Alison Leiby | Comedian & TV Writer

 
 

A TYPICAL DAY OF WORK...

Right now, I’m writing on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I come in and spend some time in my office, usually seeing what’s happening on Twitter, writing down a few ideas, and reading the news. I’ve spent the last year or two in political comedy, so it’s a force of habit to check every morning what nightmare our government spawned today. I usually tweet a few dumb jokes in the mornings to get my brain working (sometimes it continues all day). Then either we all go into the writers room and pitch or we work on assignments in our offices. When the work day is over I head out to do stand up shows. They range from hot sold out venues of hundreds of people to the back of a bar where three audience members are there against their wills. Both are fun for me for their own reasons. Stand up may not always be the biggest part of my career, but it is my favorite part of it. Then I go home and watch Bravo until I fall asleep on my couch while holding a bag of kettle chips.

THE RESOURCES SHE’D RECOMMEND...

You really don’t need much to write comedy: a notebook or laptop and hours alone in your thought prison is basically how jokes get written. For my work, the tools and resources are just living my life. So many of my jokes and projects stem from something that happened to me or something I noticed while reading a magazine or watching tv or talking to a friend. The best thing someone who wants to write comedy can do (aside from spend time writing), is to engage with literally anything. It can be super popular things like Game of Thrones, but it can also be an obscure art installation you saw and can’t stop thinking about.

WHERE SHE FINDS INSPIRATION...

What really inspires me overall is seeing women who write about “women’s stuff.” Watching a stand up get on stage and do 6 minutes about concealer or write a whole humor piece about The Bachelor is what makes me excited about comedy. I’ve had many people tell me (and others) in this career when I write jokes about skincare or purses that “men don’t get that.” Well I don’t care. Whenever I see another woman at any level in any comedic medium making “women’s stuff” funny, it just makes me want to write more. And also have wine with her.

ON HER FAVORITE PROJECT...

One of my favorite projects is the charity comedy show I started last summer with my friend Andrea. It’s called Night of Self(less) Care and it’s a stand up show in Brooklyn that raises money for Distributing Dignity, an organization that gets feminine hygiene products to women in need. Obviously I love the charity element of it, but what ended up being the most rewarding was the vibe in the room. It was all women doing stand up to an audience that was majority women. It felt like an evening of taking the nightmares of being a woman--from fear of losing our reproductive rights to the annoyance that sheet masks are getting more expensive--and making it fun and light and weirdly joyful. We are doing the show twice a year to get as many tampons and pads to as many shelters as possible.

SOME ADVICE...

Do the thing. It sounds so simple and obvious but it’s really the only advice that matters. I wanted to be a writer, so I had to actually write. You just have to sit down and force yourself to write. When it comes to stand up, you have to just get on stage. Every time you do it you get better, even if it sucks. It’s easy to say “I’m a writer” or “I’m a comedian,” but it’s hard to actually do it. Be the person who actually does it.

AN UNEXPECTED ASPECT OF HER CAREER PATH...

That you can actually get better at this. I always thought that writers/comedians were just naturally talented and knew how to do what they do from day one. That’s not the case at all. Writing--and I think most creative work--is actually a skill like any other. The more you do it, the better you get at it. I look back on my jokes or humor pieces or job submissions from years ago and am blown away by how much I’ve grown and learned over time.

WORDS SHE LIVES BY...

There’s no such thing as too late.

It can be extremely hard to see others get things that you want. As both a stand up and as a writer, I’ve been up for jobs or shows that I wanted and then watched people around me get them. But the longer it takes to get the things you want, the more ready you’ll be when it finally happens.  

I thought I was ready for a writing job on a late night show for years. I would get so close and not get hired and be absolutely crushed. I kept writing and submitting and growing as a comedian, and when it was finally the right time, it was easy. And while I still thought to myself “I wanted this a long time ago,” when I showed up I was sharper and better than I would have been at any of those other jobs I felt passed over for. I was confident and contributed a lot, instead of being anxious and maybe not quite ready to do the work. When someone hires you, you want them to think, “Dammit, where have you been all this time? You’re exactly what we need!” That’s what leads to being successful and getting more and more opportunities.

Plus, waiting a long time for “the thing” isn’t all bad. Disappointment can be an incredible motivator.

HER BIGGEST CAREER ACCOMPLISHMENT...

Honestly, having a career as a comedy writer at all is a huge accomplishment. It’s such a luxury to get to do it and I love it so much.

ON BEING AN ENTREFEMMEUR...

It means getting, at least in my case, to create what I think is good and funny and interesting. And if those jokes or books or television shows are relentlessly "female" in a way that men can't connect to, I don't really care. Men get to do that all the time, so why shouldn't we?

To learn more about Alison, you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.