Comedy Writer Explains Her Career Path, from First Job to Current

Comedian and writer Jen Spyra has penned jokes for Stephen Colbert, the 69th Emmy Awards and multiple satire publications. From her humble beginnings as a student and improvisor at iO in Chicago to her current roles as writer and voiceover performer on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Spyra shows us the skills and experience it took to get where she is today.


It would be a horrible idea to try to be funny on your resume. That is like the one piece of like hard advice I can give is like that will backfire and it will never backfire to just be normal.

I’m Jen Spira, I’m a comedy writer on The Late Show, with Stephen Colbert and today I’m gon na show you my resume objective. The objective has been to be funny and then the flavor, whether it’s a tea, Racal or goofy, depends on what the needs of The show are headshot. This is my headshot.

It’s actually really new, because my old ones were the first ones that I got taken in Chicago and they’re really actory, it’s like a brick wall and that kind of deal. So this is sort of more now, and I also just really like pink and that’s how I said I want pink in the background. This is only good for kind of like writer II stuff, I would say I I don’t actually know what the perfect one would be, probably something that was Less blazer II social media.

I have almost 23,000 Twitter followers. I remember one comedian I heard was talking about twittering. They were like if you’re a comedian and you’re not on Twitter you’re like kidding yourself, you’re, not really a comedian.

It’s like it’s nice. If someone can google you and just find stuff, there’s nothing between you and tweeting, and so no one has to publish you know one has to say: yes, it’s just your own filter, I’m not on Instagram. I just lurk.

I have to kind of choose the things that I focus on, so I can’t really focus on curating that work experience. I’ve been a writer at The Late Show with Stephen Colbert since 2015. I think we have 14 writers.

We write the monologue and all the other stuff, so sketches guest bits Roland’s that are like pre-taped shorts. We work in pairs writing those scripts. You do have to really stay up-to-date on the news.

There’s a bunch of sites that I just Check in with so I’ll. Do that the morning of I feel like it’s always that you look at the story and you just sort of notice what are the things that are jumping out that are sort of more interesting. I think that the joke is essentially just distilling whatever the essence of the weirdness is in that data point, do you really have to closely observe someone’s sensibility to be able to write for their voice? Do you have to just really know it? Is you pay attention And you sort of you also learn about that person? There go twos things that they really references, that they really love references that they really don’t like.

I think the art of it is finding that way for your your fresh, different voice to serve theirs. If you’re one of the writers on this detail that we call dollar signs when the scripts come back, jokes that we want to punch up and we want to make stronger they’ll put the Dollar sign symbol next to that joke, and so we’ll all just write. Alt jokes on that, so you could be doing that all afternoon and they expect at least six alts per dollar sign of a joke.

I think that maybe you’d pitch anywhere between five and sixty drugs a day, I think maybe more than half of my jokes get rejected for sure I am the announcer for the Late Show and I’m so proud of that. It’s so cool Stephen actually asked me to do the voice-over one day, just kind of out of The blue. This is the job where I learned how to write a script from the ground up with another person.

Before that, I had only written scripts alone, because I’m a writer for The Late Show when Stephen hosted the Emmys in 2017. I got to write for the Emmys. All of us that were on staff then wrote for the show that was really really fun because anytime we have a long-term project like that.

That also is not tied to the daily news cycle. You get to sort of you know, use a Different part of your comedy brain. We also got to think big in terms of budget and production.

I didn’t get to do the thing that I was really excited to do, which is right, sort of mean jokes, about celebrities, because that’s completely not Steven sensibility and I absolutely love him for that. That is not his character and his comedic bent. But I personally love that I currently do voiceover on another show that steven produces power.

Cartoon President is on Showtime. I voiced the character Hillary Clinton at the door because I told him to give you trouble at the door working on that show since 2017, but voicing Hilary since the election in 2016. So when I do voiceover for our cartoon president, I’m not looking at any screens.

I don’t see how the character is gon na look when I did voiceover for on our show on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Someone had to be there to control it on a keyboard, but Her head was Matt to my head, so I could control her movements with my head tilt. Head 15 note: 20 degrees anytime.

You are writing something that you know. You’re gon na be acting it or doing the voiceover, for you really care that it’s funny so doing voiceover, and this also holds true for on cam stuff. You find that shorter is really better and so you’re always trying to comb out extra words before I was right at the Late Show.

I was a senior writer at the onion And I was there from 2013 to 2015 almost three years, and I also was the head of the editorial video departments. They basically made us like attach videos to articles, and then I would work with the producer on. You know every aspect of the shoot go to shoot.

Work with the actors supervise, the cut probably did one video a week, they didn’t make. You have Anish at the onion, but you ended up falling into what you were really into and for me that was pop culture, history and kind Of dark, sometimes sexual stuff. I was probably writing.

Like 10 articles a week, a few of my favorite onion headlines, campus tour guides reminded to use official name for rape. Paul David Bowie asks Eamon if they should just do lasagna again family watching movie white knuckles it through expected sex scene. I feel like the way that the onion trained me or set me up for writing for late night, was just getting into the daily habit of coming Up with satirical, takes on topical news stories.

You know just really habituating myself to coming up with a lot of material, also being comfortable with a lot of it getting thrown away before the onion. I did a series of odd jobs between 2007 and 2013 living in Chicago just doing improv and sketch, and that’s all that I was doing, and I didn’t really think about what my money plan was. I would do random gigs as they came up.

I worked as a college essay consultant, so I would help kids write their their essays for their college application. That actually did help me refine my own writing. This was a promotion for DiGiorno flatbread melts.

I dressed up as a policewoman, and I had to give people citations for having a boring lunch being willing to fail and look dumb is very helpful when you’re, when you’re pitching around other people because that’ll happen. I was also a hostess at Second City. I did that job right when I got to Chicago cuz, I’m like I want to be in second city.

I got to be in the building and I was very quickly fired honestly working all of those odd jobs, stoked this fire inside of me of oh, my god. There are people who just get paid to do comedy. It was like a sort of anti motivator to just also get out of hustling in that way.

So throughout my career I have also written humor pieces for a bunch of different places. The New Yorker McSweeney’s the New York Times and then a bunch of weird ones and some that are it’s amazing that I still have them on our website. I have a doc word doc.

It’s probably like, oh my god, like 500 pages at this point of just half-baked ideas, sometimes I’ll set aside time and I’ll think okay, I want to actually brainstorm a short story now or a short piece. I have learned writing these short humor pieces. If you’re working on a show, if you’re working for Someone else, it’s such a team effort, but it’s fun to still feel a little bit like a gladiator, sometimes when you’re working on your own in that way, training before starting at the onion, I was performing improv At IO and Chicago I started at IO when I was 18.

It was the summer after my freshman year of college, but I didn’t start performing there until I actually moved to Chicago after college in 2008 and performed there for The next, like five years. Improv. Absolutely like cracked my mind open.

I thought it was unbelievable. I feel, like I learned a few things from improv one to take risks. Sometimes they really pay off and the other one is to be collaborative and to really embrace collaboration, because it can give you so many gifts, education.

I got my MFA in writing through the screening stage from Northwestern University in 2012. I think that grad school is worth it in that it Was like. I was really just voting very hard with my dollar bills.

For me to do this career path, it is so not necessary. I got my BA in English from Barnard College in 2007. I majored in English and I didn’t officially have a minor cuz.

I just didn’t like fill out the papers, but I fo minored in French. I think my English degree has helped me as a writer just because, even though it would be painful to read any of my papers from then now It gets you in the habit of writing and of of reading constantly, and I do think that that is really Helpful and pretty essential for writers to do when I was in college. I had no idea that I would end up in late-night.

I had an idea about comedians actors that I loved, but I wasn’t a person that grew up watching late-night shows references first person that I think of is Tom. Purcell he’s the executive producer of The Late Show. He was the person that hired me and that’s Because he kind of he picked me out of this, like huge pile he’s trained me really well, and I think that he likes me, and so I think that’s probably a pretty big part of who you pick for Your reference, okay, let’s see how my resume came out.

Okay, so I’m just gon na check this baby out. 22. 9 followers.

That’s beautiful! Okay! There’s my references Awards. Any inviters go to work, yeah nominees for special skills. I guess I would actually, I would add, speaks French drive a stick.

This is really complete for anyone who wants to make money doing comedy my advice, I would just suggest you know, be a sponge basically read constantly. Hopefully, expose yourself read and watch the stuff of people you think is so good it’ll make you good better and also, you know, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there by submitting stuff. So here’s my resume .


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