeah, I feel like maybe John if you want to just go, just go. Because we have secret Apple/Emmy stuff to talk about.
Ashley: Emmy-winner convo.
Craig: So much interesting information about that. [laughs]
John: I’ve just done the virtual Skype version of CC’ing two people into an email chain and now I can leave.
Craig: And then backing away. I love that move.
John: Now, we’re going to talk about comedy variety writing, we’re going to talk about diversity programs, but also for our bonus number I want to talk about fireworks because I know you and I actually we have opinions about fireworks and I want to get into that for our bonus topic for our Premium members.
Ashley: Oh, I have so many. I’m excited about that.
Craig: This is going to be good.
John: Now, while we have you here, you are in a writer’s room. We asked on last week’s program for tips for people who are in these virtual writer’s rooms, what they’re using in the room. Chad wrote in, and Craig can you read what Chad wrote in for us?
Craig: Yes. Chad writes, “I’m a long time Scriptnotes listener and I got my first professional writing job right at the end of March. We’ve been using the virtual whiteboard tool Miro for everything from breaking out macro story beats across all the episodes of the season to laying out choice maps, player activity for individual scenes. More seasoned writers, particularly those who work primarily in TV in our room had differing opinions on the effectiveness of this tool, but I really like it. And I started using it for my personal projects on the side.
“We use Asana for organizing due dates for deliverables, distributing scene work for a given week, and tracking what stage each scene is in currently, first draft and review, revision, and that sort of thing. Honorable mention to Google Docs and the almighty Zoom, but I’m sure those are pretty well known at this point.”
Sounds like Chad’s working in videogames, yeah?
John: Yeah. So I cut off the little first part of that, but it was a hybrid videogame kind of project. Now, are you using anything like Miro for a whiteboard? What are you using in your room right now Ashley?
Ashley: No, we’ve just been using Zoom and Google Docs, which means you have your Zoom really tiny on one side of the screen so you can also see the Google Docs. So it’s not ideal.
John: And who is responsible for updating the Google Doc? Is everyone typing into the same thing? Is there a writer’s assistant who is doing that work?
Ashley: The writer’s assistant, yeah.
John: Now, talking on Zoom, how deep are you into the show? How many weeks is this now that you’re in.
Ashley: It’s only been a couple of weeks, so we haven’t gotten into the nitty gritty where the technology is going to fall apart yet.
Craig: Right. I was about to say. Because the deeper you go the more stuff that goes on the normal whiteboard, and then there’s the erasing and the boxing around a thing. The different colors. I’m particularly fond of the different colors. So, it does seem like as you get deeper in it’s going to become a bit of a struggle to maintain it. I’m kind of curious, Ashley, if you feel like there’s any – is there an impact on just the creative flow simply – I mean, obviously not being in a room together is one thing but literally just the virtual board versus the actual board, do you feel like it’s impacting anything?
Ashley: The biggest difficulty I’ve found, and we haven’t like I said gotten that far into story yet, is just like the inability to interrupt each other. I didn’t know how important that was to writing.
Craig: [laughs] Well, I mean, there’s probably a little bit of an upside there. Perhaps people that had been interrupted or talked over a lot maybe get a chance to finish?
John: A thing I’ve noticed on a lot of these conference calls I’ve been having on Zoom is that when someone starts monologuing it’s very hard to send the signal that they need to stop, that they’ve been talking too long. And there have been times where I’ve had to text a person saying like, “OK, please stop now because you made your point and it’s time for us to move on.”
Ashley: And sometimes you can tell that they know. Like you can tell that they know it’s time to stop talking, but no one is making them.
Craig: It’s so great. I love that. I call that like failure to land. They know they’re supposed to land. They’ve been cleared to land. They just don’t know what to do. So they’re circling the ending of a remark. It’s amazing to watch.
John: Silence also plays so differently on a Zoom call than it does in a real room. Because there’s moments where when people are physically together where that silence is kind of meaningful. Because everyone is like OK we’re all thinking together. You can sort of see the process, the shifting in seats. It doesn’t play that same way in Zoom, so there’s this instinct to have to fill up those silences. And I don’t know that that’s healthy either.
Ashley: Yeah, you don’t get that feeling – there’s just a feeling in the room when everyone loves something but they’re quiet, or when everyone hates something but they’re quiet. And you don’t know. You just know that people are quiet.
John: Is there any good way that you’ve found to sort of signal your excitement about something or signal your disapproval? Are you guys using thumbs up? Is there any way that you can tell somebody that, yes, I really appreciate that idea? What are you guys finding – also, I don’t know how big your room is, but people are not muted normally, or are they muting? What’s the policy with your room?
Ashley: I’ve been muting, I think most of us have, just because like I have a dog who might bark or whatever. So I usually mute. I’ve been doing a lot of nonverbals, like vigorously nodding my head, just trying to visually communicate. But one really funny thing that happened was that one of the writer’s baby toddled in to the Zoom. And we all like raised our hands and cheered, because she was so cute. And then our boss was like, “Why are you making fun of me?” And we’re like, no, no, there’s a baby. [laughs] We can see a baby.
Craig: So cute. I do the same thing, by the way. I’m a big believer in the very broad nodding yes and shaking head no.
Craig: And don’t do it like once or twice the way you would normally do it in real life. Because everybody has kind of peripheral vision in real life. But the cameras take away our peripheral vision. So somebody has to actually notice your thing. And so you kind of do it until you realize that they know. And it’s a way to sort of get to the heart of it without having to talk and interrupt people and hijack the audio.
John: So please keep sending in your suggestions for what’s working in your writer’s rooms and if you have some best practices or just little policies that you guys have figured out in your rooms that seem to be helpful, send those in and we’ll compile the best of them because we’re all learning together how to do this crazy stuff of writing virtually.
I mostly want to focus on comedy and variety, because this is a topic that a bunch of writers work in this space and we really have not had kind of any guests on to talk about writing for this space, how you get started writing for this space. And Ashley I kind of just want to start from the really basics. When we say comedy and variety what kinds of shows are we talking about? Name brand names so people can get a sense of these are writers working on these shows. What kinds of shows are comedy/variety?
Ashley: Yeah, the ones that come on late at night. So it’s Full Frontal. It’s all the Jimmy shows. Saturday Night Live. Sketch shows. All those shows that you stay up late to watch.
John: Great. And something like a Black Lady Sketch Show, which is a once a week. It’s a series but you’re writing those sketches as a room or people are writing those individually. Is that still under the auspices of what we consider comedy variety?
Ashley: Yeah. I think it’s variety sketch in the Emmy category.
Craig: I like that. Variety sketch. You know, variety shows used to roam the earth like dinosaurs. You know, when there was like – so it was like sketches, and then there would be a song, and then there would be like a weird dance thing. Like when I was a kid we watched the Mandrell Sisters. My sister and I would watch the Mandrell Sisters.
We don’t do that anymore. So it seems like mostly it’s going to be a comedy show. Like a sketch show is a sketch show. And I have to say they’re much better now. We’ve come a long way.
John: Well, what’s also weird about it is there’s a whole genre of show that is about that genre of show. And so like the Dick Van Dyke show is about writing a late night show, or a variety show. 30 Rock is about writing a weekly variety show that’s like SNL. So it’s weird that we have onscreen representations of what it’s like to write those shows. And yet I still don’t think I truly understand what it’s like to write. So can you talk us through, you were on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. As a writer on that show what does your day look like? What is your responsibility on that show?
Ashley: So, that show is a weekly show that shoots on Wednesday. So our week starts on Thursday. And we would usually start the moment with like a big pitch meeting. Everybody in one room. People pitching stories that are of interest to them. And typically you want to have a take at that stage, but even if you don’t you can still bring in like an interesting story and let’s talk about this.
So we would pitch act twos which on that show is the slightly more evergreen act. So you could pitch that on a Thursday and spend a week or even up to a month working on something like we did one about rural healthcare. Like, issues that are going to continue to be issues a couple weeks from now. And then typically you would get assigned anywhere from one writer by themselves to the entire staff to work on an act and come up with a take together as a group and kind of a way through it. And then everyone go off and get their chance to write their draft alone, which is like my favorite part of the process that we would work on a take together but then you do get to have your own draft, which is great.
And then someone, either the head writer or the supervising writer, would take all of those drafts and compile them into one. And then we would have rewrite which is again everybody back in a room going through line by line, beating every single joke, cutting stuff, getting it as funny as possible. And then you rehearse it. And then you do that again. And then you shoot it. And then you’re like, oh, OK, wow, that was exhausting, and then you start it all over again the next morning.
Craig: Oh my god.
John: So talk to me about, so you say in a room, how many people were in a room for something like Full Frontal with Samantha Bee? What was that room like bodies wise?
Ashley: That was a smaller show. I think anywhere between seven and 10 at the most. But some shows would have like 14 staff members.
Craig: Now, a show like Saturday Night Live, they have this hybrid format where there are a number of people who are just writers, and then there are a number of people who are writer-performers. I suspect there a probably a couple of performers that don’t do much writing, but it’s kind of a blend. On your show, on Black Lady Sketch Show, was that kind of the way you did it? Were the performers also writing fulltime? Or was there kind of one group of writers, one group of performers?
Ashley: There’s one group of writers and one group of performers. I happen to be in both. But some of the performers are not.
Craig: Got it.
John: Now, going back to a more traditional weekly show like Samantha Bee, you know, talking about, so you’re pitching your takes. And so you Ashley would show up to work on Thursday morning saying like these are two or three things that I think are good story areas or good topics. Your job is really kind of pitching. How long is a pitch for that kind of thing is what I’m asking? How fully fleshed out is it or is it just an area that you’re trying to pitch?
Ashley: It really depends on what you’re trying to pitch. Because there are some stories, like a Trump story as soon as you hear that he had a hard time walking down a ramp you know what’s going to be funny about that. And you can just come in in the morning and go, “Trump had a hard time walking down a ramp,” and you’ll probably get approved. But if you’re doing something like we did a piece about the people who are suing the Catholic Church about sexual assaults that happened to them. The humor there is not apparent. So you’re probably going to do a lot more work before you bring that in to be like, “I promise you I have an angle and a way to write jokes around this topic.”
Craig: You’re drawing off of a certain substrate of facts when you’re working on something like Samantha Bee. There are topics. There’s facts. There’s journalism. And there are people. And then you’re kind of building this thing around it. But for A Black Lady Sketch Show this is just pure fiction. You are creating something out of nothing. Which do you find – a two-part question – which is harder and which is more satisfying?
Ashley: They’re hard and satisfying in really different ways. It’s very hard to take some of these political stories and make them funny. It’s not an easy thing to do. But the stories exist. So if you need a pitch, you don’t have a pitch that day, all you have to do is go to cnn.com and you’ll find something.
Craig: There it is, right.
Ashley: Whereas like on the sketch show you don’t have to draw from the news, so you can just do things that are funny to you in your heart. But on a day where you don’t have a pitch there’s nowhere you can go to find one. You really have to pull it out of your brain.
John: Now, talk to us about money. So, on these shows—
Craig: Get specific.
Ashley: I love talking about money. [laughs]
Craig: Can you please just quickly scan and email your tax returns? Because we want to get really granular about this.
John: Are you paid on a weekly basis? Are you paid – because you’re not paid on drafts? As screenwriters we’re thinking about drafts. But you’re paid on a weekly basis I’m presuming.
John: Are you guaranteed a certain number of weeks? How does it work when you’re hired on to one of these shows?
Ashley: I think it differs from show to show. On a lot of shows I think you have a 13-week contract. I think it’s different on every show.
John: And so for those 13 weeks you are exclusive to that show and what are your hours? So you’re saying you’re starting the pitches on Thursday. Are you working through the weekend? What is your actual life like? Or is it more a Thursday, Friday then crank on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday again? What is your life like when you’re on one of those shows?
Ashley: It varies from show to show. So when we started at Full Frontal the show aired on Mondays and so we did find ourselves working over the weekend a lot. Because if something changed on Friday like you can’t air old news. We would have to work over the weekend. That was one of the reasons the show moved to Wednesdays because people didn’t want to work weekends. But I know like on John Oliver’s show which I think they shoot on Sunday they work one weekend day and have another weekday off. So it kind of depends on the schedule of the show.
But the schedule is forever. Like there are definitely nights – I would say on a normal night I would get home by seven, but there are definitely midnight nights. There are two in the morning nights. There are I never left the office nights. The first time I was on a half-hour I was like we’re going home at 5:30? Really, we can all just stand up and leave? What? [laughs]
Craig: Yeah, I mean, everything I’ve read it does sound like comedy sketch shows or I guess we can move in the sort of news comedy shows into that same category are brutal jobs in the sense of the time commitment and the idea that it is timely. It’s repeating. And if you don’t have it you just got to keep going until you do. Is it healthy? That’s my question.
Ashley: I mean, no. I used to – I would get up at six o’clock in the morning and turn on the news in my apartment and have the news on while I got ready in the morning. I lived across the street from the office, so I would just walk out the door, walk back in the door. There are televisions showing the news on every wall, including in the office, like directly in front of your face. And it’s on all the time. And you’re watching these tragic horrible things happening and your brain is going I have to turn this into a joke? Which is just a weird place to live mentally.
But that being said the people I did that work with are my best friends in the world, because sometimes I remember one of our writers, Eric Drysdale, will just come in my office, lay down on the couch, and hug a pillow. And I’d be like, “You’re good, buddy.”
Craig: Yeah. That’s me every day basically.
John: It does sound like it’s this weird hybrid of like all the challenges of journalism where you’re having to keep on top of this moving thing with all the challenges of normal comedy writing which is how do we actually make this thing funny. How do we iterate, and iterate, and iterate until it’s as funny as it can be? Yet the lifetime of it is so transitory. Like, you know, an episode of that show doesn’t have very much of a life after that time. So, you know, yes that second act piece that you did might still be relevant months later but all the topical news it vanishes, just disappears. That’s so different than other kinds of writing that we do. Or you transitioned to half-hour writing. So talk to us about that transition because moving from where you have such a rush and a hurry to get this week’s episode up to you can actually kind of plan for things and there’s scripts. What was that transition like?
Ashley: I think it made me really good. Because you can’t be precious about your writing at all when you’re writing on a daily or a weekly schedule. Like whenever I wrote that, the President fired Jeff Sessions, we’re throwing that thing away, we’re making fun of Jeff Sessions. It is what it is. And so when I got to half-hour I was really used to writing very funny, very fast. And the schedule is just slower and more spread out. And I remember texting my friend who was still in a late night room like “We spent the whole day today talking about if two characters should kiss. And then we went home at five o’clock.” [laughs]
Craig: Yeah. There’s this other thing that’s sort of fascinating about – I guess we’ll call it topical humor or kind of fast humor. So, Saturday Night Live is both topic and week after week after week, and the same thing with something like Oliver or Samantha Bee. And that is that the stuff that you’re creating for the moment, but it’s there forever. And as we move through time the one thing I think we’ve seen over and over again is that what people think is funny as opposed to what they think is offensive or not funny or unfair changes.
And there’s an interesting kind of danger in that business. And I wonder if when you were in those rooms if there was ever a sense that you were going to be held accountable for the work down the line.
Ashley: You know, interestingly I don’t think that was something I thought about a lot because on both of the comedy variety shows I’ve been on they were very feminist, woman-focused shows. And so we were already punching up. And it’s like that will probably always be OK. But there were definitely times like on Full Frontal where like news had changed and we had covered something and we’re covering it again and it’s like do we play a clip of Sam saying something about this thing and now she has something more or different to say about it? There were like self-referential moments. Like I remember one of our first shows we covered a mass shooting. And then there were like seven more mass shootings. And at a certain point you have to say how many times am I going to stand here and talk about this and acknowledge the fact that we’ve done this before.
Craig: Right. Interesting.
John: Something like Samantha Bee, she has a very distinctive voice. Do you need to learn to write in her voice? Do you learn these are things that fit sort of Samantha Bee and wouldn’t fit other people? Was there any challenge of getting used to her flow and her format? Or is it just you naturally sort of feel it? Did you feel like you were writing to a character named Samantha Bee? Or were you writing what you wish you could say?
Ashley: A little bit of both. I definitely like when I was doing my packet, went to sleep with headphones on listening to her voice. Like I definitely studied and learned her voice. But also as a Black woman there were moments where I was like here is something I wish a white lady would say on TV. And I had one that I could give words to which was an amazing gift.
And then sometimes I would do that and Sam would be like, “You’re crazy. I’m not saying this. You’re in the show.” And I was like, no, I want you to say it.
Craig: Yeah. Samantha Bee is smart.
John: So, Ashley, you refer to your packet. So I think it’s time to transition into that part of it, because the packet is part of how you get hired in late night and comedy variety. Before we get to it let’s talk about how you got started here and sort of what is your background before writing on these shows? If someone has the goal of writing on these shows where should they start and let’s start with where you started. What was your route to getting to this point?
Ashley: I started at the Second City. So I actually grew up here in Los Angeles and so I actually knew as a kid that TV was a job and there were other jobs other than just being an actor. But I always wanted to be an actor. But there was no one on TV when I was a kid who looked like me, so it didn’t seem accessible to me. So I went to grad school. I did my masters and most of my Ph.D. hoping to teach performance studies. And while I was doing that I took a class at the Second City and did sketch comedy once and was like, oh, this is it. Because you got to write for yourself and that was the part of acting that didn’t work for me was letting other people write for me.
So I started doing sketch at the Second City. And a lot of people who come out of there end up going into late night. And people would always talk about packets. But it was always like this truly evil thing where people would be like, “Yeah, that packet we did last week was tough, huh?” And everyone would talk about it. And I’m like, oh, last week, so it’s over. You didn’t mention it until it was over.
Craig: Ah. Man, behind the scenes. So tough.
John: Yeah. So, let’s define some terms here. So, what do we mean by a packet?
Ashley: So the shows will send out usually to agents and managers, and then comedians get their hands on it and pass it around amongst their friends. A packet, like the list of things that you can write to sort of audition for the show. So it’s going to be all the things they do on that show. So like at Full Frontal it’s going to be monologues and field pieces. On Jimmy Fallon he does like desk bits and sketches, so that’s going to be in there. It’s basically whatever they would do in a normal week. You’re going to write like a couple examples of that. And probably also just some loose jokes which probably you already have in your Twitter. And send that off to them so they can see that you can write that style of show.
John: So when I first joined the WGA board someone reached out to me on Twitter saying like, “Hey, could you take a look at late night writing packets because it’s crazy how much work they’re asking you to do. Basically to audition for a job.” It’s like if you want to be a writer on CSI and they said like, “Write us a CSI as a sample.” There was just a huge expectation of work going into this. Hours and hours of time and a lot of material. And the sense that like even if that material wasn’t directly making it into the show it kind of could be leaking into that show.
The whole writing packet process is fraught. And I think we’ve been able to make some changes both in the East and the West with some best practices going into that, but I want everyone to be aware that this is a thing that happens in comedy variety that does not happen in half hours or hour-longs, in traditional scripted TV. That sense that you are specifically writing an audition piece for that show that you’re applying for.
Ashley: And it can weed out people who don’t have leisure time, right? Like my packet for Full Frontal was 25 pages long. I was someone who had been writing for a long time and could write 25 pages in a week and had like a job where I could take the hours to do that. But if you work like retail and you can’t take time off you’re writing 25 pages in the middle of the night. That’s just such a disadvantage compared to someone who has like leisure time.
John: And a lot of times these shows would also say like, OK, bring in your references and your research for these things. So basically you’re not just can you tell funny jokes, it’s like can you research at this thing and provide a lot. So it’s a huge amount of expectation of work there.
Ashley: And it’s work you would never have to do, because once you’re on the show there are researchers. But to do the packet you have to do all your own research.
John: Now Ashley, those researchers on the show, are those people who want to be writers on the show? Is that an entry level job for them?
Ashley: It isn’t. And that is a misconception that I’m happy to dispel. So a lot of the researchers are journalists, or like studio producers. If you want to be a writer you will find being a researcher very frustrating. And so I think sometimes people do take other jobs in late night hoping to move over to writer. And you can do that, but it will be harder on your show. So if like you’re a researcher on Full Frontal then do a packet and try to get on John Oliver’s show. You can definitely do that. But you’ll be frustrated if you become a researcher and think it’s going to turn into joke writing.
John: So these other comedians were not telling you about the packets that they’re writing for other places. They weren’t telling you that this was an opening out there. How did you finally find out about it? How did you submit for these things? What was the process that got your work in front of people?
Ashley: It’s like a very specific story to me but I do think that there are practical applications. So, like I said I was working at the Second City and I had worked with Dwayne Perkins in the past. And then when Stephen Colbert’s new CBS show came out they announced – they did like a big announcement of their writer staff and it was like 500 white men and two white ladies. And it was just like, oh, Colbert is supposed to be like – he’s from Second City. Being a Second City trained person, that’s like the show I should be able to like at least have a chance to apply for. And not only did I not, but I never even heard about the packet. And I’m in with the in crowd with that show. Right?
So I had posted on Facebook back when we used to do that. And I was just like, you know, it’s so disappointing to see that he has this all white, mostly male staff. And even as like a Second City person I couldn’t get my hands on a packet. And, of course, people got angry at me and were like if you didn’t get picked it’s because you’re not a good writer. And I was like you don’t know that because I didn’t get to write. I didn’t even get a packet. [laughs] I didn’t get a chance to write.
So, Dwayne Perkins had like seen that Facebook argument and he was like, “You’re exactly right. I got a packet recently. It’s 100% for you. Put your money where your mouth is. Here’s the packet.” And it was the one for Sam Bee.
Craig: That’s pretty great. I do like it when racist people on Facebook are really bad at arguing. [laughs] It’s just kind of funny. Like did you not read what I said? Look at the words. Ah, Facebook.
Ashley: Racists historically do not like to read.
Craig: You know what? They’re not big readers. Or thinkers. Yeah. You know, there’s an interesting study there. Maybe it’s just like whatever weird shame, it makes you hate books and words. It just stretches to other human beings.
Ashley: Well, it’s the opposite. They did a study and they found that people who, like novels teach your empathy. People who read more novels have better empathy skills.
Craig: It makes total sense. You have to put your mind in another person’s mind. Yeah. By the way, that’s what writing is. It’s why when writers talk about things and I’m like how is it that you can write somebody that’s different than you but you cannot imagine how this person across from you is thinking differently? Then it seems like a weird deficit.
Ashley: The whole gig is just imagining being another person.
Craig: Yeah. Like, hello? WTF.
John: So Samantha Bee is the first time you’re hired on. What is like to be working into that room for the first time? And how do you learn the rhythm and sort of when to speak and when not to speak? Because we’ve been talking on the show about your first time in a writer’s room, traditionally you’re sort of breaking out a season of a show and sort of like when you speak up and when you don’t speak up. Any guidance for the first time someone is in a comedy variety room? Like how to sort of get their feet underneath them?
Ashley: Yeah. I think a lot of podcasts tell people like, oh, if you’re a staff writer you shouldn’t talk, but talking is your job. So maybe don’t take that advice. When I started on Full Frontal most of that staff had been on The Daily Show, so it was of course like intimidating because they – I had never worked in TV before. And many of them had been on The Daily Show for like a decade.
And so I was kind of quiet to start off. But then I realized like, oh, yes they have TV experience that I don’t have, but I have a perspective that’s really important that I need to speak up. So someone had like pitched a story that unknowingly would have been very upsetting to the disabled community, like from a place of pure innocence. But as I’m listening to it I’m like, oh no, Twitter is going to kill us. And I was like, well, I can’t not – so I just had to say, “You know what, I’m sorry, I hate to be this person. Everyone is so excited about this idea. But Twitter is going to kill us if we accidentally say this thing. Maybe a different angle that wouldn’t do that is this.” And our showrunner pulled me aside and was like, “I was waiting for you to realize that there was a reason why I brought you here.”
And it was so validating. It was like, oh yeah, I’m here to be that millennial who says. And then I felt better and I started pitching a lot of stories. And I actually got a lot of pitches on in the beginning I think because I purposely curated my social so that I was following a lot of activists and people who were on the front line of news stories. So they would be tweeting about something that was going to be news in two days. So I could bring that story in first.
And then also the silly little advice I give people is pitch for the cold open and the tag. Because nobody cares about those. They’re having a hard time getting pitches on. They’ll always let you write a tag.
Craig: That’s great.
John: Now, Ashley, I want to talk about what you said there with the disabled community was going to be on you if you ever say this thing. One of the things I’ve been hearing a lot about these last six weeks is don’t ask the person of color in the room to be the brakes. Don’t ask that person to always be the one who has to be the person saying like, no, no, that’s wrong. Don’t ask the most junior person in the room to speak up when there’s a problem. Help me square that. Because it sounds like in that case thank god they had you there to do that. But it shouldn’t always be your responsibility to do that. Right?
Ashley: It shouldn’t be and it’s so much extra work that only that young or junior writer of color is doing. And it’s so unfair, especially when you, the staff writer, has to tell an EP that they’re wrong. Like that’s horrible. The power imbalance feels so bad. So, hopefully you’re not putting that person in that position. But because you have unconscious bias you may accidentally do that and then it becomes about how you respond. Like I remember when I was on Bless this Mess there was a storyline that I was like, oh, I don’t know. I don’t know if I buy – Pam Grier is on that show. I don’t know if I buy a Black woman doing this. And immediately our showrunner was like, “You’re absolutely right. Thank you.”
And she wasn’t defensive. She didn’t argue me down. She didn’t get her feelings hurt. She just said thank you and we moved on and started improving the pitch. Like you would if someone said like, hey, maybe we should cut these two lines of dialogue. And that’s how you should respond to everything.
Craig: Well there’s this notion that if somebody challenges one of the things that you’re presenting in a room either you have some sort of core shame attached to it or you don’t.
Craig: And I think a lot of people have just a ton of core shame around anything that involves race or gender or sexuality. Any of these areas that we consider to be kind of slightly electrified train rails, you know. Because we’re afraid or we want to do well and then when somebody challenges you the shame kicks in and then there’s this defensiveness. And I think you’re making such an interesting point that actually there is nothing – it’s not personal. It’s the work. Right? So the work is what makes sense. What connects here? There is no need necessarily for shame. And I feel sometimes that behind some of that defensiveness is like a weird self-protection, like no, because I’m not a racist so therefore this is not racist or problematic.
Craig: Well, no, no, you can definitely say things that are incorrect or problematic or upsetting without being a bad person. It’s called you didn’t make the right choice the first time. That’s what writing is also, right? That’s part of it.
Ashley: Yeah. Like any time in a room someone says like, “Oh, I think we can beat this joke,” we’ve like built a callous over the part of our heart that gets our feelings hurt by that.
Ashley: And it’s just a value neutral, OK, let’s try to beat it. And I think we have to get there with these issues, too. And obviously you’re a human being. You might feel shame. You might get hot in the face. Take a walk around the block. Don’t put that on that poor young staff writer. Because I have seen people get shutdown and just stop talking for the rest of the season. It’s very easy to do.
Craig: Yeah. No, that’s such a great point. People are encouraged to grow that callous over their sense of pride of ownership, pride of authorship, and in fact it’s a bit of a badge of courage that, dude, I don’t even feel anything man. Yeah, well first of all we all do. OK? Everybody feels something. When someone says, “Don’t love that joke,” everybody – you should. You’re a human being. You’re going to feel something. But it’s contextualized. You are a funny person. You have had funny things get into the show. You will again. No one is saying that you’re not funny. They’re just saying congratulations as a human being you’re not batting a thousand. And I think that extends to everything.
That’s such a useful perspective, I think. When these moments of rubbing up against each other happen, not good rubbing up against each other but bad rubbing up against each other, that you kind of are able to sort of let yourself grow the callous over it and not feel shame. Take the walk. Don’t put it on the other person. Don’t try and make your discomfort go away by denying that anything happened problematic in the first place.
John: I think it comes back to the idea of an action versus an identity. And a thing I’ve seen people talk about on Twitter this last couple weeks is to do a racism is to recognize that you did a thing that wasn’t right and it could have been unconscious or whatever, but let that be a thing that happened and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are that person who did that thing. Because that’s where you get in that cycle where you start denying it and all these things.
There’s an opportunity to acknowledge and address it and move on. And that helps that young writer who pointed out keep speaking up in the room and it helps everyone just sort of figure out the way forward through this and not have it be so focused on your identity, just the work that you’re doing.
Ashley: And that writer’s ability to keep speaking out is going to save you a bad day on Twitter, I promise.
Craig: That’s absolutely true. There’s a great self-interest that you could examine and I think that is – obviously there’s a value there. But, you know, even if theoretically someone could whisper in your ear and say, “I’m from the future and you get away with it on Twitter, no one notices,” there is a human being there who you hopefully are encouraging to grow. Because definitionally you’re describing somebody that’s not in charge talking to somebody who is in charge. And we’re going to get into this whole theory of how you do let people grow and how to prevent I guess – what’s the version of the ceiling that isn’t even a ceiling? [laughs] Right?
You walk into a room and your head is already bumping up against it because essentially it’s like welcome to the entry level where you will stay forever.
Ashley: Yes. Hope you like it here.
Craig: Exactly. This is your home now. And you did have this fascinating thread on Twitter where you were investigating diversity programs and that was one of the concepts that came up. So maybe we should talk a little bit about that thread and what you were trying to say.
Ashley: Yeah. I’ve never done a diversity program. But I hear about them so much from my peers and it’s like among the entry level people of color one of the biggest pain points. And I just thought like, well, those people who have done one or who still hope to do one as their way into the industry probably feel like they can’t say these things. But I can. And so, yeah, I went on a good old birthday rant.
Craig: Oh, that was your birthday? Oh.
Ashley: It was my birthday.
Craig: Happy Birthday.
Ashley: Thank you.
John: Happy Birthday. So, some of the points you make in this is that these programs recruit people who don’t necessarily need them. And so you’re an example. Like you came through Second City so you probably could have applied for one of these programs, but you already had the training coming out of this that you kind of would have gotten in one of these programs right?
Ashley: Yes, OK, I did apply for them. I applied for all the diversity programs. I didn’t get in. And then I got a job on television. And a lot of my friends who were doing these programs were with me at the Second City. They had the exact same training I do. And I would watch as our white friends would get a staff writer job and our friends of color would get a diversity program.
Craig: Yes. And so there’s this weird thing that’s happening in two directions in this point that you’re making. One point is that there are people who have done programs like UCB or Second City who if they were white would have already then graduated from something. Essentially it’s like you’re done with your thing, so you move along. Like you don’t need to go through another thing to graduate through.
Which I think is really important to put into focus. When you have this program that then is like – it’s like putting a lobby in front of a lobby, right?
Ashley: Maybe this conversation is the end of my career, but when you—
Craig: Trust me, our careers will end way faster.
Ashley: [laughs] When someone presents a problem to you of like there aren’t enough people of color at your network or whatever and your solution is a training program, what you’re saying is you assume that those people need training. You’re assuming that they’re less than. And you know there was a time where people of color didn’t have access to universities or to these post-graduate training programs, but we do. So you’re now taking someone who has gone to college, gone through a Second City, and IO, a UCB, often for ten years, and then saying you need more training, even though the person who is sitting in the classroom next to you is ready.
Craig: Right. Exactly. And you may already have more actual training than that person. Because there’s a special training bucket, you end up in the training bucket. And you know because you applied, didn’t get into those programs, and then got the thing that those programs are supposed to train you for. I have the same relationship with film schools. I didn’t go to film school. I didn’t go to any of that stuff. And then I just did the thing that I’m doing. And the point being that there is the most essential training. The only real training you can ultimately get is job training that isn’t training – a job. Right? They got to throw you in the pool and you must swim. No floaties. No little special zone in the pool. You got to go in with everybody else and start swimming.
Ashley: And I think the problem they’re attempting to address is like when you’re on that first or second or third even staff writer job typically someone is going to take under their wing and kind of mentor you a little bit. If it’s not the showrunner, one of the other EPs. And I’ve certainly experienced that and been so grateful for that. And I think that people tend to choose – when you choose your guy who you’re going to do that for it’s often someone who looks like you.
So, I think in their minds they’re thinking, oh, a person of color may not get chosen as anybody’s guy, so let’s run them through this training program. But the training program is not the same type or quality of information that you would get as being on a job and having a senior level writer take you under their rein. So they’re not replicating the thing they’re trying to replace.
Craig: They’re not replicating the thing they’re trying to replace. It’s such a perfect way of saying it. Everybody knows, right? It’s not like people don’t know. This person is a trainee. This person is a rookie. That’s too very different jobs. And it does seem like there’s got to be a way to get us out of that loop.
I think that people sometimes think that, oh, these are essentially positive things. But, John, my question for you is behind all of this do you suspect, what I suspect, which is that the companies are just being cheap. They’re using training as an excuse to pay less.
John: So, I think there is a noble intention, or there was a noble intention behind these programs. So I don’t want to put a negative – original intention on this. But I think the realities are if a studio can get away with paying less they will pay less. And in many cases the people who are coming out of these programs they’re able to pay these people a training late, some lesser rate, or pay them out of a different fund so it’s saving them money to do this. And I think it overall limits the growth of some of these writers who are coming to television this way. Because if I can pay you X or I can pay you 75% of X, you know, as a studio I want to pay you 75% of X. And I worry that that’s really where we’re at right now.
John: And that’s why we probably need to take a very critical look at what we’re doing here and so that we are hiring Ashley out of Second City, not hiring Ashely, we’re bringing her into the training program after Second City. Giving her the job she should have.
Craig: Like Ashley says, so Ashley another point you make is because there is this trainee rate where they’re getting away with paying you less, they’re incentivized to keep you on that level.
Ashley: Or, to swap you out for another person of color. Because when it would be time for you to go up to the next level, like story editor, and probably get a pay bump. What is happening is that they’re just swapping that writer out and getting another new diversity program writer who is free again. And so it’s like when you tell someone that someone is worth less they’re going to treat them like they’re worth less. And it also makes it seem like writers of color are interchangeable.
Like we had a Black writer, and now we’ll just get another Black writer, as if that person is going to come in with the same experience and skills and life knowledge that they were bringing to the room.
John: Yeah. That idea of paying someone less makes them worth less is something we’ve talked a lot about with assistants over these years. And this is another example of that where it’s just when you give a discount for certain kinds of people in that room it has an effect. And so I think a writer is a writer and needs to be paid like a writer is where we’re coming down to.
While we’re still talking about money, I do want to circle back to comedy variety overall. Did you get residuals? Did you get paid residuals for the work you were doing on those shows?
Ashley: We did because the two shows are on TBS and HBO. So we did get residuals. I only found out recently that on streaming a lot of comedy variety writers don’t get residuals, which is like – that’s already nuts, but there’s no script fees in comedy variety. And there’s no advancement. You’re either a staff writer or the head writer. So there’s no like sort of guaranteed pay bumps. And there’s no residuals. So it’s just people working 45 hours a day for way less money than everybody else.
John: So you’re working in scripted television, working on Bless the Mess, or the show you’re working on right now, is that better pay and a better life for you?
Ashley: Yeah, it’s definitely a more chill life. There are a lot of comedy variety writers who only want to write comedy variety for the rest of their careers and they’re great at it. I don’t think that a lot of people are trying to move into scripted. But, they’re doing – they are a writer. They should at least be getting residuals and at least be getting the same level of financial gain that everybody else is.
John: Yeah. Particularly if they’re working on a streamer show, because the difference between if you’re writing a show for Netflix versus a show for HBO, and one gets residuals and one doesn’t, that’s crazy.
Craig: Well, you know, we’re kind of bumping up against this issue that we were discussing before. The churn of this kind of work. Because residuals ultimately are for reuse and if you have material that’s sort of got a – like I mean I guess some people sit and watch old episodes of Jimmy Kimmel, but not many. Mostly you’re just watching it that night. And so reuse isn’t a huge part of it, which means that the companies that are employing writers have to essentially balance that out so that – I mean, obviously you want to make sure that the people who are working for you can make a living. And that as an employer you are an attractive option for those people because, you know, as we’re hearing Ashley is appropriately describing the – I mean, this is like fox hole stuff. Right?
This is really hard to do. I mean, listen, just as a side note, always go for the more chill, if you can. Just always. This job is hard enough. Life is hard enough. Being a writer is hard enough. We already have our own mental problems that we’re dealing with. So chill – always I say gravitate towards chill.
John: We have a couple questions here and I’m curious about your perspective on these, Ashley, so I’m going to ask you first to answer these questions if you wouldn’t mind. Vito in Vegas wrote in to ask, “About a year ago a friend told me about an idea he wanted to turn into a screenplay. The idea was simple as ‘a heist film that takes place in a shopping mall’ with no other plot points, story, or characters discussed. Since then we’ve had a pretty big falling out but I really like the idea of a heist film in a shopping mall. Is it stealing if I write my own take on that idea? Does it only become stealing if I were taking plot points and characters? When is stealing an idea actually stealing an idea?”
Ashley, what do you think?
Ashley: I think, I don’t know, my perspective might be different as a sketch writer. Because as a sketch and a late night writer you’re going through so many ideas that to me it is stealing and stealing an idea – I don’t know why you would do it. Because you have 45 ideas a day. Just use one of the other 44. That’s such a vague idea that you could just have another one.
John: Craig, what do you think?
Craig: Yeah. I mean, the idea, a heist film that takes place in a shopping mall, is not intellectual property. It is not copyright-able. What Vito is really asking us to make is an ethical determination. And I tend to side with Ashley here. Like, yeah, no, you could. There’s nothing your ex-friend can do about it legally. But how will you feel? And maybe is there something else you can write? And also honestly Vito that’s not a great idea. Sorry. It’s just not.
John: It’s not a great idea.
Craig: It’s not a great idea.
John: We’ve spared you from that.
Craig: We’ve seen a billion heist movies, and so it’s in a shopping mall. Who cares? I don’t care. That was also Bad Santa. So, yeah, you know, it was Bad Santa. It’s been done.
John: What I find so fascinating about this question is that, OK, if it weren’t an ex-friend but a current friend would you be considering it? No. You wouldn’t be considering it because that’s your friend and you’d be betraying your friend. Or at least you would talk to your friend about that. Are you going to actually write this thing or are you not going to write this thing? But because it’s an ex-friend that you had a falling out with maybe that makes it OK? No. That doesn’t change the valiance of whether it’s OK or not to do this thing.
So, move on. I think Ashley had the best approach. Because really it’s a sketch idea. It’s just a loose idea out there. You can have other good loose ideas. Leave this one be, Vito. Don’t – thanks for writing in, but don’t take this idea.
Craig: Nice use of the word valiance, by the way.
John: All right. Thanks. I try every once and a while.
Craig: No, I love it.
Ashley: It’s on his calendar today.
Craig: I know. Today the word of the day is “valiance.”
John: I ripped it off. It’s like, ooh, valiance. That’s the new word.
Craig: Let’s see.
John: Do you want to try Hunter?
Craig: Yeah. Let’s pose this question to Ashley. Hunter from Washington writes, “This is sort of a follow up to your recent podcast about the use of police in mass media. That’s from Episode 455. Which made me wonder about my current project. I’ve been working on and off for the past two years on a drama feature about a minority teenager struggling against the nature of society while attempting to achieve his dreams. One of the characters currently happens to be a family member who is also a local police officer. The problem is I’m white and come from a middle class household so I haven’t experienced the injustice that I’ve been writing about. With the recent protests I feel like I woefully unqualified to tell the story and am worried that what I am doing will be seen as extremely insensitive should I ever release it to the public.
“Here’s my dilemma…” I’m already interested because I don’t know where the dilemma is, but let’s go on. “Here’s my dilemma. Should I continue to write this screenplay while avoiding the traps that typically appear with Hollywood portrayals of police and racism? Or should I simply accept I am too privileged to write something like this and write something else? I’m passionate about this story as some elements are personal to me, but I don’t want to write something that could considered by many to be insensitive.”
Ashley, any thoughts about Hunter’s – I’m going to downgrade it from dilemma to predicament?
Ashley: I feel really bad because he said he’s been working on it for two years, but he lost me at the word minority.
Craig: I was going to say. I don’t even like saying it.
Ashley: Yeah. I feel like if you’re calling your character a minority and not a Black person or a Mexican person you’re probably not ready to write the script. I’m so sorry.
Craig: Oh yeah. John, what do you think about Hunter from WA?
John: So, he says there is a personal aspect of this story. I think that’s what he needs to focus on and there’s probably some version of the story that he actually has real insight, both personal insight and emotional insight. But I think he’s trying to project it onto characters he is no ready to write and parts of the world he doesn’t understand. And I don’t think it’s going to work. And so not just because it’s like the politically correct thing to do, but I think it’s actually the correct writing thing to do and career thing to do is for him to focus on the story that he’s uniquely well-qualified to write and not try to write this thing that he himself seems to suspect he’s not the right person to be writing.
Craig: That’s the part that I’m kind of catching on. I mean, Hunter, I think you have to listen to your gut here. You can write anybody and you are allowed to write anybody. Writers, we are here to write characters and we should and can write characters that are not just like us. However, if you do so please be aware you have to get it right. If you’re going to write somebody that isn’t you other people that are more like that character need to look at it and go that feels right. Which means homework and listening and empathy and practice and thought and connection. So a lot of stuff going on there. And it doesn’t sound like you feel like you’re on solid ground there.
The other thing to investigate is whether or not your story is going to fit in a kind of story we’ve seen a lot of. For instance, if your story is about white people helping a Black kid, we’ve seen it. A lot.
Ashley: We’ve seen it more than it’s actually happened I would argue.
Craig: Correct. There is 1.5 of those movies for every time it has happened in reality. [laughs] So, I think that we don’t need more of those. Sometimes people think that they have a good idea for a movie because it’s just like other movies they’ve seen when in fact that’s the best argument that you don’t have a good idea for a movie. So, I think that you should listen to your gut here. You’re not a bad person. In fact, you’re a good person I would argue because you are being aware and you’re being thoughtful and you are taking the time to do something that a lot of people don’t do.
So, on that front I think well done. Listen to your gut here. And remember there’s lots of other stuff you can write.
John: For sure. It’s time for our One Cool Things. So, I have two One Cool Things. One of them is Ashley Nicole Black on Drunk History. So I was looking through clips and you’re on Drunk History Season 5 Episode 3 talking about Nichelle Nichols and Star Trek. It is fantastic. My question for you, so we’ll put a link in the show notes to this, my question for you is how does the drinking part and the recording of the audio work on that? Because you tell the story so well and yet you clearly have some alcohol in you. What is that experience like?
Ashley: That’s one of the top three drunkest I’ve been in my life. And one of the other three is another episode of Drunk History. So very drunk. And so basically like there is someone there who is very patient and whose name I couldn’t possibly remember who will get you to repeat a sentence over and over again until you get it right.
Craig: Oh my god. That’s awesome.
John: Well and it’s absolutely delightful. So people should check that out. The other thing I was listening to this morning, NPR did a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in celebration of Juneteenth. And the Emancipation Proclamation, I guess I never actually read it. It’s not inspiring reading. It’s not poetic. It’s just a list of exceptions kind of to the end of slavery except for these cases.
But what’s fascinating about the NPR reading of it is – I’ll link to the page that has it – is they have a whole bunch of NPR hosts reading different sections of it. And so the first time I’m seeing like, oh, that’s what Audie Cornish looks like. That’s what Korva Coleman looks like. All these people whose voices I’ve heard in my head all these times. Oh, that’s the face that goes with it. So, I always find it so fascinating when I listen to the radio or podcasts because I end up building a face in my mind for what that person looks like and it’s never even remotely close. And so it was a chance to see some of the faces of all these NPR people I’ve been listening to for years. So I’ll put a link in the show notes to that.
Ashley: Can I make a confession about this show?
John: Tell me.
Ashley: I thought you guys were the opposite. Like, I had seen a picture of Craig at some point and thought that man was named John August.
Craig: Oh wow. That’s awesome.
Ashley: A really long time.
Craig: That’s so great.
John: That’s excellent.
Craig: That’s amazing. But, you know, it doesn’t really change anything, does it?
John: No, it really doesn’t it.
Craig: I mean, you just thought all that time that agency agreement guy named John August was such an asshole. [laughs] And now you’re like, oh no, that man named John August is a very nice man.
John: So Craig has a beard. I could not grow a beard if I tried. That’s one way to sort of keep it.
Craig: Have you tried?
John: I have tried. It looks really bad.
Craig: Aw. I kind of want to see it now.
John: You want to see it?
Ashley: Quarantine is the time.
Craig: I mean, really.
Craig: I was just looking, by the way, at the Emancipation Proclamation. They have on the national archives they have the actual document which was handwritten, of course. And it just strikes me that it’s four and half pages long of just handwriting. Now, today any bill, even a bill to name a post office something is usually about 4,000 pages long. I just think it’s remarkable that before I think government became over-lawyered and burdened down by all these things that you could do something like free an entire race of people in 4.5 pages.
Now, you could also argue that maybe they should have been a little bit more thorough in their 4.5 pages because in fact the whole point of Juneteenth is that Emancipation Proclamation didn’t seem to take effect for a while. At least not in Texas. So I guess there’s a tradeoff. They could have used a few extra pages there it seems.
John: Or quicker enforcement.
John: That too. But there was a war, so it happened along the way. Ashley, do you have a One Cool Thing to share with us?
Ashley: Yes. It’s the Loveland Foundation, which is an organization that helps Black women and girls access therapy. So if you want to access therapy you can go to their website and there’s places like find a therapist. And you can also donate and help pay for somebody’s therapy.
John: That seems great.
Craig: It’s called the Loveland?
Ashley: Yes. The Loveland Foundation.
Craig: OK. Bookmarking. All right. My One Cool Thing is, you had it listed here on our Workflowy John as “also” but I’m stealing it because I was already planning on it.
John: All right.
Craig: Our good friend, friend of the podcast, Mike Birbiglia, he has his many wonderful shows. Mr. Birbiglia – by the way, Mike Birbiglia’s movie Don’t Think Twice is – I was thinking about that when you were talking about, Ashley, talking about people who don’t mention the packets. Like that weird jealously thing that happens in the improv world.
Ashley: Oh man. I saw that movie with another comic. And it was one of our first times hanging out and we both liked walked out of the theater and were like goodbye. It destroyed us.
Craig: I love that. He’s going to love that, too.
Ashley: A very good representation of what it’s like.
Craig: Yeah. It’s sort of like he knew that world.
Ashley: That is a story he was uniquely qualified to write.
Craig: Indeed. Indeed. So he had this wonderful show called The New One which was referenced both to the show itself and to his new child. And he and his wife J. Hope Stein, which I love, but anybody that is a fan of Mike’s comedy knows that he refers to his wife as Clo, which is not her name. Regardless, they have a book called The New One which includes poems by his wife. She’s a fantastic poet. And her poetry features in the show.
That book is now available I believe.
Craig: Everywhere. Including in print and in audio books. So The New One by Mike Birbiglia with poems by J. Hope Stein, aka Clo, is my One Cool Thing.
John: So the other “also” here was because he also has a brand new podcast and he’s probably listening to us right now saying like, no, mention the podcast.
Craig: I know. I can hear him saying that. Why aren’t they mentioning the podcast?
John: Mike Birbiglia seems like a nice person, but you can tell you don’t want to get him angry.
Craig: That he’s the devil? [laughs]
John: I don’t want him angry at me.
Ashley: He seems nice to me.
Craig: That’s the best thing you’ve ever said. Mike Birbiglia seems like a nice person. But I think we all know he’s Satan.
John: Yeah. But he’s also driven. His new podcast is called Working it Out. It’s him working on new material with other comedians and creators each week. And it’s great so you should take a listen to that because he’s a very smart, funny person. And it’s also cool to see the process of creation happening kind of live. This is the time he would normally be out on the road working on his new thing. And instead he’s doing it through a podcast. So you should listen.
John: If you are a Premium member stick around after the credits because we’re going to be talking about fireworks. But otherwise Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Eric Pearson. If you have an outro you can send us a link to email@example.com.
That’s also the place where you can send long questions like the ones we answered. But for short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. Ashley you are?
John: And so you find her there. That’s actually we found you. That’s how we first met was on the Twitter.
We have t-shirts. They’re great. Get them at Cotton Bureau. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you find the transcripts.
You can sign up to become a Premium member at Scriptnotes.net where you get all the back episodes and bonus segments.
Ashley, absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much for joining us here.
Ashley: It’s going to be weird to listen to the podcast and not be on it after this I got to say.
Craig: Well, I mean, if you’re looking for a podcast job…
John: If you’re looking for a podcast job. Actually what we’re saying is please come back often, OK?
Ashley: Would love to.
John: Now, Ashley, you live in Hollywood. I live just south of you, just south of Hollywood. Can we talk about fireworks and the fireworks situation?
Ashley: Has it been a month? It feels like it’s been a month of every single night fireworks.
John: From Memorial Day on, honestly. Just hearing fireworks all the time. Not like happy big fireworks in the sky. Just like pops and explosions. And most frustratingly during the time when Melrose was on fire and there were actually smoke grenades and stuff like that I would also hear them. And so like is that fireworks? Is there some civil unrest happening nearby? Fireworks, no. Stop the fireworks.
Ashley: Yeah. It’s like every night it’s like helicopters and tiny explosions. And my poor little dog is like we shouldn’t be outside. And I’m like but this is where you have to pee. It’s just like, no, no, no, it’s not good. And it’s every night I have this shivering being hiding in my bathroom that I can’t do anything for.
John: Yeah. My dog is the same way. So, fireworks I think are appropriate for the Fourth of July. Second tier is New Year’s Eve. Great. I can take some fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Let’s keep them special for those days. I don’t want the fireworks for the unveiling of the tree at the Grove. No. The tree is the celebration at the Grove. We don’t need fireworks for that either. I just – I’m kind of anti-fireworks. Craig, you’re being very quiet here.
Craig: We should have fireworks every night. Hear me out. Hear me out. First of all, the dogs will get used to it.
Ashley: No they won’t apparently. It’s been a month.
Craig: They need like a lot of them. The problem is that they’re getting random fireworks. They need to know every night at say 10pm there’s an amazing fireworks display that brings everyone together. Beautiful. We can all look up. We can ooh and ah. And we all—
Ashley: They can’t see color.
Craig: That’s OK. Because a lot of them are white and black. Like, you know, they shine so a lot of flashes of light that disappear into the night. So they can like that. And also maybe like we could put some sort of flavor in the fireworks. Like a chicken flavor or something. I was thinking of my dog. She loves chicken.
So, chicken would come down and they would be happy. And because everyone – who doesn’t love fireworks? They’re heartwarming.
John: No. Fireworks are not heartwarming. And I oppose their use in anything other than the Fourth of July and occasionally on January 1st.
Craig: So weird. You’re talking about fireworks like they’re ventriloquism or something, which as everyone knows is awful. Fireworks put a smile on children’s faces.
John: Because they’re special once a year.
John: And if we have them all the time it’s no longer once a year. It’s no longer special.
Craig: They should be shown every hour. I would be OK if they announced the hour change like, oh, it’s three o’clock. Fireworks. I’m down.
John: When I was in Scotland they actually have the gun where they fire at – I don’t know, originally it was like at noon, but they realized it was too many explosives. They were having to do it 12 times. So now they do it at one o’clock and so at one o’clock they put off the gun in Edinburgh.
Ashley: I’ve always found fireworks like OK. I’ve never had my mind blown by a firework. But there are people who have PTSD who like it ruins they’re whole day. So it’s like I’m not going to ruin someone’s whole day just so I can go like, oh, that was cool.
Craig: I hear you. But I think that’s again another reason why we should have fireworks every night. Hear me out. Hear me out. If they’re every night at a set time then anybody who is noise sensitive. Because, look, we have people out there who are neuro-diverse. They can handle the noise. They don’t like it. So they just know at this time let me get some ear plugs in. Let me get some foam. Let me put something over my ears.
John: I put on my thunder coat. Yes.
Craig: So this way I don’t have to experience the sound of it but if I want to watch the light, the beautiful colors, and I can see it. But they’ll know it’s coming. There’s no random factor. So, I think again the two of you – I almost feel like the two of you work for the fireworks lobby, because you’re making such good arguments for fireworks.
John: Now, have either of you seen the Queen of Versailles? The documentary about the rich woman who is determined to build the biggest house in Florida.
Craig: Yeah, I did.
John: So put it top of your queue. It’s fantastic.
John: But one of the things about the house that they’re trying to build is they’re outside Orlando and they build this giant window that aims towards Disney World because they can see the fireworks every night.
Craig: Yes. Yes.
John: So they wanted to be able to catch the fireworks every night. And the whole house is oriented towards being able to watch the Disney World fireworks.
Craig: They’re so good.
John: So amazing.
Ashley: And those are probably some of the best fireworks in the world. And they’re fine.
Craig: OK. Hold on. Hold on. Now we got a fight. When was the last time you saw the Disney World fireworks?
Ashley: Well not Disney World, but Disneyland probably a couple years ago.
Craig: I’ll grant you Disneyland fireworks – they’re good is what I would call them. You’re going to say fine. You put a little stink on it. I get it. Honestly good. But the Disney World fireworks are outstanding.
John: Now, but we can all agree though those fireworks which are up in the sky, that’s one thing. This sort of like war zone thing that Ashley and I are getting every night, that’s not the same thing. But it has the effect on our dogs and on our general wellbeing. Just like, oh, there’s a pop. Was that a gunshot? Was that some grenade thing going off? I don’t know. But it’s happening all the time.
Craig: If you don’t let people set off proper amounts of fireworks every night that’s what you’re going to get. It’s boiling over. OK? You need to give people an outlet. And the outlet I’m suggesting is nightly fireworks displaced 10 to 10:30, professional level. Professional level.
Ashley: It feels like what you’re describing is sex. [laughs]
Craig: A little bit.
John: Craig, I have a pitch for you. So it’s like the purge, but with fireworks.
John: So on one day every year–
John: We let everyone do their fireworks and we do it on the Fourth of July. How is that?
Craig: You’re the worst. You’re the Grinch. You just said like what if every year we have one day where a man comes down from the North Pole and puts presents in our stockings. We already have that. You’re selling me something I already have. We have the Fourth of July. I want nightly fireworks. I’m not – this is my new thing. This is what the world needs.
John: Yeah. It’s in his HBO contract. He gets an assistant and he gets nightly fireworks.
Craig: That’s right.
Ashley: I’m going to send my dog to tap her little feet around your apartment at three o’clock in the morning.
Craig: I would actually kind of love that. I love dogs so much. What kind of dog?
Ashley: She’s a mutt. I adopted her from Puerto Rico. She’s a street dog. And she hates fireworks.
Craig: Is she big? Medium? Small?
Ashley: She’s small and chunky.
Craig: Oh, I like a small chunky dog.
Ashley: And she has Yoda ears.
Craig: Oh yeah. Yeah. Send her over. I’m good. I’ll teach her to appreciate the fireworks. She’ll love them.
John: Ashley, thanks again.
Craig: Thanks Ashley.
Ashley: Thanks for having me.
Craig: So much fun.
- Ashley Nicole Black on Twitter
- Ashley’s Twitter Thread on Diversity Programs
- Ashley on Drunk History on Nichelle Nichols
- NPR’s reading of the Emanicipation Proclamation
- The Loveland Foundation
- Mike Birbiglia’s Working it Out
- The New One
- Get a Scriptnotes T-shirt!
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro by Eric Pearson (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can download the episode here.