Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

Promotional poster for HACKS Host Geri Cole is joined by Jen Statsky—co-creator and showrunner of the HBO Max series HACKS—to talk about the show’s journey from an idea on a road trip to a hit series, why writing about people’s flaws can bring out the best in a character, and the challenges of writing a comedy series about writing comedy.

Jen Statsky is a TV writer and comedian who cut her comedy-writing teeth on Twitter. Her posts were popular, and she eventually found herself with enough of a following that, in 2011, the account helped her land her first TV writing job at LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON. Since then, she has written for a number of hit comedies, including BROAD CITY, THE GOOD PLACE, and PARKS & RECREATION (all while maintaining her Twitter account, of course).

She currently serves as the showrunner of the comedy-drama series HACKS. The series, which Statsky co-created with Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs, follows legendary stand-up comic Deborah Vance (played by Jean Smart) as she works to maintain relevancy through a reluctant partnership with struggling millennial comedy writer Ava.

The show premiered in May 2021, and was recently renewed for a second season. It’s available to stream on HBO Max.

Seasons 7-10 of OnWriting are hosted by Geri Cole, a writer and performer based in New York City. She is currently a full-time staff and interactive writer for SESAME STREET, for which she has received a Writers Guild Award and two Daytime Emmys.

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OnWriting is an official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, East. The series was created and produced by Jason Gordon. Associate Producer & Designer is Molly Beer. Mix, tech production, and original music by Stock Boy Creative.

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Thanks for listening. Write on.


Geri Cole: Hi, I’m Geri Cole and you’re listening to OnWriting, a podcast from the Writers Guild of America, East. In each episode, you’re going to hear from the people behind your favorite films and television series talking about their writing process, how they got their project from the page to the screen, and so much more. Today, I’m thrilled to talk to Jen Statsky, co-creator of the award-winning comedy series Hacks, now streaming on HBO Max. Hacks stars, Jean Smart as Debra Vance, an agent comic doing a long-term Vegas residency, whose agent pairs her with a 25-year-old comedy writer named Ava. Who’s trying to save her own career after an ill-fated tweet.

In my interview with Jen, we talk about the show’s journey from an idea on a road trip to a hit series, why writing about people’s internal flaws can bring out the best in the character, and the challenges of writing a comedy series about writing comedy. Hi Jen. First and foremost, congratulations on your Emmys, your much deserved Emmys. How does it feel and how are you doing in general?

Jen Statsky: I’m doing well. Thank you. It’s been crazy. Yeah, it was just a really, and I’ve said this, but, we were genuinely so surprised and I sometimes think it’s annoying when people say that, because it’s like, “Well, you knew you were nominated. It wasn’t totally out of the realm of possibility.” But I think we just really weren’t expecting it. And so, that was so lovely and wonderful. And I think just the whole thing in general, the night was obviously amazing, but the day nominations came out were so cool too, because so many of our cast and crew got recognized and that’s such a cool, special thing because people worked so, so hard behind the scenes for you and they do such a wonderful job to bring this thing to life. And it’s not always often that the crew is singled out to be recognized, which is unfortunate. And so, for these teams of people to be recognized that way after the wonderful work they did during such a difficult time to make television, it was just really cool and special and we’re really grateful.

Geri Cole: Wow. So how did this show start? How did it come together? Because I feel I read somewhere that it was a conversation in a car or something. There was like-

Jen Statsky: Yeah, yeah. It weirdly was a conversation on a road trip. So my co-creators and I, Paul W. Downs, and then Lucia Aniello, we’ve known each other for years now. We met all in the UCB comedy world of New York, starting in 2009, let’s say. I think that’s when Lucia and I were in a sketch group together. And then I met Paul through her, and then we just immediately clicked. They were making just web videos at the time that I just thought were the funniest things I’ve ever seen, and I was just drawn to them. Yeah, wanted to do anything to stay in their orbit and work with them. So we just became really close friends and naturally creatively vibe that way. And we worked together on Broad City and then, same thing, we just always were looking for ways to work with each other.

And so, in 2015, Paul, who’s also a very talented performer. He’s obviously also on Hacks. He was doing a sketch special for Netflix. The Characters was the name of it. It was a bunch of different, very funny sketch comedians getting their own half-hour special. And so he and Lucia and I were together because Lucia and I were just helping pitch jokes, punch things up, be there on set. And so, we took this road trip up to Portland, Maine because he had this sketch that took place at a Monster Jam truck rally, which is always very funny to me that the show about two women was born out of a monster truck rally.

And so we went and just on the drive up from Boston, we started in Boston, and we picked up my dad’s car and I drove us. And yeah, we just started talking and I don’t know exactly what the genesis of it was, but we, the conversation led to these female comedians who are so funny, so wonderful, so talented, but have had such a harder path than, perhaps, their straight, white, male counterparts. And certainly, some of those kinds of parts are extremely funny, talented comedians and they deserve their due. But why is it that women, or any person that is a non-white, straight, white, male for so long in comedy was not lauded and given the same path and opportunities that anyone else was?

And so, we just started talking about that. We started talking about women like Debbie Reynolds and Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller, and these women who were trailblazers. That word gets used a lot, but it’s true, they were, for people who wanted… especially for women, like me and Lucia, who wanted to pursue comedy and we wanted to do this and our path starting when we did was certainly easier because of what these women went through and what they did to break down those doors. And so, it just became a conversation about that, and then the aspect of bringing in a younger writer who had a very different perspective on almost everything, both in comedy and just in life in general and how that also reflects, what does it mean when the person who perhaps you blazed the trail for doesn’t totally appreciate that trail or doesn’t understand that trail?

Or has, likewise, some actual decent points about the way you went about blazing that trail, “Well, you weren’t perfect either.” And so, it just became a fruitful area that we really were fascinated and talking about. And there were so many shows about comedy, but not specifically from that lens that, yeah, we just kept talking about it.

Geri Cole: Wow. Yeah. I love that. It’s a comedy show about the nature of comedy and sort of dissecting it and how it works.

Jen Statsky: Yeah, yeah. And I think going into it, even I had this reservation, it was like there were so many things already made about comedy and we never wanted it to be about, oh, the art of stand-up, it’s an art and how is this art made and what it… It was never about our take on what makes comedy good or bad. It was really just the pain of these women that we’re talking about the pain and the struggle and the growth perhaps. And it was always about why they tell these jokes, not what the jokes are. It was our north star for building this show.

Geri Cole: So walking through putting together the writing room for season one, what did you go in with, and then what did you guys sort of break and figure out while you were in the room? And what was, I guess, that process like?

Jen Statsky: Because that road trip was in 2015, and then we were lucky enough that we all were busy doing other things. Paul and Lucia were making a movie and very heavily involved in Broad City. And then I was also writing on Broad City, in a less involved capacity, but I was doing that and I was doing Parks and Rec and I was doing The Good Place. And so, we were very lucky to be working and pulled in different directions. We didn’t pitch the show, we conceived of it in 2015, didn’t pitch it till 2019. So there were four years where, again, we were all working on that different stuff, but while we were working, because we hang out socially and also just keep a running email thread of ideas, we were constantly thinking, “Oh, you know what’s good for…” It was always called Hacks, to be honest. I don’t know when we came up with it, but, it was Hacks for a while, and then we didn’t know if we could call it that, and then it became Hacks.

So we would say, “Oh, you know what’s good for Hacks? This story, this story, this story.” I also love Vegas. I went to Vegas five times within that four year period.

Geri Cole: Wow.

Jen Statsky: And so, just different things that came to us of all of us sending each other ideas. So even though we didn’t pitch till 2019, we did have this really wide depth of material that we knew would go into the first season. I don’t want to say we have the first season exactly plotted out episode by episode, but pretty much. There’s really nothing in any of those 10 first episodes that weren’t the bones of it at least, weren’t things that had come to us in the breaking of it over those four years. So that first season is a very carefully thought out, again, not that anyone else’s first season is… no one doesn’t think about their first season, I’m sure. But it was just we had the luxury that we had so much time where these ideas just organically came to you.

So it was four years, and then we pitched in 2019 and we pitched to HBO Max and Suzanna Makkos was there, who really got the show immediately and just championed it so hard. And yeah, I think pitched it in May 2019. I think we were green lit to go to pilot in maybe December, January. And then, honestly, we were casting for our pilot when the pandemic hit. And then it was kind of like, “You know what? Just write the whole show. Let’s just go to series, because we believe in this and no one can shoot anything. There’s no pilot being shot anytime soon.”

Geri Cole: So might as well get that writing done.

Jen Statsky: Yeah, exactly.

Geri Cole: Man. Wow. So one of the things, oh yes, talking about the character development, which it sounds like you were working over this through those four years of just sort of pitching different scenarios, I suppose, and I’m curious how much of that was pulled from your life. Because one of the other things I love about the show is how it shows the working life of a writer and how unglamorous it is and how you have to go here and be here and do this and all of those things. But I love that both these characters are immensely flawed. I’m curious how you sort of honed in on those two characters and, and what that development process was like.

Jen Statsky: It’s interesting because we’ve definitely had people bring up, “They’re flawed.” And honestly, I think probably some criticism of the show is like, “Oh, I don’t like her. I don’t like her. It’s too flawed.” But it’s so fascinating because I think really what it comes from is that always for us, even though maybe, tonally, we worked on things a little differently in the past, we really just wanted it to feel really real and grounded. And I think the shows we are influenced by and just love so much, the through line through all of them is it feels so real that you know these people or it just feels a world you’re living in. I think the world of Better Call Saul feels so real and grounded, even though I’ve never been living in the desert as a crooked lawyer or whatever.

So yeah, I think crafting Ava, Deborah, we just wanted them to feel real. We just wanted them to feel like real people. And certainly, when you have a woman who is of Deborah’s age, who’s been through so much in the entertainment industry and worked that hard, we were very interested in the sacrifices she had to make to get where she is, but also in those sacrifices, how that affects the people around her and how that hurts the people around her. For example, she had to sacrifice being as present as she could as a mom, because the world was not… I mean, listen, it’s still not as amenable to working mothers as it should be, but certainly it was not in the ’70s and ’80s and just things that. So the flaws and also we wanted, again, without it being too studio or network of like, “Oh, they need to learn and then they need to grow,” But at the same time, I am very interested in always telling stories about people who maybe need therapy and haven’t been in it and need to get better one way or the other.

And so we were like, “Well, they should make each other’s lives better.” We always talked about this being a love story between these two characters. And so, love, to me… Love, to me. Wow. I never thought I’d be getting this deep, but a loving relationship, when you say two people are in love, to me, that just means, how do you make each other better? How is your world markedly better with that person in it than without? And so, for that to be true of these two characters, I think they each needed things to improve on. They needed flaws. They needed things that the other could help them grow from and do better at. So the flaws thing was just trying to write truthful, honest, real characters. And then, also, just another way to show why these two characters are so important to each other.

Geri Cole: Hmm, man. That’s fantastic. Because I was trying to think about it and why it feels fresh, and I think it’s because it feels so grounded and it feels the real people and I feel like, and this is just me perhaps forgetting large spots of television, but whenever I see female characters, typically in shows and they’re flawed, it’s always an external flaw or it’s some things acting against them rather than sort of being this… I don’t know. Very grounded.

Jen Statsky: Yeah, yeah. That it’s internal. Yeah, exactly. And I think people over-correct it a little bit, again, not naming any specific shows this is just a… I think for so long women were told, it was like, “Well, what did female characters get to be on TV?,” with the exceptions of some wonderful iconic characters such as Mary Tyler Moore and et cetera, et cetera. A lot of times, especially in the ’90s or so, we reverted back to women who were just there to service the man’s storyline. It was the trope of the sitcom wife. And then, I think coming from a good place, honestly, people tried to swing the pendulum the other way, which is like, “No, no, they should be flawed. They should be bad. They should be…” But then, that became too much that or something. Or it was like, “Okay, we need to show women being friends, so they should only support each other. Never have conflict.”

And it’s like, “Well, that’s not it either.” It’s not that it’s easy, because it’s not easy. And truth be told, I think a lot of… not that I try to read criticism because I think it can seep into your brain in a bad way when you’re trying to write, but I do think a lot of people, at the beginning, were like, “Well, Ava seems entitled and she’s not working hard enough,” but those things were intentional. It’s a very interesting time to write female characters, which is why I think you brought it up is, because I do think we still, subconsciously, we let women get away with less on screen still, even though we are trying so hard, I think, to make that not the case.

Geri Cole: Mm-hmm (affirmative). One scene that comes to mind, actually, is when there in the desert and Deborah is… and Ava’s like… it’s sort of confronting that like, “You’re being a brat.” And then she’s like, “Well, but I’m also good.” And it’s like, “Being good is the bare minimum.” That one hits so hard.

Jen Statsky: Oh, oh. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Thanks. It’s true. And we always talked about, making the show, we wanted both characters to be never a hundred percent right or a hundred percent wrong, because I think the bad version of this show is it’s just boomer versus zoomer and they’re each lecturing each other. And then, I think it’s dicey area there. And we just wanted both of them, like in life, in an argument, if you get in a fight with your partner, often the truth is, is you’re both right and wrong. Not for me. With my partner, I’m always right. So in that argument, Deborah is right.

She’s like, “You need to learn that it is not enough to be good.” But Ava is a 25 year old who can have the benefit and luxury of now and being like, “But I am good.” She can have that self confidence, which is also that’s good to have. We don’t want characters, especially female characters, not being able to have the agency and say, “Yeah, I am strong. I am good. I am good at this.” So yeah, we just always… I don’t even think I’m answering your question. I’m just talking, but yes-

Geri Cole: That’s all right.

Jen Statsky: That scene in the desert is a favorite of mine.

Geri Cole: Yeah. So another thing that I love about this show is the supporting characters.

Jen Statsky: Oh my gosh. So good.

Geri Cole: Ooh, some of the supporting characters. Can we talk a little bit about developing them?

Jen Statsky: Sure, sure.

Geri Cole: And I also feel like Vegas is one of the supporting characters, and sort of how you guys fleshed out that world.

Jen Statsky: Yeah, yeah. There is so many, again, it sounds almost like I’m being overly sentimental or something, but I truly would come to set and be just so thrilled when I looked at the call sheet of who was on set that day and who we were so lucky to have join us. And yeah, we just tried to really fill out the world with DJ, her daughter, was always written for Kaitlin Olson. She’s just someone that we have been massive fans of for a long time and think that she’s so, so good. And so, that was always the dream and that we felt she was great casting for Jean’s daughter. And so, we were so lucky to get her. Carl Clemons-Hopkins, they’re so, so talented. They come from theater and I love working with theater actors because they’re so precise. There’s just a gravitas to, I don’t know, theater actors when I work with them that I really appreciate and love. And yeah, we just tried to, and again, this isn’t revolutionary or anything, but we tried to just make sure that these supporting characters, even though many of them… this show is always pitched as Deborah has a very carefully curated ecosystem and then Ava enters it and shakes up her ecosystem.

And so, these people are part of Deborah’s ecosystem, Marcus, Kiki, played by the great Poppy Liu, Damien, played by Mark Indelicato, DJ, Kaitlin Olson. These people are in her ecosystem and we’re very interested in the exploring, just the idea of fame and powerful people and the people who get drawn into their web and how it’s a very delicate system, all in service of this one powerful person, because every everybody’s livelihood is, for better or worse, tied to them. But we also just wanted to make sure those supporting characters had their own things going on their own fun, their own games. never, just like, “Oh, all they do is service Deborah’s storyline. All they do is that.” And it’s definitely a challenge, because I think that it’s hard. The show started as a two-hander. It was very much so about Deborah and Ava, and it still is.

And so, then it’s hard when you only have a half-hour show or a little over a half-hour to make sure you’re trying to service everyone. So it’s a bit of a juggling act, but I think the world gets filled out in such a wonderful way and we just have these wonderful, wonderful, talented performers that it’s so nice. And it also, I think, tonally… one thing I’m proud of about the show, but that was certainly something we are always monitoring is tonally we will sometimes go from a very dramatic moment to a very comedic moment. And it is really nice to have that to cut to so that you don’t feel like, I don’t know, I think it could go really wrong. I think it could be tonal whiplash and people would be like, “Oh no, what is this show?” But I think it’s to the credit of the performers and it’s to the credit of our wonderful editors who also meld it together in such a nice way.

I’m thinking of even episode nine when Deborah gets off the phone and she’s just realized Ava’s betrayed her by running off to this job interview, but then we’re also cutting to Jimmy and Kayla, the obviously hilarious, Paul, my co-creator, and Meg Stalter, who’s amazing.

Geri Cole: It’s one of my favorite dynamics.

Jen Statsky: Yeah, it’s so fun. They’re always so funny together, unbelievably funny. And so, that’s the thing I think I love the most, because those are my favorite shows. I love the fact that Succession is so dramatic. Obviously, it’s a one hour drama, but it’s also so funny, Better Call Saul, so drama, but so funny. Even PEN15 is so funny, but also has real moments of emotional resonance. And so, that’s just our favorite thing is to make something just feel real, because that feels like life to us, is that it is both. So the funniest things will happen in the saddest scenarios or vice versa. And so, yeah, the supporting characters and building it out was a really important piece of making this show sing. And we’re very lucky to have all the people that we have.

Geri Cole: Hmm. I kind of want to ask you about Vegas, too, since you said you love Vegas, and that you spend lots of time there.

Jen Statsky: Yeah. And it’s interesting, because we are going on the road this season, obviously, Vegas will still be a big part of the show.

Geri Cole: Oh, That’s right. That’s right.

Jen Statsky: Yeah. I loved Vegas before and then Paul and Lucia didn’t necessarily even really know that much or they hadn’t spent much time there. They’d never really partied there and now they love it. Not that we got the party, because we’ve only been making this show during the pandemic, but just such a lovely city. And it’s a city built on hospitality. So they obviously were so nice to us the week that we shot there. But yeah, we felt that there just hadn’t been many shows set there that in this tone necessarily. And the Vegas setting is in service of, also, Deborah’s character because we were very interested in someone who maybe traditional media had sort of rejected, like Hollywood had rejected. She had had this thing where she was maligned in the press and ever since then she’s had to scratch and claw and make herself a joke to be famous and in the public eye, and I don’t think she feels Hollywood rejected her.

And so, what she did is she went to Vegas and she built this castle and these walls up, both literally and metaphorically, and she gets to be big fish, small pond. Not that Vegas is a small city, but when you think of entertainment, you think Hollywood or New York, you don’t think Vegas first. But it was really cool for us to be able to have Vegas in that setting and not just the Vegas you know when you go to party for a weekend there, the Vegas you know when live there and you’d lived there for decades. So yeah, that was a really fun thing for us to explore.

Geri Cole: Yeah. It’s such a, this might sound rude and incorrect, but I’m gonna say it anyway, it’s one of the few places in the US that has a very distinct culture. Because most places in the US it’s like, “Same, same, same, same,” and then there’s a couple places that pop that truly have their own unique culture and Vegas is one of them, and so it feels super fun to get to explore.

Jen Statsky: It’s such a specific, fascinating city. And there’s also just something so fascinating about having a place where it is lawless by definition. You can drink on the streets, and not in Vegas proper, but in Nevada sex work is legal. There’s so many more things that are allowed there that are not allowed in other places in America. And that just makes it such a fascinating oasis in this desert.

Geri Cole: Hmm. So you have worked with Paul and Lucia on Broad City for a long time, and you have been friends, for a long time. What do you think helps make this partnership so successful?

Jen Statsky: That’s a really good question. I mean, I think a lot of things. I think one thing is that we do really try to put our friendship and our relationship first before the show. I think that’s super important. Communication is really important. I think, in so many partnerships, whether it’s a creative partnership or romantic or friendships, you don’t know how to necessarily handle conflict and just talk it out. It’s a language that, unfortunately, we’re not taught really growing up, at least I certainly wasn’t. And, I don’t know, people aren’t really taught how to express themselves and talk things out, and so that is something that the older I get, the more I just appreciate the relationships in my life where there’s a level of intimacy where you can just have that really open dialogue and talk about things. And so, I think one thing is that, is that we communicate, we don’t just let things, again, not that there’s things coming up, but we’re really that upset about. But, if anything, we just talk things out. We work really hard to do that.

And then, I think the second thing is, and this is, I think, helpful for any writer, even if you’re not in a creative partnership, is we really champion each other and are so excited for each other’s successes. I think, a lot of times, people, it makes sense, it’s an easy trap to fall into, but ego comes in. Someone wants more credit, someone feels they don’t get enough credit, someone feels… I don’t mean this in a Pollyanna. “Wow. I’m so great,” but, I just really never feel that about them. They are two of my favorite people working in the industry. I feel lucky to get to work with them and I want their success. I just am like, “Yeah. Amazing, great. More of it.” And when I say that that’s helpful for other writers. I think what it is too is, I think early on in my career, and we’ve all been susceptible to this, or maybe some people aren’t, but they’re more evolved than I, you can’t help it, you feel competitive. You’re trying so hard to make it. You’re trying to get to this thing.

And because there’s no set path, it’s not like, “Okay, go to law school, then do this, and then pass the bar, and then you’ll become a lawyer.” Everyone’s path is so weird and different and there’s no set path, but I think it makes you try to grasp for tangible things to look at, to be like, “Well, that’s why I’m not succeeding,” or something. And I think, sometimes, early on in my career, I thought someone else’s success was my failure. Like “Oh, if they got that job, I didn’t get it. And I should have got it.” Not I should have gotten it, but beating myself up that I didn’t. And I think it’s just such a challenge in a creative career, but also it has freed me so much to never let go of my ego about it. Because the truth is, I am so infinitely happier in a partnership with people who I want nothing but the best for. And I think, also, that… sorry, I’m rambling with a very long answer here-

Geri Cole: No, no, no.

Jen Statsky: … but I think the two things are related. Right? I think if you can communicate and you can have a healthy relationship and you can support each other, the way I was saying about communication, your ego comes in when there’s no communication or people validating feelings. You’re just left to stew in your own nonsense a little. And so you’re like, “Yeah,” this is an imagined scenario, but I imagine it happens a lot in partnerships of like, “Yeah, I’m not getting enough credit. I did do this more.” And it’s so rough and it’s such a trap. And so, I think just having communication, having a genuine love and admiration for the work that the other people do is really what makes our partnership successful. And I’ll also add that they are skilled in things that I am not skilled in, which is what makes the show better. They are, much more so than I, I’ve come up in writer’s rooms, very much writer-focused, and producer once I got to that level, but they are excellent filmmakers.

And so, that aspect of the show, they are so incredibly skilled at and I learn from that. And you have to be open to that. You have to be like, “Yeah, I have things to learn. I don’t need to be like, “Well no, I know best, too.” TV is a collaborative medium, and that’s the best part of it. That’s such an additive thing. And when people bring in their ego and try to fight that, it really bothers me. So I think that’s my very long-winded answer to your question. I hope anything in there was useful. Edit it out, shred it, shred it to pieces.

Geri Cole: It was all good, and it actually perfectly led me to my next question, which is you’ve had a really amazing career, and I wanted to talk a little bit about your background and-

Jen Statsky: Sure.

Geri Cole: … if you always knew you wanted be a TV comedy writer and what things do you think have served you best to get you to where you are now?

Jen Statsky: Yeah. I grew up right outside Boston in a town called Milton, and I just grew up, I was an only child and my parents were preoccupied with other things, we’ll leave it at that, since this isn’t therapy. And so, I had a lot of time by myself, honestly, where I just camped in front of the TV and I watched a lot of television. And not kids TV, I watch old sitcoms like Mary Tyler Moore show and Dick Van Dyke show and Get Smart and all these weird old sitcoms. And I just kind of fell in love with it. I loved TV from an early age and didn’t know it was a career. Sorry, I don’t love writing. I hate writing, but I like having finished writing. And so, I knew I liked the finished writing throughout high school. And so, then no one in my family had any idea about the industry. They were like, “Good luck, I guess.”

But I researched and I found NYU and was like, “Okay, this has a good film and TV program.” I had visited New York once and I loved the city. And so I just applied to NYU and I got in and just there was lucky enough to be in a really good program that allowed me to write and keep writing. And that’s kind of how I broke in, because then at NYU I was able to do internships at The Onion and Saturday Night Live. And it was through a contact at The Onion that I then became a writer’s assistant at The Onion. But I really think, to your question about what helped me, other than, obviously, those great advantages to be able to go to a great school and be in New York city, was I think, early on, just watching TV that I loved and watching and connecting with characters and there’s things that I can point out in the shows I grew up loving that I still try to incorporate in my work now.

There’s this through line in TV, as much as it’s changed so wildly over the 50 years, but there are through lines you see. And yeah, I think it just helped me to just consume stuff I loved. I think it’s Ira Glass, maybe, who has that quote about, when you first start writing, you’re just mimicking the other stuff that you are creating. You’re just mimicking what you’ve seen and loved, and that’s so true. That’s a hundred percent what my earliest stuff was, but it’s also helpful because watching stuff you love shows you what you value in creativity and what you wanna make. And so, I think that was super helpful to shaping my career.

Geri Cole: Hmm. Well, now I also want to ask you about your process, which I was gonna ask you anyway, but also because you just talked about hating writing, which is how I feel, too.

Jen Statsky: I know.

Geri Cole: And I feel bad admitting it, where it’s like, “Actually, it’s so hard. It sucks. Am I supposed to love this part of it?” And it’s like, “Yeah, no I finished writing-

Jen Statsky: I know, I know.

Geri Cole: … when it’s good. Yeah. But what’s your process like? Do you have any rituals? How do you get it out?

Jen Statsky: It’s still, even though I am a professional working writer, it is still so scary to me, the blank page of starting that I write in bed because I need to be swaddled in blankets and warm and comforted because otherwise I’m gonna cry. So basically, yeah, that’s my process. I mean, what’s interesting is when I say I don’t like… this is why I work in TV comedy. And honestly, why I haven’t really written a feature. I mean, I’ve written a feature, but I haven’t really done much in features or solitary writing is, I really love the process of being in a writer’s room. My favorite part is breaking story with other people, pitching jokes to Paul and Lucia in our writer’s room. That’s when I’m like, “Oh, I love my job and I’m really lucky to get to do this.” Because you know, Paul and Lucia are two of my best friends in the world. And so, for my job to be, “Oh, I get to sit in a room and try to make two people, who I respect and love, laugh,” that’s incredible. I am really lucky and what a privilege, and I recognize that the writing on my own is the part that, yeah, I’ve never… I don’t love it. I really don’t love it.

And I am the only way I get through it is yeah, at the end of the process, you like process when you’re like, “Okay, I’m done. I’ve done this pass, and I feel it’s in an okay place.” But it’s hard, man. It’s hard. That’s why I really like TV. And I have friends who work only in the feature space, or primarily in the feature space, and so much of it is just them on their own, and I give them so much credit, because I think that’s so hard.

Geri Cole: It is. It’s hard. It’s so funny, because it doesn’t seem like it. I mean, I don’t know what people think, but hard. It’s really hard.

Jen Statsky: Yeah, it’s hard. It’s really hard. Especially comedy, it’s so helpful to pitch a joke and if the room laughs you’re like, “Okay, well, whatever.” But if I pitch a joke and it’s silence, I’m like, “Well that’s probably not a great joke.” And again, of course people who write comedy on their own have different benchmarks and people they check in with and round tables and stuff. But yeah, I find it so helpful to be in a writer’s room.

Geri Cole: Hmm. So one of the things that I always to ask on this podcast is the idea of success, when you’re in creative professions it can feel such an elusive destination. And also, especially given the characters on the show, and arguably Deborah has had all of the success, but it’s like-

Jen Statsky: It’s never enough. Yeah, yeah.

Geri Cole: So I’m curious what your feelings are about success and how they’ve sort of evolved over the years?

Jen Statsky: Yeah. It’s such a good question, because it’s so relevant for our profession and I think about it a great deal, because I think it’s a such a hard career to break into, it’s such a hard career to maintain. Again, we’re both very lucky, or we’re all very lucky, to get to do what we do for a living, and yet hard to keep maintaining that and keep doing that because it’s a very competitive industry. And so, I think, early on, I thought about this a lot growing up, not growing up, coming up as a writer, I remember my very first professional writing job was Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, I was a monologue writer. And I remember, before that, being 24, such an idiot. And really, in my head, I did think, “Well, the second you are a paid professional writer, you’ll feel great. You’ll feel you’ve attained it. You’ll feel done, top of the mountain. I can start learning guitar or whatever, because I’ll have so much brain space that won’t be devoted to feeling bad about myself.”

And then, shocker, I started that and I’ve never felt worse about myself. I never felt more insecure about my ability as a writer and it’s such a cliche thing, but it did that. And every job since has really taught me that it’s journey, not the destination stuff. Success has to be self-defined. It has to be self-defined by like, “Oh, I’m really proud…” If you can allow yourself through hundreds of hours of therapy to say, “Oh, I’m really proud of that episode. I think we said something worth saying, and I’m really glad,” or “I think that was really funny even, and I’m really glad.” Because the external stuff, it’s really nice in the moment. It’s nice to get a good review. It’s nice to win an award. It’s really cool. And it is meaningful and it’s certainly meaningful to be respected by your peers and respected by other writers who you think the world of, but you chase that and if you keep chasing that, you’re just giving so much power to other people because there’s a million things to watch and there’s a million opinions to have, and there’s always going to be someone who’s like, “No, that’s not good. That was actually…”

And it’s just like you’re playing whac-a-mole with your self-esteem because you hit one and then another one will pop up and you’re like, “Okay, that actually makes me feel bad. Right. I should feel bad.” And so, I think it’s such a tricky thing. And I talk about this with other writers all the time. It is. I think you have to find a way that success is defined by feeling proud and good about the material you’re making in and of itself, on your own. Because the other stuff, it’s never ending, it’s really never ending. I’m sure, I don’t know, Meryl Streep has 45 Oscars, I don’t know, hopefully she doesn’t feel this way, but you could always win more. It’s never ending. And I also think, I’ll add this one thing, not to ramble on about this, but I also think that because of the nature of… our business is like art meets capitalism, not to sound a college freshmen or something, but because of that, you are pushed to always try to reach this next level.

I remember when I would get my first job or my second staff job, and this is no fault of their own, this is what they’re supposed to do, you’re expected to want unending success and upward mobility, for just the point of getting more success and upward mobility and power and money. And I think that’s all fine and good, and I think when there’s people who have not been in power before, because the industry has kept them out, that it is very important that they… I understand them seeking power, because it’s like, “Yeah, it’s not fair that the power has always been in one group’s hand for so long.” But just from a creative level, I think, obviously what, Michaela Coel, everybody really loved and gravitated towards at the Emmys, and what she was saying is so true, is the way the world is now, being visible, being so like, “Well, I’m doing this now, and then I’m doing this and I’m doing this and I’m on this list,” it feeds such a bad instinct, when the truth is, you should want to be a showrunner and run your own show, if you have an idea you love and you really want to pursue that.

And until you do, don’t let someone make you feel bad because you’re enjoying writing. You know what I mean? I get nervous when people are told constantly, “What you’re doing is not enough?,” because I feel it’s a success without meaning behind it, is what’s driving that. And I think it’s important that we check our instincts on that because it’s not fair to writers because at the heart of this, it’s a creative endeavor, and it’s about wanting to say what you need to say, not just hitting some arbitrary benchmark, if that makes sense. Does that all make sense? If none of it made sense, delete it.

Geri Cole: It makes so much sense, it makes so much sense. In fact, I feel like having to play whac-a-mole with your self esteem, [inaudible 00:42:12] it’s a perfect-

Jen Statsky: Yeah, yeah. If you feed the run thing, it’s really hard and will something else will always pop up. But it’s a very good question, and I think it’s really important to talk about that with other writers.

Geri Cole: Yeah, because it’s tricky stuff and it does feel never ending. And I feel like especially, also, well as a professional, part of my job is to have that stamina, to have that hustle to have that. And it’s like, “Yeah, but also you need quiet time.” Also-

Jen Statsky: Totally. Exactly, and it’s so hard. It’s not wrong. It is like you have to work really hard and hustle and have five balls in the air because four will drop and only one will work out, so it’s a constant struggle to balance that in yourself to be like “I need to be doing more and more and more.” I wasn’t the one who came up with this, but the time someone was like, “Oh, being a writer means always having homework.” When I heard that, I was like-

Geri Cole: Yes.

Jen Statsky: … “Oh God, you’re right. This is horrible. What am I doing?” But it’s so true, it’s so true.

Geri Cole: It is. Oh, that’s so perfect.

Jen Statsky: Yeah. It’s perfect and sad. Perfect and sad.

Geri Cole: And sad. Well, I think that’s a great place to end. Perfect and sad.

Jen Statsky: It’s perfect and sad and goodbye.

Geri Cole: And sad.

Jen Statsky: Yeah, yeah.

Geri Cole: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today and congratulations on all the recognition. It is well-deserved.

Jen Statsky: Oh my gosh. Thank you.

Geri Cole: The show is fantastic.

Jen Statsky: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

Geri Cole: I can’t wait to watch season two.

Jen Statsky: Thanks. Thanks for all the great questions.

Geri Cole: That’s it for this episode. OnWriting is a production of the Writers Guild of America, East, and is hosted by me, Geri Cole. This series was created and is produced by Jason Gordon. Tech production and original music by Taylor Bradshaw and Stockboy Creative. Our associate producer and designer is Molly Beer. You can learn more about the Writers Guild of America, East online at and you can follow the Guild on all social media platforms at WGA East. If you liked this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. Thank you for listening and write on.

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