Writing Jokes with Julia Prescott (Friday Night Film School, Meltdown)
I was about to get a tattoo of the Gummi Venus de Milo and she told me she wrote a song about Milhouse.
[@juliaprescott on Twitter]
What’s your name and where did you grow up?
Julia Prescott and I grew up in North Hollywood, CA. One of the few, the proud, the Los Angeles natives.
What’s interesting or uninteresting about North Hollywood?
A lot of people hear, “North Hollywood” and think, “Oooh ahhh… Hollywood sign, Walk of Fame, etc etc.” It’s like a weird trick that we play on outsiders since it’s actually a good 15–20 min. drive from all of that. It feels kind of sneaky, and in my opinion reflects accurately on the tone North Hollywood exudes as a place. We’re like, one degree off always. We have an Arts District! …Kind of. We have tons of theater! …with pun-heavy names. It’s kind of where people go when they first get off the bus into town, so there’s a lot of “gotta sing gotta dance / Up with people” kind of actors floating around. It is much different now than when I was growing up, though. They have a LAEMMLE now — jesus 17-year old Julia needed a local art house theater like Bono needs a beer. North Hollywood is kind of the less cool younger sibling to Hollywood proper. Also the NohoArtsDistrict twitter account is the funniest non-comedy twitter I follow.
What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid?
Here’s the extremely Hollywood part about my upbringing — they came to LA to make it. I’m first generation LA, baby! My dad was a comedian and my mom was pursuing acting. I think they met doing community theater, so everything checks out. My parents divorced when I was four, and since then kind of found their own paths pursuing different careers. They’re really inspirational to me, they’re the living embodiment of finding ways to keep that creative momentum going no matter what. That lesson alone has been a guiding force in my own creative pursuits — that it’s not as “make or break” as people chock it up to be. You’re not defined by a casting director or a show runner going, “Yes” or “No.” You have agency over your own creativity and you make the rules.
Growing up, my mom was appointed the head of the theater program at our church, and she always did really cool, creative things. I remember a great production of, “War of the Worlds” she put on at the church. That’s right. Next to Jesus on the cross was a cardboard set piece of some martian shit. She was always thinking outside of the box and was a pretty cool Christian in that way. She knew it didn’t have to be Jesus walkin’ and talkin’ 24/7. Besides, we already know Jesus chilled hard — what else you got?
What was the first bit or joke you performed on stage?
Oh boy. It was a joke I really, really loved and one I did for years after. Perhaps too long. But that’s how it always feels. I came out onstage and pretended I was overly nervous — I mean “pretend” is really not applicable here. I was nervous as hell. I go out and say, “Man — I’m so nervous I forgot my first joke!” and people maybe react like, “Aww.” And then I say, “But I was just talking to my friend Tyrone the other day and he said if that happened I could just borrow one of his jokes — so here goes.”
And then I pause and pretend to “get into character.” I milk the silence and then just shout, “Y’ALL LIKE TITTIES???” I go on from there, but that’s the gist of it. It was a great way to combat that nervousness, and I can accurately say that I’ve shouted Titties at the top of my lungs, to several different kinds of audiences from different backgrounds, age brackets, and so on — in front of my parents, in front of my friends. Everyone has now heard me shout “titties.”
When and where did you become a regular?
I was a regular at UCB for a while — just as an audience member. I remember driving from my Mom’s house in the valley when I was like 20/21 and just going to every show I could possibly get a ticket for. Every month I would wait for the schedule to be posted and just race to buy up as many tickets as I could.
I remember showing up an hour and a half early on Sundays and waiting in line to see “Asssscat.” I made friends with other comedy nerds in line and we joked around calling it, “church.” But it really was that for me, and I know a lot of other people can claim this. Going to UCB and seeing all of alternative comedy touching-distance away was fucking incredible. I remember early early early into performing, I would scramble for the first row because I wanted to feel included. Then, as I became more of a stand-up I would avoid the first row like the plague. it felt too intimate.
I never went through the whole UCB “system” by doing all the improv classes — I took a couple sketch classes there, and took some over at i.O. West, too. Their writing classes, especially for spec script and pilot writing are the best in my opinion. I’m never far from enrolling in a class, I feel like I could always benefit from it.
Talk about Friday Night Film School. Seems like a really neat thing. What is the origin story behind the series?
I’ve always been a huge cult movie nerd. I used to run a cult film club called, “Film Corps” in High School and college. I would play a movie and make snacks around the theme of it. For “Cannibal the Musical” I made chocolate pudding “dirt” with body parts and gummy worms, stuff like that. I always wanted to make a nerdy cook book or something like that, but never had the time or the outlet to do it in.
Then one night I was driving around with my friend / hilarious comedian Dave Child and we were going to karaoke together, something we fully observe as ritual. I mentioned always wanting to do something with it and he said, “How about a podcast? We could co-host it and if you wanna make treats…I’ll eat them.” We quickly found out eating on the air wasn’t great for listeners, but we continued on with the podcast. We had a ton of fun with it — a definite highlight was doing our first live show in the basement of Lost Weekend Video in San Francisco to a sold-out crowd. That was insane.
Can you talk about Everything’s Coming Up Podcast and how that got started?
My pleasure. When Allie and I first met, we were introduced by fellow comedian Will Weldon at a birthday party. He grumbled something like, “Oh hey, you guys both like the Simpsons. You’ll get along.” and then left us to it. I told Allie I was about to get a tattoo of the gummy venus de milo and she told me she wrote a song about Milhouse, a friendship love story had sparked.
Though I was co-hosting a Simpsons trivia night at Meltdown comics once a month, I talked to Allie about wanting some kind of outlet to discuss the philosophy of the Simpsons at length. Or just quote it a bunch with fellow nerds. We talked about doing a podcast together and then spent the next month or so trying to figure out what that would look like.
I remember sitting with her at Little Joy during a comedy show and having our friend Brent Weinbach shout out fake name suggestions for it to distract us. “The Simpsons Chicks!” “Full House!” something like that. We settled on, “Everything’s Coming Up Podcast” because it was so upbeat and was a subtle enough reference to the show while still explaining to strangers what our dang podcast was all about.
Our first guest was Alex Hirsch, who couldn’t have been a better choice. Alex is the brilliant mind behind Disney XD’s “Gravity Falls” a show that he describes as a mutant baby of “Twin Peaks” and the Hellfish episode of “The Simpsons.”
Allie and I are similar kinds of go-getters. I often describe us as, “Type A and Type A-minus.” We know when to lead and when to take cues from the other if they wanna take the wheel. One thing that we hear all the time, much to our delight is that our show stands out because it’s apparent that we’re good friends. “We like each other!” as Allie would always say. Even though that sounds like a “duh” part of the ingredients list for a podcast, it’s pretty hard to master in my experience.
Going forward, Allie and I have huge plans for the future. We wanna go on the road and do stand-up/variety shows with the podcast. We wanna transition more into on-camera stuff. We wanna interview every possible Simpsons creative person we can get our hands on. It’s by far, one of the best things I currently get to do.
Do you prefer forming jokes on paper or onstage?
I like a little bit of both. It’s hard for me to write out a joke entirely — I’ll scribble down random premises, or maybe Tweet something and revisit it later but my favorite parts of my jokes happen in the moment on stage. My boyfriend Mike has been tremendous in helping me get my head together post-show, because I used to just be in that post-show black-out where I don’t quite remember what I said. He’s great about talking with me about it after — and I’ve grown really accustom to it. Not only do I trust his opinion, but I always know what he’s saying is coming from the best intentions. We joke that it’s like we’re “working on the family business” when we talk about it. He’s a brilliant animator that works in comedy animation, so he knows his shit — he’s not just talking out of his ass or saying nice things just to say them. He gets it.
The other day you Tweeted:
Can you talk about what went into writing that?
Ha! Okay, with this one you got me. Sometimes you can tweet things that are joke-lies. I didn’t actually watch a porn with an audible iPhone chime, but I was randomly thinking about how funny that would be — and totally realistic in the year 2015. I drafted two Tweets — one that was more factual, something like, “How many porns do you think exist with an audible iPhone chime?” and then drafted that one — the second one ended up being funnier (I often use Mike as a test) because it established a whole scene. Ah jeez, I sound like I’m putting my Tweets on a pedestal — I’m not! Like this is my “craft” — I assure you, this is purely an example of me being dumb on the internet.
Who is the funniest person you know?
Joe Wagner. Hire him, world. He will brighten any writer’s room — guaranteed.
Why are jokes funny?
Because they’re a break from monotony. They’re unexpected. They have the ability to be both silly and poignant.
For more, visit @jokewriting on Twitter
Interview/Zuri Irvin (@withzuri)