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Katie Dippold storied on making people laugh

Mar 30, 2015

'Parks and Recreation' co-producer, writer Katie Dippold: Making people laugh

Why was her degree from Rutgers in journalism?

Katie Dippold - now one of the most successful comedy writers in the country - says she can only attribute her pursuit of the degree to a long-time love for the movie The Killing Fields.

Still, as she spoke to a class of aspiring newshounds at her alma mater last semester, the co-producer and staff writer on Parks and Recreation said there was common ground between journalism and making a living by making people laugh: In both pursuits, it's all about writing, writing more - and then rewriting.

Plus, "the only other thing I ever wanted to do was be an FBI agent, which is not a backup career, you know?" says Dippold, 32.

Dippold, a Freehold Township native, is one of 16 Parks writers included in the show's nomination for best comedy series at the 2012 Writers Guild Awards. The awards are announced Sunday.

This is the first time the Guild has nominated the show, an NBC sitcom focused on a small-town Indiana parks department, now in its fourth season.

Dippold has written seven aired episodes to date, among them "Indianapolis," in which Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) discovers his favorite steakhouse was shuttered by the health department. She was promoted to co-producer in September, at the start of the show's current season.

Comedy derailed Dippold's journalism career early on. During her freshman year at Rutgers, she shared a dorm with Chris Gethard - now an author and comedian who starred in the Comedy Central show Big Lake - who introduced her to the sketch troupe the Upright Citizens Brigade, the colorful band that once counted Parks and Rec star Amy Poehler in its ranks.

Soon thereafter, Dippold started spending her Sundays taking a train to Manhattan for improvisation classes at the Brigade. Later, as a production intern for Late Night with Conan O'Brien, she first entered a writers' room for a major TV show - as she was dropping off the staffs' take-out.

After graduating, she joined one of the regular UCB teams. By day, she was an assistant at a bank in Manhattan, where for three years, she says, she refilled printer trays and fiddled with PowerPoint presentations. But by night, she wrote sketches, performed and attended 1 a.m. rehearsals. Soon, she went on the road with the UCB touring company.

In 2007, she moved to Los Angeles to write for MADtv. After that sketch show was canceled in 2009, Dippold's manager sent an original pilot script of hers to Parks show-runner Michael Schur, who responded with a job offer.

Now, with the show's other staff writers, she spends 60 hours a week for nine months of the year clustered in a room - pitching scenarios, tracking characters and sketching out story arcs. They'll devote weeks to thinking about the story before penning a single joke, she says.

The writer of a particular episode has about a week to produce a script. When Dippold joined Parks in its second season, she remembers submitting a first script that hinged on the jokes. A rookie mistake, she learned.

"Oftentimes, your favorite jokes in the first draft will be the first to go," Dippold says, "because we have to make sure the story works."

This year, the show's season-long arc - which follows earnest Midwestern bureaucrat Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) as she runs for city council - had the writers grappling with big-picture questions and watching reruns of The West Wing, she says. They discussed how the election outcome would affect Leslie's relationship with campaign manager Ben (Adam Scott).

As part of their research on local government, the writers attended council meetings in Los Angeles County. Dippold found one meeting in Burbank unrelentingly dry; she and her comedy cohorts in the back row tried to restrain their laughter.

"There was one man who went up to the microphone, and you couldn't quite understand what he was saying," she says. "He was mumbling, but every now and then, you heard him say the word 'karaoke.' You could gather he was complaining about someone at karaoke, near where he lived."

And while she may not be working for a newspaper or a broadcast news program, to Rutgers media professor Steven Miller, Dippold is still very much a journalist. The mass media sphere of journalism extends to a series like Parks that skewers Middle America, he says.

"Social commentators inform more people in some ways than regular journalists do, because it comes from a satirical point of view," says Miller, who invited his former student to speak in his advanced television-reporting course.

Dippold hopes to write more screenplays and develop a TV show. She continues to improvise onstage with the Los Angeles-based West Coast branch of the Upright Citizens Brigade about once a week, but she says she lacks a burning desire to appear before a camera. Her brief scene as 'woman in line' in a 2009 Parks episode was cut - and she's okay with that. Somewhere along the way, Dippold grew ill-disposed to the notion of fame, preferring a backstage role.

"Being famous now sounds kind of terrible," she says. "It's not like how it was in old-timey Hollywood. It seems more like constantly having to be terrified when you leave your house."

LA General

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Lennon Parham & Jessica St. Clair interview in Elle

Mar 30, 2015

The Other Woman 
The creators and stars of NBC's Best Friends Forever share a love that cannot speak its name -- not if the censors can help it.

Since Lucy met Ethel, TV has spun comedy gold from female partnership. But it's never been so eerily familiar as in NBC's hilarious new Best Friends Forever, about a pair whose sweatpants-and-Steel Magnolias cry-fests are interrupted when one's live-in boyfriend enters the fold. Here, series cocreators, writers and stars (and real-life BFFs) Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham indulge in some female bonding.

Elle: You met 10 years ago in the Upright Citizens Brigade, founded in part by Amy Poehler. Was it love at first sight?

Jessica St. Clair: I remember the night I saw Lennon across the crowded, dank basement underneath a graffitied supermarket, which is where we performed. She was wearing a sensible cardigan twin set --

Lennon Parham: It was from Express.

JSC: -- and I thought, Who is that nice girl? There must be something terribly wrong with her... just like me. But we didn't get to perform together much. There were so few women that we were usually split up.

Elle: Now, from Bridesmaids to shows like Parks and Recreation and New Girl, there's no shortage of women in comedy.

JSC: When we were coming up at the UCB, Amy Poehler was our mentor. She once told us that you don't play like a woman -- you play like a comedian.

Elle: Sitcoms are packed with adversarial female duos -- Carla and Diane, Grace and Karen. What made you go the other way?

JSC: We wanted to write about those very close friendships, the almost romantic... no, not almost, it is a romantic relationship that women have with their best friend.

LP: Forcing people together is an enjoyable conflict to watch, but I think it's even more enjoyable if they love each other.

JSC: And the broad archetypes women are put in -- the bitch, the shit, the good girl -- wouldn't actually all be best friends. We wanted to go back to Kate and Allie, Laverne and Shirley, all of the Golden Girls.

LP: They were archetypes too, but the foundation was that unequivocal love.

Elle: So, which Golden Girl are you?

JSC: How have I never asked myself this?

LP: You would be Blanche.

JSC: The slut?

LP: Because you're sassy!

Elle: BFF captures the way women speak pitch-perfectly. How do you find that tone?

JSC: We improvise and tape-record ourselves, and then we rewrite from there.

Elle: Wait, who acts our the male roles?

LP: I play a great man. Our producer once walked in while we were improvising a flirting scene, and we scrambled as if we'd been caught in the act.

Elle: So Hollywood hasn't changed you?

LP: We were two girls in sensible dresses and suede boots. Now we're just bitches.
LA General

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Paul Downs & Lucia Aniello interview with International Business Times

Mar 30, 2015

Real Housewives of South Boston Creators Talk Dollar Shave Club, Birth Control, and Zac Efron's Eyes

The Real Housewives of South Boston have taken YouTube by storm: In the latest episode, the motely housewives crew -- Jackie, Amber, Dawn, Sharon and and freshly paroled Chaffin -- celebrated St. Patrick's Day in true townie style, complete with roofies and a drunken jig-off.

The Real Housewives of South Boston are among the hilarious creations of Paulilu, aka Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs (Jessica Eason, who plays Amber, is also a co-creator of RHOSB.) Through the comedy duo might not be a household name just yet, you've probably seen their work before: Aniello directed the groundbreaking Dollar Shave Club commerical, and Downs can be seen as the compulsively Type A tween hearthtrob in the "Diary of Zac Efron."IBTimes tracked Paulilu down for some behind-the-scenes dirt on The Real Housewives of South Boston and more...

The Real Housewives of South Boston has been a pretty big hit. I saw that New York Magazine mentioned Bravo in a tweet that linked to the St. Patrick's Day episode. RH hasn't gone to Boston yet -- if they do, would you feel like you'd be entitled to credit or compensation?

Paul: We couldn't take credit for other people's life stories and the format of a reality show came along way before we did, so, no -- but we would love to come to the wrap party. We'll bring the ciggies.

How many more RHOSB episodes can we expect to see? Is anyone going to tell Dawn to stop taking birth control pills if she wants to get pregnant?

Lucia: We've told Dawn how birth control works many times -- she just keeps forgetting. Not sure what the future hold for our ladies, but we would love to see them exist in a movie or at least show up in some community access commercials.

Lucia, you're originally from Massachusetts, correct? Do you know people who are like the characters in RHOSB? Have you gotten any feedback from people in Southie?

Lucia: Yes, I'm from Hadley and my family is from Boston and I still have a ton of family there. I actually have a second cousin who auditioned for one of the Southie reality shows -- they all seem to love it, or at least don't hate it enough to tell me to my face.

What made you decide to cross Sharon's eyes? Unless someone is naturally cross-eyed, it seems it would be extraordinarily difficult to keep one's eyes crossed for extended periods. Yet, they never uncross. Neither do Zac Efron's (in Diary of Zac Efron.)  How do you do this? Is it CGI?

Lucia: Hours -- no, weeks of eye crossing preparation and practice goes in to each episode. It was kind of a spontaneous thing to give her something physically different than the other girls. Then, we wrote into it that she got eye herpes. Such a tough life.

Paul: It's not easy to play dance hoops with your eyes crossed. I'm not saying it's Oscar worthy, but it is a challenge. But honestly the crossed eyes just help differentiate what is a distinct character -- we kind of feel like it's the series is not even about Zac Efron as much as it is about this new original version we've created.

Paul, you have the whitest teeth I've ever seen. How?

Paul: Prayer.

How did you two first meet, and how long have you been working together?

Paul: We met at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York and started making videos together not soon after in 2007. (Ed. note: Paul and Lucia have been dating for five years and live together in West Hollywood.)

Your Dollar Shave Club commercial has well over three million views on YouTube. Is Michael Dubin funny in real life? How much creative input did he or the company have? Who came up with the phrase "shave tech"? Did you get a free membership to Dollar Shave club?

Lucia: Yes, Mike is a funny guy. It was a complete collaboration from the concept to the script to the final cut. "Shave tech" was all him, though I will take credit for "our razors are f**king great." And I think he gave us some razors while we were at the warehouse, but we should bug him about getting that membership.

Your films appear to have a pretty high production value. How are you funded? I saw in a tweet that you mentioned working with Canon 5D plus steadicam- is that how you shoot all your films?

Paul: We shoot pretty much everything on a Canon 5D, though not usually with a steadicam. We make digital content for companies, and with that money we pay our rent and make our own videos. We also shoot with a great team of unbelievably talented people, including our director of photography Chris Westlund, producer Jake Cassidy, and jack of all trades John Heeg. Those guys really elevate our work.

We're lucky to have such a great team. People often think we spend a ton but we don't. It's mostly begging and borrowing. We've been so lucky to collaborate with people who believe in our sense of humor that they give us a break so we can actually make it happen.

Has it been difficult to find parents willing to let their children participate in your films? Where did you find the baby for "New Baby Girl"?

Paul: We're very upfront with the parents about what we're shooting. We shot "New Baby Girl" with my good friend and comedian Noah Plener, and his wife Stephanie and their daughter Madeline. It's a lot easier to convince a comedian to let them kiss their daughter on the mouth for about 20 seconds than it would be someone off the street. Also, if I did that I would probably be arrested. (But it wasn't really hard to convince him -- he has a twisted sense of humor, too).

How did you come up with the idea for "Dildo Sport"? Aniello, have you ever experienced penis envy?

Lucia: Ha! Maybe that was the deep-seeded inspiration? I played tennis my whole life and for some reason as I was falling asleep one night the idea of playing tennis with a dildo on popped in to my mind, and I told Paul to remember it, and he did -- and the next morning we wrote the script in about an hour and shot it and released it within a week or two.

Paul: But she is envious of my penis.

LA General

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