Ella Gale On Writing Satire And Doing Comedy
Ella Gale is a stand-up comic who’s written for Reductress and The Hard Times. The Austin Chronicle described her as “exceedingly clever” and named her a must-see comic at the 2016 Moontower Comedy Festival.
I had the pleasure of performing and writing sketch comedy with Ella for a couple of years before she moved to Los Angeles. I can think of no better person to kick off the Hyoom interviews with writers series, so I’m thrilled to chat with Ella about her comedic writing process, and how she thinks about developing comedic material.
You’ve been writing some very funny pieces for Reductress. How did you start writing for them?
Reductress holds occasional open submissions, so I put together a packet. The smartest thing that anyone’s said to me about packets is that they should be better than the thing you’re writing the packet for. I don’t think my packet was that, but it did have one true winner (New Bill Requires Women Seeking Abortions to Paint Still Life of Fetus) which was the first thing I published on the site.
That article came out of a video I put together after Texas passed new abortion restrictions. Also, it wasn’t the first version of that idea. I wrote out a whole thing about all the different abortion restrictions (I think it had a whip-wielding Greg Abbott driving a chariot into the desert), and the oil painting thing was the funniest idea, which fortunately I realized and went with. That’s important. The first idea is often not the good one but can lead to the good one.
Too true. With written humor, I often struggle with a piece that isn’t working but feels like it could work. When do you trash a joke, or a sketch, or a longer work (or just put it away for a while) versus just working and making it better and better?
I give up on most things that aren’t working pretty easily. I think one of the most dangerous things to do in comedy is to keep hammering away at a four-out-of-ten bit. If something really sticks in my brain, though, I’ll keep kicking it around. I wrote the punchline to one of my most successful jokes months before I wrote the set-up. In general, though, I’d rather work on a new idea than an old idea.
Reductress, like The Onion, and like many humor publications have a sort of “house voice.” How difficult do you find it to write in the Reductress style?
I find it pretty easy to write for Reductress, because I read a lot of media geared towards women and I find that style to be a good fit for my voice and fun to emulate. I’m not sure there’s a difference between satirical fashion writing and real fashion writing, because it’s all made up.
Do you have any rules that you abide by as a writer? i.e. A personal code you follow.
I quit a structured 9-to-5 to pursue comedy specifically, and for me writing is a big part of that. I try to do two things a day. An example of a “thing” is going to an open mic, doing a show, writing 10 Reductress pitches, writing 500 words on a screenwriting project, or doing some boring freelancing day job stuff.
I keep an Excel spreadsheet of what I do every day. I think at earlier points in my life I believed I needed to be insanely productive, like in high school I thought I would need to get home from school and spend five hours working on a novel. Now, steady productivity is a more important goal to me. 500 words a day is a very achievable goal and will get you a draft of a screenplay in under two months.
I remember the economist Tyler Cowen saying something like, “It’s the days when you do nothing that kill you.” He was talking about academic writing, but it’s the same.
I feel like creatives overestimate what we can accomplish in a day and underestimate what we can accomplish in 100 days. How do you decide what to work on each day? Do you just go with whatever feels most pressing? Do you juggle multiple projects?
That’s such an interesting statement about one vs. 100 days. I totally agree.
One of the most important things I learned this year is that small daily effort stacks pages. I’m not super organized about what I pick to do. At this point I have no excuse not to work on my favorite project. A tremendous benefit of not being successful is that I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do.
Who’s a writer you like (living or dead) and what question do you want to ask them?
Ursula K Le Guin is alive but very old. She’s my favorite writer. I read her young adult fantasy books as and then came back to her recently. Sometimes you read a novel, and you want to go live there, and that’s how I felt about The Dispossessed. It’s about communist anarchists and I think it might upset some communists and anarchists.
I thought about trying to email Ursula K Le Guin just to thank her for her very good work, but her website says “please do not do this”. The questions people ask me about comedy are often very boring (“where do you perform?”) but you can’t see that boringness until you’re on the inside. I would be so ashamed to bore Ursula K Le Guin. Right now I feel like I’m at a transition point where my writing is moving from the pleasure zone to the work zone, which has been somewhat painful. I might ask “did you go through that, and how did you manage it?”