Lauren Veloski can scape and scrap
Lauren Veloski is a screenwriter/producer, comedy writer, and brave champion of the flip phone. Her first feature script, the indie comedy “SORRY, THANKS,” was praised by Lena Dunham for writing “as seamless as any studio rom-com—if studio rom-coms had astute, nuanced dialogue.” An “unromantic comedy” about the wreckage wrought by casual douchebaggery, “SORRY, THANKS” (starring mumblecore darling Andrew Bujalski & Wiley Wiggins) world-premiered at the SXSW Film Festival, played 15 fests internationally, and was acquired by IFC/Sundance. Lauren launched her story strategy company, THAT’S BANANAS, in 2020 after years as a producer/director in television/film. She also writes unbearably funny stuff online. Lauren graduated from Barnard College, where she studied creative writing—much to her enduring financial detriment.
What were you like as a teen?
Oh lord. As a teen, I cast myself as the star of my own slapstick romantic comedy—in love, as I was, with a savant skater boy with glacial blue eyes who I bribed someone to gain locker proximity to. I also paid $5 in P.E. for a swatch of his discarded flannel shirt (there were black market brokers for this kind of purchase?? apparently!). I spent my teen years living my own self-scripted “humiliation comedy.”
Today, this is my brand of screenplay, and decidedly my exact sense of humor, so it tracks! I lived in my imagination and still do. Delusion comes naturally to me—I think this is in some ways strength for a creator, so in calling myself “delusional,” I’m actually doing a humble brag!
Did you have an un-sexy starter job?
Yes, my first entertainment job was as the “Office Manager” (endless yet thankless job, WOW) at a documentary film company. It gave me street cred in that it offered proximity to creative projects of note.
But I now see that it hugely undermined my potential, in that it was an unapologetic boys’ club where all the principals were men, all the late-hour laborers women, and the owner once (to a collective jaw drop) asked in earnest at our Friday’s office lunch, “Can women be both beautiful AND smart?”
I survived this maximally male universe, and for sure it made me stronger and less willing to make myself small.
When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it?
Comedy is the most intense and personal game in the entertainment arena. Where I feel relief from its pressure cooker—and also where I feel the most possibility—is in creating my own projects.
I think a lot of comedians (especially on-stage comedians) feel depleted if they’re not actively getting an audience to laugh in real time. I feel blessed to, as a producer, know how to get something made myself. At age 27, I made my first feature film—an “unromantic comedy” directed by Dia Sokol—on a truly shoestring budget. My grandma was a background extra, my cousin was in a key role, my mom was in the sushi scene, etc.
I slept on my mom’s couch for 6 weeks to keep costs low and woke up to her senile vomiting cat every dawn. That movie world premiered at SXSW and sold to IFC/Sundance. That ability to scrape & scrap helps me stick with it.
On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young comedian?
Best comedy advice you ever got?
In her book, (Saint) Amy Poehler encourages us to think of our careers like “bad boyfriends.” She writes, “Your career will openly flirt with other people while you’re around. It will forget your birthday and wreck your car … Your career will never marry you.” What she’s saying is that at the end of the day, your career is a cipher. And it’s out of your control. It’s your PASSION for comedy (for your art, your creativity) that feeds you. That’s where your loyalty should lie. SO SMART.
Worst comedy advice you ever got?
The worst advice is that in order for a woman comic/woman character to be worth laughing with/at, she must be “likable.” This is pure drivel. From a screenwriting perspective, you cheapen your characters by shaving off their rough edges. And the insistence that WOMEN characters more than men must be “sweet, hapless,” blah blah blah, to earn the joke or our attention is flat-out dehumanizing. Fuck that.
How has being funny helped you in your life?
I think the comedian’s gift is to be able to see the absurdity in the world’s darkness, and in our effervescent/failing attempts to control our own lives. It’s endearing and it’s madness. This helps me laugh at myself, and love the delusional dope in all of us.
“The Golden Girls!” “Cheers!” These shows are comedy GOLD. In “Golden Girls” especially, the writing is just so hugely human and deeply brave for its time. More recently, my lifelines were: “Parks & Rec,” “The Mindy Project,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” I’m interested in comedy as an “empathy amplifier” and a bullshit smasher. If comedy can’t mend us together, (in relation to ourselves first, then to each other) it’s just empty showboating.
What specific things can a young comic or comedy writer do to shape their voice?
In my consulting work through my company THAT’S BANANAS, I emphasize doing the hard work of figuring out how you’re different. Before you can become a creative or comedic legend, you need to be uncomfortably and utterly YOURSELF. From this initial awkwardness (being off-trend) comes a new style the world doesn’t know it needs (yet). But it needs it. Your weird is your power center. Use it.
Was there one person who inspired you to go into comedy?
When I was 4 years old I (apparently) declared to my family that I would become a stand-up comedian. (I then spent the next 23 years hiding from this instinct, forgetting I was funny). For me, the rejoining of myself with my “funny” was not one person, but rather multiple comedy pioneers—all people who found their stinkiness and their “weird,” and dropped it at the world’s feet without apology or explanation. To me, Mindy Kaling, Rachel Bloom, Rob Delaney, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge are all part of the same big onion-peeling: exposing their (our) gnarly/vulnerable/neurotic selves, and treating that truth as beautiful (beautifully hilarious).
Do you have a writing routine?
No! I can structure a writing routine/exercises for my clients, but for my own creative process, it’s way more intuitive. I’m more likely to spend a day walking the city hypnotized by the sights and human spectacle, soaking it all in for weeks or months until finally, I wake up at 3 AM with an entire scene, or joke, or script, in my head, and knock around in the dark in search of a pen to get it down with.
What single word always cracks you up?
Snuffleupagus (Mr., Esq., Sir)