When it’s holiday time at GOLD, we do Secret Santas. When we do Secret Santas at GOLD, we do Satire Secret Santas! How it worked: Santas gave Santees a satirical Reductress-style headline, and Santees had to write an article on that headline. The results: Fa-la-la-HAAHHAHAHHA! See just some of the fun below.
Woman Smells Pine Candle Every 30 Minutes To Make Sure She Doesn’t Have Covid
[headline by Kelly Kenlon, article by Saloni Nayek]
An 80-year-old woman, Justina Beiber, was found smelling pine candles to protect herself from the coronavirus. Several neighbors have reported that she “doesn’t believe in traditional medicine because it’s all a scam.” She prefers to give that candle ”a good ol’ sniff to keep the buggers away.” She has been smelling the candle every thirty minutes for the past five months so the pine’s healing properties will accumulate in her respiratory system in preparation for her husband’s visit during the holidays. She states, “People got cooties! You never know what they’re carryin’ around these days.”
The candle appears to be the Bee and Willow Home Crushed Evergreen Pine (Purchase it right here! We will earn a small commission).
After researching Justina’s history further, scientists at Stanford University found that she had bought her local grocery store’s entire watermelon supply to protect herself from Ebola. She has also been very active on “anti-vaxxer mommy gang” and “hatedontvaccinate,” exclusive invite-only networks for parents against the vaccination of their children.
Reporters are unable to reach Justina’s children because they have been hospitalized. No one knows why.
New Study Finds Covid-19 Spikes Follow Excessive Consumption of Mashed Potatoes
[headline by Leah Laird, article by Kelly Kenlon]
A recent study found that 88% of people have turned to potatoes in this time of crisis. The other 12% are still in denial that this year even happened at all. “You know, when quarantine started, I didn’t know what to do,” says regular potato eater and generally stressed-out person Bethany Patterson, “I got really into the idea of space, because I wanted to be anywhere but here. It sounded beautiful to be in a place where there is nothing. Where I could scream and my family wouldn’t get mad at me.”
“Naturally, I found myself watching Star Wars, Interstellar, The Martian, etc. I was particularly inspired by The Martian and Mark Watney’s character and the way he actually just survives off of only potatoes. I saw that and I thought: I wanna do that.”
As we know, potatoes are an extremely versatile vegetable that can be had for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Especially in a global health crisis where there are no rules. Bethany states, “I even went so far as to grow them in my front yard! My family doesn’t talk to me anymore, but I don’t care because potatoes are more important to me at this time.”
Different ways of making potatoes are used for different moments in life. For example, mashed potatoes are for when you’ve been crying for 72 hours, or when you really want a hug, but don’t want to risk death.
All of these recent studies seem to be pointing to the same basic idea that mashed will win the potato race when there is a pandemic. Mashed potatoes are the food equivalent of a weighted blanket. They will engulf you as you engulf them. They will leave you unable to move from your bed, couch or floor because you just put on 15 pounds. Need I say more?
It’s a lonely world. Find the peeps who get your jokes and have your back.
Who would win in a fight: Santa, or Cindy Lou Who? It’s MY JOB TO DECIDE.
Why? Because my comedy writing group is doing a comedy writing Secret Santa. You give a writing prompt, you get a writing prompt, and then you write whatever funny thing it inspires. And that prompt is MINE. 👆
This comedy-writing exercise is designed to boost our holiday spirits and our short-form writing chops. That’s what we do in my comedy crew: a low-key group of comedic comrades from college that meets every Friday for writing support, motivation, and accountability (i.e., to light a fire under my butt and remind me that THAT much Netflix is not “research”). I especially love that they encourage me to be weird with my comedy. A gang of like-minded nerds and weirdos: THAT is my #happyplace.
The point: EVERYONE NEEDS A COMEDY CREW. If you love and want to make comedy, you need a comedy community—a safe and supportive (virtual) place where everyone gets your jokes and has your back. How do you find a comedy community? How do you make one? I assure you, if this socially awkward egg can do it, so can you! Here’s how to make it work.
1. Talk to your funny friends.
That’s how I found my weekly writers’ workshop. See if your funny friends or even friendly acquaintances are in such a group, and see if they’ve got room for you—or if they want to start one.
2. Get on the TikTok.
TikTok is a social media platform where the youths gather to—OK, I know you know this. This platform reigns supreme in allowing you to be the creator of your own content. I can’t learn the dances in time for there to already be a new one to learn, but I CAN make short videos that help me figure out my own voice, style, and audience. Make what makes you laugh, and you’ll draw in likes—and like minds. Keep an eye out for people you could collab with!
3. Attend open mics (and TALK to people).
Fellow funny humans are making the best of quarantine by hosting open mic nights online. This is a perfect opportunity to workshop some jokes and try to get a set under your belt. (Next to NO ONE crushes on Zoom, so the stakes are relatively lower.) You will start to see some of the same people here and there, so be friendly and say hello. Most comics will tell you they met their crew hanging around open mics, so this is your chance to do that, without even wearing shoes.
4. Tweet tweet!
Twitter may not be YOUR social platform, but it’s great for itty bitty comedy. Post your (very concise) thoughts AND selectively comment and riff on others, and you’ll see connections start to blossom in real time. We stan consensual sliding into the DM’s of your followers to express how funny they are and the general encouragement of posting more hilarious content.
5. GOLD Comedy, durrrr
Behind the GOLD curtain (you know, paywall) you will find SUCH! A! SUPPORTIVE! COMMUNITY! filled with comedy nerds LIKE YOU who had been looking for a place where they can learn from each other and comedy pros, offer VERY NICE YET HELPFUL feedback, and feel like they belong.
I hope this has been helpful! Now I’m off to have Santa Claus get his ass whooped by Cindy Lou Who. What? Did I ruin it? I mean really, who do you think was going to win?
Em Pasqua has been using quarantine time to binge-watch all seasons of The X Files. They are also shamelessly addicted to board games at this time. You can find Em on Instagram (@drastic_antics) or on Tik Tok making fun dumb content (@e_pity_me), unlike everyone else.
Let’s face it: as we inch toward month four of quarantine, life is getting real boring, real fast. You’ve watched every Oscar-winning film in history AND all 89 seasons of Gilmore Girls (again), you’ve heard the weird aunt you’re trapped inside with tell her “Did I tell you how I almost met George Clooney?” story every single day, and you’ve tossed your knitting project into your sourdough starter. Although some businesses are slowly opening up, camp is down the drain for the summer, and school/work are still up in the air for the fall. The day-to-day is a big huge drag (and not the RuPaul variety).
But hope is not lost! Fight your cabin fever by diving into the world of comedy, where there is always something new to keep you laughing. Why not use some of the waaaaay too much free time you have to replenish your Vitamin C(omedy)? Here are 22 things to do to help you find the funny this extra special summer.
While your family is out on a walk, decorate inside for Halloween or Christmas decorations. Holidays are fun, and time is a flat circle!
Halloween alt: Haunt your house by leaving creepy notes in the steam on your mirror, flickering the lights, and moving objects from across the room with invisible string.
Invent a new cocktail (or mocktail) and get your family to guess the formula. Extra credit: Do Hippy Hippy Shake.
Join the always funny folks at Second City online for drop-in improv classes.
Take the time to master a cool party trick, like making a flute out of a straw or applying lipstick with no hands like Molly Ringwald. Mine is being able to recite 100 digits of pi, so I’ve already taken the coolest one. Sorry.
Tune into Comedy Quarantine to end your day with a laugh and to support comedians whose performances were canceled due to the virus.
Go down the Wikipedia rabbit hole. Search the first thing that comes to mind, then continue clicking links to new pages until you somehow end up reading about the correct orientation for toilet paper. (Yep, that entry exists!)
Call up your grade school rival and bask in how far you’ve come.
Create a hilarious display in your window or on your lawn to entertain your neighbors. Check out @themoorbears on Instagram for inspiration.
Write funny notes to the people in your house, then stick the notes somewhere they won’t be found for a while (like in the final pages of your brother’s book, or in the toe of your roommate’s ~sexy stilettos~). Who knows when the surprise will strike?
Learn to write and perform standup comedy (you can do standup online!) with GOLD’s online class (and community, and events, and open mics, and Q&As with celebs, and more!). Being cooped up with family, we all have a lot of material to work with. Now’s the perfect time to find your funny.
What’s been making you laugh during quarantine? Tweet @GoldComedy to spread the funny!
Kaitlin Goldin is a writer, theatermaker, and storyteller studying at Brown University. During her time inside, she’s been writing her first full-length play, taking a stab at stand up comedy, teaching a class on comedy and politics, and banging her head against a wall. You can find her on Instagram at @kaitlingoldin.
I founded GOLD Comedy to help make sure that girls get taken seriously. Some people say our purpose is “empowering” teen girls, but there’s more to it.
Girls already have their own power. It’s on everyone else to respect that.
So really it’s more about (let’s call it) “de-empowering” everyone else. That’s the kind of cultural and structural change I’m really talking about. That kind of change needs to happen in the comedy world, which—not coincidentally, like the world-world—is (despite obvious progress) still structured from the ground up to privilege and promote straight cis white men.
That kind of change requires more than just—for one thing—not telling (or sharing) racist jokes. (Though that’s obviously imperative.) It means telling (and sharing) anti-racist jokes, especially if you’re white. It means not just opening doors for comics of color and everyone else outside what’s still the norm. It means breaking them down and building new ones.
Comedy—as content and business—is too often a tool for normalizing, perpetuating, and promoting violence, racism, and racist violence. But the reason we’re here is that comedy can also be a force for good, even stronger than a balm or a break. (“The best medicine” is a cure for COVID-19.)
Comedy, handled right, provokes and demands new ways of thinking, helps shift the standards of what’s acceptable (and what’s not). Comedy (and comics) (especially white comics) (and white industry gatekeepers) really can do their part to help drive—both slowly and as seismically as we’re seeing right now—the kind of structure and culture change required to ensure that black lives matter.
This is almost literally the least we can do, but it is important to follow and share the anti-racist work of comedians of both color and of, shall we say, pallor. A teeny tiny sampling of some who may not yet be on your radar: Ted Alexandro, Kerry Coddett, Sarah Cooper, Ayo Edebiri, Negin Farsad, Jena Friedman, Ziwe Fumodoh, Akilah Hughes, Dwayne Kennedy, Leighann Lord, Zahra Noorbakhsh, Jeff Simmermon, Elsa Eli Waithe, WellRED Comedy (Trae Crowder, Corey Ryan Forrester, Drew Morgan), Kristina Wong. (Tag @goldcomedy on Instagram or Twitter with other recommendations!)
Also, I recommend following and supporting Teens4Equality. It’s the group that organized Nashville’s recent15,000-person #BLM in five days, founded by six teen girls. Told you they had power.
COVID-19: Is it funny? No. Can you write jokes about it? Yes. DEPENDING. You need to be careful. Do it wrong, and you’ll bum people out (and/or, for one thing, be racist). But do it right, and you’ll do what comedy does: bring people together (even at 6 feet apart).
I have thought a lot about writing good jokes about bad things. I have struggled with PTSD since I was sexually assaulted as a teenager. I’m also a comedian—and I’ve talked about PTSD and assault on stage for years. Recently I recorded a podcast, hosted by two former soldiers who’d done tours in Afghanistan, where comedians talk about mental health. On the podcast, I half-joked, “The only people who get to talk about PTSD are soldiers and assault survivors.”
Obviously, that half-joke is not 100% true, but it does highlight a few crucial things to think about when you want to tackle the tough stuff. It might seem hard, but—take it from me, Hannah Gadsby, Cameron Esposito, Adrienne Truscott, Tig Notaro, Julia Sweeney, Maria Bamford, and many more, and their fans—it’s important, cathartic, empowering, and worth it. Big picture, joking about hard topics is a delicate process, but when done right it can accomplish something very special: make comedy important.
So! We are all stuck inside right now, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave your funny stuck inside, too. Since coronavirus is top of mind, I encourage you to rise to the challenge and explore where in this terrible situation you can find some true funny. Crack up your fam or just work on your craft—and let us know how it goes (@goldcomedy)!
Here’s how to get it right:
1. Keep it personal.
Ask yourself: Did this terrible thing happen to or affect me directly? The answer pretty much needs to be yes. Take: cancer. If you have struggled with it or someone close to you has, that makes it fair game for you. (Again: See Tig Notaro and Julia Sweeney, who have made true comic art about their own experiences with illness.) In the case of COVID, that test is easier to pass: We are all affected in one way or another by the social distancing, job loss, confusion, isolation, fear, etc. (not themselves funny, but all definitely a source of comedy).
I regularly make jokes about being a sexual assault survivor. So do other comics who are also survivors, and we always clap each other on. But when I see someone making a joke about sexual assault who is not a survivor, I get wary. It might turn out to be a good joke if it punches the right way (see below), but as a comic, it’s also your job to take care of your audience and not make them think they need to worry about how to respond to something. When Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court, I had a joke about how “all” “Bretts” are rapists. During the setup, I made clear that as a survivor I was deeply affected by the hearings—and that helped audiences know it was going to be okay to laugh at whatever came next.
2. Punch in the right direction.
In comedy, you punch up. That is, you make the butt of the joke something or someone with more power than you. Avoiding punching down—making fun of people with less power than you—is incredibly important when you’re joking about sensitive topics. (Read more about punching up vs. punching down here.) In today’s terms: DON’T make fun of people or families suffering because of COVID. (DON’T make fun of Chinese people, or even China, for “starting the disease.” You might think it’s punching up because China is a country, but jokes like that usually rely on racism, which is always punching down.) DO (for example) make fun of powerful people you think are NOT HELPING (hilarious example from @Adley here), or—of course—of the ridiculous ways that YOU are responding to the experience of being stuck at home.
Making fun of yourself (punching the mirror?) is usually called self-deprecating comedy. A word of caution: You might lose the audience if they feel like you are beating yourself up too much. When I do jokes about my sexual assault on stage I don’t blame myself for getting assaulted or punch down at other survivors; I punch up towards the concept of assault, people who think it’s ok to hurt others, or the culture that allows such things to happen. This way, you’re talking about something specific to you—but everyone can relate.
3. Know your audience.
It’s always important to read the room (an actual room or whoever’s listening to/reading/etc. your jokes), but it’s most important when your topic might alienate or trigger members of your crowd.
Let’s say (rule 1, above) you’re making a joke about your struggle with a death in the family. You’re punching up (rule 2) by making the joke about the U.S. healthcare system. But the joke bombs. Why? Maybe your joke reminded too many people of someone they miss. Maybe your crowd thinks the healthcare system is awesome. No matter what: It happens.
Of course, bombing with material that is personal and difficult can hurt a lot more. I have a joke about when I told an ex-boyfriend I was a survivor. He said, “Like CSI,” and I said, “No, like SVU.” That joke works EVERY TIME, except…that one time. That one time made me feel worse than any other bomb in my life. Make sure you are ready to share these jokes, and try to find an audience that will support you.
4. Be open to (most) feedback.
Audience members (in real life or online) are often VERY HAPPY to share their opinions on your jokes. Maybe especially jokes about hard topics. When I started doing jokes about sexual assault, it was before #MeToo had reached full force. We weren’t talking as much about assault as a culture. I had a lot of male comedians tell me to stop. I had other comedians go on stage after me and riff at my expense with their own terrible “rape jokes.” Those…aren’t the opinions to be listening to.
DO: Listen to people who have been affected by the same bad things as you. If your joke is good, they will often be your biggest supporters. They will be much more valuable to your writing process than simply listening to those who say, “You can’t talk about that.”
5. Make sure YOU are ready.
Even if you follow all these steps, the most important thing about making these types of jokes is making sure you are ready. Not as a comedian, but as a person. These jokes are extremely personal if done right. You open yourself up on stage with these jokes—and that is hard. Some wounds are just too fresh for jokes, so don’t push or rush yourself. Not everything in your life has to be fodder for performance. Once you are ready, don’t be discouraged, if you stick to your story in a respectful and thoughtful way, no one can tell you you’re wrong.
Rosa Escandón is a New York-based writer and comedian. She’s been seen on Buzzfeed Video, DAZN, Seriously.TV, and other silly internet videos that you can watch here. She is a contributor to Forbes and has been an editor at the Tusk and a writer for Laughspin.
Let your humor shine through so they meet the real you.
I freaking love Glossier. I love it so much, I’ve brought every single one of my friends who visits NYC to their store, and I’m pretty sure a lot of the people working there know who I am by name. Plus, my friends always ask me about my favorite products and recommendations. I own every single flavor of their Balm Dotcom, use multiple Glossier products multiple times a day, and feel that I have earned the title “Glossier Queen.” Basically, the next step in my Glossier Journey™ would be to work for them. Or, maybe even better: get them to hire my mom (aka BEST Take Your Child To Work Day EVER).
BACKSTORY/SPOILER: So I wrote a cover letter to Glossier about why they should hire me and my mom. From Glossier: crickets. WHAT? BUT! The founder of GOLD happened to see my letter, loved it, and hired me to write this article. So I did get a gig—and Glossier, I’m not giving up!
What’s so important about a cover letter?
You are not a resume. You are a person. A cover letter is someone’s first impression of you, so it should show that you would be a good addition to the team—not only qualifications-wise but personality-wise.
That’s why a cover letter doesn’t need to be meep morp robot-y. Stand out—be funny! From a decade (holy cow that’s a big number! Gimme an O! Gimme an L! Gimme a D!) of doing theater auditions, I’ve learned that you must stand out to be remembered by the director, which will increase the chance of you getting cast. For those of you who’ve had experience with theater, think of a cover letter as an audition.
You want to be professional and show off your skills—and you want to stand out. Here’s how!
5 tips for using humor to make your letter sound human
Whether it’s for a summer camp counselor, baby food taste tester, or the CEO of a modern lifestyle brand that rhymes with “Doop,” here’s what you need to get your cover letter the attention you deserve.
1. Say hello! (to a real person)
Research the proper contact, and address them by name. No one wants to read a letter to “Whom It May Concern,” unless their name is Whom It May Concern. Once you know who they are, say hi! It’s nice. I like to say “Hello, name of person who you’re writing to!” with an exclamation point because it shows that I am excited to apply for this job and do good work! Just not too many exclamation points after that! I think you see what I mean!
2. Introduce yourself with ~pizzazz~
Tell them a little bit about yourself. Just a taste—like you have experience in something that relates to what you want to be doing. This is a good place to be authentically funny, or at least charming, if it feels natural.
Here and elsewhere, this doesn’t mean you need to write an actual joke with a setup and a punchline and a clever tag.It’s more an opportunity to add a bit of very specific and colorful detail, like, if you’re me: “I own every single flavor of Balm Dotcom and am on my third Boy Brow.” (Humor is like ranch dressing. A little with some carrots, broccoli, etc. is good. Great, even! But most people are really weirded out when you just eat a whole lot of it with a spoon.) Also: this is not the place for self-deprecating humor, like “College was awful, like me!!1!1!1!1!!!!”
3. But also be straightforward where needed.
People like people who make them laugh, but they also like people who are the right fit for the job with a good work ethic and passion. Be clear about:
What gig you want.
Why you want to work there: What are their values? Mission? Why work for them instead of somewhere else?
What you can help them with: Childcare? Research? Taking over multinational corporations? Get specific about the tasks you are ready to roll your sleeves up to do.
This is where you show that you know when to be funny/charming and also when to get down to bizness.
4. Do! Not! Sell! Yourself! Short!
When you talk about your qualifications, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through, even as you aim to communicate concrete and important info. Try to paint a picture and describe, rather than just using Resume Words like “detail-oriented” or “self-starter.” Instead of saying you’re “super-organized,” you can say that you color-code your color-coding pens inside a color-coded pencil case. In other words, where it’s not too forced, show, don’t tell!
5. End with a call to action
Tell whoever you’re emailing what you are hoping to get from them, other than a job: a response. For those of you who are new to writing cover letters, it sounds a bit strange to tell them to respond, but ya gotta do it. Schedule a Skype call or meeting IRL—just do what you’ve gots2do.
The easiest way is just to slide it in during the sign off. Try “Looking forward to hearing from you soon.”
I’ll end by sharing with you my letter to Glossier. Maybe it will be helpful to you—or maybe they’ll see it here and reconsider. (See: I’m SHOWING, not just telling, that I’m “dedicated.”)
Good luck landing your dream gig—by being yourself!
Hello friends at Glossier!!
My mother and I are beloved fans of Glossier. Both of us would ~love~ to work at your company; alas she has had over two decades of startup experience, including “IPO” (her words, not mine), which was funded by the Lauder family, therefore she would be a better fit for a job. She is, as you probably just read, very experienced with high growth startups, but more importantly, awesome, innovative, and smart. I think she would make an excellent addition to your team. (LinkedIn:https://www.linkedin.com/in/tereza)
Now let’s talk about me: I attended a year of school at Leaf Academy in Bratislava, which focuses on Entrepreneurial Leadership, focusing on design thinking. Through this program, I’ve helped to plan multiple events such as Model European Parliament SK, Startup Weekend Bratislava, Sensorium Digital Arts & Culture Festival, and Výťah Space Conference. In addition, I have extensive experience with social media (being Gen Z, of course).
This past year, I’ve discovered my passion for the environment and sustainability—specifically sustainable skincare and clothing brands. It is extremely important to me, as someone who will be alive to experience the effects of climate change, that lifestyle companies that use their power as drivers of how people go about their lives step in and take action towards climate change.
I own every single flavor of Balm Dotcom and am on my third Boy Brow, I never go downtown without stopping by the Glossier store—I always bring my friends. In fact, most of my friends refer to me as something along the lines of “Glossier Queen” which is accurate. I attend school in Europe but will be home from July 1st to August 30th. If you wanted to hire me instead, I think my mom would be okay with that.
Our favorite Glossier products are Boy Brow, Lash Slick, and of course, Generation G in Leo, Jam, and Poppy.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read (or not – that’s okay too) this email. Although this is written in a jokey way, I really think she would be a great addition to the team. I would love nothing more than a “take your kid to work day” at the Glossier office.
If you would (hopefully!!) like to reach out to my mom, her LinkedIn is above.
Margot Hulme is a high schooler living in New York. Not upstate NY, but just outside New York City. When she’s not studying for the SATs (shoutout class of 2021), Margot is probably playing piano or browsing the King Arthur Flour catalog. Ya know, just for fun.
Alison Leiby is a comedian (Bridgetown Comedy Festival) and writer on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Prior to writing for your fave comedy, she contributed to The President Show, The Opposition, and Triumph. Alison will be performing at Ladies who Laugh comedy fundraiser Tuesday, July 30. Get tickets here. Follow her!
Photo via: Alexandra Genova
What’s your job/job title?
Writer and Comedian
Did you always want to do this job?
Once I learned being a writer was actually a job, I knew one day I would do it. Before I knew it was a job I think I wanted to be like, a fashion designer/dolphin trainer hybrid.
What do you love most about your job?
I get to watch TV when I’m home and call it “research.”
What skills are the most important to have for it?
Creativity, flexibility, ability to live off of snacks for most of the year.
Are they skills that can be developed in other jobs?
Depends on the snack situation, but overall yes.
What is most challenging about your job?
Getting writer’s block when you’re in the office and not being able to go to Nordstrom Rack and browse for an hour to get through it, which is my cure when I’m working at home.
What, if any, are the particular challenges in your job related to your being outside the straight-white-dude norm? BONUS: How do you manage or overcome them?
It’s nice to realize that every year I notice those challenges less and less. I don’t know if that’s the world changing for the better, but I hope it is. There will always be jobs or shows or situations where straight-white-dudes will say they don’t “get” the jokes you’re making or they don’t think that reality shows or makeup tutorials or romance novels are worth making comedy about. You just have to know that they are extremely wrong about that and keep making the kind of comedy and writing the kind of things you think are funny. And if those things are “female” in nature or whatever, all the better. Oh, I also make a point of mentioning when my sick days are for my period cramps because it’s time everyone acknowledges what a nightmare that is (and very valid illness!).
What is the most important thing a teen or young job-seeker can do if they want YOUR JOB?
If you want to write, specifically comedy, it’s a skill like any other, so the more you do it, the better you become. Try and write something every day, even if you think it’s not good, it’s making you good. Also read, watch, and engage with as much of the world as you can. The more you know about the world, the more interesting things you’ll have to say about it in your work for the rest of your life. Also, don’t wait for someone to give you permission to write, just start writing (or performing, same rules apply)
Alison Leiby is a comedian (Bridgetown Comedy Festival) and writer on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Prior to writing for your fave comedy, she contributed to The President Show, The Opposition, and Triumph. Alison will be performing at Ladies who Laugh comedy fundraiser Tuesday, July 30. Get tickets here. Follow her!
If you’d told me when I was a teenager that I was going to write for a living I would have laughed and then worried about why I wasn’t going to be a Broadway star. I had tried, and failed, to test into high school AP English twice and definitely didn’t think writing would be part of my future.
Fast forward six years: I now work as a junior copywriter in a Manhattan advertising agency—basically Mad Men meets Entertainment 720—and as we say in advertising, “You can too!” In fact, I recommend it. Why?
It’s my literal job to write creatively and work with fun, smart, interesting people all day.
There’s a community-oriented work culture, the opportunity to work with people my own age, and insane snacks.
I’m encouraged to continue exploring my interests outside of writing (comedy, music, politics).
I get to think about ways to embed untold narratives into one of pop culture’s most dominant media.
I get to turn on the TV and go, “Whoa, I helped make that!”
There are a few cons, such as:
Advertising is generally a boys club—but we’re changing that!
Worrying about the importance of a hashtag. #doesanybodyusehashtags #notreally
But it’s all worth it. While I’m not a stand up comedian, being funny has helped me hone skills in copywriting and creative advertising. What’s more, writing comedic sketches, advertisements, and learning about improv, has also made me more confident in my own voice. So if you want to be funny and get paid, try copywriting! Here are 5 essential steps for getting there.
Pay attention to the world.
I decided to study journalism in college and eventually added an emphasis in advertising. I had the opportunity to visit agencies in Portland and New York and became enthralled by the prospect of casual work attire, ping-pong tables in the office, and coffee on tap. I knew I wanted to work in an environment that encouraged having a sense of humor and a point of view.
I also knew early on that if I was going to work in advertising I wanted to work on campaigns that were culturally relevant and hopefully funny as well. When advertising is tone-deaf it can reinforce negative stereotypes or be blatantly offensive—a prime example being the Kendall Jenner Pepsi campaign.
So while 24/7 ping-pong and cold brew in the office are major benefits, it’s still important to make sure that the work you’re producing never loses touch with reality.
Create a portfolio.
The key to a job in advertising, or creative media, is a portfolio. Your portfolio is really just a website of your work and can consist of real projects that have been produced, spec work that you create on your own, or anything else that showcases your writing ability and personality.
Since none of the projects I created in college had a comedic tone, I knew I had to showcase my personality elsewhere. I started a blog on my site where I wrote about important subjects like why everybody should be a fan of musical theater. For any writer, having a blog is a great way to play with different tones while sharing your thoughts and opinions.
Play up your writing-adjacent skills.
When I started applying for copywriting internships, I found success when I focused on my skills and interests outside of copywriting—primarily my background in political research and my interest in comedy. Throughout the interview process, I was able to show that I was funny by answering questions both comedically and confidently. There is really nothing more cringe-worthy than trying to make someone laugh—but when you are hoping to work in a relaxed environment, especially as a writer, hiring managers are often looking for candidates that are smart but don’t take themselves too seriously. I also incorporated humor into my cover letter by explaining how I didn’t think I could become more of a hipster cliché until I moved to Brooklyn and started playing the mandolin.
Also, social media is often a part of a copywriter’s daily duties. Make sure your own social game is strong and shows professionalism (and humor). Everything counts!
Know the agency’s sense of humor.
There are agencies with a reputation for producing comical spots. Some lean slapstick while others focus on a lighthearted concept for an entire campaign. In my experience, the comedic campaigns that are most effective are the ones that are rooted in a cultural trend or observation. This idea mirrors the principles of improv—that it’s not one line that makes something funny, it’s coming up with a funny and unusual concept in general. But during the interview phase, make sure you know and can contribute to whatever their style is.
Find female mentors.
Though there isn’t nearly as much sexism in the advertising industry as there was on Madison Avenue in the 1960s, it can still be difficult to work in a male-dominated industry. I can’t underscore enough the value of having strong female mentors that will have your back as you navigate the field of advertising. Having a community of women to share experiences, discuss wages, and learn tips from, is essential to success. We all have unique perspectives that we bring to the table and it’s important that we surround ourselves with mentors who understand the power of using comedy to share our stories and creativity—whether that’s through an ad or another format entirely.
So come hang out with me! I might not be gracing the Broadway stage, but it’s immensely powerful, and fulfilling, to work in a collaborative environment and write for a living. If you’re hoping to begin a career in advertising, I encourage you to think about how your voice and point of view could positively impact a brand. Oh, but first: take AP English if you can!
Top photo via: AMC. Bottom photo via: Will Nielsen
Talia Berniker is a copywriter living in Brooklyn, NY. When she isn’t writing ads, she studies improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade, attends as many indie concerts as possible, and loves rooting for all things Oregon Ducks.
A student in one of our workshops once tried out a joke about wanting to hide a knife in her hijab to cut the boys who tried to take it off.
Can she do that? It’s edgy, but sure.
But could a white dude do a joke about trying to take off a girl’s hijab? NOT RECOMMENDED.
This is all a way of answering the very, very common question: Are any jokes off-limits? The answer is YUP! But the real questions are: Which ones, and how do you figure it out?
Put another way:
Is stabbing people funny? NOT REALLY.
Can you do a joke about stabbing people? MAYBE!
It all depends on your joke, on your intention, and on you.
This is why people talk about punching down versus punching up.
Simply put, punching down means making jokes about people with less power than you. Punching up means making jokes about people with more power than you. When you make fun of a mean principal, you are punching up. When you make fun of the dweeby kid, you are…bullying.
Comedy is better when you punch up.
Punching up is morally preferable, generally kinder, and most likely to make the world a better place, as awesome comic and beloved friend of GOLD Negin Farsad notes. “It’s vital to understand the job comedy can do in actively providing a counterbalance to bigotry and prejudice, as well as understanding the types of humour that reinforce negative stereotypes,” she says. “I want to make sure I’m punching up, not punching down.”
But let’s also look at it simply from the level of craft. A punch line is a surprise. A punch line takes some work. A punch line reveals something new, or says a familiar thing a new way. A punch line may even, at best, not just be a rando wisecrack, but a joke that only YOU can tell: a window into your unique point of view.
So for instance when you make fun of someone short, you’re revealing that they are SHORT—and showing us nothing about what makes YOUR POV unique. When you make fun of the mean principal, you’ve got much more to work with: you can reveal something about how you relate to the grownups who boss you around, and you’ll get people on your side without ganging up. And bonus: no one in the crowd will think, “Eeep, that comic’s kind of mean.”
At the level of craft, it’s lazy to write the easiest joke about the easiest target. Comedy is about being CREATIVE and getting people to LIKE you. Do the harder work on your end and you’ll make easier for them.
Where are your up and down?
Up and down are different for different people. It all depends on how up or down YOU are on the existing power structure (#fighthepower). Straight cis white dude, up. Young woman of color with a hijab, farther down. Let’s call them Norm and Nora. Nora could make jokes about Norm. Norm probably should not make jokes about Nora.
But wait. It’s not really that simple. If Norm makes a joke that puts Nora down for being female, of color, Muslim: that’s punching down. If Norm makes a joke ABOUT sexism, racism, Islamophobia with Nora as his main character: bruh, that’s punching up. Because then he’s making fun of the existing power structure itself. Go, Norm.
Can you make rape jokes? YUP!
Quiz: Will the better jokes be about (a) rape victim(s) or (b) perps and the culture that excuses rape, etc. etc.?
If you answered (b), go write some jokes!
There it is: there is no TOPIC that is off-limits. Not even rape! It’s the joke—the target, the POV, the intention—that requires evaluation.
When in doubt, answer these key questions.
Who or what is my target? Starting point: make sure the target of your joke—the who or what you are making fun of—has more power than you. (Margin of error: one bratty kid sibling.)
Who is my audience? Do they have roughly the same up/down as you? You should be good. If not, tread more carefully. (This interesting counterpoint to the up/down idea is relevant here.)
How’s my tone? YOU KNOW (and so does the crowd) if a joke is coming from a place of snarky mean, or a place of legit anger. (Sometimes legit anger can justify snarky mean, but that’s an advanced move.)
How’s the joke doing? If it’s crushing with the people you want it to crush with, then you’re probably doing fine. (If it’s crushing with a**holes, maybe let it go.) And if it’s just not working at all, even after some tinkering, it’s just not working. Let go of the idea (usually pushed by people on the higher end of the up/down) that COMEDY IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE PEOPLE UNCOMFORTABLE or whatever. Naw. It’s supposed to make people laugh.
What does my gut say? How do you feel when you tell this joke? Delighted and energized, or a little tight and squinched up? Your gut knows what’s up. Your gut is a tough crowd, but a good one. If your gut feels off, maybe the joke is, too. If your gut feels good, punch on!
I almost walked right into Stephen Colbert. The Late Show had just finished taping for the day and we audience wranglers (technically CBS pages) had ushered everyone out. A few of us walked through the door leading the theater just as he was coming in from the other direction. A fellow page stumbled right into him. A step behind, I nearly crashed into him, too. I took a step backward at the last second, looked up at Stephen, and daintily curtseyed as if to say, “Do pardon me, sir.” He chuckled and we went our separate ways. I contend to this day that Stephen’s was genuine laughter. (Yes, we are now on a first-name basis. Not.)
I had just turned 23. Even though I knew I wanted to work in comedy programming, this moment–despite being a literal stumble–made me sure I was headed in the right direction (a rare feeling in showbiz). How did I get there? I worked hard, and I NETWORKED hard.
I studied creative writing and film in college, and interned one summer for Brillstein Entertainment Partners. The next I was able to intern for CONAN in Los Angeles, which also led to a PA gig for Conan’s week at the iconic Apollo Theater in the fall of 2017. Since graduating, I’ve worked as a CBS page, which landed me on some incredible sets: The Late Show, Last Week Tonight, Full Frontal, The Rundown, and several more. I’ve also worked for an upcoming Apple TV comedy about Emily Dickinson (!), and I’m starting my next gig at a Sony Pictures superhero movie next week.
Landing those gigs was never easy, and it still isn’t. But listen: when people say they “stumbled” into a job—like that page and Colbert—it’s almost never true. Networking is KEY. And you can do it starting with next to nothing! Here are 6 tricks I’ve learned that I’m happy to share.
1. Build your own network!
Most of the time you have to build your network from your unique experiences and interactions, that only one person on this earth has had (you!).
One day, sit down and write as many relevant names as you can think of. Don’t worry for now if some people don’t work in exactly the same field as the one you want (i.e. if you want to work in movies, but they only worked on stage shows, still write them down).
You don’t have to email all of them right away, or ever — but get those names on paper. Who knows what direction your career will take in two years, and you don’t want to miss out on any potential connections.
Examples from my world:
Old bosses/coworkers from any showbiz internships/sets/media offices
teachers/professors/mentors you’ve had who were/are in entertainment
the teachers of any performance/showbiz classes you’ve taken (they know people!)
relevant friends of [insert anyone important to you]
(that means parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, friends, friends’ parents, etc.)
Industry adults you’ve met through non-entertainment jobs or interactions (you babysat for them, shoveled snow off their driveways, anything!)
2. Your network may be larger than it appears.
You will find yourself frustrated that people with showbiz connections can find success much easier than you; that’s normal – it is unfair!
But try not to hold resentments against your fellow emerging comedians/peers of unfair privilege. Some of them will know so many people right off the bat (they usually have at least one parent in showbiz). It constantly seems like everything falls into their laps.
Frustration towards these people is definitely justified, but it won’t lead to anything good. Trust me! Hating them won’t get you a job any faster!
Remember you have a more diverse collection of connections to the biz than might first meet the eye.
It is all a spectrum. There will always be people with more connections than you, just like there will always be people with way fewer. Getting angry about how unfair it is won’t solve anything. Just work on building your own network bigger and bigger until one day, it will be the network everyone wants to have!
3. Early in your career, make the most out of all opportunities—which includes making friends!
At most of these ‘starter jobs,’ your actual tasks may not be the most thrilling or informative about comedy/showbiz. They’re still worth it for two reasons – exposure and friends. You get exposed to the whole world, even if you can’t participate (I think of it as watching the parts of a machine work together to create one perfect product).
When I interned at Conan, one part of the machine wasgetting to watch rehearsal. Conan would pluck his guitar while he, Andy and the writers worked through jokes. We could only observe but it was still great. Once we are real people on set, we won’t get to sit back and enjoy anymore.
The other great thing about the bottom of the totem pole is the camaraderie. You will make your closest friends in these circumstances.
At Conan, it was sheer number of hours the interns spent together. We bonded. For example, during downtime, I taught two other interns how to solve a Rubik’s cube. Even though we are still all in our early- to mid-twenties, some of those fellow interns are now Fallon writers, MSNBC producers, etc.
What I found as a CBS page was an already-existent network that constantly ebbed and flowed. I was simply woven into the fabric of it. I started as the newbie, then the regular, then the seasoned pro, then the one who finally gets their big kid job and moves on. It is the circle of the page program.
We were a group that got along because besides all loving showbiz, we had the shared misery of getting yelled at by people for things we did not control. We would often go out to eat or drink as large groups after our shifts. Many of us are still close friends. If you stumble across a group like this, make yourself indispensable to it.
I got my job working on the Apple TV show because the person who’d previously had the position quit unexpectedly. A friend of mine who I’d met at the page program (who already worked on the show) immediately recommended me for the job. I was hired later that day!
So be nice to everyone!! Everyone, okay? Yes, that includes tolerating the tools. Sorry.
4. Don’t judge!
Not only because you’re often wrong, but because people can sense it. They will know if you were looking down on them. The beautiful girl who seems like she has the easiest life is probably just as bright, determined and troubled as anyone else.
There is no room for assumptions or prejudice. I originally thought that one of the first pages I spoke to on the job was a bit of a… well, tool. He is now one of my best friends in the entire city! It turns out we grew up 10 minutes apart and had been living semi-parallel lives. What I initially read as cockiness was actually just confidence.
Because I was so green (new), I thought his security must have been a sign of pompousness. But he was just secure! I found myself saying things within similar certainty within a month there.
Obviously, if you see someone be cruel, it’s different. But this is about initial impressions and how wrong we often are.
5. Know that you will get conflicting advice.
This is natural because success in showbiz can come in so many ways, and seasoned pros like to share their stories. (If they don’t share, ask!)
Don’t get too stuck on their specifics; what worked for someone might not be what you will need! For example, after talking to two different pros, I heard:
“Take only relevant jobs. Don’t work in tangential lanes… if you want to be on the creative side, apply for those jobs. Don’t accept any old job just because it’s on a TV set or about entertainment. You will get stuck in those lanes.”
“Get your hands on any showbiz job you can! You will meet people there; who knows who will walk into your office? Soak it all up, even if it isn’t an exact fit! Just grow your network!”
Both these people are successful. Neither is wrong. It comes down to what feels best to you and excites you more. At a certain point you just have to go with your gut. I went with my gut for the Apple TV show and it was an amazing decision. It was a clerk job in accounting!
Don’t feel guilty for not taking the advice of someone successful – it’s not an insult to them (someone may be very cool and definitely successful, but their method is just one way). I wouldn’t ignore EVERYONE’s advice, but again, if it feels like something good is brewing, go for it.
6. Every day you are continuing to forge your own path. Keep on it!
But do learn to curtsy. Just in case.
Photo via: Lauren C. Jones
Nina Lerner considers herself a lifelong New Yorker despite growing up in the suburbs. Her passions include the golden age of TV (now), rainy days and Paul McCartney.