How’d you get to write for ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’?

Charla Lauriston
Funny lady. Photo via Charla Lauriston

If you’ve spent any time the last two weekends binge watching Netflix’s newest smash, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, you might be wondering who’s behind the scenes making the show so damn funny. Just in time to answer that question, we talked to Charla Lauriston about what it was like to be staff writer on the show’s first season, so there you go. You might know Lauriston from her Twitter account, from her very funny web series Clench and Release or just from seeing her do standup around Brooklyn. Today, she’s here on Brokelyn telling us what the life of a TV writer is like, how you could maybe do this and why you shouldn’t be a douchebag.

What’s your average day like?
Everyone got in at 10 and usually grabbed a snack from the kitchen. Then we’d gather in the writers room and either got a script ready for a table read or edited a script based on feedback from the table read. There are about eleven writers and we’d all have lunch together usually. Very communal. There’d usually be at least one game a day.

Does Unbreakabe Kimmy Schmidt have a writer’s room where people hang out and crack jokes and write things, or is it more of a virtual office with writing and rewriting done over email?
Yep, it’s a real place we all went to. We sat around a big oval table and the writers assistant would type up whatever we pitched and we’d see it from a big flat screen that projected the laptop screen.

unbreakable kimmy schmidt
Comedy is being this excited to ride the subway

How does one even find themselves with a TV writing job? Is there an application process or does someone just come up to you and say, “You’re funny, come write some stuff?”
I guess the way to get one is to demonstrate your humor. I did a lot of standup and released a web series and was producing a bunch of comedy shows when I got an email one day asking me to submit a sample script. There was one other staff writer who’d also done their own web series. Most of the others had done improv or sketch or gone to school for TV writing.

How do writers handle disagreements about how funny something is?
Generally the thing that got the biggest laugh wins. But if there’s a discrepancy, the Head Writer/ Show Runner and Tina got final say.

unbreakable kimmy schmidt
Experience with living in Brooklyn really helped with the writing for this show.

Who’d be good at writing for TV?
Anyone who writes well, and also happens to have a good sense of humor and a good work ethic.

Who would suck at it?
Douchebags. Just be nice and do stuff. All the time. Forever.

Do writers get attached to any of the characters and enjoy writing parts for them more than others?
I think maybe that happens in later seasons, but since this was the first season and a lot of work went into creating the characters, the fun was always in trying to build each characters voice and get them to be as funny as possible.

Do you all write the whole season together or do different teams of writers handle particular episodes?
We create and outline for the whole season as a group, then episodes get assigned to different writers, but each episode is still reviewed by the group.

How long did the writing process take for the first season?
The writers room started in April and ended in November. Each show is different though. Our show only had 13 episodes but many sitcoms have 23.

unbreakable kimmy schmidt

If you’re just starting to try to break into television writing, what should someone do to give themselves the best chance to make it?
I don’t think it’s any big secret mystery. If you want to write for TV, go to where those people hang out– like comedy theaters. Take a sketch class. Take a storytelling, or improv, or standup class. Hell, take a playwriting class. See where it leads you. I read tons of books about comedy writing when I first started. Find a book on TV writing. Check out what other people are doing, not so you can do the same thing, but so you can know whats out there and develop your own taste. Go see a play or a sketch show or an improv show. Make a web series. Write a sketch show and either perform it yourself or cast people to perform in it. Just do stuff!

You can follow Charla for more wisdom, and news of Clench and Release season 2 at @imcharlaface

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