For episode 5 of the show, Jordan was joined by Emmy Blotnick to talk about her career writing late-night comedy.
Emmy was the head writer for THE PRESIDENT SHOW on Comedy Central and is currently writing for THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT.
She kicked off her late-night career writing for the MTV talk show NIKKI AND SARA LIVE. After that, she wrote for Comedy Central’s internet-themed game show, AT MIDNIGHT, and for the hit CBS late-night segment CARPOOL KARAOKE.
— OnWriting (@OnWritingWGAE) October 11, 2018
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Thanks for listening. Write on.
Jordan Carlos: I’m Jordan Carlos and you’re listening to On Writing, a screenwriting podcast from the Writer’s Guild of America East. This is a show about the stories we see on our screens and the people who make them happen. You’ll hear from writers in the film, TV, news, and digital media industries about their work, from pitching to production, from process to favorite lines, and everything in between.
Today I’m joined by my friend and fellow Comedy Cellar Dweller, Emmy Blotnick to talk about her career writing late night comedy. Emmy was the head writer for The President Show on Comedy Central and is currently writing for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. She kicked off her late night career writing for the MTV talk show Nikki & Sara Live. After that she wrote for Comedy Central’s internet themed game show At Midnight and for the hit CBS Late Night segment Carpool Karaoke.
Emmy, thank you so much for speaking with me.
Emmy Blotnick: Oh, thanks for having me.
Jordan Carlos: Oh my goodness. So you’ve had quite a career so far. It’s been the NA. I’ve been watching and it’s been not that long. It’s not that long. I remember … Were you a writer on At Midnight as well?
Emmy Blotnick: Yes.
Jordan Carlos: Yes, maybe it’s best that you talk about your own evolution. What do you think?
Emmy Blotnick: Well yeah I guess. Whatever works for you Jordan.
Jordan Carlos: How did it start? Have you been in the game for about five years now?
Emmy Blotnick: For writing, yeah. About that.
Jordan Carlos: And when did you first start doing stand up?
Emmy Blotnick: Let’s see. I started in 2010. It’s been like eight years.
Jordan Carlos: Wow. Now you’re … I can tell you she’s headlining at the Comedy Cellar and killing ’em.
Emmy Blotnick: Ah.
Jordan Carlos: Come on, Em. You always leave that place better than you found it. It’s always a good time.
Emmy Blotnick: You are kind.
Jordan Carlos: I’m truthful. But I want to know, because I think writing of bits and jokes for standup is a wonderful way in to how you approach your current writing job, writing for Stephen Colbert. What do you take from your writing in the Cellar that you apply to work right now?
Emmy Blotnick: It’s interesting. They feed each other really nicely. I guess with Colbert it’s a lot of picking apart the day’s news stories and trying to tell the story with jokes all along the way. In standup a lot of it is telling more of my personal experience or an opinion I have. It’s the same kind of structure where for every new piece of information you introduce there should be a joke or it should be going somewhere, some sort of destination for the bit or the piece to go toward. It’s interesting. The types of stuff we talk about on Colbert are not the same things I do in standup but the approach is kind of similar.
Jordan Carlos: Have you ever had to for the sake of a bit on Colbert sacrifice your own standup? Like that would have been good for the Cellar but you know what? I’m gonna give it to the boss today instead.
Emmy Blotnick: It hasn’t really happened yet. But it’s because there’s such a big difference. I wouldn’t be able to show our sweet crowds at the Cellar the clips from Fox News that a lot of our jokes are based on here. Things like that. No, I haven’t had to sacrifice any darlings. It helps that I’m talking what a big crush I have on the Rock in standup versus injustices in politics on the show.
Jordan Carlos: It’s not just the Rock. You seem to have a fascination with the Fifth Dimension, not dimension, but a fifth of harmony? What is it?
Emmy Blotnick: Fifth Harmony, yeah. They broke up, which is such a bummer. I did a bit about them when I was on Colbert. I did a three minute bit about how much I love that band and how tragic they were.
Jordan Carlos: Sure.
Emmy Blotnick: They lost Camila Cabello and they were a four-membered band, and they were still called Fifth Harmony. It was just this ‘Aw, guys. What happened?’ Then a week later they disbanded.
Jordan Carlos: A week later they disbanded? Did they ever try four fifths harmony? I mean come on. They’re just down 20% harmony.
Emmy Blotnick: I know. Well they put out an album as the four-membered Fifth Harmony that I thought was still pretty fun and good. You can’t get around the tragedy of putting the number of band members in the name.
Jordan Carlos: Of course. That’s your A to B right there. Thank you for bringing that to light and really championing their cause and not letting that flame go out because I think they would have slipped from history had it not been for your words right there. They are immortalized on this podcast so I appreciate that.
Emmy Blotnick: Thank goodness. They deserve it.
Jordan Carlos: You killed it. You did great on Colbert. Is that how you … They were like ‘Hey now, Emmy. You did so well we would love for you to be a writer on the show?’
Emmy Blotnick: It was right around the same time that I did the set that they were looking at packets. I did a packet and I think it probably helped that they had seen me already. They had a sense for what kind of weirdo I am I guess.
Jordan Carlos: Those are your words.
Emmy Blotnick: Yeah. That’s why I think it probably pointed in the right direction. It might have happened anyway. I don’t know.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah. You have a real feel. I love your jokes. You have a real feel for what is funny. When you’re writing, do you have a metrics for what is funny when you’re writing a bit? ‘Oh, that’s gonna get a chuckle right there.’ Do you ever get that as you type?
Emmy Blotnick: I am guilty of laughing at my own jokes a lot and I think if I’m laughing while I’m typing, or if I’m excited to tell it to another person, that’s usually a good sign. You know the feeling when you’re proud of a joke. You hope to have that feeling as much as possible I guess.
Jordan Carlos: Often when I’m proud of a joke I’m the only one proud of it.
Emmy Blotnick: That happens too. That definitely happens too. I wrote one that I don’t think will be making it to any sort of stage any time soon that was about birds drinking from a coffee mug that says ‘Don’t even squawk to me until I’ve had my bird seed.’ And everybody was just like ‘I don’t know what this is or why you thought that was good.’
Jordan Carlos: I think that’s good. I think it’s good. It’s funny.
Emmy Blotnick: I happen to like it but I understand yes, sometimes you’re the only one.
Jordan Carlos: Hey, I’m on team that joke.
Emmy Blotnick: Thank you.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah. So tell me a little bit also. You’re now a staff writer on this show but that’s a transition because you were the head writer on The President Show.
Emmy Blotnick: Yes.
Jordan Carlos: What was it like to be the head writer on a show? And what are some of the responsibilities involved, things like that?
Emmy Blotnick: Let’s see. With The President Show, I had been a staff writer and I was promoted. One of our show runners moved back to California and then Christine Nangle became executive producer. I took her place as head writer. I had been working with her pretty closely on all sorts of assignments and things so I had a sense of what the duties were. It also helped that everybody on the President Show, that whole writer staff was so experienced and super sharp. It’s not like I had to train anybody how to write. Everybody was already really good. It was mostly organizing and whittling down. If every writer would write five or ten jokes for something, how do we get it down to a select few that we can massage into something?
There were also lots of times, you know Anthony Atamanuik. He’s a brilliant genius. There would be times where he would need to pace around and talk through an idea. I think it helped to have somebody … We would usually be recording it and also taking notes and trying to get it into the shape of a script as it was manifesting.
Jordan Carlos: I’m sorry, just to backtrack, to pain the picture. You’re saying that he would pace around the room. You would record the pacing and then hammer that into a coherent script?
Emmy Blotnick: Yeah.
Jordan Carlos: Okay.
Emmy Blotnick: We had lots of little pieces that started that way and lots that came out of the room altogether. Some part of the job was being a midwife for those types of moments. Yeah, he tended to already have a vision for where it needed to go. Most of the time it was like ‘We must let the genius do his geniusing.’
Jordan Carlos: You got to.
Emmy Blotnick: Yeah.
Jordan Carlos: How long did something like that take? A typical work day. Was he pacing at night? Was he pacing in the morning? Was he pacing around the building? What was he doing?
Emmy Blotnick: It was usually in his office and not even that long. Five, ten, fifteen minutes. We would stay late in the office one night a week. Christine and Peter Groves and Anthony and usually somebody from the research team. There would be a little squad of us that would be there late refining everything and really boiling it down. It was a cool way to work. We’d have a big room that would come up with most of it and then a smaller team that would just find-
Jordan Carlos: Create an essence.
Emmy Blotnick: Fine tooth comb the whole thing until it felt really cohesive and solid. The episodes all had themes so it would be making sure that the theme was nicely seated through everything. It was a really cool process.
Jordan Carlos: You were the midwife but you also had doulas is what you’re saying, on the side. Which is important.
Emmy Blotnick: Yes.
Jordan Carlos: In nontraditional birthing. Yeah.
Emmy Blotnick: Thank you. Finally someone said it.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah. Nontraditional birthing of a script. So what were some of your favorite standout moments from the show?
Emmy Blotnick: Yes, there’s the particular moment in that bit that I think distilled the show really well. The moment where a truck rounds the corner and you hear that beep beep, and he just goes ‘A truck!’ Right away he just went into this beautiful. It was two minute monologue that starts with his excitement about trucks and ends with him imagining his own demise. It got to a depth of Trump’s psyche that we ended up going back to and trying to deepen in other episodes of the show because that seemed to be the aspect of Trump that a lot of the political shows couldn’t quite access. It’s hard to really plunge into how his mind, his psychological makeup when you’re just trying to get through the day’s news in a timely and easy manner.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah, for sure.
Emmy Blotnick: Most of my favorite moments from The President Show were ones where it would be going into his brain. We did one with Deepak Chopra where he tries to meditate and ends up in this haunted, abandoned, hellish warehouse. One of them was he goes into his psyche and Lewis Black is there as the last remaining shred of his consciousness. I’m a big therapy nerd so all of these types of bits really delighted me.
Jordan Carlos: Right. Trying to delve the depths of Donald Trump’s brain is an honorable pursuit. Tell me this. The show is no longer on the air obviously. What happened exactly? Do you mind going into detail about that? What was the story there?
Emmy Blotnick: I guess at the time Comedy Central had a handful of political shows between The President Show, The Opposition, The Daily Show, and Jim Jefferies’ show was beginning around the same time I think. I don’t know exactly the logic but we had a one hour Christmas special. We did a one hour telethon special in April and I know there’s another on ein the works. I’m not sure exactly when. They thought it would work better or just as well in a one hour-
Jordan Carlos: Seasonal special kind of thing.
Emmy Blotnick: Yeah. It’s harder to keep up with the news cycle in that to prepare for … It can’t be as topical. That’s all. There’s still-
Jordan Carlos: There’s a lot of fodder [crosstalk 00:13:36] for the canon.
Emmy Blotnick: Yes.
Jordan Carlos: Let me ask you. You’re a comedian who has made their bread by talking about topical humor, writing about things in the headlines, be it At Midnight or now working at Colbert. One, do you have a certain fatigue from writing jokes like this all the time? And two, is it a catharsis for you? Does it keep you sane?
Jordan Carlos: Is it a catharsis for you? Does it keep you sane while the rest of the country goes nuts?
Emmy Blotnick: Well look, it’s tough ’cause I think especially with Colbert we’re doing five shows a week. It’s like sometimes you have moments where you wish you didn’t have to know every detail of every tragic thing that’s happening. But before I was doing this kind of job, I would just read the news obsessively and feel doomed. At least writing about it, it’s nice to be able to point at somewhere and make something of it as opposed to just clutching my phone in the dark at 3AM wondering which country I should move to.
Jordan Carlos: Right. Yeah. Yes. Have you come to a conclusion?
Emmy Blotnick: I think about … I assumed England was gonna be the next best bet but they’ve got their own stuff too. Nowhere is good, Jordan.
Jordan Carlos: I’m asking for recommendations at this point. I’m not asking for a friend. So you’re saying there is something cathartic about writing bits that then go on TV and get those laughs.
Emmy Blotnick: Yes. I really like the adrenaline and the urgency of having to get something in shape quickly and there being like ‘We’ve got to get it done by the show!’ That kind of pressure works for me in some strange way.
Jordan Carlos: Do you have a drummer with a tom-tom drum following you around like do do badoo do? Like that?
Emmy Blotnick: Basically.
Jordan Carlos: Really?
Emmy Blotnick: Yeah.
Jordan Carlos: That’s cool.
Emmy Blotnick: I think a lot of Jewish comedians do.
Jordan Carlos: Those are your words. Really?
Emmy Blotnick: It’s just I’m a naturally pretty anxious person-
Jordan Carlos: Can I ask you a question? If you’re running through a hallway … People don’t even use file cabinets anymore but suddenly someone pulls one out right at your head level and you’ve got to duck right under it. Does that happen?
Emmy Blotnick: It hasn’t happened yet but you never know.
Jordan Carlos: You never know.
Emmy Blotnick: I feel like a filing cabinet is maybe on its way out as a piece of office furniture. You remember when we were kids those entertainment centers that were like bookshelves where one of the shelves was the size of a giant television?
Jordan Carlos: Oh, man.
Emmy Blotnick: They would take up a whole wall. No one has those anymore.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah. What happened to stuff? What happened to the past?
Emmy Blotnick: What happened? Entertainment centers are like these obsolete piece of furniture but I digress.
Jordan Carlos: Now they’re just a photo. Yes. Thanks for bringing up these very salient points. Let me ask you a question. What’s the writer’s room like over at Colbert?
Emmy Blotnick: It is a real bunch of sharpshooters here. There’s a handful of writers who came over from the Colbert Report who just know Stephen’s voice inside and out and are really quick with the exact right type of joke and it’s pretty awesome to watch. Yeah it’s-
Jordan Carlos: What are the days like? Do you get in by nine? Do you get in by 10? What’s the schedule like?
Emmy Blotnick: The first meeting of the day starts at 9AM and each of us usually has a couple of pitches from the morning’s news. We go from a meeting of just the writers and then present a more refined version of those pitches to Stephen and the executive producers in the next meeting. From there it gets divvied up into assignments which we write in pairs, which is so nice. It’s very nice to have a pair when you’re writing jokes because yeah, you want to make sure that the other person thinks it’s funny and understands and that you’re on the same wavelength about stuff. It’s like a fire buddy.
Jordan Carlos: Have you had the same partner since you’ve been there or have you alternated or do people mix it up? What happens?
Emmy Blotnick: It gets mixed up every day. I think the staff is about 12 writers or so. I should know the number but I don’t. You tend to work with somebody different every day which is nice.
Jordan Carlos: Oh, that’s cool. And what is it like? In a pitch session, will producers also pitch things or is it solely the writers?
Emmy Blotnick: There’s a handful of folks from other departments in the meetings. It’s pretty open so I think if somebody had a hot idea that was burning a hole in their pocket they could throw it out and it wouldn’t be frowned on in any way.
Jordan Carlos: What if Jimmy with the mop was coming through and was like ‘I got an angle.’?
Emmy Blotnick: I feel like nobody would say ‘Hey don’t do that.’ But it hasn’t happened yet.
Jordan Carlos: It hasn’t happened as of yet.
Emmy Blotnick: We haven’t had a genius mop man just undercover.
Jordan Carlos: Well he could be the Good Will Hunting of joke writing. You never know. Stephen’s like ‘Who put these jokes on the board? I demand to know.’ That would be great.
Emmy Blotnick: Yeah.
Jordan Carlos: So I want to ask this. Is there ever a feeling that you get where you’re like I know that this pitch will work for these reasons? Or do you go into a joke pitching session with things that you’re pretty sure will work or are you of the school that comedy is a volume industry, let me just throw mud at the wall and see what sticks?
Emmy Blotnick: Yeah, if there’s a lot of news to work with in a day it seems that you can be a bit, in my own experience you can be a bit choosier about what you pitch. There’s some days where either every story is a complete bummer and there isn’t much to work with or maybe it’s quiet. We haven’t had a lot of very quiet days but-
Jordan Carlos: No.
Emmy Blotnick: Ideally you find an angle on a story that lets everybody feel like they can chip in easily. I think what I’d said before was something that feels juicy with possibilities and as soon as I said that I was like ‘Ew.’
Jordan Carlos: So tell me, do you feel like it’s getting harder to write bits because of the current climate? For instance what happened with Justice Kennedy saying that he’s retiring, SCOTUS handing down the decisions on public sector unions. Are you ever like ‘What is there to laugh about?’ Or is there a way you trick yourself into making light of things? How do y’all do it?
Emmy Blotnick: Two things. One, just on an emotional level, I like to remember that everybody is in this boat together and that shows like this provide relief for people. That’s one way to stay motivated, to be like ‘Oh, yeah, this show provides almost a service right now of soothing people a little bit’ and making them feel like not everything is totally doomed or you can stay sane still. The other thing is that every time something bad happens there’s this whole chain of responses out of the pundit types. There’s lots to work with just in people responding to news, public figures responding to news the wrong way. Those people are easier to target, easier and it also feels more just to target them versus when they’re holding migrant children in a Walmart full of chain link fences. You don’t go after those people. You go after the ones who are like ‘Well those aren’t our kids.’ Or whatever stupid thing they say. Those are the people that you focus the energy on so you can dismantle that argument.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah, people saying ‘It could have been worse. It could have been a Big Lots.’ Stop. Please make fun of them.
Emmy Blotnick: You get to be the one who goes ‘You’re missing the point.’
Jordan Carlos: Yes. So many things beside the point. Even talking to you about this is giving me a little more hope and I appreciate that.
Emmy Blotnick: Good.
Jordan Carlos: Let me ask you this. Is there a certain manifestation from this … Obviously the fan base for Colbert is ravenous. Do you ever see that manifest itself in giant bags of gifts being showered upon Stephen from ravenous fans and things like that. Things showing up to the front door at the Ed Sullivan Theater. What is that like?
Emmy Blotnick: Occasionally there are gifts delivered. I think it was a week ago we got some giant shipment of fancy saltwater taffy. I’m sure it was all for Stephen, and he was kind enough to put it out for everybody. I was eating banana taffy for most of the day.
Jordan Carlos: You’re darn right. That’ll pull your wisdom teeth out by the root. You need to watch those. What’s it like working with Stephen?
Emmy Blotnick: He is as advertised a brilliant, smart, sensitive, hilarious man, which is wonderful. It’s nice because I think he understands the writing side of the show as well as somebody with as many things to do as he has to do does. That didn’t make any sense. [crosstalk 00:24:11] I hope you know where I was trying to go.
Jordan Carlos: We all get it. He sees the matrix.
Emmy Blotnick: Yes.
Jordan Carlos: He breathes comedy. He’s amazing.
Emmy Blotnick: I wish I just said that. He sees the matrix.
Jordan Carlos: It’s okay. You know what? We’ll just edit it out, and I’ll just say ‘He sees the matrix.’ You’re like ‘Totally!’ And that’s it.
Emmy Blotnick: Yeah.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah. It’s gonna be great. It’s gonna be fine. What’s it like also to work in New York City and to make as a joke writer in New York City? Do you feel as though the city itself gives you material or no?
Emmy Blotnick: Yeah. Part of my routine since I started here, I’ve only been in this role for about two and half months now. Part of the routine that has somehow formed is we usually get out of here around six o’clock and then I go sit in Washington Square Park for an hour or two before a set at the Cellar usually or whatever other shows are happening. And sitting-
Jordan Carlos: Are you that lady throwing bread at the pigeons? What’s going on?
Emmy Blotnick: I’m the lady covered in pigeons. The head to toe. I sit on a bench. I put two muffins on my shoulders and a pie in my lap and I just let the birds have breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Jordan Carlos: Sure. And brunch too for the late birds.
Emmy Blotnick: Uh-huh. It’s interesting. Those hours in the park, especially because it’s been nice out. There’s always stuff to look at and it’s nice to be around people who have no idea what I’m stressing about. New York is full. How do you say this without sounding like a hack? It’s full of inspiring stimulus.
Jordan Carlos: It’s a quilt. You know Mel Brooks used to do the same thing. He was a writer for Sid Caesar. What he would do was he would go to Central Park at night and literally have panic attacks, sit on the bench panicking.
Emmy Blotnick: Oh, man.
Jordan Carlos: Hey, you’re in good company.
Emmy Blotnick: That’s so nice. If you ever want to find me panicking, usually between six and seven thirty I’m sitting with the chess masters grinding my teeth.
Jordan Carlos: Sure, those are good panicking hours. Now you have some banana taffy to at least create a gasket between your teeth. Something.
Emmy Blotnick: And work it out, you know?
Jordan Carlos: Absolutely. I have to ask questions like this, but are there moments when you got a joke into rehearsal, you got a joke on the air and it just didn’t go so well?
Emmy Blotnick: Yeah. That has definitely happened. It hasn’t happened as much here because I think I have a bit more of a grip on things. I remember the first few talk shows I worked, where I wrote for Nikki Glaser had two talk shows. One on MTV with Sara Schaefer and then one of her own on Comedy Central. We were taking all kinds of swings on those shows, starting shows from scratch. That’s when sometimes you’d be like ‘Oops I have steered you wrong.’ Sometimes on At Midnight too. I can remember early on, my first few months there there would be occasionally something that would just land thud, have a sideways landing. Luckily that show just moved so fast that bombs didn’t really hurt. That’s the magic of-
Emmy Blotnick: The magic of editing, if something stinks real bad, you take it out.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah, shoe too wide, cut to the wide shot. So, what do you feel that you learned from those experiences and what did you learn from successes too?
Emmy Blotnick: I think the key or one of the keys is to have as much empathy for the host as you possibly can because stinky things are less likely to make it into the script. If you imagine what it feels like to be the one with the pressure on you to do well. So that’s part of why stand up feeds it so nicely, it’s because you know what it feels like when you screw up, like when it’s you talking, screwing up. And you also know what it feels like to kill so you want to try to transfer that feeling to the person you’re writing for the best you can.
Jordan Carlos: So what have your success has taught you? The jokes that have killed, what have they taught you? The ones like the late night big wins, the huge laughs.
Emmy Blotnick: Yeah. I think that, here’s what I’m learning is that it’s an old, it feels like it gets repeated a lot, but the shorter the better, like short silly things delight everybody. So whenever you can come up with a joke that’s only a few words long and goes in some new direction, that’s like a nice feeling. It feels weird to quote myself at all but there was, last night did you see that story about Alexandria Ocasio Cortez winning the primary in her district, she beat this guy, Joe Crowley, who was supposed to be the next speaker of the house and all of a sudden and when he found out that he lost there was a gathering for him. I think they were expecting him to win.
And when he found out he lost, he took out an electric guitar and started playing Born to Run. And the joke off of that was just going like, “Midlife crisis activate.” This is what I say, if it’s short, it’s short and silly. It’s the sort of thing where you’re like, “Oh, it feels nice that it doesn’t take a lot of explaining. It doesn’t take a lot of knowledge to understand.” You know what I mean?
Jordan Carlos: No, you don’t have to go to knowledge college to get that. That is amazing that they just had a Stratocaster on deck waiting.
Emmy Blotnick: Yeah, and he’s just like this sweet bald man. And he was so gracious in the loss too.
Jordan Carlos: He’s an elder statesman who now has to beat it. Yeah, but at least he got to go out his way right?
Emmy Blotnick: Yes, it was nice to see somebody be dignified in a defeat instead of being like, “What? Unfair, recount.” So good for both of them.
Jordan Carlos: Good for all of us really. So where did you find the footage and do you spend your time looking for crazy footage like that a lot when you’re gathering bits?
Emmy Blotnick: Well luckily the Late Show and also the President Show they both have insanely good teams of researchers who somehow keep their eyes on every news station, everything that’s going on and usually in the morning they’ll have already sort of done their recon and have selected clips and things that seem like there’s joke potential to them or that they might help tell the story. So a lot of the actual … And also sometimes you got the news on in the background when you’re getting ready for work and you hear something or whatever. But the research people do an insanely good job of calling what could be setups for jokes.
Jordan Carlos: Awesome, and then you just kind of dunk using that. They passed to you, you don’t get like Lebron or?
Emmy Blotnick: Yes, it’s an alley-oop based system.
Jordan Carlos: Wonderful, just as long as there’s no goal tending I think we’re good. I wanted to ask you as well, do you have any advice for folks that might be listening to the podcasts that are just starting off in comedy writing?
Emmy Blotnick: I mean just from my experience at least, I think it helps a lot to know what it feels like to be the performer and tell jokes and it doesn’t have to be stand up, that’s just the one that worked best for me. But if you have another outlet, like a sketch team, an improv team, even just a group of writers where you get to read your stuff out loud, it’s insanely helpful to get used to projecting your voice in a room and standing behind what you wrote. I think that is like … And that helps build that sort of empathy that I was talking about before where you can relate pretty deeply to what it feels like to be the person doing the performing, and so that helps. And then I think-
Jordan Carlos: Did you always use standup or did you do improv or sketch or what? When did you get started? How did you get started?
Emmy Blotnick: I did a little bit … I took classes at UCB, which I did I think five levels of improv and two levels of sketch. I did Improv for a couple of years and kind of tapered off it and never really pursued outright sketch writing until it was part of the job. But the classes are super helpful just for having a community of funny people that you can run ideas by and work with and then, like Anthony he was my level 301 improv teacher. That was how we initially met and I think that might’ve helped when I came into interview. So it’s good if you’re starting out to just plant your feet in that world as much as you can. There’s a ton of good old late night clips on YouTube and it’s nice to see what pre-Trump late night was like. To go back to times when the bits were just more plainly absurd and more straight comedy rather than satire. Just to have a broad mix of what is possible in this format.
Jordan Carlos: So any faves that stick out?
Emmy Blotnick: I mean, it’s crazy because I’m sitting one wall away from Brian Stack who’s a writer here and he’s also one of my favorite sketch actors ever. All of his old conan bits are just the best like Artie Kendall and the interrupter and all of those, and you can find those clips pretty easily on YouTube.
Jordan Carlos: Oh Wow. Did you always know that this is what you wanted to do?
Emmy Blotnick: Yeah, isn’t that weird? I kind of did. Watching these shows was like bonding time for my family and I always just really, like I found a lot of comfort in this type of show and my attention span has been bad way before, like social media and stuff. I always had a short and shitty attention span, so jokes and bits always suited me better than like whenever somebody is like, “I watched like an 11 part documentary about Vietnam.” I’m like, “How did you do that?”
Jordan Carlos: Well, it’s really good, the soundtrack is awesome. It’s nine inch nails and-
Emmy Blotnick: Wait what?
Jordan Carlos: Oh, you’re asking about the Vietnam documentary, I watched it.
Emmy Blotnick: Did you watch it?
Jordan Carlos: Yeah, it’s really good. Turns out we lost
Emmy Blotnick: I could never sit still for that long.
Jordan Carlos: Really good stuff. Oh, what a meme? Yeah, but I know what you mean, I used to watch a lot of comedy shows, Carol Burnett with my mom Fawlty Towers and things like that. She loves British comedies, but it was a way to kind of if you want to hang out with your parents, you better watch these and then you learn to actually enjoy things that weren’t cartoons. So that’s what it was like for me. Does your family’s still watch? Are you like, “That was my bit tonight mom that Steven said?” Or what’s that one?
Emmy Blotnick: No clay, I think she doesn’t stay up that late and my mom kind of has her shows that she watches, but whenever I’m like, if there’s something I especially like, I’ll send it around to the family and they’re all like, “Hey, great.”
Jordan Carlos: I have to ask this question because you are a millennial and millennials are not known for sticking at jobs that long. So how long do you want to say ideally at Colbert? Are you going to turn the lights off? Are you going to wait till they look the Ed Sullivan theater into a condo? Prove me wrong or what? What are you playing?
Emmy Blotnick: If this place is becoming condos, I want to live here. Oh Man, I don’t know. This whole time it’s been five or so years of writing for different shows and I have just sort of gone with the wind on these things. I’ve never been like “I’m going in.” And I’m always staying six months from so I’m going to … You just see what happens, let the universe do the deciding or whatever and-
Jordan Carlos: That’s awesome, I’m going to put that on a poster. I think that’s good.
Emmy Blotnick: I was saying, let the universe decide or whatever.
Jordan Carlos: I do want to wrap it up. Well, not wrap on a super serious note, but talk about something before we wrap, which is that you wrote on [inaudible 00:38:01] night and I was wondering what your feelings are given the story surrounding Chris. What have been your experiences as a woman in the writer’s room?
Emmy Blotnick: It came as a shock to me but I didn’t feel like there was anything toxic in the air at that workplace. If there were issues, it was compartmentalized. I feel really, I mean that was such a tough story to process and then he’s very sad. But if it had been the sort of problem that affected a writer’s room, I think you would’ve known.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah, and what have you faced as a woman writer in comedy? I mean, have you faced discrimination? What’s the journey been like for you?
Emmy Blotnick: This is maybe not the most enlightened answer, but one thing that is just a persistent thing is that women’s voices tend to be a little bit quieter and easier to miss in a room full of like shouting dudes. I guess like it’s always been a challenge to be loud and be confident enough in the ideas to just like bark it out there and be like, “There it is, I said it.” I think people have gotten, especially in our line of work, people have gotten so much hipper to the idea of being extra sensitive to one another. Like the sort of sexism that I saw early on has diminished which is awesome. There’s a noticeable difference between when I started and now. On the whole of it it tends to be, like from show to show more and more female writers and more women in like important, higher up positions which is awesome.
Like the President Show, that was a staff that was half women and one of the EPs was a female and it changed the environment in such an awesome way. And at Colbert there are four female writers on the staff and there’s a really nice supportive feeling in general. It’s cool to see it improve and I hope that keeps happening.
Jordan Carlos: Well, I hope you keep making great bits, which you obviously will. Emmy thanks so much for taking this time. I really appreciate it, you’re awesome and I will likely see you at some point at the Cellar. Folks, Emmy Blotnick was my guest today and wow, she is the sensation. She’s so great and I’m a huge fan of her work. And by the way, I hope that when my daughter grows up, she’ll be just like you. PS by the way, she’s sitting on my lap right now.
Emmy Blotnick: Oh man, that’s so nice, thank you Jordan.
Jordan Carlos: Do want to say hi?
Emmy Blotnick: Yes.
Jordan’s daughter: Hello!
Emmy Blotnick: Hi, oh she’s so cute.
Jordan Carlos: Okay, this will go down as the cutest podcast of all time. Got to have to do it for this episode. OnWriting is a production of the Writer’s Guild of America east. Next, tech production and original music by stop boy creative. You can learn more about the writer’s guild of America East online at wgaeast.org, or on social media at @wgaeast. I’m Jordan Carlos, and you can find me at JordanCarloscomedy.com and on Twitter at @JordanCarlos. Thanks for tuning in, right on.