Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

By: Kaitlin Fontana

Promotional poster for FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE.

Kaitlin is joined by Kristen Bartlett and Mike Drucker—the Emmy-nominated and Writers Guild Award-winning co-head writers of FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE—to talk about the challenges of writing comedy remotely, how they’re taking more creative chances with material and the benefits and responsibilities of being co-head writers of a late night show in 2020.

Before their time on the Full Frontal writing staff, Kristen Bartlett wrote on two seasons of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, while Mike Drucker wrote on THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON and BILL NYE SAVES THE WORLD.

FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE is a late-night talk and news satire show starring former Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee, and is now in its fifth season on TBS.

Listen here:

OnWriting is an official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, East. Seasons Four and Five of the podcast are hosted by Kaitlin Fontana. Mix, tech production, and original music by Stock Boy Creative.

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Thanks for listening. Write on.


Kaitlin Fontana: You’re listening to OnWriting, a podcast from the Writers Guild of America, East. I’m Kaitlin Fontana. In each episode you’ll hear from writers in film, television, news, and new media discussing everything from pitching to production, from process to favorite lines and jokes and everything in between. Kristen Bartlett and Mike Drucker are the Emmy nominated and Writers Guild award winning co-head writers of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee now in its fourth season on TBS. Before Full Frontal, Kristen wrote on two seasons of SNL while Mike wrote on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Bill Nye Saves the World. We talked about the challenges of writing comedy remotely, how they’re taking more creative chances with material and the benefits and responsibilities of being co-head writers of a late night show in 2020. Hey guys. Thank you for being here.

Kristen Bartlett: Hey.

Kaitlin Fontana: Welcome to OnWriting.

Mike Drucker: Hello.

Kristen Bartlett: Hi, thank you for having us.

Kaitlin Fontana: Yeah, so I’m sure you’re used to talking to each other over remote and digital means at this point, but thank you for joining me and talking to me. I’m wondering, first of all, how each of you separately and then together, as part of the show are coping with everything that’s going on; Pandemic, lockdown. As writers how are you finding that in terms of creativity and making things?

Kristen Bartlett: Mike go for it.

Mike Drucker: All right. It’s my time to shine. Creatively, the difficulty isn’t necessarily the working remote, but creatively is the fact that we’re really outside of obviously a few other news events that have happened recently so narrow focused on COVID that you’re talking about it day after day after, day after day, and trying to find new angles on it, which can be a little more difficult than usually even on a topical political show where you’re like there’s this entirely different topic. Like we did sponcon, we did stuff about sponsored content on social media and that’s something we couldn’t necessarily do right now. And so creativity as ironic as it sounds to say for a topical new show, but at times when there’s just one news event only happening, you feel a little less creative with it.

Mike Drucker: I would also say it’s harder not being in the room with everyone. As much as you can Zoom or Google Hangout, people pitch jokes much more organically in the room, or people sometimes feel a little more open about suddenly interjecting in a room, whereas Zoom it’s like, wait, you go, wait, no, you go ahead. I had nothing. You go ahead. And so that sort of limits things. As far as me personally, I’m okay. I am a single man who lives alone with no children and owns every video game. I’m fine. So for me, this has been no problem personally, but in terms of creativity and work, it definitely makes you work more and work harder and sometimes feel a little bit more disconnected.

Kristen Bartlett: I almost think that this is Mike’s time. Like you were born-

Mike Drucker: This is my time. Yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: You were born to be alone. For me it’s really hard. I’m so tired of being with just my husband. I love him very deeply. We have only seen each other’s faces and no one else’s for four months, it’s exhausting, but it’s fine. I feel really grateful to have the ability to put show on air and to respond to what’s happening on Sam Bee. I feel like a lot of shows don’t have that luxury and we can in the moment say exactly what we’re thinking, which I think is very fortunate. That said, for other writing I think it’s a little bit of a challenge. It’s a little harder for me to come up with new ideas because I’m going crazy.

Mike Drucker: Yeah. It is hard to work on… It’s been hard for me to write like stand up for myself.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah.

Mike Drucker: Just little things are hard to get done.

Kaitlin Fontana: Yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: My Twitter is now like all weekend, I think I just told Hamilton jokes. That’s where I am right now. I’ve seen Hamilton two times on Disney Plus, and obviously I saw it before years ago, but now it’s all that’s in my head. It’s all I have. That’s all my connection. It’s all of my creativity right now.

Mike Drucker: Right. Although at the open of Hamilton at the Disney Plus where it says June, 2016, I was like, “Oh, let’s not do this again. Oh, let’s be careful about this.”

Kaitlin Fontana: Oh boy.

Kristen Bartlett: It’s really hard. There’s so much hope. It comes right at you so hard.

Kaitlin Fontana: Well, I should say, disclosure. I have a little insight into this show in a way that I don’t always have with the guests on OnWriting in that I was a staffer at Full Frontal. I worked in the field department for almost a year. So I have a little insight into the inside of the show. So for that reason, and because of deadline and other things, I know that you guys are both newer to the role of head writer. This is a newer role to you relative to the length of the show, but both of you have been on the show for a while, Mike you a little longer. I wonder, you’re both newer to this on top of that this is an extremely weird time to head write a show, any show, although as you both have already said, you feel lucky to be able to do that and I do understand that.

Kaitlin Fontana: But I wonder, especially with late night, what strategies have you guys implemented as a show to kind of cope with this time as a staff and as head writers, specifically, the two of you, like what kinds of strategies do you think you’ve adopted that perhaps you may not have if it weren’t for what’s going on right now?

Kristen Bartlett: Sure. I can talk a little bit about that. So we had a month, I think a little bit over a month of being head writers in the office before we went into pandemic about. So I think right at the end of that month, I think we were finally hitting our groove and we were like, “Okay, we know what we’re doing.”

Mike Drucker: Right. “We got this. We understand how to do this job.”

Kristen Bartlett: “We can do this. People like it, it’s fine.”

Mike Drucker: Right.

Kristen Bartlett: But then we went home and I think that… And we also went home with the fear of dying.

Mike Drucker: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: So like being in New York City, having nonstop sirens outside the door while trying to put on a show and trying to at first even figure out if we were going to have a show was truly crazy. So I think the start of it was just survival and I think now what we’re realizing is that there are people who feel isolated on staff. And of course, Mike and I are constantly in communication and constantly talking about what we’re doing on the show, along with Sam and executive producers and the heads of field, but what happens is that the rest of the staff doesn’t get those messages and I think communication is already hard, even in the best of circumstances, but right now it’s really hard. So I think one of the things that we’re doing is having a weekly hang whether or not there’s something to talk about or… And I think that’s been helping. And I think we’re taking a lot of time to make sure that we’re touching base with absolutely everyone on staff, just to see where they are.

Mike Drucker: Yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah.

Mike Drucker: And a lot of this as Kristen was saying, we had to come up with very fast. So it’s still an evolving system. It wasn’t like we got onto a Zoom call with the executive producers and we’re like, “This is the perfect solution. This is the perfect solution.” It almost, at times feels as if we launched an entirely new show, just using the same staff and host. So we have a different production schedule. We have different ways things are delivered just by necessity of shooting remote and just like when you start up a new show, it takes weeks and months until you figure out the system. It almost feels like that. It feels like we’re still figuring out an entirely new show that just happens to be the same show.

Kristen Bartlett: Totally. And the content has changed too.

Kaitlin Fontana: Right.

Kristen Bartlett: There was a very clear format in the studio days of two acts. Like the first act was very highly topical act addressing the week’s news and the second act was maybe a longterm social issue. Third act was field and then act four was like this little fun bit of something to go out on. And now I think we had lots of discussions, like Sam is filming the show outside in the forest, how long does Sam want to stand in the forest? Does she want to deliver to full… who has-

Mike Drucker: In like July and August teeth wearing a blazer.

Kaitlin Fontana: Right.

Kristen Bartlett: With buzz. And does she want to deliver to flax? So I guess we’ve been trying to be creative with the format a little bit. So we still do act twos but we also use that time for music or another field piece and we just try to vary it up. I think one of the things that we wanted to do at the start of the year was to be more experimental and I think that we’ve had to be so-

Mike Drucker: We’ve had no choice. Yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: So it’s a good thing that, that was a goal.

Mike Drucker: When we did get this job though, I feel like for that first month we were sort of like, “Oh man, the conventions are going to be when this gets hard.”

Kristen Bartlett: [crosstalk 00:08:20].

Mike Drucker: And like immediately, we were like, “Ah, it’s going to be an okay summer. There’s a lot of planning to do, but it’s the conventions and the elections are going to be crazy.” And then two weeks later it was insane.

Kaitlin Fontana: And I believe it… correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the first time this role has been shared on this show that the head writer has been two people at once. Right?

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah.

Mike Drucker: As far as I know.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah.

Kaitlin Fontana: Okay. So I’m wondering how you guys… What does that look like for you? How do you share the work? I mean, I’m assuming Kristen, you do 80% of the work and get paid two thirds of what Mike gets paid.

Kristen Bartlett: No. We’re paid exactly the same.

Mike Drucker: We’re paid exactly the same.

Kaitlin Fontana: Oh good.

Mike Drucker: We fought for that in contract negotiations.

Kristen Bartlett: I was like, whatever.

Mike Drucker: We have the exact same contract.

Kristen Bartlett: We do have the same contract, which is amazing and I think that that speaks to the show and I also think it’s like new territory for the culture. I think that… I have friends who share the role on other shows and they do not get paid the same. So yes. So we do get paid the same and we do split the work. And I think-

Mike Drucker: You do-

Kristen Bartlett: I don’t know-

Mike Drucker: … a little more sometimes though. I definitely feel like it might be 60 40, and that’s me being generous to me.

Kristen Bartlett: Well, I think I maybe do more emotional labor.

Mike Drucker: You do more emotional labor. You definitely do more emotional labor. I do more like robotic behind the scenes behavior.

Kristen Bartlett: Exactly. And I think absolutely when I like absolutely cannot do something when I’m like, I cannot assemble this. This is not a thing that… this is not an act that I do not… I don’t want to touch this at all. Then you jump in like a hero and handle it.

Mike Drucker: Yeah. You’re definitely good about being like, “You want to do this trash thing.” I’m like, “All right, sure.” It’s almost like I’m the horse and you’re the wagon. Like what’s in the wagon is more important, but the horse is pulling.

Kristen Bartlett: I do think that’s like a marriage thing. So by the way, that’s the trick is to just ask someone if they would like to do something and they will say yes.

Mike Drucker: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: Jason, would you like to do the dishes?

Mike Drucker: It’s a very good working relationship. It’s sort of like-

Kristen Bartlett: It’s great.

Mike Drucker: Almost, again, it sounds like a marriage thing with parents, but it’s almost like we’re good at propping each other up and being sure to be like, “Oh, you made that decision. I’m going to back up that decision.” We try very hard to have any conversations where we disagree about something behind the scenes, so it doesn’t seem like we’re bickering or undermining each other when talking in meetings. We’re just very good about like switching off the workload, yes handing each other. It’s actually really nice.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah. And I think especially right now there are so many times when I am like, “I don’t think I could do this without Mike.” Like, “Holy shit.” Like, thank God you’re there. And I think being able to just say out loud what I’m thinking and have that be backed up and I think like that has made me a much stronger leader because I think if I had been going into it alone, I think I would be questioning myself and being like, “Is this the right thing to do?” Because what do I know? And so I think that that’s helped us be solid quicker.

Mike Drucker: I think so too.

Kaitlin Fontana: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah.

Kaitlin Fontana: Yeah. Being able to have the conversation with someone, as opposed to having it in your head about your doubts and your fears is-

Kristen Bartlett: Totally.

Kaitlin Fontana: … such a huge game changer in that kind of situation.

Mike Drucker: Yeah.

Kaitlin Fontana: Yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah.

Kaitlin Fontana: Mike Drucker is one of the nicest men I’ve ever worked with in comedy. So that was a facetious joke at the beginning of this, first time-

Mike Drucker: Oh no, no, no. Yeah.

Kaitlin Fontana: … about not doing the work. I’ve always seen you to be someone who does the work. So I just wanted to clarify that.

Mike Drucker: I didn’t think you were criticizing me.

Kristen Bartlett: He works extremely hard.

Mike Drucker: I felt very safe. One advantage though of having two head writers as far as the other writers go, and again Kristen’s right. Like this whole period has made communication difficult and that’s something still obviously working on as much as we can, but it’s also nice that we now have two voices for the writers in higher up meetings. And that does make a giant difference. When it’s one head writer saying something, sometimes you have like a bunch of equal people, but when you have two people going like, “I agree, we should do that with the writers.” Suddenly you have more voices speaking for them. So at least as far as the writers are concerned, I think it’s great.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah. I think it’s good.

Mike Drucker: Everyone else it’s terrible, terrible for everyone else. Real rough for everyone else, but for us, fantastic.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah, we can get together and bully other people I think is the… No, but I mean, I think when we’re trying to make things happen or we’re excited about a certain idea, like having two people already on board is great.

Mike Drucker: Right. Yeah.

Kaitlin Fontana: So you guys mentioned that there’s this sort of pivot that you had to do to being a little more creative, taking bigger risks perhaps, and that you were sort of forced into it by having Sam be outside. And I think that it’s interesting because all the other late night shows have kind of gone with somebody’s home office or there’s a wall or a desk or whatever behind them, a strangely empty bookshelf. This is obviously a different tack with Sam and I’m wondering that has given it this vitality and it looks great. And I wonder if there are other things you guys are observing from being able to kind of pivot in this way, what are some unexpected pluses that you may take back with you when things return to normal?

Mike Drucker: Well, one thing that Kristen and I have talked about is when we were writing the show regularly, both as head writers and regular writers, you have a different flow with the audience. You want jokes where the audience responds, Sam pauses, Sam moves, Sam audience responds, Sam pauses, moves. And one of the things this has allowed us is to write slightly weirder jokes, to take a few more chances with things that were not necessarily certain a live audience would respond to or different rhythms to jokes where it doesn’t necessarily have to be like that start stop version of late night that we’re used to. So creatively, it’s given us a few extra options. I miss having an audience because they really add flavor to the show and they add time.

Kristen Bartlett: And it’s so gratifying to hear-

Mike Drucker: It’s gratifying. It’s the most gratifying thing, but we’ve been able to sort of take some chances that we might not necessarily take if we’re worried about a live audience’s response.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah. We can layer animation into an act one, which is a new thing, or like cut to something weird. So we get to play with that. And I think we’ve been able to be a little sillier and I also think Sam improvises a little bit because she has to, I think sometimes, again, like the bugs situation can be pretty intense outside. So she just ate a bug, I think, in our last show by accident. So I think she like goes with her environment too. And she’s also filming the show with Jason Jones with her husband. So she’s like having to deliver the jokes that we have written for her directly into his eyes. So that is one thing I’m sure that she… I don’t know. We ask a lot of her. I think we’ve written a lot of jokes where Sam is horny for something or someone and sometimes she has to remind us that she’s having to tell this to her husband and she would just rather not today. And that’s great.

Kaitlin Fontana: Yeah.

Mike Drucker: Yeah.

Kaitlin Fontana: Oh man. I can just imagine too what the children are observing in this weird new dynamic of their parents too, because it’s such an interesting… Like it’s one thing for families to be locked together in pandemic, and then it’s another thing for families to be locked together in pandemic and their parents to be filming a show on a weekly basis. Like that’s pretty intense.

Kristen Bartlett: It’s a lot.

Mike Drucker: Yeah. During read-throughs Sam will actually like… because she does her read on Zoom in the kitchen of her house, she will go quiet on swear words. So it’s almost this adorable thing that she never did before where it’s like, “I don’t know what the fuck this is about.” And I’m like your children know. Your children know what words are.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah. It’s such a funny thing. Like while we would be working, they would be learning. So they would be in school, at home while we were doing read-throughs. Yeah. It’s a wild world I think. But they’re clearly figuring it out.

Mike Drucker: But I think the favorite thing, my favorite thing Sam does is where she’s like, “Oh, I need to borrow this laptop for my daughter. She was using it for school.” And it’s like, you guys can afford more laptops.

Kristen Bartlett: I know.

Mike Drucker: I think they have two laptops in their house.

Kristen Bartlett: The kids have control of the technology I think.

Kaitlin Fontana: Yeah. That seems to be the case, no matter what the age of a child in this-

Kristen Bartlett: For sure.

Kaitlin Fontana: … reality. So I’m curious, you talked a little bit about the new cycle and how the new cycle is sort of narrowed and how… Late night is so driven by news cycle and having this narrowing happen and it’s not only that it’s narrowed because it narrows in other ways too, it narrows around when there are upcoming events, like an election or something like that. But this is a very particular narrowing and I wonder how being glued to this new cycle has changed for you guys as writers in these last few months on this show and how do you keep making the work vital in the face of that?

Mike Drucker: Right. Kristen?

Kristen Bartlett: Oh dear God. I think I started like a good little head writer students, which was to listen to every single political podcast before the workday and to be so prepared and now we’re living in the news I think. So I avoid it a little bit, so I keep an eye on things, but one of the things that’s happened with our show is that… I’ll tell you this. I read a lot more news than ever now, because I think that that is something that has made me feel healthier than watching constant broadcast news or cable news. So that’s one change that I’ve made for my own health. And then another is that our show is no longer as topical as it used to be. So we have to turn everything in a date earlier because Sam shoots a day earlier because there’s all of this footage to be edited now and all of this footage that has to be sent. So we can’t be as up to the minute as we used to be.

Kristen Bartlett: I think we would edit things… The show would tape on Wednesdays and we would be editing like the news into the evening, I think. Right before she filmed. So now we have to… We tell stories that are topical and relevant, but they aren’t necessarily tied to the minutiae of what’s happening and occurring and I think that I like that. That’s been nice.

Mike Drucker: It’s kind of nice. Yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: Well, my favorite thing always before this was that I love to do the act twos. So the act twos tend to be more about social issues and not necessarily tied to exactly what Mitch McConnell just said. So that is a thing that I enjoy. And I think that they tend to have like a lot of emotion to them and that’s the place that you can make a really clear argument about how we feel in a real stance, about what we think should happen and what is happening. And I think that the act ones have kind of been married with the act twos right now. So…

Mike Drucker: Yeah.

Kaitlin Fontana: Yeah. It feels like a shift watching the show to see sort of how that plays out. And it kind of made me reflect back and think about watching from afar, because like I say, I was in a different department on a different… physically separate from the writers for the most part, we would occasionally work together. But I think it would be very interesting. I think a lot of people who have never worked in late night and some of the people listening to this podcast want to, although I want to talk them out of it personally.

Mike Drucker: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Kaitlin Fontana: But I think it’ll be-

Kristen Bartlett: It’s a great steady job though.

Kaitlin Fontana: Yes. That’s true. Steady paycheck is delightful, but it’s cool. I got podcasting now. I’m fine you guys. No, but I wondered if you guys could kind of take us through and obviously now is a unique time, but in a general sense, like walk us through a day in the life of writing the show now. What does it look like for you as head writers and also for your staff? Because I think a lot of people don’t necessarily know what the day to day of late night looks like.

Mike Drucker: Well, each day is different on the show just because it’s not a daily show. Since it’s a weekly show, we have a slight as you know, obviously, but for listeners, since we’re not daily, each day is a little different. So it’s not necessarily like get in this time, write this time, turn in this time. Our week sort of… to do a quick run through our week. Our week kind of now starts on Thursdays. We air on Wednesday obviously, but sort of ignoring that our week kind of starts on Thursdays. Thursdays we all meet in a big, what we call studio meeting. Again. I know, you know this, I’m trying to extrapolate for everyone.

Kaitlin Fontana: It’s cool Mike. Ignore me. Pretend I’m not here.

Mike Drucker: All right. I’m going to ignore you. Man, Kaitlin sucks. I’m glad she’s gone.

Kaitlin Fontana: Well, I didn’t say neg me. I said ignore me. Those are two different-

Mike Drucker: You said act like you’re not there. All right. I am not a father, but I should be. So on Thursday we discus the news and we’re sort of like, “Okay, here’s what’s going on.” And again, like Kristen said, it’s not quite as topical because we have a much longer tail on that. So it’s not necessarily like, “Oh man, Trump’s giving this giant speech tonight and that’s going to be our focus. Just write loose jokes off that.” That’s possible, but it hasn’t happened so far. Instead it’s like, “Oh, you know what? I read this article where talking about how coronavirus is affecting, again workers or how it affects women negatively.” So somewhat more deep divey topics than we usually do in act ones. But again, we have more time to write it as well. So on Thursday, we’ll talk about it. We’ll choose an act one topic. We’re also usually choose an act two if we want to assign them to writers. But act ones are the ones that they have to write very quickly.

Mike Drucker: So we assign it on Thursday and each writer then we have an outline meeting where Kristen and I will outline what the act is. So it’ll be like point A, point B, point C, point D, thesis statement, just a basic outline. Then we have a meeting with the research team and the writers on this piece, we sort of go through it. People give their opinions, we switch things around or we make new points. Really. It’s just a time for everyone to say how they feel about it and what they think we should do. And then we split it up. Writers will break up sections of the outline. They’ll put their initials next to it. And then three or four writers will write three or four pieces of a script that on Saturday, Kristen or I, we sort of alternate in the morning, we’ll assemble it, which takes five, six, seven hours of just sort of putting the script together, making sure it makes sense, making sure it’s one voice, removing redundancies, anticipating time cuts, just checking all of the videos that we’re saying in it. It’s not hard, but it’s very slow. It just takes a ton of time to do.

Mike Drucker: And then after that, there’s usually like a break or two. And then Kristen and I together with our writer’s assistant and one other writer on the show who rotates we’ll do a full rewrite of the acts. So we’ll just for six or seven hours on the phone. I think our record’s three and when it was just three hours, like we were doing backflips. It’s like five or six hours and we go line by line. We’re like, does this make sense? We read it a ton of times. And it’s everything from jokes to, I don’t understand this to, oh, I think verbally it’s better if it’s, you are versus you’re. There’s just little changes for verbalization. So that’s our Saturday. Sunday, we hand everything over to the production people. So like graphics gets to start making graphics. Editors are figuring out their things. Producers are pulling the video clips from the news and we’re…

Mike Drucker: Extensively writers have Sunday off. Kristen and I really don’t because we’re still like… It’s like, “All right, I know it’s your day off, but by this graphic, what do you think?” And then you’re sort of answering things. It’s a question day. It’s not a hard day for us, but it’s definitely a question day. And the writers are off in general on this day.

Mike Drucker: Then Monday we have a read-through with Sam on Zoom, of course and it’s sort of… not just studio people, it’s a good group of people that give input. We go through it, we take general notes in terms of like, does this make sense? Or someone might be like, “Oh, this section, I feel like we’re making this point, but we’re not hitting it the right way.” So we go through that. We do joke punch ups. And then Kristen and I, a writer sometimes, and the writer’s assistant we’ll do another rewrite and that takes again three or four hours where we go through everything. We make the changes, we incorporate notes. We often cut for time or at the very least we indicate sections that could be cut for time and that-

Kristen Bartlett: And do that last check for facts too.

Mike Drucker: … last check for facts. We sort of have research as these like gatekeepers that tell us whether or not we’re right or not because in political comedy it’s very easy to be right rather than correct. And so we kind of like having the researchers be like, “I know what argument you’re making, but you can’t use this as evidence for it.” So they’re very good about… They’re also good about being like, “Oh, this person you’re talking about was dead for 20 years. You mean this person.” We’re like, “Oh, okay.” So there’s little things like that.

Kristen Bartlett: They also have very good fact checks about like jokey things I think where we have to decide… I know I absolutely can’t give an example.

Mike Drucker: The example was that you said someone in 27 dresses was his 27th dress. And she was like, “Well, technically the 28th-

Kristen Bartlett: Oh.

Mike Drucker: … dress was her wedding dress for him. So he is the 28th dress.” And you were not taking that note. You were so ready to not take it.

Kristen Bartlett: No. I was like but creatively I have to… I’m going to make a person a dress and it’s okay.

Mike Drucker: But what I love was she didn’t have a logical explanation for her point of view. She’s right.

Kristen Bartlett: She’s right, Zoe. Yeah.

Mike Drucker: So yeah, we do fact check with research. Tuesday is sort of a slow day for us. And honestly, Tuesday’s when Sam shoots, but we go through the script one more time with one of the EPs, a lot of last minute questions. Sam will sometimes be like, “You know what? Now that I’m saying this, either could we get a better joke or this line doesn’t make sense to me.” So there’ll be last minute on the fly changes for Sam as she’s literally out in the forest. And then we’re just sort of sitting around we’re checking and then the rest of Tuesday and a lot of Wednesdays, us checking edits, talking to the EPs about what’s being cut, what needs to be cut. Sometimes Kristen and I will be like, “Oh, that’s an important point. Can we sacrifice this to keep that?”

Mike Drucker: So after Sam shoots, it’s really like a lot of hanging out and checking in with EPs and different people on the post production side, just so we can make sure that it’s up to the quality we want it to be up to.

Kristen Bartlett: Totally. It’s no longer like a full day of work though it is a full day of work, but it’s not like a 10:00 to 6:00 anymore. I think it’s like, “Okay, great. We’ve got this big thing to do in the middle of the day and now it’s 7:00 and we’re going to do that and here’s an eight o’clock thing to do.” So it’s kind of an appointment thing and we kind of can’t explain it. It’s just you have to be on Slack at all times.

Mike Drucker: There will genuinely be times when there’ll be like three hours of nothing. And then I will like go jog or something, which I actually do. That’s not me making that up. I will go jog and then I’ll come back and Kristen will be like, “Did you see the messages?” And there’ll be like 50 messages. I’m like, “How did this happen in 30 minutes?”

Kristen Bartlett: I do think we alternate who’s going to take the break when a huge nightmare happens. Yeah. Which is good. As long as one of us is around, it’s fine.

Mike Drucker: Someone always taps out and it’s like, “I’m going to go take a nap. Can you handle this for 30 minutes?”

Kaitlin Fontana: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Another benefit of having two head writers because it doesn’t all fall on one person.

Kristen Bartlett: Oh my God, there’s no way.

Mike Drucker: I don’t think so.

Kristen Bartlett: I know I’m blessed.

Mike Drucker: I don’t think.

Kristen Bartlett: There’s no way. It’s got to be this way. I think like maybe in a world where we were still in the studio, yes. We could make it make sense. But now that we’re working this way, we just have to alternate. The workload is much more intense and we are living in a crazy universe. Like it’s a stressful thing to take that jog. So that’s the world that we’re living in. So there’s so much like… in addition to work stress, like life stress that we have to be a duo here.

Mike Drucker: And to be honest, what’s funny is when I got this job, people were like, “Ah, that must suck. You got it with someone else.” And I was like, “No-

Kristen Bartlett: No.

Mike Drucker: … I asked to be partnered with someone.” Kristen and I both independently said we would be willing to do the job, but we’d want to be partnered with another person. We didn’t specify each other. We’re a good partnership. So I’m very glad it ended up that way. But at the same time we started this job wanting to be partners. It wasn’t like we were competing for the part and like, “Oh, we got paired together. One of us has to be the dominant one and take power.” It’s really like we started this wanting it to be shared responsibility.

Kristen Bartlett: I think so too and I also think part of it is that we started being like, “Okay, we’ll do it.”

Mike Drucker: Yeah. I definitely accidentally showed up 15 minutes late to the interview, not on purpose. You were like, “Where are you?” And I was like, “Isn’t it then?” And you’re like, “No, it’s now.”

Kristen Bartlett: No, it’s not.

Mike Drucker: And I will sit over.

Kristen Bartlett: And it was fine. I think that was what you had to do. You had to nag them going in.

Mike Drucker: Yeah. I had to make a power move.

Kaitlin Fontana: It was a full power move.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah. I know. I think like… I mean, I think we both are… Mike and I are both joke writers and that’s the part that we really enjoy and I definitely miss being the bad kid in the room and saying the thing that you’re not supposed to say. So I think I was very fearful of that growth and then suddenly having to be the person in charge. I wasn’t excited about that, but I think we are good at it against our will. And I think that maybe that was attractive to them, the fact that we were like… We already knew that it was not going to be a walk in the park.

Mike Drucker: It’s sort of like becoming pope where you have to be like, “I don’t want to be pope.” And then they’re like, “You’re going to be pope.” And you’re like, “I don’t want to be pope.” And they’re like, “You’re pope.”

Kristen Bartlett: And then you have to learn to be pope.

Mike Drucker: And you have to be learned… And we were co-popes.

Kristen Bartlett: That’s great. Maybe things would be fixed if there were just two popes. There are two popes.

Mike Drucker: There’s the new pope and the old…

Kaitlin Fontana: Yeah.

Mike Drucker: The young pope.

Kristen Bartlett: Two popes.

Kaitlin Fontana: Which one of you is Jude Law in this situation? That’s all I want to know.

Kristen Bartlett: I don’t know what the other pope is. So I can’t-

Mike Drucker: John Malkovich.

Kristen Bartlett: Oh, then I think I’m probably John Malkovich. What are you-

Mike Drucker: I would love to take Jude Law as who I am. I’m okay with that.

Kristen Bartlett: Isn’t Jude Law like the mean, like nasty pope or whatever.

Mike Drucker: He is but he’s also Jude Law.

Kaitlin Fontana: He’s kind of like… Yeah. Exactly. He’s like sexy, bad…

Kristen Bartlett: Oh.

Kaitlin Fontana: Sexy bad guy folk.

Kristen Bartlett: That’s not me.

Mike Drucker: I would say… Yeah. Any version.

Kaitlin Fontana: I mean-

Mike Drucker: Any version of him.

Kaitlin Fontana: … I don’t really know. I didn’t watch the show. I just watched the previews.

Kristen Bartlett: I I know, I know. That’s enough.

Mike Drucker: World’s most beautiful man.

Kristen Bartlett: I’m so excited for you to interview the writers of The New Young Pope.

Kaitlin Fontana: Yeah. Well, listen-

Kristen Bartlett: Many popes next week.

Kaitlin Fontana: Two popes, one hat. Okay. That’s enough. So I want to pivot to talking about staffing, because staffing is obviously important in every writing environment and every writer’s room, but in particular, in late night, it’s such a fine tuned machine and it has to be so tight and specific because you guys are working together day in and day out in a way that many scripted half hours or even hour long shows would not necessarily be doing. So I wonder for the two of you, what qualities… I don’t know if you’ve had to staff yet-

Kristen Bartlett: We have.

Kaitlin Fontana: … but what qualities are… Yeah. Okay, great. What qualities are you guys looking for in a staff writer and what are the things that you sort of like hit for you when you’re looking at someone?

Kristen Bartlett: I think that it’s different every single time and that’s sort of what we had gathered from the previous head writer, Melinda Taub. Everyone on the writing staff serves a role. So we have people who are really strong joke writers. We have people who are activists. We have people who are like policy wonks I think. We have people who are silly in the room and we have people who are very studious. And I think you need all of that for a show like this. And I think Mike and I definitely lean more on the jokey side of things and when we were initially staffing, like we knew that we needed like a strong activist. Like we needed that point of view. And then we did a packet, which was cool. And I think when we were reading packets, we were reading for voices and we were reading for passion. We changed the packet a little bit this year. We made it shorter.

Mike Drucker: We made it shorter. Yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah. I think it was seven pages. We took it down to three.

Kaitlin Fontana: Oh, wow.

Kristen Bartlett: Well, I mean, we have both been through the packet process before and I think… I mean, and I did it when I was working a full time job. I think you probably did too.

Mike Drucker: Absolutely.

Kristen Bartlett: So we wanted to make it more accessible for people to get done.

Mike Drucker: A lot of comedy people are working like… even now, like I know comedy people who are doing like pizza delivery-

Kristen Bartlett: Oh yeah.

Mike Drucker: People are working hard… Even before this. So when we did a packet, it’s like, I remember being like 23 or 24 and doing packets and being like eight pages. I need to spend two weeks on this.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah.

Kaitlin Fontana: Yeah.

Mike Drucker: And honestly reading packets, once you get to three or four pages, you kind of get a feel for the person. It’s rare that you read until page eight and page eight is where the rocket lands.

Kristen Bartlett: Sure.

Kaitlin Fontana: Right. Right.

Mike Drucker: We want to make it easier. Also, one change we made was the previous packet chose a topic that people had to write about. So it was like, “Please write about this event that just happened.” And that’s useful in terms of being like, here’s an assignment. Write it. But we also wanted to see what people were passionate about and people wrote about topics we didn’t expect. There were people who had all these creative ideas. I mean, there’s so many people that I wish we could hire.

Kristen Bartlett: I know.

Mike Drucker: So we both wanted to make the packet more accessible to people so we could get a larger pool of people and not just those that had the resources to be able to write for a week.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah. Right.

Mike Drucker: And we also want it to find out what people really cared about.

Kristen Bartlett: And we ended up walking away with people… like a lot more than we could possibly hire, which was cool. Like it’s cool. I mean, there’s just so much talent out there. But yeah, I think for our room, you also need personalities. I feel like you need someone who is joyful. You need someone who is going to be serious and you need people who are not afraid to speak up and also a lot of that is on us making sure that they’re comfortable to speak up. But I think when you are trying to do a show like this, that is so much about social justice and the world at large, you need a staff that cares.

Mike Drucker: Yeah.

Kaitlin Fontana: Yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah.

Kaitlin Fontana: So I’m glad you brought up packets. For those who don’t know, packets are basically like a portfolio of comedy writing and it varies show to show. Usually you’re trying to match the voice of the host. If it’s a brand new show, they might be like, “We don’t know what we want. Surprise us.” Which is the most infuriating thing. But generally speaking, you know what you’re aiming for. You’re responding to a prompt of some kind that usually is framed in the voice of the show and it may be jokes and maybe monologues depending on what the show is comprised of. So that’s just for those out there who are listening. They’re like, “What’s a packet?” But I feel like lately, and as with many things in comedy, it goes through waves of love and hate, but I feel like I have heard, and tell me if you guys agree more recently about people that are like over the packet process, who think everything from like fuck packets to packets needs to be reformed.

Kaitlin Fontana: Some of the stuff you guys just said makes total sense to me. I mean, basically we’re talking about not to be glib, but like an abolish versus reform argument is happening within-

Kristen Bartlett: Sure.

Kaitlin Fontana: … the packet universe. And it sounds like you guys were reformed the process being very thoughtful about what people can do and handle.

Mike Drucker: Right.

Kaitlin Fontana: But I wonder like what’s wrong or right with packet writing in your view and is there a way to fix it-

Kristen Bartlett: Sure.

Kaitlin Fontana: … along the lines of what you just talked about?

Kristen Bartlett: Well, I don’t think that package should be the only way that you hire. I just don’t. I think that if you have credits, if you have a portfolio, like you can go from job to job and show that. And I think that that is the ideal situation, but I think packets are a very beautiful thing because they let you know about writers that you were not aware of. We have our friends. We have people that we’ve come up with that we know and I think you have to have a packet in order to learn about writers that are brand new to you. So yeah, I think in my opinion, packets are not fun. I think I did 17 before I got my first job. I learned a lot from doing them. I think that they can be tough because you really don’t know how they’re being read. I know like a lot of times you send a packet off into the void and you have no idea, like who’s looking at it.

Kristen Bartlett: And I also think how they’re being read is important in terms of like… I think it was very important for us when we were reading to make sure that we weren’t looking for voices that sounded exactly like ours.

Mike Drucker: Yes.

Kristen Bartlett: And I think you also can’t read for perfection because you have to remember people haven’t written for a show like this before. Like what’s more important is a voice, what’s more important is that someone has their own interests and things that they’re excited about than it is that they can write exactly in the tone of the show.

Mike Drucker: Yeah. I also think with packets, one thing that gets ignored often is that packets are a way for people who are on the lower end of the success spectrum to get a shot. The argument I often hear against packets is we’ll just hire the funniest person. Well, who I think the funniest person is, is going to be different than who Kristen thinks, is going to be different who Sam thinks. And you can’t just walk in and go, “This is a standup I know. He’s very funny.” Because not only do we have to approve, Sam has to approve. So Sam wants to see something. Even the network wants to see something because that’s just how it works. Like you can’t just say, this is the right person. We’re hiring them. That works in an Aaron Sorkin show. It doesn’t actually work that way in real life.

Mike Drucker: And so what packets do is people who haven’t had a shot, they don’t have a manager, or they just started, or they don’t have a large portfolio. It gives them a chance, at least.

Kristen Bartlett: To Mike’s point, I mean, for me I got hired off of a packet that I submitted to SNL and I didn’t have reps at all either. I didn’t have any connections and this packet had been sent to me from a friend and my God, that job got me reps and it got me the next thing. So it was my way of getting in. I would love a situation where we could see people’s portfolio more often. I mean, I think like getting to see what people have done in the past can go a long way. But I think it’s just a matter of being introduced to people.

Mike Drucker: Yeah. It’s just a way to see more people. It definitely needs to be reformed. It needs to be better. But honestly, my fear is that cutting out packets entirely just prioritizes people who already have managers, are already successful and feels like just a way to sort of keep like the upper class of writers in a cycle of work. That’s my opinion.

Kaitlin Fontana: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, what I was going to say is I think the thing we’re kind of talking around here as polite, progressive New York comedy elites that I will lump us all together as is that the-

Mike Drucker: Sure.

Kaitlin Fontana: … vast majority, if you take away the packet, then it’s just white people, white people all day.

Mike Drucker: Definitely.

Kaitlin Fontana: White people, mainly white men all day long. And a lot of what we’re talking about and what you guys, I think in a really great way tried to get around is the fact that the people who have to work a day job most of the time who are going to have to put a lot of the work in to do these packets are usually people of color, that there is, an obvious class divide that is inherent within comedy too and that trying to get around that in whatever ways we can is obviously to the betterment of our shows.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah.

Mike Drucker: Honestly, we’ll get situations where we’ll talk with this hiring round. We’re like we’re looking for people who do have diverse voices and managers would send us like five white dudes. It would be like, ” I know, I know. I know. But you got to check out this guy who went to Harvard.” And I’m like, “I don’t want to. That guy has eight jobs already waiting for him.”

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah. He’s going to hire us.

Mike Drucker: He’s going to not hire us.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah. You have to be very deliberate about what you want. I think a lot of the work is on us too like, I think I had to make sure that I wasn’t reading for my own voice and my own dumb references. And I think that, that’s just like about like how to fill the room and how to improve the show across the board.

Kaitlin Fontana: So, I mean, historically then it bears mentioning that late night has not done great with race or gender.

Mike Drucker: Sure.

Kaitlin Fontana: Full Frontal at least is handled the gender part of the equation pretty well. What do you feel like… I’m going to put you on the spot. What do you guys feel the show has done well with in terms of race? And obviously this is a question inherent to this moment.

Kristen Bartlett: Oh dear God.

Kaitlin Fontana: Yeah, no. I’m doing it. I’m doing it. And where have you fallen short and what did the two of you… I mean, you’ve touched on it a little bit with hiring, but what do you see as your responsibility within the framework of the show?

Mike Drucker: Kristen, you want to take both these? You want to take this hot potato one? Go ahead.

Kristen Bartlett: Take this potato and see what I can do with it. Yeah, no, I think where we’ve fallen short, I think that as with all writing staffs, I think our staff is mostly white. And what that means is that what we can talk about is limited. We do have black people, we do have people of color on our staff, but I think that what is unfortunate is that when you just have a couple of people or a few people on staff, they end up having to be the people who are the arbiters of all discussion of race, when their job is just to write and be funny. I understand what that’s like having been one of the few women on SNL. Like I understand like how unfun that role is. So I think that’s where we fallen short.

Kristen Bartlett: I think that we’ve been working to improve that and I think we have, which I’m excited about and I think there’s a lot more work to be done. And I think that… I’m really proud of the acts that we’ve been doing about race recently and since we became head writers, I think we’ve had quite a few. We’ve talked about… Well, right when coronavirus was becoming a thing, we talked about racism against Asian people. Then later we talked about how it was disproportionately affecting people of color, how more people of color were dying. And then with Black Lives Matter, we talked about Black Lives Matter. We talked about defunding the police and we just talked about Black Trans Lives. And I think that I’m really proud that we’ve been tackling these subjects and we couldn’t do it without the black people, all the people of color who are writers on our staff, we could not do that. And researchers and on and on and on. Yeah.

Mike Drucker: You’re like research… and everyone else. Do not-

Kristen Bartlett: And the people who were good. Everyone did their part. Yeah. I think you need all of those voices in order to be able to say what matters and I think that it’s hard. Right?

Mike Drucker: It is hard.

Kristen Bartlett: It’s hard to make race funny. It’s not…

Mike Drucker: It is.

Kristen Bartlett: I mean, it’s hard doing an act about black trans women dying was incredibly challenging and such an important topic. And then to have to add jokes into it was like an insane mission, but I’m proud that we’re doing it.

Mike Drucker: We’re somehow pulling the heist off.

Kristen Bartlett: For now.

Mike Drucker: And something that Kristen and I have… Again, always room for improvement. So this isn’t patting ourselves on the back, but we’ve had moments even during the COVID crisis where there was one week when we picked a topic and a couple of people of color on staff were like, “Hey, we really think that this is more important.” It was something… I think it was the one you were talking about with how it’s unfairly affecting people of color, disproportionately affecting them. And so people of color on our staff were like, “Hey, this is the topic we feel strongly we should be doing.” And Kristen and I took that to heart. We took that to the EPs, the EPs agreed and we changed it and that doesn’t make us heroes. We just took a message and delivered it. But at the same time it was… On so many shows I’ve been on someone would be like, “I think we should talk about this.” And the response would usually be like, “Okay, well we won’t.” That sort of just like the decision’s been made.

Mike Drucker: And we’re very careful here too, when someone does disagree or someone’s bothered by something to really try to catch it instead of having an excuse for it later.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah. To try and not be defensive and to try to take the note and to take the time and see what’s behind it and see what we can do better.

Kaitlin Fontana: I wonder too, if you feel like within this new framework of these ideas and these thoughts and these feelings kind of coming to the fore in a different way for… I feel like there’s been this sort of unleashing of a lot of very understandable and very old pain from a lot of people across various industries. And I wonder how you guys feel about… Looking forward, are there actionable things that you guys think you can do so that, God forbid, five years from now, somebody isn’t like that Mike Drucker was terrible to me on staff. Like what are the things that you think can change? It’s not you Mike. I promise.

Kristen Bartlett: It’ll be me saying that. I’ll be the one to say-

Mike Drucker: Yeah. You’ll be the one.

Kaitlin Fontana: I mean, I guess what I’m kind of dancing around is I think it’s very easy to get caught up in the activism of the moment and say like, “These are all the things we’re doing.” But I feel like there are some distinct, actionable, like real things other than like, we’ll just do better that I feel like we could be doing right now as a comedy community. And I wonder what you guys think about those possibilities within the framework of the work you do, but also just day to day, like not just a sort of idea of we will do better, but what does that actually physically look like?

Mike Drucker: I mean, I think it’s small changes. I think that’s the problem is people want… When people are trying to change systemic issues, whether it’s racism, sexism, sexual harassment, I think a lot of people who are not the victims of it are like, “Well, isn’t there a magic wand I can wave?” Like, “All right, fine. We’ll hire someone.” And you think it’s done, but it’s honestly, small things. It’s small steps. It is like we’re saying like, listening, taking a message, even if being like, “Oh, okay, this is important to you. Let’s make sure we’ll take it up.” Or being like, “Wait, please tell me.” And I know listening is such a cliche, but it’s listening and doing something with that information.

Mike Drucker: It’s not just writing a long notes apology and saying, this is my turn to listen. It’s also going, “Oh, I didn’t understand that. Let me go change my pattern with that.” That said it’s a lot of small stuff. There’s no one one size fits all strategy to fix all of the issues with comedy. But I don’t know, I don’t have a specific fix, but I am definitely trying to be better at listening and I know you just said rather than saying better.

Kristen Bartlett: But that’s like… I mean, that’s what I’m working on too. It’s also like learning to be a head writer has been… I don’t want to like… I don’t know. It’s a challenge to grow into that position, to grow into like a managerial position that still feels new. But I think in some ways we’re air traffic controllers for the room. It’s like trying to really listen when someone has an issue because they’re not always going to say, “This is my issue.”

Kaitlin Fontana: Right.

Kristen Bartlett: There might be like a little ah, a little bump and you have to stop what you’re doing and turn the focus and just check in with them and really make sure that that person feels heard. Yeah. I think we’re just constantly having conversations that are hard.

Mike Drucker: Right. I was going to say, and that includes going from writers and then moving upward. I think sometimes a lot… again, a lot of people are like, “I heard him. I heard his note and he has been heard.” And sometimes part of an uncomfortable conversation is that you then have to take that uncomfortable conversation to someone else with power and it’s not necessarily that they’re doing something wrong, but you’re like, this person feels this way about this. I think we should do something. And then it’s actionable. Versus again, being like, “I hear you. You’re right. That’s a valid concern. I am not going to do anything about that.”

Kristen Bartlett: I also think too like one of our former writers, Ashley Nicole Black has posted a lot on Twitter about this and everything she says is so smart and really makes me think it’s not just about hiring black people. It’s not just about hiring people of color. It’s also about making them feel good and creating an environment where they can work at their best.

Mike Drucker: Right.

Kristen Bartlett: And so that’s like a ground up thing and top down. I think we need to be elevating and promoting people. We need black people in positions of power on these shows. Yeah. I mean, we need lots of different people reading the packets. We need… I just think that makes the show better and it strengthens us across the board. So I think more hires, more leadership, more listening, more doing. Yeah. I think those are the things. Trying.

Mike Drucker: Trying is good. Trying is good.

Kaitlin Fontana: Trying is great. Trying is a big part of the equation. Listen, I put you guys on the spot hardcore and you delivered. So I appreciate.

Kristen Bartlett: Well, I mean, truly, I think this has been the journey of our being head writers I think. It’s like, how do we deal with this? And there are people… I feel like Mike and I aren’t even the people who’ve been there the longest. There are people who’ve been there. I joined the show in 2018. Did you?

Mike Drucker: Yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: I think-

Mike Drucker: January, 2018. Yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: Yeah. So there are people who have been with the show since the beginning and so I feel like in some ways like it’s an interesting position to grow and to be in charge suddenly and to try to figure out what our goals with the show. I think what our number one goal was when we were just thinking about this was that we wanted to make the show funnier and we wanted to be… we wanted to come at it from joke first and really just make the show sillier. And I think Sam wanted to have a lot of fun, because she’s been really wanting [00:48:14] to be angry for years. And that’s hard. So I think that that was our goal.

Kristen Bartlett: And then obviously that goal has to change. Like we have to learn how to be leaders in an environment where people feel pain and are wanting so much more and care so deeply about the show that they want to make sure that we are internally doing the things that we say externally. So listen, a year of growth.

Kaitlin Fontana: Okay. Well with that in mind, what is something that the two of you would tell yourselves if you had all the experience leading up to today that you have as writers now, if you could go back and talk to yourself at the beginning of your writing career, what is something you would tell yourself with the-

Mike Drucker: Exercise more.

Kaitlin Fontana: … experiences you’ve had now?

Mike Drucker: Exercise more. I would tell myself to exercise more. I’d be like, “You know what buddy? Off and on it’s not going to work for you.”

Kristen Bartlett: That’s great advice.

Kaitlin Fontana: You look by the way Mike. You look great.

Mike Drucker: I’m going to keep fishing.

Kristen Bartlett: This is his time.

Kaitlin Fontana: I love it.

Kristen Bartlett: This is really Mike’s time.

Mike Drucker: I’m fishing.

Kristen Bartlett: He’s not seeing anyone being alone. This has been your moment.

Mike Drucker: Yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: You’re going to come back so ripped. No. For me, I think to tell like that early person at UCB who was just trying to get on a house mud team to not get discouraged. And I got this advice from Julie Klausner, once when we get upset about rejection, we’re mourning something that is not linear, we’re mourning the fact that what we thought made sense didn’t happen. So-

Mike Drucker: Yeah. That’s a good point.

Kristen Bartlett: And it’s not linear. Things happen out of the blue and you can work for five years on something that doesn’t go anywhere. You can get hired for a job immediately. You can get promoted when you weren’t expecting to be promoted I think, as is the case. I definitely wasn’t planning on… Yeah, I don’t know. But I think that’s like part of it, I think link just following that ride and being open to the opportunities that come your way.

Mike Drucker: Yeah. I think the honest advice I’d give myself is I think sometimes-

Kristen Bartlett: Exercise more.

Mike Drucker: Exercise more. I think especially early on in comedy, I had a tendency to mistake showing that I was interested in becoming a comedy writer instead of writing comedy. And I think that sort of… And it sounds weird, but there’s kind of this thing where it’s like almost like I was waiting for someone to give me permission to do it and that just never comes. And I wish I had told myself earlier when I had these aspirations. And again, my career has turned out fine, so it’s not like I want to butterfly effect it where I come back and I’m like an IT guy in Broward County. So I don’t want to do that. It’s that sense where it’s like I want to be a comedy writer. I was an intern at SNL when I was in college and I was like, “I want to be a comedy writer.” And people would be like, “That’s great. Okay.” But there’s nothing to do with that versus if I was actively going out and doing shows and people noticed that I was actively going out or I published something in the New Yorker and that was seen by somebody.

Mike Drucker: That would do a lot more for me than just being another white dude in line going, “I think I’m funny.” You really have to show it. So rather than waiting for permission, I wish I had really just started cracking earlier.

Kaitlin Fontana: That’s good advice. That’s very good advice. Do you guys have a favorite joke or segment from the show that you had a hand in?

Mike Drucker: I mean, for me, it’s the dumber the better. My favorite thing I’ve ever written for the show and Kristen participated in this, but back when our America’s press secretary was Sarah Huckabee Sanders, I created a character called Sarah Huckabert Sanders, which was a robot that our props department literally made out of garbage. And we had in a special when we had on the show when she had a goodbye and it was just-

Kristen Bartlett: It was emotional.

Mike Drucker: It was emotional. Kristen voiced her. Kristen voiced her.

Kristen Bartlett: It was so much fun. That was so much fun. Thank you for those residuals.

Mike Drucker: Of course. Yeah, I got you like $500. But-

Kristen Bartlett: Every day.

Mike Drucker: But for me, like some of the most fun things on the show are when you’re taking a really hard topic or a very dry topic and you do something dumb with it. We also had a joke in the postal. The postal service episode, we were worried it would be very dry. It’s like save the post office. That sounds dry, but it was one of our funniest episodes we’ve done as head writers because we went full on goofy. Like we had a runner about a pregnant grandmother. We just sort of had fun with it. And so we find ways… My favorite parts are the dumb things we do to elevate smart topics.

Kaitlin Fontana: What about you, Kristen?

Kristen Bartlett: Well, I think my favorite segment that I’ve gotten to do was a segment about a year ago about fatphobia and medical fatphobia specifically. It was so cool to get to do something. I’m a fat person and it was cool to get to speak to that experience. And something that I obviously feel passionate about and I wrote that with Ashley Nicole Black, and it was like this incredible thing to get to say on a TV show. I think that one of the things that Sam said beforehand was like, she thought it was going to be one of our most controversial pieces. I think it might be because people everywhere hate fat people on both sides, every side. I mean, you can hate a fat person. So I think getting to do that, despite reservations about it and getting to make this funny was cool. And she also put us on TV, which is… that never hurts.

Kaitlin Fontana: Right. Yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: I mean, there were so many jokes at this point that I can’t possibly think of like which one’s which, but yeah, I liked that post office act and I liked… That was another act where we made Sam say that she was horny for someone.

Mike Drucker: Yeah. I will also say some of my favorite stuff are the jokes that get… this was back in the audience says that would get like nothing-

Kaitlin Fontana: Oh [crosstalk 00:54:02]-

Mike Drucker: … because they’re usually the jokes that in rewrite, we were like dying over and then in front of an audience, the audience is like, I don’t… Like there’s one joke Kristen wrote-

Kristen Bartlett: Oh yes.

Mike Drucker: … which I’d brought up to her so many times, but-

Kristen Bartlett: This died.

Mike Drucker: This died. It was almost like the audience… It was like if you showed a photograph to a Westworld robot, they’re like, “I don’t see anything here.” Like that was how they responded to this joke. But I forget in rewrite too by the way, a lot of the time I’ll joke that it’s like family feud because it’ll be like… it’ll be something like, “And he found a horse head in his bed and what?” And everyone’s like, “This, that, this, that.” And like-

Kaitlin Fontana: Right, right.

Mike Drucker: And so one of the… For some reason we were talking about someone being threatened, a politician… like the metaphor was someone was being threatened with a horse head in the bed and then the joke Kristen came up with was like, when you see a horse head in the bed, the next thought is I need to find the rest of that horse. And it still makes me laugh every time, because it’s such a funny response to finding a horse head is to wonder where the other-

Kristen Bartlett: Where’s the other horse?

Mike Drucker: But the audience… like we could have done a magic trick in front of a dog. Like it just had… The audience was so like, “Nope, let’s keep going.”

Kristen Bartlett: Absolute silence.

Kaitlin Fontana: Yeah.

Kristen Bartlett: And that’s fine. You need that. You need both.

Mike Drucker: Right. But sometimes you’ll write like a throwaway line and the audience goes crazy and applauds for it.

Kristen Bartlett: Totally.

Mike Drucker: … and you’re like, “Oh, wow. I didn’t know that mild insult was going to drive…” You never know what an audience is going to respond to.

Kristen Bartlett: I do think like… Yeah, you could spend so much time on your little darlings and then you call Donald Trump an asshole and that’s your biggest hit.

Mike Drucker: I’ve worked on a number of shows with audiences and every time I’m like, “Oh, that’s what the audience likes. All right.” Like I still don’t know.

Kristen Bartlett: It’s so great that there isn’t one right now.

Mike Drucker: Because we can write pregnant grandmother jokes. We definitely had a conversation where we were like, “Would our audience like a pregnant grandmother runner?” And we were like, “It doesn’t matter now.”

Kristen Bartlett: It doesn’t matter anymore.

Kaitlin Fontana: They’re theoretical. They’re the bugs flying into Sam’s mouth. This has been great you guys. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me and I think you’re both just delightful human beings-

Kristen Bartlett: Oh.

Kaitlin Fontana: … and I thought that before today, and it’s even more true. So thanks you guys.

Kristen Bartlett: Thank you.

Mike Drucker: Thank you.

Kaitlin Fontana: That’s it for this episode. OnWriting is a production of the Writers Guild of America, East. Tech production and original music is by Stockboy Creative. You can learn more about the Writers Guild of America, East online at You can follow the Guild on social media at WGA East, and you can follow me on Twitter at Kaitlin Fontana. If you like this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. Thanks for tuning in, right on.


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