Thursday, August 27, 2009

3Questions: Greg White - Staff Writer for Comedy Central's "Ugly Americans"

As part of our continuing 3Questions series, I present Greg White, a staff writer for Comedy Central's Ugly Americans premiering March 8th, 10:30 PM, in between South Park and The Daily Show.

As a staff writer, he “helps break and write episodes of our show, my own included, as part of our staff of 6. Incidentally, staff of 6 sounds like a really cool fantasy video game about wizards. Awesome.

"Basically my job duties run from helping come up with and break stories to writing my own episode material to, my favorite, punching up. Punching up is a nice departure from story and character work -- fragmented fun at its best. My boss might come to me and say, 'Hey, we need some alt stuff for so and so to do in this montage: run wild.' And so I go off and see what pops out of my head. Or he'll say, 'Hey, can you write up a brief history of Zombies in the United States?' And I'll go off and write fifteen overzealous pages about the history of zombies in the US of A. It's wildly fun. Did I mention we premiere March 8th and 10:30 PM on Comedy Central?"

HBAD: Yes...several times. So, tell us, how did you get your start?

GW: Man. I finished school at Boston University in 2006 and despite everyone telling me I "needed to move to LA," I thought I'd try and make things on the East Coast work first. I'm from New Jersey and grew up less than 20 miles from Manhattan, so the plan initially was to "get established in New York" and then move to LA triumphant.

I started working at Letterman as a page, then became a freelance monologue writer there (which was a nice feather in the cap, but lead nowhere in a tangible sense). After my year contract was up at Letterman (making a sweet $270 a week before taxes and NJ Transit bus passes were factored in), I was sort of at a loss. I spent a lot of time that year emailing people in our wonderful alumni community and got lots of good advice and made a bunch of great industry chums who I would later call on once I moved to LA.

Anyway, this is July of '07 now. I worked the best job of my life as a PA on "Lidia's Italy" (no, really), temped at HBO in New York (for a day), and played a lot of golf with my dad. All this while I was writing. I think by the end of my first year out of school I had written 4 pilots and a 30 Rock spec. So around October of that year, a friend from school called to say he had a spot in his apartment in West LA opening up. I came out for a week in November, saw the place, met a bunch of alumni and figured I could probably make this work.

I moved out in January of 2008 and spent most of that year doing more odd jobs (PA on BU alum Donick Cary's "Lil' Bush", assistant to Budd Friedman at The Improv, HR filing temp person at Sony, woohoo!), meeting people (tactfully), and writing, writing, writing. If I wasn't eating meals of chickpeas and kale or sleeping, I was writing.

My break, as it were, came after a friend at Comedy Central (who I met through a BU alum) submitted one of my pilots to my current boss, David M. Stern, when he was starting to staff our show. He read my script, liked it, called me in for a meeting, and hired me the following week. Since then it's been a delightful ride.

And for the record, there are far worse places to be unemployed than LA.

HBAD: What are the most difficult challenges you've encountered on your career path?

GW: I am naturally optimistic and enthusiastic, but still, the most important thing for me was always making sure I kept things in perspective. This is a tough industry to break into, but it's very, very doable. It just takes time and patience. Those were the things I had to keep reminding myself whenever I would feel a tinge of disappointment or whatever settling in. I tried every angle I could, and then looked to find more. I always wrote and I felt that since I was doing the work and was talented enough, eventually something would turn up.

But again, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to stay positive and focused. There will be huge successes and there will be disappointments, but as long as you keep an even keel, never getting too far ahead or behind yourself, you'll be fine. Just keep this in mind: there are a lot of people trying to do this job, so it's up to you to outlast and outwork them. Couple that with unwavering patience and belief in your mission and it's more than possible.

HBAD: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in this business, looking to get into TV writing?

GW: 1) Write, write, write. Nobody is going to make you a good writer. That part's up to you.

2) Once you're a good writer, get your name and work out there to whoever you can. Get feedback from anyone whose opinion (professional or otherwise) you trust. And then get anyone who's willing to read your stuff. Eventually the square peg will fall into the square hole.

3) Don't be a douche bag. This is a small industry, and even smaller on the writing side. People get reputations that stick. Also, never lose perspective on how much fun this job can be and is. There is no room for empty feelings of entitlement.

4) The best way to ensure that you'll never write for TV is by giving up. So, you know, don't.

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