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Promotional poster for PEN15

Host Geri Cole speaks to PEN15 co-creators, co-writers, and co-stars Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle about how the duo met (at an experimental theater program in Amsterdam), how PEN15 has become even more honest and raw in its second season, and the curious case of writing for yourself as a 13-year-old.

Maya Erskine is a writer and actor known for her onscreen roles in several comedy series, including MAN SEEKING WOMAN, HEARTBEAT, CASUAL, and INSECURE.

Anna Konkle is a writer, actor, and director, known for co-starring in the Fox police procedural ROSEWOOD.

Together, Erskine and Konkle co-created, co-write, and co-star in the Hulu series PEN15. The “traumedy” follows fictionalized versions of Maya and Anna as teenage outcasts in the year 2000, during a period when the best day of your life can turn into the worst with just the stroke of a gel pen.

The series, which premiered in 2019, is available to stream on Hulu. Part two of Season 2 is scheduled for release on December 3.

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 excited to welcome Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, the co-creators, co-writers, and co-stars of Pen15, now in its second season on Hulu. In this episode, we talk about how they met at an experimental theater program in Amsterdam, how Pen15 has become even more honest and raw in its second season, and the curious case of writing for yourself as a 13-year-old. Hi Maya, hi Anna. Thank you so much for coming to talk to me. I’m so excited to talk to you guys. First of all, I just want to say congratulations on creating time travel. I did not remember. I didn’t remember. And this show has transported me. I was telling Jason, I was like, I can smell the room.

Maya Erskine: I’m so sorry.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, that’s called trauma. No, I’m just kidding.

Geri Cole: I was like, I know exactly what these people smell like, I know what this house smells like. It’s so, so good. So I’m so excited to talk to you guys, because it feels like magic and I want to know how you did it.

Anna Konkle: Thank you for having us.

Maya Erskine: Yeah, thank you.

Geri Cole: Let’s talk first, about how you guys met and was it love at first sight?

Anna Konkle: Yeah.

Maya Erskine: It was. I would say it was admiration and love at first sight. Right?

Anna Konkle: And then not being able to talk to you because you locked yourself in your room…

Maya Erskine: I did.

Anna Konkle: In Amsterdam. We were in a experimental theater-

Maya Erskine: That sounds so dark.

Anna Konkle: Program.

Maya Erskine: We need to explain.

Geri Cole: No context.

Anna Konkle: We’ll explain. It’s not dark. Yeah, it was an experimental theater program in Amsterdam. We met in college and it was the summer program. And there was writing and directing our own stuff, but mostly acting, clowning. And day one, I was reading back recently on an exercise. It was this bizarre, very long exercise. And you were so… Immediately, I was like talent crush, this person’s amazing. On Maya. And also wanted to be a best friend. Eventually, I cut in there, took a while.

Maya Erskine: The scariest day of my life was that first day when, within five minutes of the class, they were like, “All right, you’re going to write a five minute play and you have to play three different characters and direct it and do all these…” It was…

Anna Konkle: Yeah.

Maya Erskine: And you have to play animals. And so that was, yeah.

Anna Konkle: I know, it sounds…

Maya Erskine: But we had talent crushes on each other and then friend crushes.

Anna Konkle: But the locking yourself in a room was just because…

Maya Erskine: Oh, I had social anxiety and everyone was smoking weed all the time, and I was smoking weed too. I’ll just say it. But I was in my room.

Geri Cole: You’re crazy.

Maya Erskine: In my room, having a panic attack about it. Being like, I’m just going to stay quiet. And they’d knock and be like, “Maya!”

Anna Konkle: Maya, come hang out. What are you doing? I want to be your best friend.

Geri Cole: Wow, wow, wow. So wait, you were also smoking weed, but you locked yourself in the room because…

Anna Konkle: It can make you paranoid, right?

Geri Cole: Because you were too high?

Maya Erskine: I think I was too high and I wasn’t ready to socialize with everyone. And then they all became my best friends, but it took me a week or two, to get into that group. Everyone was so on each other, right away. And I was like, I need a second because I also-

Geri Cole: That’s probably healthier.

Maya Erskine: Have a UTI.

Geri Cole: Because you have a UTI?

Maya Erskine: I wasn’t ready.

Geri Cole: Okay, yeah, yeah, yeah. Wow, wow, wow. I can absolutely appreciate that. I’ve certainly been in the situation. I’ve had a UTI and/or also been like, I’m too high. I need to leave.

Maya Erskine: Yeah.

Geri Cole: Have to leave.

Maya Erskine: Yeah.

Geri Cole: So let’s talk about how you developed the show, because it feels like, sort of, I imagine, a bit that sort of grew into two characters that grew into… But where did it come from? And yeah, also it sounds like this experimental theater program was fantastic if you guys were doing all this very challenging work. So how did the show develop?

Anna Konkle: It kind of goes back to, I think, after school acting in theater, and very downtown theater, and eventually kind of just finding that maybe we’d want to write something. And writing a web series together, and loving the producing side and the writing side and writing for each other. And it was only together, I think that, for me, at least that I was like, oh, I want to write comedy. Because she’s my muse. And then, that also leads to, Maya’s an amazing dramatic actress. And so, comedy isn’t just jokes all the time. It’s character. And so, that’s been really fun, to explore that. But yeah, we did this web series. Every episode was about another kind of reject-y side of ourselves, but these reject characters we got to play. And so after that, we thought of, what was the next thing that we’d really want to do? What’s the most reject-y versions of ourselves? And it was playing 13 year olds.

And it was also realizing that we had all these stories and funny memories and fucked up things, and trauma from this specific age, that we weren’t seeing on, at the time, 10 years ago or something, Nickelodeon. The normal vehicle for a 13 year old story is a 13 year old. And so we started kind of pitching this idea and people were like, as Maya says, “That’s illegal.” You can’t do that. So that’s sort of where it was born out of, I think.

Maya Erskine: Yeah, and I think another reason of why we were drawn to each other was, you talk about this a lot, but our tendency to overshare and talk about the things that we’re embarrassed about, or shameful about as a way to cope. We do it through humor. And I think that was something that we connected over. And so that kind of came into play as we were both these actors with no agent, no anything, just a degree and no way to get a job, that we’re like, oh, the only way to play character actors is to do it ourselves. We have to write it ourselves. So, that was the impetus. But then, as we were filming it, we’re like, oh, we like this side of it a lot more, or as much.

Geri Cole: Yeah, it does feel like there’s unearthing of, like I was saying, I didn’t remember. I didn’t remember. And then it’s like, the show takes me there, so immediately. So let’s talk a about the writers room then, that you have for it. So it was just you two and Sam, I believe, for the bulk of it? But you do have other writers that you pull in. How does your writers room work?

Anna Konkle: It’s kind of changed every season. First season, it was the three of us, a co-show runner, Gabe Liedman. And then we had Jessica Watson, was a writer’s assistant who also took an episode and wrote an episode. And then we had a few other, very talented friends that came in for a week or two, here and there. And Maya and Sam, and I, before we went into season one, out of pure fear and probably mostly me being so afraid, so I’m sorry for this… We wrote a ton of-

Maya Erskine: Oh, yeah.

Anna Konkle: We outlined, really, the season. And I mean, it was before we got in there, but it was monstrous. And getting into the writers room, I was just thinking about this recently, and pitching the ideas again, and traditionally breaking them, on a whiteboard. That was not our process. We didn’t come up in a writers room, so there was a lot of learning.

Maya Erskine: We had very dense pages of what these episodes were. And Gabe Liedman came in, and was like, “I’m going to teach you how to write an outline for the writers-”

Anna Konkle: He was in Final Draft. He was like, “Oh, you did this in Pages? Cool. Do you know how much easier writing an outline is when you do it in Final Draft?” Because then it’s all there to just put into script form.

Maya Erskine: It was mind blowing.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, that blew my mind.

Maya Erskine: Because we also put in so many details into our quote-unquote outlines that weren’t outlines. I mean, we would write-

Anna Konkle: The lines.

Maya Erskine: Almost the full script and the lines, cause that was how we did it. We didn’t know any better.

Anna Konkle: We still do that, kind of.

Maya Erskine: We do.

Anna Konkle: Yeah.

Maya Erskine: Definitely, we put in more dialogue into the outlines than probably is necessary, but it helps us because that’s…

Anna Konkle: We have to speak it also. So it’s nice to be in the room and to just get to say the lines that are in your head, out loud, and get them into outline form. And they usually translate…

Maya Erskine: They do.

Anna Konkle: Decently.

Maya Erskine: Yeah, and this season, another writer, Vera Santamaria, she pointed out that she was like, “Oh I’ve never seen writers write like this. You guys write from emotion, and I’ve been used to seeing writers write from plot or just being able to sort of figure out what the season arc is or what the story is through plot.” But we come at it, I think, differently. We’ve never been able to put words to it, but it was interesting to have her verbalize it that way.

Geri Cole: I feel like that comes across, that you guys are writing from emotion because that, I feel like, is what I’m getting so much from the care characters. So also, it sounds like, do you guys improvise a little bit in the writers room, if you’re playing with dialogue and stuff like that?

Anna Konkle: Yeah, we do. Yeah, I mean it’s more part of the brainstorming process of when we’ve broken the episodes, and then we’re putting it in outline form, and sometimes we’ll do that individually.

Maya Erskine: It’s especially, the scenes that involve you and me.

Anna Konkle: Yeah.

Maya Erskine: So if we have a fight or it’s really just mostly dialogue between us, we will improvise, I think. And it’s always, when we transcribe it, like 15 pages. And then we have to sort of figure out what’s the meat of this, or what did we get out of this? Sometimes it’s one line or sometimes it’s all of it.

Anna Konkle: And I feel like that’s what we’ll do when we’re having trouble with a scene.

Maya Erskine: Exactly.

Anna Konkle: Where it’s reading on the page, too saccharin, or too we’ve seen it before in TV or something. What’s the way that you’re not supposed to talk about it that way, or whatever. And that will usually be able to suss out if we kind of just are in character, and recording ourselves, and doing it together. But in the room, when we’re outlining, if something comes to any of the writers, but especially because we get to say the words because we’re the actors… Yeah, and we get to write for ourselves. I mean it definitely cuts out an aspect of just being able to be like, eh, this doesn’t feel so truthful. I think my character would say it like this, or whatever. It definitely feels like it helps. It’s definitely helpful.

Maya Erskine: Well, I remember, first season, we probably did it more then, but I remember we would always talk about, okay, we’re looking forward to the weeks where we get to do a voice pass. A character voice pass where we’re going to rehearse all of this, and see if we need to change any of the dialogue. And because it was such a fast, short process and small budget, we had no time to do that. And we kept being like, so we’re going to get that week, right? Or now it’s three days, and now it’s one day, and I think-

Anna Konkle: It would all disappear.

Maya Erskine: Half of a day, where we got to go through everything.

Anna Konkle: Just dialogue, right?

Maya Erskine: Yeah, which helped. But then the subsequent seasons, I don’t think we needed to do that as much. It felt like in the writers room and in writing, we could find it, or on the day if we needed to find it, we-

Anna Konkle: There’s lots of free writing on the day too.

Maya Erskine: Yeah.

Geri Cole: Okay, wow. So I guess, also, do you guys have 13 year olds that you referenced? Do you have video tapes? Yes, it feels so true. It feels authentic. It feels like how a 13 year old spoke then, it feels like how 13 year olds still speaks now. And so it’s like, how are you getting that speech pattern down? Are you talking to lots of 13 year olds?

Anna Konkle: No, that would have been helpful.

Maya Erskine: It makes me feel embarrassed. I’m like, it’s just who I am.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, no I relate. I mean there’s a part of it that definitely… Because so many people say, I can’t remember that time and it’s just never been like that for me.

Maya Erskine: Same.

Anna Konkle: It’s right at the surface, for whatever reason.

Maya Erskine: We remember it so vividly, cause I think we’ve just told those stories, time and time again. And I think that’s probably why we just gravitated towards the subject matter for our show.

Anna Konkle: And maybe also it being, like you said earlier, that we sort of bonded in that, we’d be at the same party or something and I’d hear Maya making a joke out of something self-deprecating that is a secret, quote-unquote, that other people wouldn’t share, that Maya would. And it would be fucking funny, and interesting, and all these things. And maybe we had that in common, like you said, of sharing stories like that. So I think in, I mean the same vein, there’s certainly shameful secret things that I don’t talk about a lot, but maybe there’s more that I do, that the average person doesn’t. I know that’s true for you. And so being 13, and having a lot of reject-y stories that aren’t your proudest, is maybe for us, good conversation.

Maya Erskine: Yeah, and also, I feel like our twenties felt like another adolescence. For me, my twenties, I was going through another identity crisis, and feeling extremely insecure in who I was. And I think that was also another impetus for talking about being 13, just because we would go to these parties in LA, and feel like we weren’t good enough. And being in our heads, of why do we feel like we’re in middle school? This clique-y feeling, like what is going on? I thought I was out of this and I’m clearly not. So that idea also kept presenting itself to us of like, you never really leave that age. You could be maybe in your fifties and sixties, and still have that 13 year old feeling of being left out, or not quite fitting in with your coworkers or whatever it is. Those dynamics sometimes stay in you, so that was another thing.

But I think also, we did have some excerpts of… I wouldn’t say this is how it helped us remember how to talk, but you had a breakup note that you had written to your boyfriend, that was pasted on the wall. That was brilliant and really informed, I think.

Anna Konkle: I spoke like I was 40, but with more “likes” or hearts over my I’s or something, but it was still very analytical and…

Maya Erskine: Yeah.

Anna Konkle: Right?

Maya Erskine: Yeah, very kind.

Anna Konkle: Well, I don’t know.

Maya Erskine: But yeah, it was very informative for your character.

Geri Cole: So you feel like, Maya and Anna, the 13 year old characters are actually pretty close to real life 13 year old Maya and Anna?

Anna Konkle: I feel like there are aspects for me. Anna Kone is me in fourth or fifth grade. By middle school, I mean a lot of things are similar, but I started to pick up on what not to do, to not stick out or to not, whatever. Fourth and fifth grade I had no… I was just telling people not to swear, and did you look at my paper? Don’t look at my paper. I was just raising my hand to be ridiculed. So I feel like I draw on that part of my life a little bit more. But Anna Kone is also who I am in my most vulnerable forms, in terms of my deepest insecurities, my deepest trauma, my deepest fear, my deepest wants. Still applies to me as an adult now, probably.

Maya Erskine: Yeah, I would say for me, I think I was pretty close to this Maya that is in there. And especially with my family or with my close friends, I wasn’t that brazen or outspoken around people.

Anna Konkle: Would you do Jim Carrey impressions?

Maya Erskine: Or maybe I was. I did-

Anna Konkle: In middle school.

Maya Erskine: With the popular girls.

Anna Konkle: The popular girls.

Maya Erskine: In middle school, and I would do this fast forward rewind joke that they loved.

Anna Konkle: That’s in the show.

Maya Erskine: Yeah, I mean, that killed.

Anna Konkle: And then I put it in my TV show.

Maya Erskine: That’s crazy.

Anna Konkle: It’s so good.

Maya Erskine: Oh, my God. Wow.

Geri Cole: I mean, I hope they appreciated it.

Anna Konkle: They better. It’s genius.

Maya Erskine: But yeah, I would say that, you put that so well, my brother calls it, Graya. That’s my alter ego. That’s the unabashed, out there, version of myself that I don’t always show. And that’s still in me now, but it doesn’t come out in podcasts. It comes out later.

Geri Cole: I love that this has its own name.

Maya Erskine: Graya. She’s wild.

Anna Konkle: She is wild. I love her.

Geri Cole: Well, I appreciate all the Graya that makes it into the character, Maya. And also, speaking of, there’s so many episodes that made me think of, and maybe this is weird and awkward to say now, of the masturbation episode. So personal, of you masturbating. But the reason why I feel like it was so… One, because I feel like you guys do such a beautiful job of bouncing these very real, emotional moments with a hilarious comedy. But also, it really spoke to me, cause I was also that young girl masturbating at that age, and feeling so gross about it, and so insecure about it. So I guess, yeah. Is it a thing that you sort of consciously do to try and balance those very real, emotional issues? And it sounds like, that’s where you’re starting from, but then there’s just moments of pure comedy. An example, I’ll give, which literally made me laugh out loud, is in the first episode of season two, the kid has the snot.

Anna Konkle: Oh.

Maya Erskine: Oh, yeah. That was…

Anna Konkle: Oh, my God.

Maya Erskine: I’m so glad you pointed that out.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, we’ve never talked about that.

Geri Cole: It was perfect.

Anna Konkle: That’s based on your dad.

Maya Erskine: Yeah, that happened to my dad. He said that, at his house, he had friends over for the first time, and they were all talking, and he pulled his hand away from his nose and a huge snot booger came out that, then, he kept his hand on his nose the whole time.

Anna Konkle: That’s so good.

Maya Erskine: As opposed to going and blowing your nose in the bathroom or handling it. It’s like, nope. The answer is to keep your hand at your nose the whole time.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, I relate to that with my period. That’s happened to me actually, where I’m like, okay, I’m going to stand here, against the wall for two hours and continue to talk to you. This is on a date, also. Instead of being like, I need to go and I’m going to put my coat around my… It was just pure shock and fear.

Maya Erskine: On the couch.

Anna Konkle: On the couch. Yeah, the full story.

Maya Erskine: Oh, sorry.

Anna Konkle: Thank you, Maya. No, no.

Geri Cole: Never mind.

Anna Konkle: No, no.

Geri Cole: Now I think we need to hear it.

Anna Konkle: I wanted to share the whole… Yeah, I led into it. I deserve this. Yeah, it was a first date with a guy that I really liked. And he came over and we were playing Scrabble, and I had a white couch.

Geri Cole: Oh, no.

Anna Konkle: Yeah. And I had the habit of getting up after, when I had my period ever, and looking, because that’s the kind of body that I have. And never was there an issue. Well, this time, I get up. I turn around, I feel the loss of my stomach drop. That it’s a ruler length.

Geri Cole: Oh, God.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, and he’s talking and I hear him go, “Umm, ummm,” as I’m walking away in my back and I’m going, oh, my God. Oh, my God. And he doesn’t say anything. I don’t say anything. I’m living in a New York apartment where the toilet is in the closet. There’s not a real bathroom. The only sink is in the kitchen. The shower’s in the closet too.

Geri Cole: Oh, my God!

Anna Konkle: Yeah, so then I’m like, what do I do? What do I do? And so I just stay in the kitchen and I’m like, do you want some crackers and cheese? And then we stand in the kitchen with myself against the wall for two hours. Or at least an hour, and eat crackers and cheese. But it was the same thing of like, I will not move. I will not acknowledge that anything’s happened.

Maya Erskine: Yep.

Anna Konkle: It was brutal.

Maya Erskine: One of my favorite stories.

Geri Cole: And he didn’t either.

Anna Konkle: No.

Geri Cole: I mean, I feel like…

Anna Konkle: He acknowledged it a year later, or something.

Maya Erskine: What did he say about it, by the way?

Anna Konkle: Because I texted him… I can’t believe I’m talking about this. Cause I texted him later, and I was like, that was so embarrassing. I’m really embarrassed.

Maya Erskine: He didn’t acknowledge it?

Anna Konkle: He was like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” And I was like, what?

Maya Erskine: Whoa.

Anna Konkle: And then a year later I was like, did you really not have any idea? And I had asked him before, and he was like, “No, I saw it.” And I was like, why didn’t you tell me? And then he was like, “I didn’t want you to feel bad.”

Maya Erskine: Aww.

Geri Cole: Oh, I guess that’s sweet.

Anna Konkle: I don’t know. I don’t know. The whole thing is weird. Yeah.

Maya Erskine: So, that’s a great story.

Anna Konkle: Beautiful moment in my life.

Maya Erskine: Yeah, thank you. I’m sorry I…

Anna Konkle: No, no, I’m actually glad.

Maya Erskine: [crosstalk 00:20:26] to that level.

Geri Cole: And also, I feel like it’s a perfect segue back to talking about Brandt, who’s an asshole, and denies the feel up in the closet, and also Maura, and both those characters, I was like, I remember those kids. I remember those kids. Writing kids as assholes, and not really trying to… I mean, whatever, I guess Brandt’s father died, and so that is his little bit of redemption is, he’s probably grieving. But otherwise, just writing kids as straight assholes.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, I know we’ve talked about this a bit, where it’s Anna and Maya’s perception, I think. And I mean, the goal is that, and I think especially in this next season, you’ll see Anna and Maya sometimes, take on the role of the asshole. And I think, in the kind of hierarchy of middle school, everybody takes a turn being in the wrong. I’ve heard some guys be like, “Whoa, I see myself as the Brandt, and I feel like I was such an asshole,” but we tried to put in moments, in my mind, but they’re pretty subtle, of him feeling insecure or him…

Maya Erskine: Well, that’s why…

Anna Konkle: Acting out of fear, or whatever.

Maya Erskine: He’s acting out fear. He might have small feelings for Maya, but he’s too afraid of what everyone else will think if he’s with the girl that was called “ugliest girl in school.” So, trying to show that there’s no, straight up, evil kid. We all are going through hell in our own way, and we might not be able to explore that for all of the characters, but wanting to be able to show that, yeah, they have issues, but there’s a reason that Maura’s playing Anna against Maya, because she’s insecure and wants their friendship. And she’s not going to have that friendship. And that’s sad for her, in her own way. She may be feeling left out, you know?

Anna Konkle: And I think what can come across as that too, of the asshole part of it is, us not wanting for it to become an afterschool special, or the answer to be too easy or to soften. This is my memory of how people really spoke, and how people express themselves. And even though I have empathy for that, definitely…

Maya Erskine: People were mean.

Anna Konkle: It could be brutal.

Maya Erskine: And I, even, probably threw someone under the bus at some point.

Anna Konkle: I’m sure I did too.

Maya Erskine: That’s what I’m saying is-

Anna Konkle: Most of us have, unfortunately.

Maya Erskine: There is no perfect kid.

Anna Konkle: They’re learning who you are, and how to be who you are, and how to protect yourself.

Maya Erskine: Survival of the fittest.

Anna Konkle: How to protect others, and then you fail at that, and survival of the fittest. Yeah.

Geri Cole: Which, that actually makes me think of, I’m not sure what number episode, but the Spice Girls episode where it is sort of like Anna, not knowing what to do. Recognizing that something wasn’t right. And trying to be like, I’ll do it! But then, you know.

Maya Erskine: Yeah.

Anna Konkle: Right.

Geri Cole: And also, that episode was so beautifully done, I feel like. And because it feels like, I remember that experience too. And not really knowing how to respond. How did you guys approach writing that? I think it was episode seven.

Anna Konkle: Something like that.

Maya Erskine: Yeah, something like that. Posh episode.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, I mean, it was a lot of talking… You were so candid and open, Maya, about the different kind of, what we were calling at the time in the room, microaggressions. But looking now, it feels so outwardly aggressive. But I think even just talking about it in a group of people, and sharing the character that you kind of developed for your classmates so that you would sort of clown for them, almost. And create this character so that these white classmates would include you. And we’re trying to kind of synthesize that into scenes.

Maya Erskine: Yeah, the idea of seeing Maya participate in such a desperate plea of approval and acceptance, and not fully understanding the pain that she was receiving, through those words. And also the girls not understanding what they were doing, like nothing was maliciously intent… But something else I was thinking about, actually, when we first started writing this. We kind of were like, okay, maybe… It started way bigger. And it wasn’t actually any specific instance. It’s like, oh, how do we talk about race, if we want to go into it? Such a big topic. And we went into all these different versions of it, and I remember this one moment of being like, wait, but maybe it is enough for Maya’s story to tell this, because it’s a specific example of something and that can speak volumes. And so it was trusting that. Letting it start from one instance and not solving it. Not solving racism. Not solving, but rewriting history a little bit by just having a friend acknowledge what Maya went through was a really rewarding way to write that. I didn’t expect that to be the outcome, but…

Anna Konkle: And writing about the minutia of it too. And I mean, that’s where you are so gifted, and you are so candid with everything, I think, too. And then crafting that into scenes, and an arc. And then having Anna play the white savior role, and then have to grapple with that, and realize that she-

Maya Erskine: That was a hard storyline to write.

Anna Konkle: Yeah. The whole episode was a little challenging, and I don’t think we knew that it would translate. We knew on set that it was affecting us. It was really hard to be in that scene.

Maya Erskine: That was the first time that we were actually filming with the kids, and so everyone was so excited cause it was like Spice Girls and people were like, “Oh, yes!” And laughing. And then, it got really dark on set. And none of us expected that though. I really didn’t even expect that, but I got overcome with emotion, and then Anna got overcome. And then all these crew members started speaking up, saying, “I’m remembering this moment from my life.” And so that’s when I think we first knew, as a whole crew, as a whole production of oh, maybe there is something here that’s a little deeper than just us being these 13 year olds. And not that we didn’t ever intend for that, but I just think it went even deeper than maybe we thought it could.

Anna Konkle: Yeah.

Geri Cole: Absolutely. I mean, there were several moments, actually. Another moment where I burst into tears, was in episode three of the second season when, Anna, your parents were fighting and then Maya takes your hand and you guys start running. And this is just like, oh God, there’s a shot where your feet get extra air…

Maya Erskine: Ah!

Geri Cole: And that’s what made me burst into tears. I don’t know.

Anna Konkle: That makes me so happy.

Maya Erskine: That was your idea, the extra [crosstalk 00:27:20].

Geri Cole: There was something so… Yes, there was something. It just, again, it took me, immediately, to that feeling of just trying to run away. And it was so beautiful and perfect.

Anna Konkle: That’s so sweet. Thank you for saying that. Yeah, that was another moment that we got to kind of… When you’re talking about rewriting history, we’re looking at the minutia and what’s funny about it, and the trauma of it, and then getting to write these experiences next to somebody else, next to somebody that you love. I’m not spying on my parents alone, I’m spying on my parents next to Maya. You know, it’s really fucking weird. I’m sure I’m going to look back in 20 years from now and be like, well, that changed me psychologically. Cause it’s really…

Maya Erskine: Totally.

Anna Konkle: I’s not a normal human thing to go through. We’re reliving so much of childhood…

Maya Erskine: You’re right.

Anna Konkle: Rewriting it a little bit, and with someone else. It’s just, it’s very strange.

Maya Erskine: It is.

Geri Cole: It’s a very progressive form of therapy or-

Maya Erskine: Right.

Anna Konkle: You’re so right.

Geri Cole: Yeah.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, really expensive therapy.

Maya Erskine: Yes.

Geri Cole: The most expensive.

Maya Erskine: The most expensive. Lot of hard work.

Anna Konkle: Did it work?

Maya Erskine: I said, it’s a lot of hard work.

Anna Konkle: Oh, I thought you said, “Did it work?” I was like, nope. I’m just kidding. Still in therapy.

Geri Cole: There’s also though, even though there are these very real and great moments, there are also little fantastical elements to the show, which I love. How did that element of the show sort of make its way in?

Maya Erskine: I feel like that started in the beginning. We were talking about that, and we didn’t even know what the tone was. I think the tone started off a lot broader when we initially started writing it, and we kept needing to ground it. But we always knew we wanted surreal, fantastical elements from the beginning. Because to us, middle school was like a circus. It was just this time of different growths and like just…

Anna Konkle: I remember my friend saying she was flat one day and then woke up with Ds the next day. And I was like, well, that’s crazy.

Maya Erskine: That’s crazy.

Anna Konkle: But I believe her. Sorry, keep going. A circus.

Maya Erskine: But we wanted to show, what is a way to show… So it started bodily, kind of. How do you show the extreme changes? Like talking about how you’d have two friends where one guy looks like a tall 40 year old man, and his best friend looks like a six year old. He’s just extremely…

Anna Konkle: I know, we never did that. We were always meant to cast…

Maya Erskine: We did. We did do that once.

Anna Konkle: A 40 year old man. That would be so funny.

Maya Erskine: No, we didn’t do a 40 year old man, but we did…

Anna Konkle: We missed that.

Maya Erskine: A big guy and a small kid next to each other, possibly.

Anna Konkle: But yeah, sorry.

Maya Erskine: Yeah, so that’s where it started. And then we were trying to come up with the rule of why are we doing this? Is it to just show the extreme, awkward bodies? No, it’s maybe to show something that, sort of how musicals break into song when you need to express… Well, what is really the role? [crosstalk 00:30:12].

Anna Konkle: I think that’s right. In Shakespeare too, the emotion is so expressive that the normal of speaking isn’t enough. You have to sing, or you have to speak in prose, or you have to…

Maya Erskine: Right, so we tried to kind of apply that to this.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, for sure. The emotional moments that we could express visually. And we called them exaggerated moments. Sometimes they were funny, but most of the time… The masturbation episode is a great example, that we were at a point in breaking the episode where we were like, well, where does this go? Okay. This is shame. It’s the ultimate shame. Sometimes we feel like, when we’re having sex or… We’re having sex, separately, that…

Maya Erskine: That’s a great example.

Anna Konkle: Someone that’s died, your grandparent is watching. That’s the ultimate shame. Great, let’s bring in this exaggerated moment.

Maya Erskine: I used to… I think I still do. I masturbate under the covers. I’m sorry, I’m just going to say that on this podcast. But because, I don’t know what I believe in, but I just always have this feeling like…

Anna Konkle: Something spiritual is watching?

Maya Erskine: If they’re there, then they’re seeing this. And that’s not okay.

Anna Konkle: Right, right. I know, I still think about it too.

Geri Cole: I also have that feeling, but I feel like they can probably see under the covers too though.

Maya Erskine: Good point.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, that’s true.

Maya Erskine: It’s just my… Yeah.

Anna Konkle: Can I tell you where I end the thought, so that I have peace? Is that, if you die… This is so heady. But if you die, that you’re not in human mind constrictions anymore, so sex and those kinds of things are so minuscule. It’s like crumbs. It doesn’t even translate in the same way.

Maya Erskine: I love that so much.

Anna Konkle: Everything’s so more profound.

Geri Cole: Because you’re connected.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, that it’s like, doesn’t matter.

Maya Erskine: Right.

Anna Konkle: I don’t know.

Maya Erskine: It’s like bodily, sort of…

Anna Konkle: Human-y.

Maya Erskine: Yeah, it’s like, oh, that doesn’t matter.

Anna Konkle: Who cares?

Maya Erskine: I’m formless.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, you get it.

Geri Cole: Okay. That feels nice.

Maya Erskine: I like that. I’m going with that.

Geri Cole: I’m going to go with that too.

Maya Erskine: The covers are off tonight.

Anna Konkle: It doesn’t matter, cause they can see under them.

Geri Cole: Exactly. Who knows about these rules? But…

Anna Konkle: Yeah.

Geri Cole: So, let’s talk a little bit about your performances, which are incredible. Do you feel like there was any particular type of training that you received that has helped you embody these characters? I know you guys both did the experimental theater program and went to Tisch. Is there any sort of foundational work that you’re like, “I’m pulling from this when we perform”?

Anna Konkle: Yeah. I feel like for me, definitely the experimental theater wing had a big impact and that was mostly Grotowski training. And Maya, you know this way better than I do. She did that way longer than I did. But the basic ideas, I understand it, as the physical informing the emotional. So, back in the day, and I mean, maybe they still do, but the original Grotowski training was, they would move their bodies over, and over, for eight hours or something, to physical exertion. To have emotional responses, or whatever. That’s the extreme example. But at Tisch, it’s like, okay, if you hunch your back, hold your stomach, what feeling is that giving you? So, that certainly informs how I approach being 13. And then the kind of more traditional Stanislavski method. I mean, this is so methody, but you start with the emotional. And I just feel like, it’s kind of a mix of that. And then getting to act with you, and getting acted with 13 year olds, and being bound, and in the right costume, and all of that, really informs everything.

Maya Erskine: You said it perfectly.

Anna Konkle: Really?

Maya Erskine: I mean, that’s what it… Yeah, I think you and I, probably, mostly do gravitate towards the physical or physicality informing what’s going on inside because when you do hunch over, or when you’re covering your stomach constantly, that instantly makes you feel a little insecure. You’re self conscious, and so that’s already playing into the scene and then whatever the script is, I think we did a lot of text work. Many years in theater school and sometimes that can help you, and sometimes it can get in your head.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, sometimes it gets in your head.

Maya Erskine: So it feels like, a lot of what we learned has definitely, helped inform how we approach our roles. And then sometimes you have to throw some of it away…

Anna Konkle: Yeah, I agree.

Maya Erskine: And sometimes, it’s just there.

Anna Konkle: I can’t think too much about it anymore, or else I feel sort of frozen. And not even just in Pen15, but if I get too much thinking about the craft of it, or I don’t know. Even though it’s kind of fun to talk about, then there’s just this sort of guttural thing that you just have to go with, and not question yourself. Which has always been really hard for me. And I think, especially, playing a 13 year old.

Maya Erskine: We were so worried about…

Anna Konkle: Maya and I have talked about this. You just feel like such a fraud. And to outwardly say, we’re trying to do this in not a broad way. We’re trying to do this in a grounded, real way. You set yourself up for everybody to be like, “Well, you failed.”

Maya Erskine: That’s not real.

Anna Konkle: You’re 34. They can see your wrinkles, whatever. So having to just kind of own that, and be like, people might hate this, but for me to really try to own being 13, I just have to go for it, and not look back. But it’s been pretty scary.

Maya Erskine: I think it also helps us so much, that we get to write it.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, for sure.

Maya Erskine: I mean, if it was always someone else’s words, I mean, that’s the goal with acting, is being able to just take whatever’s on the page. And especially, if it’s amazing writing, then you can fly with it. But…

Anna Konkle: It feels like a cheat, to me.

Maya Erskine: Yeah, well, because it’s our voices, so it’s sort of easier to go to those characters.

Anna Konkle: The characters that you see.

Maya Erskine: Yeah, it’s weird.

Geri Cole: So, how also, is it, I suppose, working with actual 13 year olds? And also I have just a legal question. You’re not allowed to kiss children, correct?

Anna Konkle: Correct.

Geri Cole: It does feel like there was a stunt mouth in there.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, always adults.

Maya Erskine: Always adults. Always filmed separately.

Anna Konkle: Often, our real partners.

Maya Erskine: Yes.

Geri Cole: Okay, wow. Though, I also feel like I need to admit that, I feel like, and maybe I shouldn’t admit this…

Maya Erskine: No, no. Say it.

Geri Cole: I have a little bit of a crush on Sam.

Maya Erskine: Everyone says… I mean, a lot of people say that.

Anna Konkle: You’re not alone.

Maya Erskine: I mean, that’s just normal. You’re living in the 13 year old character, as 13 year olds.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, a hundred percent. I know. He’s such a good actor, also.

Maya Erskine: He’s incredible.

Anna Konkle: He’s blowing up. 13 year olds. It’s great. I mean, it’s so awesome working with kids.

Maya Erskine: I love them.

Anna Konkle: Yeah. I mean, coming from sets where it’s all adults, and I mean, Sesame Street must be incredible.

Geri Cole: Well, it’s mostly adults, but-

Maya Erskine: That’s true.

Geri Cole: [crosstalk 00:37:04] and a lot of characters.

Anna Konkle: I know, I’m just imagining adult puppets, that they’re their own people and that they were cast as puppets.

Geri Cole: Oh, a thousand percent. I’ve worked there a very long time.

Anna Konkle: Wow.

Geri Cole: And I know all of the puppeteers obviously, but when Cookie Monster talk to me, I talk back to Cookie Monster. It still completely works, the magic is real.

Maya Erskine: Wow.

Geri Cole: It works. Yeah, they’re very talented performers.

Maya Erskine: Wow.

Anna Konkle: Incredible. Does anyone just smoke outside between an image of, everyone’s [inaudible 00:37:34] and they’re like, “Fucking wife is…” You know?

Geri Cole: I mean, there are some outtakes that we wouldn’t want on the internet.

Anna Konkle: That’s great. I love that. Yeah, so what I was saying is, 13 year olds being so nice to be around, all day, every day, versus, not all actors are like this, but there is a lot of jaded, Hollywood actors.

Maya Erskine: Especially when we were filming the drama episodes, that felt like I was brought back to being in theater school with my fellow middle school compatriots. We were just these group of friends, and group of rejects…

Anna Konkle: Yeah, your group became a real group.

Maya Erskine: I mean, I really… Yeah, I really bonded with…

Anna Konkle: Yeah, it was really cute.

Maya Erskine: We did. I mean, we’ve become a bit of a family. And we learn so much from them, and it’s a true joy. And I think that also informed us a lot on how to act 13.

Anna Konkle: It’s fun writing for them too, and the stuff that’s hard or more challenging that takes some real acting chops, and then seeing them just kill it.

Maya Erskine: Like brilliant. Truly brilliant actors.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, I know. It’s wild.

Geri Cole: Man, speaking of brilliant acting, there’s that moment in the two part episode that has the play where Maya, in the room, are practicing the monologue, where it was like, oh, my God. It was so good!

Anna Konkle: So good.

Maya Erskine: Ridiculous.

Geri Cole: Yeah, but so good. And then, oh, my God. There’s actually no question to this, I just love it so much, is when you guys are in the restaurant afterwards and you’re so excited, and talking to Sam, and he’s like, “I wouldn’t have put my hand over her mouth,” and then you pick up the chair and walk away.

Anna Konkle: And you just do that. I remember the first take, when you went in for that scene, were you like, “I’m going to pick up a chair” or what I would guess is, it’s just the moment.

Maya Erskine: I don’t even remember. I’m trying to think. I think I did it in rehearsal, probably. I don’t know.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, no, but to me it feels like you’re just in the moment.

Maya Erskine: That’s how I feel about you. You always are.

Anna Konkle: No.

Maya Erskine: The queen of being in the moment. You really are.

Anna Konkle: No, really?

Maya Erskine: Yeah.

Anna Konkle: I don’t think so…

Maya Erskine: So present.

Anna Konkle: But thank you.

Geri Cole: So, this is a question that I like to ask everyone that comes on the podcast, about the idea of success. Because being in a creative profession, it feels like success is such an elusive feeling. And so I’m curious as to how you define success for yourselves, and how that may have evolved over the years. Because it feels like you’re having a lot of success at this moment. It looks like, from the outside, you’re having a lot of success in this moment. Does it feel that way, or do you feel like if you’re in success?

Anna Konkle: It’s always changing, for me, personally.

Maya Erskine: Yeah. I mean, I think when I graduated college at first, my idea of success was just always the next… So, if I have a job, then that’s success. And then I felt like, if I got a job, then I was like, well, this isn’t success. It’s the next thing. And always like looking to the next thing, and not ever just being like, holy shit. I am on a TV set. This is crazy! Not being in the moment. And I think that’s something that Anna and I talked a lot about, of looking around and being like… Because we were so caught up in working our asses off, and being stressed, and this last season, I think we were able to sort of sit and look around and be like, oh, my God. This is incredibly special. We’re working with our best friends. We’re running the show. We’re getting to play these characters? Wow. That is success. If you get to make work that pleases you, I think that is success.

Anna Konkle: Yeah, well said. This was all so unexpected, I think, for Pen15 to have any. Because that’s the holistic way that I want to think about it, the way you’re describing it. And then there’s the other side of it, that’s like, how’s it going to be received?

Maya Erskine: Right?

Anna Konkle: What are critics going to… You know, that kind of thing. And to go from first season, the show came out of being a people pleaser and directly trying to fight against that, and do something that many people would hate, while loving it ourselves. And so that was such a clear mission statement going into the first season. And then, when it was received well, I was like, well, what do I do with my brain now? Because I’m so used to being the underdog, and being like, well, you don’t like it? I’m going to do it anyway! And that being the trajectory, and then being like, well, what’s my voice, if it’s not being pushed back at? So, that’s been interesting. And I think doing the last season of Pen15, and it seeming like it’ll be the last season, it feels scary of what’s next, and wanting to remember that voice that began Pen15 and being like, nobody has to like it. What’s the next thing that’s going to feel fulfilling and be exciting? But…

Maya Erskine: It’s hard.

Anna Konkle: It’s hard to do that. And I think you set yourself up a little bit, that the first thing we did was so abnormally successful in terms of your first thing, that I feel like I’m trying to set myself up for like, okay, I just have to keep going with the same energy and this is weird that this happened. This isn’t normal, that this happens. And it doesn’t need to have to keep happening. If I can just keep working, that’s enough. But that’s the internal dialogue I’m having.

Maya Erskine: Totally true.

Anna Konkle: Yeah.

Maya Erskine: Same.

Geri Cole: It sounded like you just said, this is the last season. And I would follow these characters into college.

Maya Erskine: Oh!

Anna Konkle: Maybe someday.

Geri Cole: Is there a plan? Are we going to see eighth grade or we’re just sticking with seventh grade?

Anna Konkle: That idea was always seventh grade, right?

Maya Erskine: Yeah.

Anna Konkle: And you said it great the other day, that creatively, it was always supposed to be three. And it feels like the right place to sort of…

Maya Erskine: Yeah, cause I think if each year was a different grade, I’d be like, yeah, we can keep going till they’re in college. But because it’s seventh grade, it’s sort of like, you don’t want to go too past its point of, well now we’re just doing this to do this.

Anna Konkle: What’s the important stories that we’re sharing?

Maya Erskine: It feels sort of like we’ve reached the end of this story of seventh grade, but we’ve definitely talked about being open to maybe more, down the line, or a movie or something.

Geri Cole: Oh, please do.

Maya Erskine: Because we love these characters so much and we love this world, and it’s exciting to think what could present itself to us. As of now, this is how we’re looking at it.

Geri Cole: Well, my vote is also for a movie, so tell whoever.

Anna Konkle: Okay, great.

Maya Erskine: Great. [crosstalk 00:44:25].

Geri Cole: So I guess my final question is, what do you think it is that makes your partnership work so well? It looks beautiful. You guys are creating amazing things. What aspects do you think of your partnership that is like, this is why it works so well?

Anna Konkle: That’s such a good question.

Maya Erskine: I feel like we have such high respect for each other, or I can talk from my…

Anna Konkle: Yeah, of course. [crosstalk 00:44:48] to you.

Maya Erskine: There’s an insane bond of friendship. I mean, our friends talk about it when they see us together, but it’s like we finish each other’s sentences. It sounds so cheesy.

Anna Konkle: Each other’s sentences.

Maya Erskine: We can translate each other’s odd thoughts into logical thoughts. I may be speaking nonsense-

Anna Konkle: What Maya’s trying to say…

Maya Erskine: And you’ll translate for me.

Anna Konkle: No, just kidding. Yeah, no, I agree with all of that. Because we knew that we like the same things, and we had similar tastes, but when we started writing together, there was immediately this kind of writing ESP that happened. And even on set, in acting, too. That even if something was pitched in the room, is a great example, and then it’s down on the page, often I’ll be like, okay, I like this, but it’s so weird. I pictured it on their back and they’re walking this way, and there’s the thing in front of them, not the other way around or something. And nine times out of 10, you’re like, “I saw it the exact same way,” and then certainly, we have things we disagree about but it tends to be not very far apart. And we’re very passionate about what we think. So we can still talk about that thing for five hours.

But there’s a tone taste thing that’s just hard to explain, and I’ve never really felt like… Like I’ve said before, even if I go to see a comedy in a movie theater, I feel like I’m always laughing at the wrong times. I’m never laughing when everybody else is laughing. I’m always laughing alone. Something fucked up happens, and I’m like, ha! And it’s silent. And then, this is the person that laughs at the same time as I do. So that’s-

Maya Erskine: It’s our chemistry too. And I feel, like Maya and Anne are the characters of friendship of how much they, I’ll use the word, “stan” each other. There’s just so much support for each other. We just believe in each other so much. So it’s easy in that sense of working together.

Anna Konkle: Yeah.

Geri Cole: Wow. Well, thank you so much again for coming to do this podcast. Congratulations on season two…

Anna Konkle: Thank you.

Geri Cole: Part B. Congratulations on your babies.

Anna Konkle: Thank you!

Maya Erskine: Thank you!

Geri Cole: I see you guys both have babies. Thank you again, so much. I truly, I cannot express to you how much I love this show. It is so, so good. I really feel like you guys are doing something very special.

Anna Konkle: Thank you.

Maya Erskine: Thank you.

Geri Cole: And so I hope you win all the awards for it.

Maya Erskine: Thank you.

Anna Konkle: Thanks for a wonderful interview.

Maya Erskine: I know.

Anna Konkle: This was so fun.

Maya Erskine: So nice.

Geri Cole: Of course.

Anna Konkle: Nice to meet you.

Maya Erskine: Nice to meet you.

Geri Cole: It was so nice to meet you too. 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 @WGAEast. If you like this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. Thank you for listening, and write on!

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