What happens in the writer’s room…
by Lauren Bachelis
“Say something. Anything. But not something stupid. That could get you fired. And if you get fired from your first staffing job, that will look bad. Nobody will want to work with you again. So maybe don’t say anything. But what if you get fired for not talking? Wait. You’re a woman in a writer’s room. You must say something. If you don’t, people will keep saying ‘women aren’t funny,’ and you know that’s not true. You’re funny and you have a vagina. You always make your friends laugh. So why can’t you make strangers laugh? You can. Do it. Say something.”
These (quite neurotic) thoughts started percolating through my mind during my first punch-up session as a TV staff writer. Punch-up sessions are when a writing staff goes into the sacred “writer’s room” and punches up jokes that didn’t get laughs during a run-thru. The room was stuck on page 22. There was a joke that didn’t work at the table or at the first run-thru, and nobody had a pitch for it. The room had been silent for about half a minute before I decided to bite the bullet.
“I know whenever I have a crush, I do weird creepy shit that I wouldn’t normally do,” I said. “So what if Taylor says ‘I love you’ in a sort of whispery-creepy voice as Scott leaves the locker area? Might be funny following his big speech.”
There. I said something. My showrunners looked at me for a moment, a moment which to me felt like it lingered on for an eternity. Then one of my showrunners broke the silence. “Yeah,” he said. “That could be funny. We’ll try that and see how it does during run-thru tomorrow.”
Before I could even blink, the writer’s assistant had added the joke to the script. “Taylor: (WHISPERING) I love you.”
Now I’m no football player, but I’d imagine the feeling I had in that moment was the feeling you get when you score a winning touchdown. It felt incredible. And like a football player, I wanted to do a weird victory dance, but don’t worry – I didn’t. Instead, I quietly breathed a sigh of relief.
But about seven seconds later, I was overcome with my usual neurosis: “Oh wait, if this joke doesn’t get a laugh during run-thru tomorrow, I’m fucked. My showrunners are going to regret hiring a 24-year-old girl who doesn’t know squat about a TV writer’s room. Shit, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. You idiot.” That night I only slept for three hours.
The network run-thru started at 2pm that Friday, like it did every Friday. All the writers walked down to the stage together, which luckily for us was located right next to our writer’s room on the Paramount lot. The network executives seemed to be in good spirits. I anxiously awaited page 22.
Before I knew it, we were walking over to the school hallway set. And then it happened. It happened so fast I barely remember it. But what I’ll never forget is how everyone on stage erupted in laughter. The actress killed it. She didn’t know it was my joke. Nobody knew it was my joke. In fact, my showrunners may have even forgotten it was my joke. But I knew it was mine. The other staff writer gave me a nudge and a wink. He knew too and was so thrilled for me. I slept for eight and a half hours that night.
A few months later, I saw that joke on my very own television screen. My creepy “I love you” made it all the way to the shooting draft. And that feeling I had watching my first joke on a television screen – that was even better than scoring a touchdown. That feeling is the reason I became a writer.
Looking back, I’m really glad I said something.Tags: Hollywood, Lauren Bachelis, Say something, Sitcom writer, Speak up, Television writer, Women and television, Writer's room, Writing jokes