RECAP: Why hasn’t Paula Pell written a book?

Paula Pell has to write a book. We need a tell-all and a how-to and a who-dunnit. But for now, an in-depth Q&A in the GOLD club will have to do.

Paula started with us by talking about her start. She was not originally a comedian, she had a theater degree and dreams of being on Broadway. She worked a job at a mall, then at Pleasure Island in Disney where she did musical cabaret and comedy, including a rendition of Murder, She Wrote. Then, as is wont, the improv people got her.

A lot of her coworkers were doing improv and comedy at the Sach Theatre and asked her to do a pilot of sketches and do characters for their shows. It’s at this point that Paula Pell experiences the dream situation. (Like I literally do not know anyone in the comedy world right now who wouldn’t fall over frothing at the mouth if this happened to them.)

SNL called.

Ever heard of them? “They wanna talk to you,” said Pell’s agent. So up she flew to New York City and sat waiting to speak to Lorne Michaels, who was 3 hours late to their meeting. SNL had just done a big clean, losing many writers and cast and they were trying to start fresh, Paula was being offered a writing job on the spot.

“I didn’t think I had any ability to write for a TV show,” she told us, “I didn’t know how to use a computer.” To which SNL responded, “You’ll learn.” During her time at 30 Rock, Pell says she put her acting hat away to be a writer. She confesses to being a rule follower, getting this job was amazing, and she didn’t want to step on any toes. “Now I’m 60 though, and I am not a rule follower.

As she’s gotten older, Pell says, the ways in which she reached those shiny goals  (Broadway, an Emmy, etc.) were not always through the jobs that bring the most joy.

We asked Paula Pell about finding a cohort and the process of collaboration. Pell says she employs a “strict No Assholes policy,” emphasizing the importance of not betraying yourself by working with people who drain your joy from the process for the slight chance to get ahead. “It’s your precious life,” she says, “be truly in what you’re doing.” Community is huge in comedy. Particularly in the standup world, you’ll find there are a lot of insidious types who are not interested in anything but their own success. That’s why Pell suggests keeping in touch with the collaborators you click with. “Don’t ever forget that whatever you’re doing at any time you’re working with people who might end up being your connections.” The way to make those connections? Push yourself to do the scary things, get up on stage at the open mic, take the improv classes, or you know…just bundle it all up and sign up for GOLD

Just about every Q&A, a question is raised about the writing process, and just about every Q&A, the guest admits that writing is a pain in the ass. “There are literally books by writers about how they hate writing,” says Pell. She says that every Tuesday writing at SNL there was a physical feeling of sickness. Thoughts of “what if we have no more ideas?” ran rampant. Sometimes you’d get an idea, talk it out, build it up, sit down, and feel paralyzed.

Pell attributes this to the torturous hell of the blank page. She passed on some advice given to her by Judd Apatow, (ever heard of him?) “do a vomit pass.” That is, get something on the page. Write out the worst version of what you have in your head. Then go back and basically punch it up. “Let it be bad then work at it,” Paula says, “the most maddening part of writing is the empty page.” 

 It’s a basic truth that there are times you aren’t feeling it. Like it was just a fluke that you wrote something funny once and it’ll never happen again or you just resent the whole process. Paula Pell opened up to us about her struggles with chronic depression, “sometimes the last thing I wanna do is sit down and write comedy.” There are times, she says, that you should let yourself not write. Give yourself the grace to sit and breathe and “have four dogs on your chest.” But then, when it is time to write, “Notice how much laughter is people’s lifeline.” Life gets hard for everyone, something we all love to turn to is comedy. Your creative ability to put a funny spin on something is a gift.