The room. It’s Valhalla for most aspiring writers. It was for me. You work your ass off. You write and write and, if you’re tenacious and a little bit lucky, you get a job on a writing staff.
When I got my first job on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I was petrified at first — fuck, I was petrified the whole time I was on that show. Happy. Challenged. Amazed. And petrified almost every single day. I’m prone to anxiety — shocker — a lot of writers are. So I was petrified of Joss and David Greenwalt, of the other writers, the actors, the set… Even ordering lunch was a taxing chore in the nest of bees that is my busy brain.
But most of all, I was petrified of the room. Sticking your neck in a room full of smart people? With ideas that mostly got rejected — and at worse mocked…? Fuck that. But the room became my happy place. My safe place. One of the few places I wasn’t petrified. Because Joss and David made it okay to say anything. Literally ANYTHING. For the first time in my life, I could reveal the darkest, most politically un-correct thoughts that tend to run through my head on a blacklisted ticker tape, and it was okay. It was encouraged. I have never laughed as hard as I did in that room. Sometimes I cried. And sometimes I was ashamed of the black, poisonous honey my brain bees were spewing. The only times it got dicey were when goodnatured teasing cut too close to the bone, and somebody started to feel like a target. I’ve learned that’s the limit in a room. Everyone has to understand that they are, at base level, there because they are appreciated and respected. If that starts to change, things go bad and fast. So it’s a case of constant monitoring — are we so far into the weeds that somebody is getting hurt?
Why play that hard? Why risk it? The reason to cut that close to emotional wounds is evident in the work. That’s where the good stuff is — in those hurt places and weird secrets we thought nobody else could hear or relate to. That’s the stuff of great writing. But getting there can be scary and everyone in a writer’s room is at risk of feeling too exposed. So the job of policing that space becomes whoever is the person with the most power. If the showrunner is in the room, it’s them. If the headwriter is in charge — they’re up. For sure, I don’t always get it right. And in some cases, like on UnReal and now on Girlfriend’s Guide, I’m balancing multiple projects. I work remotely a lot of the time. That makes it harder to know what the dynamics are. But everyone knows the value of digging into the dark stuff.
What made me think about this today? How many times I have had to stop myself from tweeting a “grab her by the pussy” joke. If I were in a room today, it would be a race to see who could deploy it first and most effectively. The smart, patient one will wait until folks have got the obvious jokes out of their system, and then drop it like a bomb at the perfect, most unexpected moment. Because that shit is almost as funny as it is teriffying. Donald Trump is a Santa Claus for comedy writers, drama writers, grocery list writers — “Milk, Eggs, Kale, Handful of Pussy, salt…” See? Irresistible. I had people over to watch the debate the other night, and one of the invitees replied to the inevitable “what can I bring” question with “I’ll grab a handful of pussy on the way over.” I laughed out loud. Then the floodgates were open and it was on. And there were men making these jokes along with the ladies. It was okay because we’re a close group and I know these folks to be profoundly dedicated to equal rights for all. Like, “put your money where your mouth is” type of dedicated. These are some badass justice fighters, sans capes.
But now I’m wondering… Donald was partially joking with another human dumpster fire when he said what he did. He was trying to get another man to laugh. He was bragging. He was serious, but only half. If we didn’t know that the things he said are just the tip of a fetid, hateberg floating in a sea of crazy — would policing the awful things people say when they think they’re in private be crossing a line? I mean, obviously, the man is running for the highest office in the country, possibly the entire world — and he’s policing the fuck out of Hilary with the help of the KREMLIN so I think the answer in this case is obvious. But what about the rest of us? It’s a slippery slope and it scares me a little bit. I don’t know the answer. I’d love to know what you, my perhaps nonexistent readers, think.
(Pussy, pussy, pussy. PUSSY. Jesus, it’s gonna be a while before this one is out of my system.)