Funny, business: TV, film pros talk about working in comedy at USC festival

Women in Comedy panel — with producer Suzanne Todd and performers Nicole Byer, Maria Bamford and Cameron Esposito — is part of three-day USC Comedy Festival

October 31, 2016 Joanna Clay

Despite her comedic success, Maria Bamford, of Netflix’s Lady Dynamite, says she’s always had a hard time speaking up for herself.

“I was a very shy kid. I wasn’t able to interrupt people,” Bamford said. “My dad would give me about three minutes of time to talk at the dinner table and everyone would talk over me – which continues to happen.”

And Nicole Byer, who has her show Loosely Exactly Nicole on MTV, said she had to say “no” to projects until someone would finally say “yes” to the work she wanted to do.

Byer and Bamford joined Cameron Esposito of Take My Wife and Bad Moms Producer Suzanne Todd to talk about the ups and downs of pursuing a career in show business at the USC Comedy Festival’s Women in Comedy panel Saturday.

Diversity and platforms

The three-day festival Friday through Sunday, in its third iteration, focused on the changing face of comedy, and included a focus on diversity and platforms, such as social media and YouTube.

We really wanted to highlight diversity because we’re in an era of comedy where they are so many brilliant diverse voices.

Alex Ago

“We really wanted to highlight diversity because we’re in an era of comedy where they are so many brilliant diverse voices,” said Alex Ago, who produced the event.

USC was a natural host for such a discussion since comedy and film are so integral to the university, Ago said. In 2010, the USC School of Cinematic Arts started the first comedy program in the country.

Isobel Bradbury, an aspiring comedy writer, left the Women in Comedy panel feeling inspired.

“It’s awesome to have this presence of women in this space. It’s kind of the reason I wanted to do this entire weekend,” said Bradbury, who is pursuing an MFA in writing for film and television at USC. “Something that Cameron said near the end … no one is discovered by the first thing they ever do – so there’s very low stakes if you do it for your first time.”

As Bradbury mentioned, the women drilled in the importance of paving your own way.

When Esposito thought there weren’t enough lesbians on film and TV, she pitched her own show, based on her life with wife Rhea Butcher.

They talked about the “democratization of the internet” – how platforms allow you to create your own opportunities. Bamford knew that from experience.

“I couldn’t get cast in anything. I auditioned for about 10 years,” Bamford said, who supported herself for a long time doing secretarial work. “Do what you can with what you have – so I did a one-person sitcom as a show.”

And that show ended up turning into a web series, called The Maria Bamford Show.

Todd, who produced Alice in Wonderland, talked about pigeonholing female-led films as “chick flicks” or niche.

Bad Moms is another movie none of the studios wanted to make,” she said. “There was some thinking it was a girls movie or a chick flick …When we would preview the movie … boys liked it just as much as girls – in equal measure.”

But she hopes that the film can show the proof is in the pudding.

Money to be made

“The good news about Bad Moms and for comedy with women – it cost $19 million and we’re coming up on $185 million worldwide,” she said. “Hopefully we’re chipping away at this idea that you can’t make these kinds of movies.”

Besides the formidable group of ladies, the weekend included conversations with Bridesmaids Director Paul Feig and the cast of HBO’s new show Insecure.

Carlin Adelson, an MFA student who wants to work in comedy, attended the festival Friday and Saturday.

“There should be more of them throughout the year,” she said of the event. “I mean, Paul Feig came and spoke on a Friday night? That’s incredible.”