Late Night writers give tips to make it in their industry
Brooklynites curious about breaking into the late-night comedy writing scene convened at St. Francis College on Tuesday night, when the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and the Center for Communication brought in a group of writers to discuss the industry.
“Comedy writers, specifically, are brilliant. And late-night comedy writers are beyond brilliant,” said Jennifer Danielson, who moderated the event. “There is a special thing about having to answer to what’s going on in a topical way.”
The panel consisted of Zhubin Parang, head writer for “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah;” Franchesca Ramsey, writer and performer at “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore;” and Joe Toplyn, former head writer for both “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “Late Show with David Letterman.”
“This is so cool for me, because we have so many different levels of background in late night [on the stage tonight],” said Ramsey, who has worked at “The Nightly Show” for just three months, after breaking into the industry with the help of her YouTube channel.
While all three writers gained traction in the industry in different ways, their advice for getting a foot in the door was remarkably similar: write every day and get involved in the comedy world in some fashion.
“Involve yourself in the comedy community,” Toplyn said. “If you think you are interested in comedy, then take a sketch class, take an improv class — try it on and find out what you are good at, what you enjoy. Start your writing samples, start writing sketches, start posting jokes on Twitter. Develop a body of writing that you can refine over the years.”
Ramsey said that when she was starting out, she would challenge herself to write every day. She suggested a method that she used to employ.
“I used to do a 10-joke-a-day challenge with my friend,” Ramsey said. “We’d email each other jokes all day long, and eight of those jokes were terrible, but two were good. By the end of the week, you have a handful of good jokes.”
Parang stressed that the jokes need to be told to an audience as well, noting that testing material is the only way to improve.
“It’s critical to write constantly, but it’s just as critical to get your material in front of other people,” Parang said. “The only way to really learn what’s funny about your writing is by putting it up for acceptance or rejection. That could be doing standup or an improv performance — any live-fire situation.”
The event afforded the writers an opportunity to cover a variety of topics. They were asked about writing politically, how writers collaborate as a group, and about their influences. At the end of the evening, time was allotted for aspiring comedians to ask questions. All three panelists admitted that while comedians might make late-night TV seem easy and carefree, their work is quite difficult.
“Every single day, I’m like, ‘holy sh*t.’ Every. Single. Day,” Ramsey said.
“The cameras come on at 6:30, whether you want them to or not,” Parang said. “It’s amazing how much of a late-night show’s life is trying to build a track as the train is barreling towards you, and how intensely you create with deadlines that tight.”
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