This past fall, I interviewed Shaina Feinberg, creator of the acclaimed BricTV web series, Dinette. After watching both wonderful seasons, I wrote a review that casually makes the argument that your life will be substantially better once you watch Dinette, Seasons 1 and 2. (No pressure. Well. Maybe some pressure.)
Usually, when I watch TV, I just watch it; on my futon that I pretend is a couch. Maybe, if I’m feeling ambitious, there’s popcorn involved. But this time was special because I got to watch the series and then hop right on a Zoom call with its creator immediately after. (Results not typical.)
Dinette’s writer/creator/director, Shaina Feinberg and I chatted for about 45 minutes, during which she shared many pearls of wisdom with me.
For you, the wonderful GOLDies out there on the internet (soon the Metaverse?? I don’t understand it and I’m afraid!!) — For you, I’ve chosen/edited/condensed what I deem to be the most salient nuggets of knowledge from what Shaina shared with me. I hope that our convo is instructive to 2022 you — as you encounter (and triumph over) your own creative goals in this fresh New Year!
I was struck by the dynamic cast in Dinette and how uniquely suited to each role the actors were.
So I asked Shaina:
Emma: What draws you to the friends and the actors that you write for?
Shaina: I just love clowniness, and I love absurdism, and I think the world is so absurd and so I definitely like to have absurdism and clowniness in everything I make.
I guess I’m drawn to two different kinds of actors. Some of the people I’m drawn to because they’re just like, really good, like just standard-issue actors: You can write them a monologue and they will literally come in and every single word that you wrote, they have memorized and they will do it the exact same way every single time. I like these people because they’re fun to write for. And then there are other people who I really like because I just – they just crack me up! They’re just really funny and you write differently for those people.
They’re all really funny. But the people who are more like – that kind of actor people. You’re like writing jokes for them, whereas the funny people, you’re kind of just letting them play.
I was drawn in by the “tone” of the series. By which I mean the world of it, the way it made me feel. The colors, the costumes, the coziness, the magic of it, but also the ways that the people felt real to me, like folks I would know.
Shaina: OK, tone, let’s see. I guess I — Well, I like stuff to seem natural. I want people to seem like they’re saying things that they would naturally say, but I really wanted to be goofy. And I guess – I guess in terms of tone, let’s see–
Emma: –They’re wearing costumes like the Dinette outfits. I’ve never been to a place in Brooklyn that looks just like that. But everyone is a person I know, at the same time. So, there’s an otherworldliness at the same time as—
Shaina: –I guess that’s what it is. I like it to be like: This is left of center. Like, it’s kind of our world, but kind of not, you know? In season 1, everyone is talking about the Trump administration, more or less. But, there’s also a guy who’s saying that he’s raised by a cat, and there (are) these other male characters who don’t speak. So it’s — it’s kind of like our reality, but on its side, like a little bit on its head. And I think that allows for things to stand out a little bit more. And also the thing is: Life is so crazy and magical and weird.
One time, before I was with my husband–I lived alone in Clinton Hill; I still live here–I went to the grocery store and when I would turn the corner, all of a sudden there was a marching band and they marched right alongside me as I was walking home with my groceries. And then when I turned a corner, they turned a corner. Like, it genuinely seemed like this marching band was walking me home from the grocery store.
Those things happen in life. And I just feel like that’s the stuff I make. I like to play in that space. I like those moments in life, so I’m constantly trying to create those moments.
SEASON 1 vs SEASON 2
Season 2 had more cliffhangers and more jokes than the first season. Season 1 was also delightfully funny and drew me into each character’s story, but there was something different in the writing between the seasons and I was curious about that.
I was also curious about the business/production side of the project and how there came to be a season 1, and then a season 2.
Emma: What were some of the roadblocks or what did you encounter in the pitching process?
Shaina: I was very lucky that with Bric; I said to them for season 1: The movie Diner, but with women and gender-nonconforming people and they were like, done. They just were into it.
And then that came out. We got a lot of press and – press that we hadn’t even expected – written about in The New Yorker and all this stuff.
I got to go to L.A. and pitch it as a TV show, and that is where I did get – it was really nice. All the rooms were very warm because everyone had seen it and really liked it and were asking me to come pitch it. But the obstacles there were like, “Well, nobody’s famous enough.” And then also, another obstacle was – one of the notes I got was, they said, “Don’t change a thing. We love it, but it’s not quite funny enough for us.”
So, you know, I’m a funny person. I make funny things, but my style of comedy is like a comedy-of-manners. So it’s different than, like, I don’t know, Brooklyn Nine-Nine or whatever.
Emma: That’s one of the things I enjoy so much about your series – is that: It’s the funny that’s like hanging out with friends.
Shaina: Which is what I like personally! But I did take that note and I did try to make it slightly more — I tried to bump it up a little bit for season 2.
Emma: So can you talk about that? What are the things you made more out of and what are the things you pulled back on? What changed between seasons 1 and 2?
Shaina: I tried to make more … regular jokes. I guess – some more jokes. And like, I also tried to weave some of the episodes. I also tried to leave a bunch of the episodes with cliffhangers.
I noticed that, for season 1, some people would be like, “Oh, I loved it. It was great. I only watched episode one.” You know?
And I was like, “OK, is it that you got enough? You didn’t care what was going to happen next?” And I think at the end of season 1, I started making it so that, like, each of the episodes kind of rolls into each other. And so I think that I was like, “OK, I got to do that more in season 2, where it’s like, you’re going to come back because this is hanging over your head.”
And here we segued a bit into what Shaina’s future TV writing might look like based on her Dinette experience:
Shaina: I think ideally when I get a TV show, I will have other writers with me and we will make the kind of jokes that I like, but also the kinds of jokes that are a little more jokey-joke, you know? Like a mix.
The thing is to me – the things that are funniest from movies that I love are – Oh, in this movie, Daytrippers, from when I was a kid. I remember: Parker Posey comes to a party in the winter and she has all these layers on because nothing she wears is appropriate. But she’s wearing all these layers, and so she’s like taking every single layer off.
To me that’s hilarious, you know? But that’s not like a joke-joke. That’s like a comedy-of-manners joke.
So, I’m trying to do more of a mix in season 2, and when I get the TV show, that’s what I would like to do as more of a mix. Both of those kinds of things. I mean, it’s like the movie The Birdcage, which I think is very funny, and is a mix of a comedy-of-manners and also just funny.
No comedy interview is complete without discussing it.
Emma: Talk to me about some of the fears that you encountered, overcame, or worked through throughout this process of these 2 seasons.
Shaina: Well, I’m just a very anxious person, so I’m constantly anxious and fearful, and I think there is a part of me when I make anything that’s like, “Who cares? Why does anyone care?”
But then I’m like, “Well, I care. I love to watch stuff where I feel represented.” And so if I like that, then someone else will, you know?
It can be easy to just be like, nobody needs it, but I think that it’s not true. People do still want to see themselves. And I don’t think we see ourselves quite as much as – I mean, some people see, I’m sure, see themselves all over the place. But I think a lot of people still are finding themselves on screen. So that kind of propels me forward.
So, dear reader, what propels YOU forward? What will you write/film/act/direct in 2022?
Emma Tattenbaum-Fine is a comedy writer, actor, and director who appeared as the host of HQ Trivia, improvising live in front of a million viewers internationally. She can be seen in Netflix’s “Explained” and has written sketch and stand-up comedy for TruTV, Comedy Central, Refinery29, and New York Theatre Workshop (writing jokes for Heidi Schreck and Jeremy O. Harris). Come see her newest weekly writing by visiting & subscribing at emmatattenbaumfine.