Comedy Writing Interview with Ginny Hogan
From my monthly newsletter
Ginny Hogan is a stand up comic and writer whose work is featured regularly on McSweeney’s and The New Yorker. Ginny grew up in NYC and moved to the Bay Area for college. She went on to work in tech for a few years and began doing stand up comedy in San Francisco. Eventually, she decided tech was boring (actually, she says she realized this early on but kept at it), so she moved back to NYC to pursue comedy and writing. Ginny is currently the co-editor of Little Old Lady Comedy, and she performs stand up all over NYC.
So you do comedy in several forms — stand up as well as written comedy and sketch. When you sit down to write, are you doing it with a certain form in mind? Or do you sit down with an idea and then see how you can play with it?
I mostly do stand up and short satirical pieces, but I also write sketches and I’ve written a sample pilot. For my first year in comedy, I only did stand up, so any time I had a funny idea, I’d think about how to turn it into a stand up bit. Now, I spend a lot more time on short written pieces, so when I have funny thoughts, my brain usually thinks about how to turn it into a list or satirical piece of some sort.
Any time I sit down to write, I have a specific form I’m working on, but I’ll occasionally shift focus if I think it could work better as something else. For me personally, I don’t have a lot of crossover between stand up and other types of writing, but I definitely will play with ideas to see if they’d be better as sketches or as short pieces. Sometimes I really like a line from a stand up bit, so I’ll use that same joke in an article. I also tweet a lot, and sometimes when a tweet is more popular than I expect it to be, I think about how to turn it into either a stand up bit or a short article. It usually fails. (Ed. note: Ginny has an amazing Twitter account)
Have you ever tried jokes or bit in several different mediums?
When I first started writing articles, almost all my pieces came from stand up bits. This is one of the earliest articles I wrote, and it’s based on one of my first stand up jokes. I used to tell a joke about Venmoing men for sex after the first date, but I’ve since retired it. I still like that article but once I started writing more, I realized most of my stand up bits don’t translate well into articles. I’ve also had tweets that I wanted to turn into stand up jokes, but I can’t think of a way.
I think that type of wordplay might only work as a one-liner on twitter because it doesn’t have enough substance for an article, and it relies on the aesthetics of looking at the words “fuckboy” and “fuckman”, so I don’t think it would work on stage. I love wordplay and looking at words on a page, and this has often made it hard for me to translate my favorite jokes into stand up because they’re funnier written than spoken. Also, sometimes on Twitter, just saying something that’s very relatable and true can be a lot of likes even if it’s not really funny enough for any other form.
You’ve written several pieces for the New Yorker. How did you break into that outlet? (Ed note: here is one of my personal fav Ginny NYer pieces)
I started pitching their open inbox. The first article I sent was really bad, and I regretted sending it almost immediately because I knew I’d have to wait 3 months to pitch another. I sent a second one that was better, and it was rejected but I got an email from the editor Emma saying I could pitch directly to her. She responds to my pitches about every week, but it still took a few months to get one accepted. I highly recommend pitching them! It still amazes me that they accept open pitches from anyone.
I saw you do standup, and it was HILARIOUS and also very different from a “New Yorker” type of tone! Do you have advice for people in terms of adjusting to the tones of different mediums or sites?
I think my biggest piece of advice, although this sounds defeatist, is don’t assume something will work in different forms. I see a lot of stand ups get upset when jokes from Twitter don’t work on stage, or when funny exchanges in their real lives can’t be turned into a joke. For stand up, you should be able to say the joke aloud to yourself as if you’re telling a story to a friend. Stand up is about creating a character, so all your jokes have to fit the character you’ve developed.
For the New Yorker, your piece doesn’t necessarily have to make for a good story, but it should be clever and make the reader think about something differently. New Yorker articles also have to have a voice, but it doesn’t have to be your voice — you can take on a character. Stand up is also much cruder than the New Yorker. I wouldn’t recommend submitting something about your masturbation preferences to the New Yorker (although someone may prove me wrong!). Actually, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend talking about your masturbation preferences on stage but I can’t say I’ve never done it.
You’ve written a lot for McSweeney’s as well. Do you have a favorite piece you’ve written for them, and can you walk us through the idea and then the process of writing and submitting it?
I love McSweeney’s! This is probably my favorite piece I’ve written for them. I got the idea when I was hanging out with my high school friends, and we all kept talking about how old we were. I think in the first few years out of college, young adults really revel in their age a lot more than anyone else, and it’s silly. I just wanted to keep heightening from the one central idea of these young women talking about how old they were. I actually also wrote this as a sketch, but I’ve never had it performed. It’s something that could work as a sketch or an article because it’s in the first person, so it could just be a group of characters with the same perspective. Writing it as a sketch and an article simultaneously helped me add jokes to both.
Submitting to McSweeney’s is really easy, you can email the editor Chris directly, and he gets back to everyone within a week or so. It really amazes me. The only downside to McSweeney’s is you can see how many shares everyone’s articles get, so I’m always comparing mine to others. I’d imagine everyone does that. For this one, he told me the article made him feel “very old”, but he ran it anyway.
Have you ever had an idea that you thought was really, definitely bulletproof get rejected?
So many! I think I’ve stopped ever assuming anything will get accepted. This is one of my all-time favorites. It got rejected from the New Yorker and McSweeney’s. I’m really glad Splitsider published it, and it’s even cooler now that they’re part of Vulture. I actually liked that idea so much, and after it got rejected from the first two places, I thought maybe it should be in a different form, so I wrote a sketch show about it.
You are also one of the co-founders of Little Old Lady Comedy. What was the genesis for that site?
Mary Cella and I both wrote for a bunch of sites, and we’d talk a lot about our pitches. There are just a finite number of humor sites out there, and we’d have pitches we liked that didn’t fit in anywhere, so we decided to start our own site. We both also had a lot more free time when we started it (we first met at a 3pm stand up open mic that we both did every single day, if that gives you an idea), so we decided we had the time to build out a site. Now, we’re both much busier but the site has grown and it’s important to us, so we’ve made time for it. We also used to write all the articles ourselves but now we have an amazing group of contributors (many of whom are also Belladonna contributors!), and that makes our lives much easier.
What do the two of you have in common, and what is your workflow for running the site like?
We met doing stand up. Mary’s stand up is amazing, and she runs an insane number of shows — I think maybe six a month. So definitely find her on Twitter @mary_cella and go to one of them! Our workflow is relatively simple. We have one large spreadsheet of pitches, and there we log yes/no for each of them, whether we’ve emailed the contributor, and when we’re running it if it’s accepted. We usually talk on Facebook chat every morning to decide who’ll post the articles, but it’s often just whoever gets to it first. I post on Facebook and Mary posts on Twitter, and then we both post on Reddit whenever we have time. We also wait around at open mics a lot (just part of being a stand up), so we have a lot of free time on our phones to retweet and post our articles in different places.
How can people submit to you?
Email us your pitches at firstname.lastname@example.org! We prefer full articles, but we’re flexible so if you want feedback on headlines you can send those our way too. And I should add that we do accept pitches from men (I’m only saying that because it’s a question we get often, not because we’re particularly interested increasing male representation in comedy). (Ed. note: LOL)
What’s a big scary goal you have for the rest of 2018? Share it with us to manifest it or some Secret shit!!
I’d really like to get a TV writing job. I’m interested in writing for late night or a sitcom. I don’t know if 2018 is a feasible timeline, but I’d say that’s my next big comedy goal! I’d also love to grow Little Old Lady a lot, and, to be completely honest, I want more Twitter followers. (Ed. note: help her out with that last one at least, huh?)
ABOUT ME: Caitlin Kunkel is a comedy writer, satirist and famed pizza scientist based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been featured in Shouts & Murmurs in The New Yorker, The Second City Network, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Reductress, and other places across the vast internetz. She created the online satire program for The Second City and writes for Live Wire Radio, distributed by Public Radio International.
Her first book, NEW EROTICA FOR FEMINISTS, co-written with Carrie Wittmer, Brooke Preston, and Fiona Taylor, will be released by Dutton/Plume in the US and Sceptre in the UK in NOVEMBER OF 2018!!!
GUESS WHAT? Caitlin is also the co-founder and editor of the comedy and satire site for female writers, The Belladonna. Follow her musings on Twitter @KunkelTron.