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 wgaeast.org 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.