Tami Sagher comes from a family in academia and is perhaps the first-ever comedy writer with a college degree in mathematics. On a gorgeous spring evening (at least where I was) in the GOLD club, we gathered ’round to hear Tami’s story.
She explained how her goals have been largely achieved with little steps. Tami is from Chicago and grew up seeing shows at the Second City. It became her dream to be on the touring team, and so took some classes and did some improv growing up. She was at heart a writer and eventually scored a job with MadTV without having a literary agent.
“Hollywood is a content machine,” says Sagher, “Performing is cool but something about being a writer…you have more control. Even if no one pays you or hires you you can still write.”
Second City is an equity theater, the creative process involves using improvised scenes to write sketch comedy. Writing is inseparable from improvisation ultimately. There was a time when Tami was saying no to herself as a performer, to concentrate on writing exclusively, something she confessed to be the wrong move.
“Looking back at the steps you’ve taken to get to a positive place, you’ll notice that some of them are brutal steps,” Tami tells us of a job she was fired from that was a hard blow to the ego. She resented it for a while, but ultimately realized that it led to other doors being opened.
We asked Tami about getting out of the dreaded writer’s block. She recommended a book called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, which suggests timed writing as part of your writing practice. Setting a time and going for it. Tami also addresses the endless critical inner monologue telling you all your writing is worthless and bad…or whatever. “The longer I go without writing, the better I think my writing has to be to justify all the time I spent on it.”
This feeling, says Tami, is unique to writing. If you stopped playing piano for weeks on end, you wouldn’t sit back down and immediately start with Nocturnes and Preludes in G Minor C 7. You’d warm up. You’d play your scales every day. This is the idea with daily timed writing. Sneak around your monkey brain and write the worst version of it. Allow the mistakes, make it fun, play with it, and let things go. “Elizabeth Gilbert said, ‘You don’t have to hate writing,’” says Tami, “I don’t feel that way, but I like the idea that it’s an option.”
Tami Sagher is a big fan of taking classes. We’ve been told many times by past guests of the value of collaboration. Tami spoke about it in a way I’ve never thought about, and which spoke to me personally. Having friends in the comedy world can help you to keep the joy of the art. Sometimes, you can get swept up in the business and competitive feeling of it all. Not only writing with others but also going to see shows and laughing at old comedy sketches is a good reminder of the fact that comedy is supposed to be fun. Find your people and laugh with them.