Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

By: Meredith Scardino & Paula Pell

Acclaimed comedy writers Meredith Scardino and Paula Pell sit down together for a conversation about their journeys to WGAE membership, their journeys to the WGAE office, how producing differs from other positions in the writers room, the importance of both deadlines and procrastination in the creative process and much more.

Meredith Scardino is a screenwriter, showrunner and producer who has written for multiple TV comedies, including The Colbert Report, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Mr. Mayor. Most recently, she created and is the showrunner of the Peacock/Netflix musical comedy series Girls5eva.

Paula Pell is a writer, actor and producer known for her work as a writer and supervising producer on the late-night sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live, a writer and producer on the comedy series 30 Rock, and as the writer of the 2015 comedy film Sisters. Paula received the WGAE’s Herb Sargent Award for Comedy Excellence at the 2020 Writers Guild Awards. She also currently stars as Gloria in Girls5eva.

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OnWriting is an official podcast of the Writers Guild of America East. The series was created and is produced by Jason Gordon. Associate Producers are Molly Beer and Tiana Timmerberg. OnWriting’s Designer is Molly Beer. Mix, tech production, and original music by Taylor Bradshaw.

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Thanks for listening. Write on.


Paula Pell: Hi, you’re listening to OnWriting a podcast from the Writers Guild of America East.

Meredith Scardino: In each episode, you’ll hear from the Guild members who create the film, TV series, podcasts, and news stories that define our culture.

Paula Pell: We’ll discuss everything from inspirations and creative process, to what it takes to build a successful career in media and entertainment.

Meredith Scardino: I’m Meredith Scardino, the creator and showrunner of the Netflix series Girls5eva, and I was a writer for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and The Colbert Report.

Paula Pell: And I’m Paula Pell, I play Gloria in Girls5eva and a writer for Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock and the movie Sisters.

Meredith Scardino: Hi Paula.

Paula Pell: Hi Meredith.

Meredith Scardino: How are you?

Paula Pell: Thanks for coming to my bathroom. It’s nice in here, isn’t it?

Meredith Scardino: Yeah, it’s really nice. Very spacious.

Paula Pell: Yeah. I don’t let anyone do anything in here.

Meredith Scardino: Huge TV and a Writers Guild backdrop, for photos.

Paula Pell: I have my Writers Guild award in here, but I put 14 mirrors behind it, I tell people I got 28 Writers Guild Awards.

Meredith Scardino: I was fooled until now.

Paula Pell: How are you?

Meredith Scardino: I’m good. I have to say recording this, the Writers Guild is very nice because I live three blocks away.

Paula Pell: Oh, really?

Meredith Scardino: So it was a real good commute for me.

Paula Pell: A quick jaunt.

Meredith Scardino: Yeah. So now we know you were not in your bathroom.

Paula Pell: I was getting real feelings when I came into the Writers Guild building of my union, and how proud I am to be part of it for all these years. And what we went through last year and the power.

Meredith Scardino: Because there’s a lot of solidarity posters still up that remind you of that long strike.

Paula Pell: It really gave me a good feeling and it reminded me of my tattoo that says no feeling is final, because we were all in a dark grim place last year.

Meredith Scardino: That’s true.

Paula Pell: And now we’re like, it’s cooking again.

Meredith Scardino: No, it’s great. It’s cooking.

Paula Pell: It’s cooking.

Meredith Scardino: It’s cooking.

Paula Pell: Do you want to talk about writing today?

Meredith Scardino: Yeah, let’s talk about writing together and separately. There’s a bunch of cards here with prompts.

Paula Pell: Oh my God, I brought cards too.

Meredith Scardino: I brought cards too. No, they gave them to us.

Paula Pell: We should answer questions at the same time, so it’s just you can’t understand any of it.

Meredith Scardino: They’ll fix it in post. No, they’ll divide us-

Paula Pell: We can separate it.

Meredith Scardino: … in post. We have separate mics.

Paula Pell: Well, it saves time.

Meredith Scardino: All right. Here’s a really good kickoff.

Paula Pell: Okay.

Meredith Scardino: Okay.

Paula Pell: Kick me off, that sounds pretty-

Meredith Scardino: How did you get your first Writers Guild covered job?

Paula Pell: My first Writers Guild covered job was SNL. And it was so funny because I was very naive. I came from working in Florida at the theme parks, and those were fantastic jobs at the time. As a young actor that graduated from college with a theater degree, it was like the dream job because everyone was starving in New York and auditioning and depressed. And I was down there with my 1989 Ford Probe that I bought new, and it was a hot car.

Meredith Scardino: It was a hot car. What color?

Paula Pell: I rented black, shiny black. And I had a cute ass little house that I rented for my dogs.

Meredith Scardino: But I’m guessing the theme park actors did not have a guild, were they unionized?

Paula Pell: Not at the time, but then they did.

Meredith Scardino: Okay that’s good.

Paula Pell: Well, actually Writers Guild, no.

Meredith Scardino: Not writers.

Paula Pell: Right, acting guild, they eventually got with SAG or not, Equity, with Equity. I just remember at SNL having no idea about how any of it works. And when we started, which was abruptly, I got the job and five days later I was there. I just suddenly was getting calls from agents, and getting approached with the union. You have to join the Union, and it was just all at once. So it was a very, I wouldn’t say automatic, but it was that you had to be part of the union. But I was so excited about signing all my papers, and getting my little card, and being hazed. Because you know we all got horribly hazed as new…

Meredith Scardino: You get beat in and then you get bet out, like a gang.

Paula Pell: Emotionally beaten.

Meredith Scardino: Emotionally. My first Guild job was the Late Show with David Letterman, the very end of his run-

Paula Pell: Wow.

Meredith Scardino: … at CBS. And what happened was I was working at the show Best Week Ever, which was not covered by the Guild on VH1, it was a weekly news comedy show. But I got that with no representation or anything. And then once I got that job I was able to get a manager. And then he was like, “They’re looking for a writer over at Letterman, do you want to go interview? I represent the head writers if you want to just have an interview first.” And then I had the rare interview before a packet. So I interviewed with them and they go, “Okay, well, how about you have one week to write a packet?” And then the next day, I broke both arms.

Paula Pell: No, you did not.

Meredith Scardino: Yes, I did.

Paula Pell: Your own arms or someone else’s in a fit of rage?

Meredith Scardino: My own arms. I broke my left elbow and-

Paula Pell: Oh my God.

Meredith Scardino: … and my right wrist, biking accident.

Paula Pell: Oh my God.

Meredith Scardino: I was like, “Okay.” And I had to get surgery and all this stuff. So I missed my one-week deadline, obviously. But then once I got a couple fingers free, I did the packet and then I got the job.

Paula Pell: You chicken pecked it.

Meredith Scardino: I pecked it with my nose.

Paula Pell: Oh my God.

Meredith Scardino: And then I was like, “Should I get that voice software?” Because I didn’t want to lose the opportunity. I was dying to get in the Guild and be in Late Night and-

Paula Pell: That’s amazing.

Meredith Scardino: … all that. So that was a funny start.

Paula Pell: By the way I’ve tried the any kind of voice… Anytime I’m like, “You know what, sometimes you get so many ideas in your head that don’t come out when you’re just typing rough drafts of things. It’s like wouldn’t it be great to just talk to myself in the car and record all that and everything?” Never have I ever been able to get any of it to work, any, ever.

Meredith Scardino: You can’t even get the software to work or it doesn’t transcribe you well.

Paula Pell: It downloads and then you don’t have the right thing. And then say-

Meredith Scardino: And then there’s no period.

Paula Pell: … a lot of Fs, they say a lot of Fs.

Meredith Scardino: And the what, you’re too prudish to… Oh, I thought you meant you say a lot of Fs and then you transcribed it-

Paula Pell: No I say fucks.

Meredith Scardino: … and then you pearl clutch and say, “I can’t read that.”

Paula Pell: No, I just get so furious that I end up… Nana throws a fit and says, “Forget it. I’ll just…”

Meredith Scardino: Well, actually this is a good segue to that. There was a prompt about our writing process.

Paula Pell: Yes.

Meredith Scardino: Which I feel like for me, I feel like I don’t know about you, but it was basically like what is your…. Oh, here it is.

“Where do you write? Do you set a routine when you write?” And here’s the thing, I feel like I love to read about other people’s processes. I love to be like, “How does somebody do it? How are people not procrastinating?” Trumbo with his typewriter in the tub every morning. You always read about people it’s like, “This author starts with nine very sharp pencils at 4:00 AM, and he’s not disturbed until 9:00.”

Paula Pell: And he does not bathe.

Meredith Scardino: “He does not bathe.” And then the masterpiece comes out. And I don’t know about you, but that is just not how I operate.

Paula Pell: Absolutely not. I enjoy reading about people’s processes, is that the right word? Processes. Processi. I enjoy reading about them when it’s like I want to die, and then the night before I finally do it. Because I am a master of procrastination, I’ve gotten better, but I am a master of it.

Meredith Scardino: Yeah. I’m a co-master because I-

Paula Pell: We should not do a show together.

Meredith Scardino: No.

Paula Pell: Write a show.

Meredith Scardino: But for me, we’ve talked about this we love deadlines, because deadlines just start the engine and really get you to fully focus.

Paula Pell: For sure.

Meredith Scardino: But I also believe that a certain amount of procrastination is part of the process and you stop shaming yourself about the detours you take, the walks you take.

Paula Pell: And it’s universal. Anybody that I have read about writing, way back the 1800s, you read about writing and people are like, “Oh, it’s like you want to die until you finally make yourself do it.” I remember you putting a quote up on my board when I was young I loved quotes. And I put up this quote that said the beginning is half of every action. Because I was such a procrastinator, and I love the idea that if you just pop the cork on it, then I roll. That first couple pages when it’s real pages not handwritten or anything really typed in. Then I think about it, then I lay in bed and think about it. Then I reread it, and I get excited about a couple jokes in it, then I want to keep going. But it’s almost like if you pay too much attention to it’s going to get panicky again.

I can’t say I’m going to be writing all day. I’ll say it, but I’m not going to do it. I’m going to find some weird pocket of time that day to do a wild hour and a half of it. And my other thing is that the muscles of working at SNL for 18 years is a real thing in terms of quick shedding it out as they say.

Meredith Scardino: I feel that way too just with working-

Paula Pell: Late night and stuff.

Meredith Scardino: … in late night. I worked for The Colbert Report for six years, and there’s this newsroom feel where you kind of hurl in in the morning with pitches.

Paula Pell: And you’re on your feet and they’re like, “Something funnier. Something funnier. A better ending. A better beginning.”

Meredith Scardino: And I’m shouting everything. And then you have an hour and a half to write a piece, and then you edit it and all that, and it’s on TV that night. You demystify the process in a way and just get to work, and then you always discover awesome stuff.

Paula Pell: Well, one thing that was hard for me once I got into writers’ rooms for multi-cams, or any kind of sitcom, or single-camera shows was because there was so much time spent. Even though it seemed dense and it seemed like you needed all that time, it felt sometimes like you’re brainstorming to brainstorm because that’s what you’re there for. And so it’s like eight hours, 10 hours of brainstorming of what’s this character going to… And sometimes it would make me crazy because it’s just like let’s do a hard three hours of really throwing out all our favorite things. But one thing I did learn with movies especially, because I did so many rewrites of movies and then wrote my own movies, is to not tell them how long it takes you. Because most of the world they give you 12 weeks for that first draft.

Meredith Scardino: Oh, but it takes you an hour and a half.

Paula Pell: Well, with a rewrite they’d be like on the phone you’re getting the rundown of what they want to accomplish with it and everything. And they’d be like, “So we were thinking maybe eight weeks for that.” And I’d be like, “I think I could do it in eight weeks.” And then I do it the last two weeks, much less, but I don’t want to say that on the air. But you have to be careful too because the value of the time and you are thinking-

Meredith Scardino: It’s percolating.

Paula Pell: … of it. But to actually write it, I can’t do a tiny bit every day for eight weeks. It makes me insane. I have to just really roll it, adrenaline.

Meredith Scardino: I feel that way too. And I feel like when I’m writing a draft of something, I really want to live in it and I don’t want to really live in anything else. What always happens is when you’re writing, you pick it back up. It always happens I feel like with drafts is you end up rewriting the first five pages eternally, and then you have this very rushed ending that you blew out when you realize that the deadline was coming. So it’s like trying so hard to not have that just try to over-perfect that beginning, but also not being so far from it the last time you worked on it that you feel like you need to get that whole cruise ship started again.

Paula Pell: Right. Judd Apatow used to always say the vomit pass is so important. Just because at SNL we had to do it there, and it had to be the one that’s going to be on live TV. You can’t do too many vomit passes of anything on live TV or late night, it has to be good then. And so I hated writing half-assed stuff, but doing that really does lay it down so it doesn’t feel so terrifying. And then when you do it-

Meredith Scardino: Then you hone it.

Paula Pell: Yeah, exactly.

Meredith Scardino: I used to be a painter and with painting, the way you’re supposed to paint is develop the whole canvas at once. And then we would always have my college, we would have the architecture students take painting classes, and we would always have a nude model set. By the end of the semester a lot of these guys’ canvases would be completely white with two of the most hyper-realistic breasts-

Paula Pell: Oh my God.

Meredith Scardino: … you’ve ever seen painted.

Paula Pell: Oh my God.

Meredith Scardino: And white all around it, it’s like, “Okay, I see what you’re doing. You really nailed the details there.” But that’s not really how you’re supposed to paint.

Paula Pell: Oh my God, that’s so funny.

Meredith Scardino: You’re supposed to have the-

Paula Pell: The whole feel.

Meredith Scardino: … gesture, and the whole thing is supposed to eventually come into focus. And it helps benefit the whole by approaching it that way.

Paula Pell: One thing that has helped me in this last movie that we’ve been writing that has really helped me that I’ve never done ever in any pitch I’ve ever done is we actually pitched it in 3x. We pitched it in a structure-

Meredith Scardino: Well, that’s very helpful.

Paula Pell: … and I never do that. I pitch with a lot of characters and a lot of funny stuff, and then they’re really into it. And then if they buy it, then you go back and sit and try to create the story and you’re like, “Shit, I don’t know what’s going to happen in this.” They’re all into it. They want it. If you did sell it, many times I have not sold something.

Meredith Scardino: There’s a lot more discovery.

Paula Pell: But pitching it in a simple, whatever the structure is, if it’s a TV show or whatever, pitching it as it should be in terms of the structure of it was the most freeing thing. Because then when we sat down, we knew what second act is going to look like, what the third act, things change along the way. But I wanted to ask you because you are running and have created such an incredible show. One thing I wanted to ask you because you have given me the most miraculous gift by creating Girls5eva, and has been one of my most favorite things I’ve ever done in my 61 years. And when you are running that writers’ room, what do you think makes a successful writers’ room? Just personally and also just productivity-wise, what kind of vibe do you like? Because I’ve never been in your writers’ room and I know some of them have been Zoom. And my wife is in your writers’ room, so I’ve never been in there sitting.

Meredith Scardino: Well, just as far as I feel like writers that are helpful in a writers’ room. I’ve been in writers’ room shows that I did not create like Kimmy Schmidt. But I feel like one of the qualities that I think was instilled in me from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock is just every story has problems, every story has problems, every single one has problems. But to not be just a problem identifier and just say, “Okay, this isn’t quite working,” and then bring nothing, that’s a stopper. You want to be somebody suggesting solutions, whether they work or not, who knows. But you want to be like a yes, and… And you also want to be when someone pitches, even if it’s a pitch you don’t love, sometimes if you yes and it to use an improv term, you might find a new exciting thing together that you never would’ve found if you were just dismissing-

Paula Pell: If you were riffing off that idea and then all of a sudden you start just improvising about it and then something really good comes.

Meredith Scardino: Yeah. But running the room, a lot of times depending on how big the staff is, there’ll be two rooms. One room is maybe trying to break a certain story and they’re discussing, and then eventually they’ll come back and pitch to you. And you give some thoughts and eventually try to get a version of it, beat it out on a board, and you’re doing that in whatever room you’re in. You start out the season talking about blue sky and just any idea that would occur to you for the season and be fun. And then also trying to create a loose arc. Where are we starting? Where are we going? And then we all do our homework and think of ideas for each character and ideas for group stories. And we eventually end up with this big wall of ideas divided by character. It’s just this massive amount of stuff and stories.

Paula Pell: Lego pieces.

Meredith Scardino: Yeah, Lego pieces. And then you’re kind of like, you feel like you have too much, because you always do. You have just a bounty of ideas. And I think that’s really what makes a good person in the room is somebody who’s bringing a lot to the table, people that aren’t shy about talking.

People who also stay on topic. Sometimes you’re trying to figure something out and it’s easy to jump off, and talk about something that’s more fun or whatever it is. And then you’re like, “Okay, no, we’re trying to figure this thing out.” So people that stay on task and also feel like they care about it as much as you do, is always something that really endears me to people where I’m like, “Oh my God, they really love it. They care.” And I cared so hard.

Paula Pell: It’s not just about them performing for you and they come up with something, but it’s like, “I want this to be good.”

Meredith Scardino: And they also are kind of like if we go home for the day and there’s something we haven’t quite cracked, somebody who comes in the next day with a germ of an idea, just to kick it forward, I think is just incredibly helpful.

Paula Pell: I think it’s really such a vulnerable place a writers’ room. I had such a funny landing in LA when I had this pilot when I was at SNL later in the years there. I had a pilot picked up. And I went to LA had never worked there, just been there for Emmys and stuff, losing Emmys. I went there to lose Emmys. I went there this pilot, and we shot some episodes and it went down in flames. But the thing that would crack me up in the writers’ room is that in episodic TV, there’s a lot of writers that use the word pitch a lot and they ask for permission to pitch kind of.

They put handles on the beginning of their pitches. And SNL, we never use the word pitch except the pitch meeting, which was on Mondays. You just go in and pitch to the host, but we never use the word pitch. And when I got there and I was running that room, I just remember after a few months I was like, “You guys don’t have to start your pitch with, ‘I have a pitch for this.’”

And I was set it really nice, but I was like, “It takes so much time to get to the thing instead of, ‘What about if it’s this,’ or, ‘I have an idea.’ Just a quick.” And it’s because people are vulnerable, because they’re afraid. They’re kind of easing in, “I might have a pitch for this. Hey, I think I might have something that will work for this.” And all that handle at the beginning is just… I understand it because I’ve been in those rooms-

Meredith Scardino: But you’re like, “We have no time.”

Paula Pell: … where I was scared.

Meredith Scardino: “There’s no time.”

Paula Pell: But it’s also like you want them to shake that part off because at 30 Rock, I worked there one year in the writers room, and of course that room is Carlock running it. And it was very intimidating at first, and I think I talked too much. I pitched too much. Because I just wanted to, “I’m going to show you my joke machine motherfucker. I’m just going to like it.”

Meredith Scardino: Zig, zig, zig, zig, zig, zig.

Paula Pell: And Robert was like, “You can pitch less if you want to.”

Meredith Scardino: You can have less coffee Paula.

Paula Pell: And John Reggie pointed out something to me that made me laugh so hard that I think I laughed for five solid days about it, is that he said after we knew each other for a while, he said, “Do you know what you do in there?” And I said, “What?” And he said, “When you’re pitching something and you’re looking up at the board, if it doesn’t get a laugh you do this thing where you backpedal and pretend like you misspoke and got the wrong thing.” I would do it all the time, I’d say, “Or it could be this,” and then nothing, just crickets. And then I’d look up and I do this fake bad acting, looking at the cards and go, “Oh, you know what? Forget it, I was on the wrong… Forget it.” I’ll say that.

Meredith Scardino: There’s a writer I used to work with at the Colbert Report who works at the Late Show now, this guy Mike Brum who’s hilarious. He used to do this thing all the time where if his joke… Because listen pitching turds is part of the process. We all do it. All your-

Paula Pell: You have to shake it off.

Meredith Scardino: … heroes do it. The most funniest people in the world, every single person you perceive to be a genius pitches some turds. And this guy Mike would if he got nothing in the room, he would do a very elaborate pantomime of him putting on a jetpack and then flying away. But one thing that I think is very different speaking of vulnerability, coming from late night, your engine, your food that you turn into comedy or whatever is the news. So you’re taking in all the stuff from the news every day you’re reading the paper.

Paula Pell: You have a source material there.

Meredith Scardino: Your source material. And then when you go into shows where you’re trying to crack characters, and that has more to do with being a human, your fodder is life. So you end up sharing a lot of things. Some rooms can almost be therapies that we all know a lot-

Paula Pell: Oh, totally.

Meredith Scardino: … of things about each other.

Paula Pell: And sometimes you come in and you have a relative that’s dying or you have a… I love a very human writers’ room, not to where it’s three hours at the beginning when we’re all talking about something. But I really love when you feel safe in there because then you’ll feel safe with everything else.

Meredith Scardino: Yes. And it is about feeling safe enough to share something embarrassing about your life, or a difficulty that you’re having with a relative or whatever that then it might inform a story, or something hard from your past.

Paula Pell: That happens constantly.

Meredith Scardino: All the time.

Paula Pell: Happens all the time. You break up with someone, or a divorce, or a birth or whatever it is. Or something horrifying you saw on the street or whatever. And then you tell it, and maybe it isn’t comedy. But then you start joking-

Meredith Scardino: It works it’s way.

Paula Pell: … about it and then you’re like, “Oh my God, this is the human thing.” When I first got handed my schedule at SNL the first year I thought it was a mistake. I literally went, “Oh, I just wanted the whole schedule.” Because it was 20 weeks and I would look and it would be like three shows, three weeks off, two shows, two weeks off. And I kept going, “Are the two weeks off… I don’t get it.” Because it was like, “Oh my God, the schedule at SNL was so crazy.” Now when I worked it and you did three weeks, you needed a month off.

Meredith Scardino: You need those rest period.

Paula Pell: It was so adrenaline, insane. But he really always believed that the comedy at that show was 100% from the life you’re living. Go live your life in New York.

Meredith Scardino: That’s great.

Paula Pell: Go see your family. Go see your betcha aunt that’s going to say something hilarious at Thanksgiving. That’s where all those sketches come from.

Meredith Scardino: I also think that for a lot of writers having a trajectory that wasn’t being a writing major in college, that then led to trying to write right after college. Having some odd experiences or a different career, or I studied archeology, all those things become incredibly valuable in the room in ways that you never expect. I was worried that having an art background was a real negative, and then it just seeps in. And then all of a sudden you’re the art expert and you’re like, “Okay, all right. Yeah, sure.” Living outside the room really helps your work inside the room.

Paula Pell: I also just love at SNL the most successful in my opinion writer room years or atmospheres was when we could really laugh at something dumb for a few minutes sometimes. And then somebody goes, “I got to show you this video,” not two hours of it. Because you can get lost in that with people of like, “Did you guys see this? Have you seen this?” Because sitting around a table can feel like a dry meeting. You can sit and nothing good comes out of that. Story, breaking story, yes, it’s more intellectual. But man, I always love things coming out of joy. As long as everyone can read the room of like, “Okay, it’s time to work.” Can I ask you, Meredith, because I love our show so much, can you tell me how you initially just came up with that nut of that crazy show? Crazy yet heart filling show.

Meredith Scardino: When I was approaching, “Okay, this is my shot to write a show. Okay, I have some support.” Tina and Robert were like, “Yeah, why don’t you think about something?” And so I was thinking of a zillion different ideas, animated show, I had so many ideas. And I kept asking myself, “What do I want to watch? What do I want to write? What do I think I could write?” I kept coming back to wanting to write a show about multiple hilarious women, it wasn’t just one woman at the front or a guy and a girl, whatever. I wanted to write a bunch of ladies that could be-

Paula Pell: Ensemble that’s equally-

Meredith Scardino: An ensemble of women that could be hilarious. And I liked the idea of writing women in their 40s in New York, maybe I was being lazy and that’s me. But I was like I felt like it needed what is the world that it lives in that it’s not just four friends, or four strangers, or whatever it is. The girl group idea popped in my head, the one-hit wonder, the fallen one-hit wonder that gets back together. And the second I added that element to it, it felt like a pinball machine where all the lights went off, was like, “Bing, bing, bing, bing, bing. Oh, I can do that. So I can talk about real life, and make these characters grounded. But then they can live in this sort of hyperbolic, absurd world as well, but there’s always a grounded core.”

But then you also get to, I’m so used to digesting pop culture and the news and satirizing it, making jokes about it in a loving way that it felt like, “Oh, then I get to do that about the music business and celebrity. And then I also get to talk about how women were treated in the Y2K era. Now that we’ve all grown some empathy for those artists of the past, we didn’t really treat them so great back in 1999, 2000.”

So I like the idea of these ladies feeling just tossed aside by the business. And alk surviving in their own ways in the interim. And being a little trapped in amber. Gloria McManus, your character just was somebody that was like, “The round is so crazy under here. There’s nothing to stand on, so I’m going to get-”

Paula Pell: Straight to dentistry,

Meredith Scardino: “… straight to dentistry, very practical. What can I do until I die?” I like the idea that everybody had a different reaction. Dawn kind of got small and just worked for her brother in Queens and has kind of a nice life, but she’s bored. She’s kind of bored-

Paula Pell: Unrealized

Meredith Scardino: … and unrealized and takes care of other people without really giving herself much. And Wickie just feels-

Paula Pell: Cheated.

Meredith Scardino: … cheated because she’s the voice of a generation or whatever, and is living that lifestyle even if that’s not what her exact reality is. And then Summer just being like, “This was the greatest moment of my life and I will cling to it forever. And every single day I’ve been probably lighting a candle and manifested that the group comes back together.” And so she’s rotting in a McMansion in New Jersey. So I just liked all of these characters coming together.

Paula Pell: You know what’s so touching is in the pilot after we do the Tonight Show and I come out and I say the line, I can’t remember the name of the girl that-

Meredith Scardino: Jenny Nestle.

Paula Pell: Jenny Nestle. It’s like, “What is this feeling? Am I having a stroke? No. It’s when Jenny Nestle brought a fat kitten to kindergarten. It’s joy,” and then just kicking that orange cone. And I just remember anytime in that show, when we all look at each other because we’re so different, we look at each other and go, “We all want this. We all need this from different directions.” I’m going to pivot for a minute, because I just thought of something I wanted to ask you. What do you hate about writing, and what do you love about writing?

Meredith Scardino: Hate about writing is just almost getting started, the hemming and hawing, the kind of just really… Because once you’re in it, you get into the flow state and then it’s good. I’m always trying to set a Pomodoro clock. Okay, 20 minutes and then you do it, and then you work for a few hours or something straight.

Paula Pell: Is that how long you boil Pomodoro, 20 minutes?

Meredith Scardino: Well, Pomodoro is that little timer and you just do it for-

Paula Pell: Oh, I thought you meant sauce.

Meredith Scardino: It probably came fromsSauce, but there’s an app called Pomodoro that people use for productivity. And then I also got a little actual physical clock that you can set to different timers. So sometimes I do that to get myself started.

Paula Pell: My Pomodoro timer is just when I have a panic attack that I need to get it done, and I’ve waited too long.

Meredith Scardino: But honestly, deadlines truly are such a gift. Because I am one of those people that doesn’t believe things are done. I just think this is the time I had, and this is what I was able to do with it. And then eventually after you edit and everything, you’re like, “No, it is done, that’s what it was meant to be.” What I love about writing, I think I love being in a writers’ room. I think the most fun is pitching to people. The most fun thing to me is making people I think are hilarious, laugh. There’s a real dopamine that I get-

Paula Pell: Oh, for sure.

Meredith Scardino: … from that, that I just want more. It’s like my heroin.

Paula Pell: No, it is. It’s the drug. I grew up such a class clown, and that was my drug was just figuring out… Not just the kids in school, but the teachers.

Meredith Scardino: Really.

Paula Pell: I did so much shtick with my teachers and I really loved my teachers. I was a good student, but when I wanted to do a bit, I would figure it out in a way in the right day and the right vibe in the room. And one bit I used to do with one of my teachers who I loved Mr. Gersh. I used to write on the board, when you’d get up to do something, you’d write on the board. And then as I was coming back, I would drag my finger along the little chalk shelf. And then I would come over to him and go, “You’re doing a really good job, Mr. Gersh.” And I would pat him on the back, and then leave a white hand print on the back of is suit.

Meredith Scardino: And he loved it.

Paula Pell: Oh, he loved it, but he was completely deadpan. He looked like Rob Reiner in All in the Family.

Meredith Scardino: That’s fantastic.

Paula Pell: He had a big stash and long hair, and he would do such a Bea Arthur deadpan to me. And then the crowd-

Meredith Scardino: The crowd.

Paula Pell: … the crowd, the classroom would laugh.

Meredith Scardino: The crowd in Algebra 2.

Paula Pell: I would say for me I hate with a passion the beginning, I hate it. But I hate even more when I come up with a seed of an idea that I’m excited about, and I do nothing but tell one million people about it just to get their reaction. And then if they have a great reaction, then I’m like, “Yes, this is a good idea. It’s got legs, it’s viable.” And then I come home and sit and stare and can’t think of anything else past that thing. I hate that feeling of like, “Oh, this was a fake.”

Meredith Scardino: Sometimes I worry sometimes when I tell too many people about something I haven’t made yet that-

Paula Pell: You’ve taken the air out of it.

Meredith Scardino: … that robs it.

Paula Pell: Absolutely.

Meredith Scardino: I feel like I got the high out of telling the people.

Paula Pell: I think that’s the problem is that I am searching for reassurance that it’s a good thing, even though I know and I need to shut the hell up and go write it, and then they can enjoy it on the screen. Or they can enjoy it in a pit.

Meredith Scardino: Or they can listen to the table, or even give you notes and then be like this. It’s a fine line because you want to be able to talk about your stuff with people because it’s such… I feel like TV especially is just incredibly collaborative.

Paula Pell: Yes. The thing that I absolutely love is printing it out.

Meredith Scardino: You love printing it.

Paula Pell: At SNL, when you would be so sleep-deprived at six, 7:00 AM I always stayed until 10 AM. and Mike Shoemaker called me yesterday’s sweater, because I always came in with little BO and he’d be like, “What’s going on yesterday’s sweater.” And then I would be so jacked up, not cocaine, seven coffees.

Meredith Scardino: You really love coffee.

Paula Pell: And I am a night owl.

Meredith Scardino: I’m a night owl too.

Paula Pell: I would get that. I’d hit about 6:00 AM, I would hit a stride and for three more hours I would write more because everyone laughed. And I’d be like, “I had that other idea for that other thing.”

Meredith Scardino: That’s amazing.

Paula Pell: And I would write and then I would be so jacked up when I came into his office that I would read him things. I’d be like, “Can I read you this thing? Can I sing you the song? Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I?” And it wasn’t cocaine, I promise. But I love, especially if you write a movie and you finally get through the whole thing and you’ve got 100 something pages, that first time you just print and you hear that [inaudible 00:35:37]. And just the smell of it.

Meredith Scardino: The smell.

Paula Pell: And looking at it like I had this come out of my head. It’s a miraculous feeling to create something that comes out of your head.

Meredith Scardino: A lot of people say they love having had written, that’s one of their favorite moments.

Paula Pell: And I also just love the revising once it’s already good-

Meredith Scardino: In shape.

Paula Pell: … and you’re revising it-

Meredith Scardino: Me too.

Paula Pell: … in the way of like, “I’m going to tweak this little thing.” And I’ve gotten so much better about cutting things. I used to be so tortured by cutting something, but I love that. Over the years you’re like nothing is so precious. You can a 100%.

Meredith Scardino: So much has to do with action. And when you divert from that for something that even if it’s hilarious and killing with your friends in the room, the audience can feel that you’re off story and you just have to cut it. It’s hard, but you have to cut it.

Paula Pell: I also really feel like this was true at SNL with sketches and very true I think in movie ideas or anything. Sometimes we’d have an idea we were so excited about, and we’d sit in those little offices over there. And it would be like six hours, and you still hadn’t written that sketch, or you wrote three pages of it and you still couldn’t get it. That is a sign to euthanize it and just be like, “This is not a viable…”

Meredith Scardino: Print it and then shoot it.

Paula Pell: Shoot it, shoot it, shoot it behind 30 Rock.

Meredith Scardino: Take it behind a shed.

Paula Pell: You really can feel the momentum of something that is a good idea because people can build bricks on. Especially in a writers’ room, if something starts and people are like, “And then in this and then this.” And then you’re like, “Okay, this has got gas,” as they say in the old time.

Meredith Scardino: When you have too many ideas about something that’s always a good sign.

Paula Pell: Then you’re like, yeah.

Meredith Scardino: There’s also, I think the benefit of a table read is just immeasurable. To hear it, even though nobody’s in hair and makeup, you’re not around the sets, the action, you’re not really seeing it. You can still feel you can really feel when you lock in, it’s really working. And then you can feel when it’s out of the pocket. Honestly, sometimes those are the scenes that you wrote and felt great, and then you can’t believe that they’re not quite working, but they really aren’t. Sometimes there might be reasons why they’re not working, whether somebody’s too tired as they’re reading it or just somebody read the part a little bit off.

But for the most part, I feel like table reads are so helpful. Even if you’re a new writer and aren’t on a show or aren’t… Tina always says this, which I think is really good advice. Give yourself a deadline and then have your friends read it. Read it out loud. You don’t have to have a show to have a table read. And then it really does make it better.

Paula Pell: It does.

Meredith Scardino: You always learn something from it.

Paula Pell: Also nothing’s better than the other way that if you wrote something that you were like, “I think this is funny, but I’m not sure.” And if it gets a laugh at a table read, that’s drugs right there too.

Meredith Scardino: That’s drugs.

Paula Pell: Comedy is drugs.

Meredith Scardino: Comedy is drugs. But one thing that was really also delightful that we got to experience in the last season of the show is… The first two seasons we made during the pandemic. We didn’t really have premieres and able to screen the episodes for people outside of just working remotely on Zoom, working with editors and being like, “I think this is the tightest we can do, and we’ll throw it out there.” And this season we’ve gotten to do a bunch of screenings, panel discussions, and then our premiere, we got to screen some episodes. And hearing the episodes with an audience is so wild.

Paula Pell: Especially if it’s on TV, because you don’t ever get that-

Meredith Scardino: You never get that.

Paula Pell: Also, comedies aren’t in theaters much anymore, so you don’t get that joy of back in the day when you would just go to a packed midnight comedy movie. I miss that really.

Meredith Scardino: But also what I found really interesting when we were at our premiere is watching the episodes, and there would be jokes that I didn’t know were in there. The audience would laugh at things that I did not… And it was mostly performance based. It would be just a look from one of you guys. Something subtle that I just didn’t know was a huge laugh for the audience. That was a drug hearing that, I was like, “Oh my gosh, I had no idea that was there.”

Paula Pell: Well, I feel like those laughs happen too when you have great characters, which you have written. And I feel like it’s a real fun thing to hear an audience get the rhythm of something and be in love with it and be on… When I watch a Golden Girls, one of my favorite things of on the Earth, best jokes ever, just watching a Golden Girls. You know the ride you’re going to take. You’re just waiting. You’re waiting for that one killer, killer joke in the middle. And then there’s a little emotional part, little quiet sad part that music happens.

Meredith Scardino: They did that well where they had-

Paula Pell: And Roseanne did that too, the show Roseanne. Just where there’d just be something where you’re just like, “Oh, that just got me in the gut.” Just a serious little moment where you just, “Oh, I love those…” And I feel like you’ve managed to do that in this, and it’s such absurdist humor sometimes in the show.

Meredith Scardino: It is.

Paula Pell: And yet somehow, Meredith Scardino, you figured out a way to have scenes that we literally tear up in and look at each other like, “Oh, that got me.”

Meredith Scardino: I feel like there are two reasons for that. One is you and the cast, Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Busy Phillips, you’re all such amazing, empathetic.

Paula Pell: Well, that’s why I brought this up, so you get there.

Meredith Scardino: You bring such empathy-

Paula Pell: Just kidding.

Meredith Scardino: … to the roles, and you’re all such amazing actors. And taking a little time for those moments to let them sink in, which is nice about being on streaming because you don’t have to be adhered to 21 and a half minutes exactly. And also Sara Bareilles writing a song there too-

Paula Pell: Oh God.

Meredith Scardino: … that just guts you.

Paula Pell: She writes that one or two per year, and then she’ll send us a little clip of it. And we’ll just be open mouth crying on the toilet-

Meredith Scardino: Oh my gosh.

Paula Pell: … listening to it at home.

Meredith Scardino: I listened to that demo in an Adidas store-

Paula Pell: Oh my God, I can’t.

Meredith Scardino: … for The Medium Time. I got that when I was in the Adidas store.

Paula Pell: God, that one. I still play it and cry.

Meredith Scardino: It’s amazing.

Paula Pell: I wanted to ask you as a producer, because you’ve done a lot more producing than I have in series stuff, what do you think about producing? Do you like doing it? Is it much different than being head writer, show runner?

Meredith Scardino: Well, there’s certainly more aspects-

Paula Pell: What do you think producing is?

Meredith Scardino: Producing is just actually just getting it done? It’s a lot of communication between departments, a lot of meetings, a lot of talking to, “Okay, here’s the vision for this thing. Here’s this costume we want to try to pull off. What do you think?” And the show has just the best crew that everybody’s so creative and amazing that it’s really fun to collaborate with all these departments. I honestly think being in the edit is one of the things that really has made my writing stronger, or makes you a stronger writer because you really see what’s essential for the scene once you’re in there. When I was on Kimmy Schmidt or something, I didn’t always feel like I had an idea of what maybe might make the cut and what might be cut bait.

Because I’m like, “Oh, it’s hilarious. Let’s just keep it, keep it, keep it, keep it.” And then also, another thing about producing that my producer brain kicks on more as we’re writing now. Because you know about what kind of budget you’re working with.

Paula Pell: Limitations.

Meredith Scardino: And you also know Tina is someone who you might have a dumb bit. She taught me this thing where she would go, “Are you willing to go to all the meetings? Think about the number of meetings that might take to pull off.”

Paula Pell: That bit.

Meredith Scardino: “So if you really, really, really want this RV with Jesus’s face and Summer’s parents on at the side.”

Paula Pell: To fly into a lake.

Meredith Scardino: “Because that’s going to be a million meetings,” and she’s always right. Tina’s always right. And I did go to about 14 meetings about what the side of this RV looks like. And at a certain point I’m like, “Is this worth it?” And I’m glad we did it. But at the same time now from that experience, I take that going forward and say to myself, “Is it worth…” You also have to just literally weigh your resources. You don’t want something small that’s really not super essential to the story, to actually eat from-

Paula Pell: The most important scenes.

Meredith Scardino: … the most important parts. So you have to weigh against that constantly. And I think as a producer you’re always thinking in two ways. You’re thinking about what’s fun, what’s right for the story. But then you’re also like, “How do we accomplish this? Is it worth doing?” You’ve produced. You produced-

Paula Pell: I produced but you know-

Meredith Scardino: … This Is 40.

Paula Pell: … I spent so many years at SNL producing… We produced our own sketches basically, and we kind of directed them somewhat. We directed the comedy of them, because the director at SNL certainly has a pivotal role, but it’s a lot about the cameras and the shots. And the writers really have the agency as they say to be directing how the host is doing it. Which is terrifying for a new writer that, “Can you go tell Robert De Niro to say that louder?” And you’re like, “Yes, but I’m going to go have diarrhea first. Do you mind?” Do people have diarrhea or do they just…

Meredith Scardino: Do they have it?

Paula Pell: I guess it’s a have, isn’t it?

Meredith Scardino: Or do you go, is that what you mean?

Paula Pell: Yeah, do you house diarrhea?

Meredith Scardino: I say I have diarrhea.

Paula Pell: Do you produce diarrhea?

Meredith Scardino: You experience diarrhea.

Paula Pell: I’m not a writer, so I don’t know.

Meredith Scardino: Also for boys it’s diarrheao.

Paula Pell: Diarrheao. Diarrheax is a non-binary.

Meredith Scardino: There’s a joke I’ve been trying to get in something forever where someone’s like, “Did you just have diarrhea?” And is like, “No, I had diarrheao, it’s for boys.” [inaudible 00:46:18].

Paula Pell: Oh, that reminds me. I want to put a pin in my other thought that I just started about producing. I’ll just finish that really quick. But I want to say one thing that I hate, hate, hate as a comedy brain, a comedy writer. When I think of something that I get so excited about, and now I Google it because back-

Meredith Scardino: Oh, it’s the worst.

Paula Pell: … in the way you couldn’t even Google it. I thought of something recently that I was so ungodly excited about, and then I Googled it. And there was not only a podcast named it, there was a book named it, a song, and a band.

Meredith Scardino: You can’t do anything anymore.

Paula Pell: There was a band. There was a band.

Meredith Scardino: Well, I want to know what it is.

Paula Pell: I think it was Dear Diarrhea. And there were so many, and I said it. And then Janine and I were laughing so hard, and I was like, “Oh my God, I have to do something with Dear Diarrhea.” And then I was like-

Meredith Scardino: Has there been a T-shirt? That’s the only thing that’s left.

Paula Pell: There’s every single thing could… there was probably a snack, like a breakfast snack called Dear Diarrhea that had fiber in it. I was just going to say about producing, is that in all those years at SNL because you produced the thing, you also got yelled at about that said thing, so you’d be under the bleachers. And when I say yelled at, because Lorne doesn’t really yell, he kind of is a quiet, disappointed dad.

Meredith Scardino: And then you’re like, “Oh no.”

Paula Pell: He’d blow air out of his mouth and then you’d want to go jump in the East River. But I also did a lot of emotional care taking, which was a 100% my doing. Nobody was telling me I had to do that, but that was-

Meredith Scardino: That’s good.

Paula Pell: … my thing. I was the teat. And so I did a lot of that with the actors in the sketches and everything. And so I kind of equated producing sometimes with the burden of the one that’s going to get yelled at, the one that gets all the calls with all the problems, the parent, the adult in the room.

Meredith Scardino: Because you are the parent to that thing, to the sketch or to the-

Paula Pell: At that time I think after many years of it, I burnt out doing that. I burnt out the muscle. I feel like I’ve come around again now where I’ve had enough therapy. Thank you, Karen. My therapist name is Karen. A good Karen.

Meredith Scardino: My sister’s name Karen.

Paula Pell: Is she? But I honestly feel like I’ve come around now where I understand the boundary of like, “Yeah, you are observing and you get to use still your comedy brain to shape this, and to make sure that it gets nurtured correctly.” It doesn’t mean it’s going to soul suck you.

And like I said, that was always my role that I got off on, that was my drug. So no one was forcing me to be their caretaker. I said that in a podcast. And then there was some article that came out that said to my detriment I was the caretaker. And I’m like, “No, I never said detriment I just…”

Meredith Scardino: Well, you just said it now on this podcast.

Paula Pell: Well, I did. I did.

Meredith Scardino: So now the headline will come out.

Paula Pell: I did, then they’ll say it again. It was Cat Fancy Magazine. I don’t care, it was a small group that was doing it.

Meredith Scardino: But don’t you think that producing, because when you’re a TV writer, the trajectory is you are a producer, it comes hand in hand. And so much of producing is problem solving. So many things go wrong.

Paula Pell: It’s troubleshooting, problem solving. And my first experience with being a producer on my own sitcom, because I was so naive and I didn’t know how any of it worked, and I really got thrown in there. And it was also the era of so many overall deals. So many writers that got put in that room were not people that should be writing about two sisters, both that grew up fat and one got thin. They were people that were just definitely not the people that should be writing that.

Meredith Scardino: It was all thin brothers.

Paula Pell: Yeah, it was just dudes and stuff. And they’d be like, “Oh, this is the perfect person for that.” And then I’d look them up and I’m like, “This is a golf guy, he should not be writing this.” And then I was told by people, “Well, he’s in an overall deal and they’re trying to burn off his overall deal.” I didn’t know anything about making television except for SNL, that was the only thing I knew. I knew theater and SNL. Back in the day I had so many traumatic things happen of really not knowing what the deal was until later, and then felt like a fool of like, “Oh my God, that’s why they were doing this,” or, “That’s why…”

Meredith Scardino: But that’s also all part of the job-

Paula Pell: Producing became such a thing I hated.

Meredith Scardino: But it’s also like no one’s ever fully ready to be a showrunner, and there’s so much on the job learning.

Paula Pell: Yes.

Meredith Scardino: I worked in TV for 15 years or more before I ever had Girls5eva. I had been on set a lot. I had done all of the things. But until it’s truly your show, it’s a whole nother… It’s something you truly can never fully prepare, but then you figure it out.

Paula Pell: And it has rewards. It’s related, in other words, it’s all part of the same thing. I used to make that such a separate thing. Even at SNL when I had opportunities to be a head writer, I’m like, “Don’t make me a head writer.” I really truly did not want to, not out of like, “Oh, golly, gosh, don’t make me a…” I really didn’t want to be the final. I liked being triage. I liked being second or third where they call and go, “Get Paula. We need an ending…”

Meredith Scardino: Comedy EMT.

Paula Pell: “… on this.” I like being the hero that comes in. But that’s how I’ve always… I’ve never liked being the absolute top person because it just made me… I have too sensitive a nervous system or something. I don’t know. What’s your sign?

Meredith Scardino: I’m a Capricorn. What are you?

Paula Pell: I’m an Aries.

Meredith Scardino: What are they?

Paula Pell: I don’t know.

Meredith Scardino: Aren’t you a water?

Paula Pell: I have no knowledge of horoscopes.

Meredith Scardino: Is that why you’re wearing blue?

Paula Pell: Huh?

Meredith Scardino: Is that why you’re wearing blue?

Paula Pell: No, I think I’m fire maybe. I don’t know.

Meredith Scardino: I don’t know.

Paula Pell: I’m sure someone listening will know.

Meredith Scardino: Was he the god of war, Aries?

Paula Pell: I thought it was a girl. I don’t know. I really don’t know anything about… That’s why I laughed when I asked you, because I just nodded like, “Very well.”

Meredith Scardino: Are the only two women that don’t know about astrology.

Paula Pell: That don’t know about horoscopes. I love reading a horoscope unless it’s grim.

Meredith Scardino: I am willing to go to a psychic, but just a good news psychic.

Paula Pell: Yes, good news.

Meredith Scardino: I don’t want bad news psychic.

Paula Pell: Aries is fire.

Meredith Scardino: Aries is fire, I’m sorry.

Paula Pell: Aries is fire.

Meredith Scardino: But isn’t Aries also he was the Greek God of War, right?

Paula Pell: Well, A-R-E-S is the Greek God of war, is that the same as the A-R-I-E-S, Aries? Interesting.

Meredith Scardino: All words were made up.

Paula Pell: Interesting.

Meredith Scardino: Think about that.

Paula Pell: For another puck.

Meredith Scardino: I don’t know anything. Capricorns are all like, I don’t know. I think there are a lot of presidents.

Paula Pell: I don’t know if this is too impossible for you to think of right now because you’ve written 700,000 hilarious jokes. What’s your favorite joke you’ve ever written in a show, or in something, or in Late Night, or one that you just love?

Meredith Scardino: The New York Lonely Boy concept is very dear to my heart. So if you haven’t seen it, a New York Lonely Boy, it’s a concept based on my son. I was so sick of people asking me if I was having another kid, and I was 40 when I was pregnant. And I was just like, “No, he’s going to be a New York Lonely boy. He’ll be wise-

Paula Pell: Tux to doorman.

Meredith Scardino: “… beyond his ears. He can hang out with 40 something year olds.”

Paula Pell: He knows how to order sushi.

Meredith Scardino: Yeah, he loves sushi, blah, blah, blah. And so when we were able to kind of work that concept into… Lauren Gurganous another writer on the show also had a New York Lonely Boy, and we would talk about that all the time. And just when we were able to work that concept into the show and write that song, it was so fun, it felt very specific. I had seen John Slattery walking around my neighborhood with his adult son, and they looked like they had the best relationship. I think he only has one kid and his wife, they just looked like the cutest family. One time I saw them all getting pedicures together.

Paula Pell: I love it.

Meredith Scardino: And I was just like, “Oh my gosh, he would be the greatest voice to be… This is the best.”

Paula Pell: You’re such a gifted lyricist, hilarious lyrics in these songs that we sing, so funny.

Meredith Scardino: They’re really fun. The writers all pitch in as well. And obviously there’d be none of this without our awesome music team who led by Jeff Richmond, who just is an earworm genius and can mimic any genre. But also one of the things I love about Jeff is he can not just mimic a song that seems like it’s from 1999. It seems like it’s its own unique thing that fit into 1999. It’s not just a rip-off. You know what I mean? Which I think is a real extra layer.

Paula Pell: It’s not just a sound alike it’s its own song.

Meredith Scardino: Because think about it-

Paula Pell: Its own banger.

Meredith Scardino: … to be a hit, you had something different, a little bit different. And so he’s very good at channeling that.

Paula Pell: These are viable pop songs.

Meredith Scardino: That’s one of my favorite bits ever. What about you? Do you have any favorite?

Paula Pell: One of my favorite things I ever wrote was from the very first sketch I ever wrote by myself at SNL that did well and actually got on the air. And fun fact, I didn’t get to see it live because they thought I had anthrax. I had a sore on my arm that week, and my mom came to visit. And I had this weird sore on the back of my forearm-

Meredith Scardino: Oh my God.

Paula Pell: … and it was right after anthrax. And so I went to the doctor at NBC and she looked at it, and she got very concerned and she drew a line around it and she said, “Come back tomorrow.” And it had spread way over the line of it. And so they took me to the hospital and I was on an IV for three days. But it was John Goodman playing Wilfred Brimley talking about diabetes, but he called it diabetes. The whole joke of the sketch was he was on a fake horse. He was always in those commercials, but he was a big guy and didn’t look very healthy. And he’d always be like, “I take care of myself. ‘I don’t think you do Wilfred. I’m not sure if you do.'”

And so the joke was that he starts kind of spinning out and going, “When I say that I take care of myself, I stand in the driveway with a food boner in my shorts waiting for the barbecue to be delivered from so-and-so.” And my favorite line was at the end, he goes, “Now I’m going to get off this horse by getting onto a smaller horse, and then onto a large dog, and then rolling off that dog until I can get to the ground.” And it was just a joke that came out of my head, and it was my first big laugh in the read-through, other than my recurring things. I wrote Cheerleaders and all these things with hilarious other people that you felt an ownership to it. But you will also like I’m writing this with Will Ferrell and Sherri Oteri and Ana Gasteyer. And so you never got the jolt of if you could prove yourself that I belong here. It’s like that, whatever you call it, imposter syndrome is cured in that moment when you-

Meredith Scardino: When you did it.

Paula Pell: … hear something that you wrote. And I wrote it at 5:00 in the morning, it just shit it out. But because of the anthrax, which ended up not being anthrax. I watched the sketch on a TV in this hospital room and there was something wrong with the cable, and there were two John Goodmans. It was so full of snow, you could barely see it. And it was just these two vibrating John Goodmans and I was watching my sketch.

Meredith Scardino: That’s amazing. What’s amazing is people there’s always crazy stuff that happens in production, and when you’re trying to make something. And you don’t get graded on a curve when it airs, it’s just like it’s good or it’s not. I’m glad that you didn’t have anthrax.

Paula Pell: Me too. I find it so hard now just as in comedy of because we don’t have comedy movies that much in the theater you don’t sit in a crowd listening to things in real life there. Really, the table read is kind of the only time you hear real life people or the premiere, when you have people in a theater screening something. But it is really hard sometimes now when you write things. Even, obviously, we’ve talked about this so much during the strike, is just not getting feedback from streamers of knowing-

Meredith Scardino: How things are doing.

Paula Pell: That and just also I felt like years ago, well, obviously with live TV, I was so used to it. There was no canned laughter. There was no bullshit. It was just like, “Oh, this is a crowd that is deeply disappointed in our show this week. And they’re going to show us by moaning.”

Meredith Scardino: I feel like one thing that I’ve learned as I’ve started writing more things… like writing Girls by Eva for example. Sometimes you wonder if something that is affecting you affects other people and usually it does. It usually resonates with other people if it resonates with you and it’s important to you. And so that sometimes is my guide a little bit where I try to trust. And the room is also really helpful, because sometimes you bring it to the room, “Does anybody else think this?”

Paula Pell: And then people go, “Oh my God…”

Meredith Scardino: Yes. Yes.

Paula Pell: Yes.

Meredith Scardino: Here’s one. Here’s one I didn’t even know. In Dawn’s Song of Fears, those were really fun to write and everybody-

Paula Pell: So funny.

Meredith Scardino: A lot of people pitched in with some funny jokes. But I was thinking, do you have that thing where when you’re in a bathtub where you’re like, “What if this just flies through the floor?”

Paula Pell: Oh yeah.

Meredith Scardino: Do you have that? Is that something that-

Paula Pell: I don’t take many baths, I have to say.

Meredith Scardino: But even when I’m in the shower, it’s like a bathtub. And I’m like-

Paula Pell: You think the weight of it is-

Meredith Scardino: Every now and then I imagine it falling through the floor. I think because of that movie, The Money Pit. Do you remember that movie, The Money Pit?

Paula Pell: Where the tub falls through the-

Meredith Scardino: Where the tub falls through.

Paula Pell: That’s funny.

Meredith Scardino: Anyway.

Paula Pell: I get that about in the middle of the night. I think this is called clinical anxiety. But I’ll be in the middle of the night and I’ll just be waiting… If I wake up and I’m anxious, I’m waiting for the sound of something terrible. I’m waiting for a yelp of an animal. I’m waiting for a call from my family, they don’t usually call in the middle of the night. I’m waiting for somebody crashing through a window. I really do have that in the middle of the night sometimes.

Meredith Scardino: You’ll wake up and you feel like something’s wrong.

Paula Pell: I’m just waiting for that thing.

Meredith Scardino: But you feel like it’s actually going to happen, so you’re a psychic.

Paula Pell: And I’ll just lay there and just be like, this is the silence before that happens. And that’s probably why I should take probably more sort of pharmaceutical stabilizers for that.

Meredith Scardino: Sure.

Paula Pell: I was going to say let’s wrap this up because we have been talking for six and a half hours. Because we’ve been talking about the biz, we’ve been talking about what it’s like to do actual shows, movies. There’s many writers that are not there yet in terms of their projects yet of doing things. Is just in the most basic way I would say my writing thing… I don’t want to use the word advice because we’re always still trying to make it work-

Meredith Scardino: We’re all learning.

Paula Pell: … our whole life. I’m 61 and I’ll still be pitching and failing, and having things passed on and not ever getting things read. But just something like a nugget of something that I would say, and you could say to writers that are aspiring or they’re rolling on it right now, they’re excited about being writers. Is I think one of my big things that is along the lines that you were saying of when things resonate is at SNL I always notice that if I wrote something because my fear was always, I don’t want it to be derivative. I hate when I watch something and I’m like, “I’ve seen that on seven shows. I’ve seen that joke on seven shows. I’ve seen that character on seven shows.”

I really loved knowing that if I went out and lived and I noticed all the funny people around in my family in the street, in my interactions, at my doctor’s office, whatever is if I put that in something, no one has seen that because they have not been behind my eyes watching what I was watching, hearing what I was hearing. So it’s like staying so authentic to your own life experience is never a bad thing.

Meredith Scardino: No, I totally agree. Also because I think a lot of writers when you’re breaking especially are wondering, “What’s selling? What should I do to mimic?”

Paula Pell: Emulate.

Meredith Scardino: To emulate. Which I understand because you want to be in the game and you’re like, “This is what people are doing in the game.” But honestly, the most exciting thing is when there’s a voice that’s fresh and different. Because then it really shows what you bring to the table. Obviously your script, there’s things in scripts that can make your script better. You don’t want to have your characters speak in long humongous paragraphs at a time. You want things to have a-

Paula Pell: Zippy.

Meredith Scardino: … natural style, and zippy and stuff like that. But I think if you don’t worry so much about trying to look like everything else, it will only help you. It’ll set you apart.

Paula Pell: And writing character specific things. Some things my mother says I know no one else has ever said, or my dad and they’re so funny. And they’ll say something and I’ll be like, “Oh, I’m putting that in something.”

Meredith Scardino: But do you know what has been happening to me? I look at Instagram all the time for just weirdos, honestly. And I will genuinely think I have discovered someone. And then two weeks later there’s a vulture feature about them or something, and I’m like, “Okay, yeah, no, I had nothing in there…”

Paula Pell: And they’ve already auctioned their life.

Meredith Scardino: And they’re huge. And now they’re playing into their popularity and all that, and everyone knows exactly who they are.

Paula Pell: So stay off the internet-

Meredith Scardino: So maybe that’s not helpful.

Paula Pell: … just derive it from your life.

Meredith Scardino: Got to your relatives that are online the least.

Paula Pell: Yes. Yes. Exactly, yes.

Meredith Scardino: Exactly.

Paula Pell: Well, Meredith.

Meredith Scardino: This was great. Wait, I do want to know who are people that inspired you growing up?

Paula Pell: I loved anything that was light and dark together that still the Light, the funny was still there. James L. Brooks sort of world Terms of Endearment is one of my favorite movies of all time, even though it’s gut-wrenching. The funny in that, the things in that that are funny and real, I just lived for shit like that. And Mike Lee movies, I loved Mike Leigh. Life is Sweet is one of my favorite movies. But I love anything that is not afraid to go to the dark place in a real true way that kills you and then you’re also laughing, you’re really laughing. And also just like this is the saddest thing I’ve ever-

Meredith Scardino: That movie The Worst Person in the World I felt like did accomplish that where you’re laughing. And then I watched it on a plane wearing a mask and it was just soaked.

Paula Pell: Yes.

Meredith Scardino: When I was a kid, I feel like-

Paula Pell: And anything Golden Girls.

Meredith Scardino: … I was drawn to anything absurd. I loved Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I loved Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I was so into Strangers with Candy. I loved that show. Dr. Katz. Do you remember the show Dr. Katz?

Paula Pell: Yeah. Yeah.

Meredith Scardino: I still think about when Winona Ryder was the guest and she was talking about how aliens walk. Do you remember that?

Paula Pell: No, I don’t remember.

Meredith Scardino: It was like a thing about how, “We knew we wouldn’t be abducted if we walked like aliens.”

Paula Pell: Oh my God.

Meredith Scardino: And he’s like, “Well, how do aliens walk?” And sort of puts her hands out and does her fingers like this. And he just goes, “Yeah, that makes sense.” I don’t know. And I love Steve Martin. And then when I saw Conan’s Show is the late one, I felt like I belonged there a little bit, even though I never got that job. Some of it was so absurd that it seemed easy in a way that I was like, “I could do that. I know I could do that.” But it was probably a lot smarter than I gave it credit for at the time.

Paula Pell: Or it just wasn’t the one you were going to be doing.

Meredith Scardino: Yeah, no, it’s fine. But that was the kind of stuff I was really drawn to-

Paula Pell: I love that.

Meredith Scardino: … when I was younger.

Paula Pell: Well, I love talking to you. I love you and I think you’re-

Meredith Scardino: I love you.

Paula Pell: .,, tremendously talented.

Meredith Scardino: Ditto.

Paula Pell: … but also just a dear soul.

Meredith Scardino: You too.

Paula Pell: I liked talking to you in this tub. I guess we should get out of this tub before it falls through.

Meredith Scardino: We should get out of this tub before it falls through.

Paula Pell: Jinx.

Speaker 3: OnWriting, is a production of the Writers Guild of America East. This series was created and is produced by Jason Gordon. Our associate producer and designer is Molly Beer. Tech production and original music by Taylor Bradshaw and Stockboy Creative. You can learn more about the Writers Guild of America East online at You can follow the Guild on all social media platforms @WGAEast. If you like this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. Thank you for listening. And write on.

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