Comedywire’s Jonterri Gadson Chosen for NBC’s Late Night Writers Workshop
Jonterri Gadson is a creative writing professor at Bloomfield College and a published poet, but her first love was comedy. As a military brat in Idaho, she read everything she could about the lives of comedy writers.
“I had a little notebook that I carried around because I heard that’s what comedians do,” Jonterri said. “I was always writing.”
Still, growing up in Idaho, making a living writing comedy didn’t feel possible.
“Poetry came easier to me,” Jonterri said. “There was a clear path through education and becoming a professor, so I went along that path. It led me to living near New York City, which actually led me to studying comedy and pursuing it. It all came around full circle.”
Now, after taking performance and writing courses throughout New York City and writing over 800 topical jokes on Comedywire, Jonterri is getting noticed. She was one of only six participants chosen for the NBC Late Night Writers Workshop this year, a competitive field that included over 1,000 applicants. She spoke with Comedywire about her process, her experience with comedy in New York City, and her advice for other aspiring writers.
“I feel there is a lot of introspection in good joke writing.”
Comedywire: When did you first become interested in Late Night television?
Jonterri Gadson: I’ve always been interested. It started with staying up watching Arsenio Hall. That’s the reason why representation matters so much to me. Oftentimes, you don’t see it as a possibility because you don’t see someone like you doing it. So, seeing Arsenio Hall made me think, “Oh, that’s a thing people like me can do.”
CW: How did you first hear about Comedywire?
JG: I heard about it when it was Parodify. A friend of mine was on it and I was terrified. I loved it, I registered, but I was too afraid to post any jokes. So, I was registered for a long time. Finally, I said, “I’m going to try it,” and jumped in.
CW: What made you decide to finally write on Comedywire?
JG: After I got Joe Toplyn’s book (Comedy Writing for Late Night TV), I realized that I knew and understood how to write the jokes. At first, I would write jokes so slowly. I’d write the headline down on paper and practice doing the jokes. Eventually, after practicing all the methods he has for writing jokes, it started happening naturally.
It absolutely built my confidence. Again, I was terrified, but the community was always supportive. Voting helped me see what worked and what didn’t and that supportive community helped my confidence a lot.
CW: What is your personal process for writing jokes?
JG: Mostly, it’s things I have an emotional reaction to. I’ll read headlines on my own and think “that’s interesting,” and then I stop and ask myself why I think it’s interesting. I feel there is a lot of introspection in good joke writing.
“Wherever you can see a clear path, devote yourself to it.”
CW: You’re also part of a female panel show called The Box. Tell us more about that.
JG: I love The Box. Oftentimes, it feels like there isn’t room to address important issues in comedy. I like that we’re really attacking those issues. We’re addressing things like white feminism and we speak a lot about intersectional feminism, but always with the thought of finding something funny there. So, we’re making people laugh, but enlightening them at the same time.
CW: What advice do you have for other aspiring writers who plan to submit packets in the future?
JG: Work hard and dedicate yourself to writing. What’s good about an application process is that you know exactly how to prepare. I knew I needed to get good at topical jokes, so I joined Comedywire. All the topical jokes that I used in my packet were things I’d posted on Comedywire. I knew I needed to get good at sketches and desk bits, so I took classes, I read Joe Toplyn’s book, and I got better. After I didn’t get into the Late Night Writers Workshop the first year, I knew I had an entire year to get better and try again.
Wherever you can see a clear path, devote yourself to it. I do believe that kind of hard work and dedication pays off.