One of the many joys I had while being a creative director was meeting new talent and watching them grow in their craft. About five years ago I had the opportunity to meet and become friends with comedian and writer, MeLissa Gavarrette. Now when it comes to funny people, I put them in two categories. First, there are people who say funny things and second there are people who say things in a funny way. Personally, I think the latter of the two is what separates the amateurs from the professionals. MeLissa definitely falls in that second category. In this interview, MeLissa was kind enough to share her creative process, thoughts on the future of her craft and her views on social media.
How did you get started writing comedy?
Using humor to wow the masses is something I started doing when I was little, doing my own renditions of children’s plays for my fellow classmates instead of working on phonics. In middle school, I wrote a comedic comic book to sell to new classmates and in high school I was popular for one week after I wrote our Senior class play for Homecoming. I didn’t get serious about writing comedy until halfway through college. I was writing a lot of live stuff for student camps and what I would later realize were stand-up bits.
Erin McGown (left) and MeLissa Gavarrette (right) of Erin and Melissa.
I realized that I could be funny on the fly, but I could be really funny if I really constructed my words to pack the maximum punch. When my writing partner, Erin and I started shooting videos regularly, we started writing out everything. It was really something I learned out of necessity and trial & error. I mean, I’m sure there were people who said things like, “are these shows scripted”, to which we’d say, “no”, to which they’d respond “they should be…”. To them, I roll my eyes and then I thank them profusely because they were right for insisting. Being funny doesn’t necessarily make you a good comedy writer.
Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?
I am super inspired by other people who are working hard and making things happen. People who invite you over for game nights are awesome, but if you’re going to game nights every night of the week, when are you getting stuff done? I love to hear about the things my friends are working on (regardless of the field) because you walk away feeling like you have a chance too and sometimes that’s the only thing that keeps you moving forward with your crazy ideas.
In “On Writing” by Stephen King (which I recommend to EVERYONE regardless of whether or not you ever plan to be a writer), he says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcuts.” I watch a LOT of movies. I read a LOT of books. I see a LOT of shows. Some I love, some I hate, some I knew nothing about walking into it. These are the things that fuel creativity, give you perspective, help you see what’s possible. Try to take as many opportunities to expand your knowledge of pretty much everything. I promise it’ll help.
You made the jump from Nashville to LA, why did you move and how has it impacted you creatively?
LA felt something that was becoming more and more of a possibility, but then I read this article by Jenna Fisher from The Office. She said, “My first piece of advice to someone who is serious about being a professional television or film actor is: move to Los Angeles.” Now, I didn’t necessarily want to be a film or television actor at the time (though it’s always been an option), but I realized that it only made sense for me in my stage of life to be where the industry was and the film/tv writing industry lives predominantly in LA. I worked as hard as I could where I was (Nashville) until it felt like it was time to start building a foundation where the industry is.
Let me tell you that it has been the best/worst/hardest/most growing experience of my life. It’s like being the only kid in your area who can play a violin. You start to think you’re the only person on the entire planet who knows anything about violins. You might even think you’re the best violinist that history has ever known that wasn’t born when men still regularly wore wigs. Then your mom signs you up for music camp and you’re surrounded by violin players. Two things happen: 1) You realize maybe you are not the best violin player in history without a wig. 2) You feel like you found your people. You meet people who are better than you make you work harder. You make people who are newer to writing that remind you of how far you’ve come.
If you’re serious about a field, surround yourself with those people. That’ll help you decide if you really love it or if it’s just a hobby (which, it’s okay if it is just a hobby, but let me not recommend you move to LA where you will likely live in a closet for $700 a month just for the sake of a hobby. Stay wherever you are. Live like a king. Email your stuff from that castle to wherever in the world you want.)
Do have a process for writing? Is it sporadic (when the mood strikes) or is there a schedule? If there is a schedule, what does it look like?
I will never stop recommending people read Stephen King’s “On Writing”. He talks so much about discipline and writing regardless of how you feel. Steven Pressfield talks about it in “War of Art”. He says that writing whether or not you feel like it was separates the professional from the amateur. The amateur writer has the luxury of saying “I don’t feel like writing today, so I won’t.” The professional writer has deadlines and expectations to meet. The professional writer writes regardless of how they feel. So I decided for myself that I would be a professional writer. This means no excuses. I don’t necessarily get up every morning and write at 5 AM (though, I probably should and I definitely have in the past), but I definitely set deadlines for myself.
I try to have at least a couple of projects on my desk all the time. I keep a serious “To-do” list of creative projects on my wall where I can see it, in order of importance. I also set deadlines with no wiggle room. If my first instinct is “this will take me 2 weeks to finish”, I’ll set a deadline of 10 days. I communicate that deadline to whoever needs to know because I think it’s absolutely not okay to turn in a project late. Maybe a little early, but otherwise, always on time. We have this bad habit of giving ourselves plenty of time and the majority of that time is spent thinking about how you’re going to work on whatever it is later. If this art form is what you love, why would you not push yourself to be doing more often than not?
Where do you see the future of comedy going?
For as old as comedy is as an art form, I think I love it because it’s not maxed out. Everything hasn’t been played out and I think that’s because comedy is so unique to the person performing it. Shakespeare jokes are different from Mark Twain jokes, which are different from John Cleese or Adam Sandler or Kristin Wiig or myself. Everyday it’s new. I see the future of comedy kind of like a great frontier and I’m a tiny biracial Starship Enterprise.
With the technology we have today, we have the freedom to make whatever image we have in our heads something tangible for anyone anywhere else to see and that’s freaking amazing. So if you have a weird idea to make a laser-light puppet musical with live streaming images on the backdrop (that idea is free to the first interested party), now iss your time, now is your dance! Do it! You have no excuses! And trust me, there are people who want to see it! (I expect my ticket to be comped). Can you imagine what sort of renaissance could happen if people start to really realize they can? I mean, for sure there will be a lot of garbage to wade through (not everything you do is a work of art, Michelangelo), but that feels like a risk worth taking.
I also see comedy doing what it’s always done in a grander scale and that is talking about tough things that are important to us. There’s a lot I have issue with on this planet, the mistreatment of the natural environment, human rights abuses, poverty, greed, our glorification of famous people. Comedy is allowing us to bring these issues to the masses in a way that makes sense and doesn’t shut people down. That has to be exciting for humans.
How much does social media factor into what you do?
Social media has to be a tool. I mean that in a couple of ways. First, it’s free and it gets what you’re doing out there, so don’t be a weirdo. Go register your username and make it work for you. Second, It can’t control you. You are not (supposed to be) the tool. If you’re letting likes, retweets or shares determine whether or not you should be an artist, well… I think you have bigger questions to answer. While there is a certain amount of feedback you definitely should take into consideration, your ability and worth as a human being cannot be based exclusively on how many followers you have. You’ll make yourself crazy that way. Decide that you love what you do and the people who feel the same way will respond. How? By discovering it via friends and social media, of course!
Personally, I use my Twitter for jokes and sharing stuff I think is important (like links to good articles or work my friends are doing that I think everyone on the planet needs to know about). Facebook is a little more private to me, but I use fan pages for the projects I work on (Erin & MeLissa Show, Land of Unicorns are a couple of them). Those entities also have their own Twitters but it didn’t make sense for us to make them their own Instagrams and Vines (for example).
We’ve kind of just grown into what we needed versus getting all these platforms and managing them poorly. I do recommend getting someplace online that you take care of well, whether that be a blog (for you writers) or a Twitter (for you comedians), an Instagram (for you photographers) or a regular ol’ website (for anyone and everyone, including your grandma). Have a place you’re proud of to send people when they say “What do you do? I want to see some of your work!” Because hopefully they will, and because you’ve already decided you’re a professional, you’ll be ready.
p id=”yui_3_10_1_1_1389752699942_144671″>MeLissa Gavarrette is a human being living in Los Angeles who partakes in jokes, writing, singing songs about bellies and creativity of all sorts. She is 50% of the Erin & MeLissa comedy super team. She has neither an iPad or a husband. Find out her thoughts on outdated things at Twitter by following @OhDarlingGirl.