Erin Keating has to turn everything funny

Erin Keating is an award-winning television development and production executive and single Mom to twin tweens living in Los Angeles. With her eyes on the wider content landscape, Erin created Hotter Than Ever to produce media that reflects the authentic, messy, sexy, funny, and inspiring stories of women over forty.

 Erin’s passion for smart, brand-defining original programming has led to zeitgeist-shaping shows like Portlandia, along with the first-ever made-for-mobile scripted series.  Her career has included senior creative roles at Snapchat, Big Beach TV, IFC TV, and Magna Global Entertainment.  She climbed the television ladder at BBC America, NBC, and Comedy Central.

Recent shows created under Erin’s watch have included the Emmy-winning James Corden’s Next James Corden, the WGA Award-winning drama Class of Lies, the WGA Award-nominated thriller Breakwater and the NAACP Image Award-nominated Two Sides. Erin also conceived the drama Vida (Starz), produced the documentary Fatherless (Fusion) and executived the hell out of the iconic sketch series Portlandia (which won a Peabody and a bunch of other fancy statues) along with other comedy, dramedy, and animated series.

 Erin grew up in the basement theaters of downtown NYC, where she produced and performed in live comedy shows at venues like The Slipper Room and The Zipper Factory.  She started out as an actor, studying theater at Oberlin College, Meisner technique at Ward Studio, and improvisation at The Second City Training Center in New York.

What were you like as a teen? 
I was some combination of goody-two-shoes rule-follower and radical rebel. I went to prep school and got decent grades, so it was a safe place for that–they indulged me. I worked hard at the subjects I cared about and did what I had to do for the others. I dressed wild. I ran all of the progressive activist committees at my school (Amnesty International, Friends for Peace). I was in all the plays and always got cast in the character roles, which in retrospect made sense because I was 5’10” and had the vibe of a worldly, brassy dame (with pink hair and lots of vintage jewelry on my trenchcoat). I was already funny but it wasn’t a part of my identity yet. I wrote and directed a surreal one-act comedy play, but I didn’t really tie that to any concrete professional aspirations. I was always a fan of comedy and obsessed with SNL and Tracey Ullman and Monty Python, but I got a bit pretty hard with the comedy bug as a performer when I had my first truly comedic role as gold-digging secretary Heddy LaRue in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
Did you have an un-sexy starter job? 
I was a camp counselor. I worked in a shoe store. I was a campus bartender. I was a writer for technology companies. I temped at a chocolate factory. The list is long. What I got out of it was humility. I realized I’d have to be focused and work hard to get where I wanted to go.
What do you consider to be your biggest comedy achievement to date?
Developing and working on Portlandia. It’s amazing to see the potential greatness and cultural resonance in something and have a hand in bringing that to life with brilliant people working at the top of their game.
When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it? 
The laughs. I loved having a job where part of what success looked like was having fun and cracking up. All other jobs seemed so boring after my first job in comedy as an assistant at Comedy Central.
Have you ever dealt with trolls?
I have had mean bosses, which is like having your livelihood controlled by a troll. I tried so hard to make this one boss like me, but they could never see how awesome I was and always treated me like a loser who didn’t deserve to be in the room. I was young and ambitious and I thought their perception of me would shape the rest of my career (which of course it did not). I resigned after a year without having another job lined up. Which is good, because I think I was about to get fired.
On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young comedian? 
Laughter is the best medicine, but it seems like it might be too late for that…
Best comedy advice you ever got?
This is comedy advice and life advice: You’re the only you there is. Your job is to discover your gifts and share them with the world.
Worst comedy advice you ever got? 
Once on a commercial audition, the casting director said, “Try it again, but this time don’t mock the product.” I couldn’t do it. I had to turn everything funny.
How has being funny helped you in your life? 
Laughter is a pressure release valve. If you can make a joke and make someone laugh, it reveals the truth of how absurd everything is, which allows us to not take everything so seriously. We’re only here for a short time. Joking around helps to disarm people and connect in a way that feels positive and open. It helps grease the wheels of life and creates a connection where there wasn’t one.
What specific things do you think a novice comedy writer should do to shape their voice? 
Write constantly. Make videos. Do open mics. Pay attention to what makes you laugh. Keep a notebook. Watch comedy. Study scripts of shows and films you love. Listen to comedy podcasts. Become friends with funny people. Take tons of classes. Start or join an improv or sketch group. Work with people you admire, not just the friends who happen to be around. Do it for yourself. Because you love it. Don’t think about your career too much, just don’t quit.
Was there one person who inspired you to go into the comedy world? 
OMG! There are so many. Gilda Radner. Tracey Ullman. Lily Tomlin. Margaret Cho. Steve Martin. These are all from my childhood. They MEANT something to me. I didn’t know as a kid that there were all these careers in comedy, but I was attracted to it like a magnet.
What is your go-to movie when you’ve had a bad day?
Spinal Tap. Waiting for Guffman. Bridesmaids. Monty Python and The Holy Grail.
What single word always cracks you up?