Paula Pell has been a head writer for Saturday Night Live for seventeen years and has also written for 30 Rock AND has also done some work on movies like Bridesmaids. You might also know her as Pete's wife, Paula, on 30 Rock. She also happens to own a wonderful horse named Verbena who lives in the barn where I worked! She was nice enough to give me this interview! Isn't this exciting you guys!
K: Hi! How are you? I'm so sorry this has taken me so long to send you these questions. By the way, I saw your interview on Rookie and it was so good!!!!
P: Thank you! I loved doing that. I love talking to younger girls because it’s too late now to give myself advice on some things.
K: How did you get to be the Funny Lady you are today?
P: My parents and sister were always very funny and still keep me laughing. If you laugh in a family you can get through anything. Life is hard but also great and laughing is a good reminder of that. I was a huge ham when I was little. I was a good student but a big class clown too. I loved to make people laugh for as long as I can remember. Humor helped a lot when I moved to new schools twice in my childhood. When I made someone laugh I connected easier and faster with them. It’s like a magic wand.
K: How did you break into The Business?
P: I was always in theatre and wanted to be an actor professionally. I worked a lot of jobs (performing at theme parks, regional theatre, doing commercials, etc.) and everything was an important step towards where I ended up.
K: What did you study in school?
P: I studied theatre, music and art. I loved drawing and singing but I knew my heart was mostly in performance. I got my degree in theatre at University of Tennessee in 1986. I did do some writing too, but mostly for myself and pieces I was performing and some short stories. I never thought I would end up writing as a career but I am so glad it happened this way. I still perform sometimes and always will but it’s so amazing to write and create whole worlds of people and their stories that make people laugh and cry.
K: Were you really a musical theater goddess? What are the odds that we’ll see you on Broadway some day? What is your favorite musical? Were you in all of the musicals in high school?
P: I was most definitely not a goddess but I’ve always adored it. Being onstage harmonizing in a musical is pure heaven for me. When I rehearse a musical sketch I’ve written for SNL I get such an ache and wish I was up there singing too! I would love to do Broadway someday. I always played the character roles and now that I’m getting old enough to look the part maybe I’ll do it sometime! My favorite musical is probably Sweeney Todd (one of my dream roles is to play Mrs. Lovett) I love so many musicals.
K: What is like getting to be around people who are so funny and famous – like Tina Fey for example - and you, of course- all the time? Is it empowering or a little nerve wracking?
P: I’ve been at SNL for 17 years so most of the famous people came there as young eager unknowns. Watching their talent propel them to being so successful is very exciting to watch. They are still themselves and to me are friends and not famous people. Every so often I will be nervous to work with a host if I have always admired them (like Robert Deniro). It’s empowering to write something for a host you love and they score with it. It is one of the best things when you work at SNL. I’ve made many professional and personal connections with people who host and it’s really nice now, because I’m writing movies and I could write a script for them.
K:How do you come up with fresh material all the time? Your Twitter is stock full of gems. How do you keep firing those puppies off?
P: I love writing on Twitter because it’s such quick little comedy morsels instead of a whole script, which can be intimidating. Too bad it doesn’t pay or I would do it every day in my PJ’s with my cats and dog on my lap! With sketches and longer movie scripts there is more prep and outlining, but with anything I write I just have to get in a mode of letting my mind flow freely and funny ideas will hopefully and eventually start coming out. So many ideas come from the world around me too. If I see or hear something/someone that makes me laugh it gets the brainstorm going. I love writing from a character perspective. I picture who that person is and then it’s easier to think of what they say and how they are funny.
(Check out her Twitter HERE. It's the best.)
K: What do you think the odds are of Tina Fey reading your interview on my blog?
P: She is a super busy lady and is in the last month of doing 30 Rock but maybe I can slip a copy of it in her sandwich. ☺ That’s the best way to contact me also, put a note in my food. Just don’t let it stick to the cheese.
K: Do you have any inspiring advice for people trying to follow their dreams?
P: These are the biggies from my experience:
-BE YOURSELF- the only way you’ll find success is to write/perform with your unique voice. No one can ever be you.
-BE BRAVE- There are a lot of experiences in the arts that can feel crippling, because when you get rejected you can get in your head that they are personally rejecting you (everyone’s biggest fear) You have to be strong in those times and be able to shake it off and say “it wasn’t meant to be” and take what you’ve learned and keep moving.
-BE PRODUCTIVE- If you write, write a lot, even if it isn’t good. Have others you trust read it and keep improving yourself. Whatever you want to do you must do it all the time and find classes to do it where you are being critiqued so you can see how it affects those who read it. That doesn’t mean you change things you love, it’s just important to become used to criticism and notes and open to making things better and better. In the professional world you will have to do that every day. There is no room for being defensive or having hurt feelings.
-BE JOYFUL- Create from a place of joy. Start out writing about what you know and love and feel something about. That will fuel your creativity. Just like so many careers in the arts, writing can be very hard and you have to love it or it will be a hard road. Life is way too short to not do what you love and what makes you feel alive and happy.
-EXPLORE- Look into the many corners of writing. You may find a specific form that you love so much. I am turning fifty in April and I just started writing movies this last two years. It’s so much fun to push myself into different forms of writing because it makes my world feel new and energizing.
-DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS- This is a big thing with girls. The minute you start comparing yourself with who someone is and what they do, you focus on who you aren’t and what you don’t do. That’s when doubt comes in and you can’t find your voice. Stay with yourself. There is great stuff to find there!
K: Who or what do you find most inspiring?
P: I find anyone who knows how unique they are and keeps doing what they love to be inspiring. Careers in the creative arts are full of ‘no’s’ and that can take you down. When I see people get back up again and again and succeed it makes me feel good. I used to be a big people pleaser and I worried way too much about how I was affecting others. Now I am still a caring person, but I spend more time being honest with myself and the world about what I want and need, and it has paid off. There is a lot of hard work involved but when you succeed it’s a lot of fun and so worth it.
(I don’t mean money success either- although it’s important to make sure you can support yourself. I mean the success of doing something that makes you thrilled!)
Thank you Katherine for asking me to share my thoughts! Keep on blogging and writing girl!!!!!! xoxoxoxo
THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!
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Look! She's been on Parks and Rec!!!