As the WGA strike enters its fourth week, I checked in with Colbert Report writer Laura Krafft. Krafft is also a comedian, actress, musician, dog enthusiast, and all around great person. I had the pleasure of meeting her earlier this year in the fine state of North Carolina. Laura was kind enough to answer the following questions via email from her home in New York City.
Laura Krafft: Well, it's not as glamorous as we, the writers, would have you believe. There are no dancing girls. There's no exotic petting zoo. The snack food is by turns sweet or savory. Basically, we just sit and write at our computers all day. I also spend a lot of time doing handstands against the wall to stretch my back and get oxygen into my brain. In addition, I practice twirling in my chair and devise ways to make people get their feet off my desk.
The schedule is pretty much the same each day:
-Start the day crammed into the head writer's office with stacks of papers on our laps. Poke around the news, pitch out ideas, try to make each other laugh.
-Then, a bigger meeting where we pitch the executive producers and they decide what works for the show and what doesn't.
-Go off in twos, or sometimes threes or singles, and write stuff for that night's show.
- Turn everything in at one or the whole day gets backlogged.
- Cram into one tiny office and come up with the table of content jokes that are at the top of each show. (p.s. This is when everyone orders in lunch, so it's always really claustrophobic and smelly. As a lady, I only smell like roses and violets so I suffer the most.)
- Spend the afternoon writing things for upcoming shows.
- Trade off late nights, i.e. half of us stick around to help with any last minute rewrites or joke punch-ups.
- Stay for a taping a couple of nights a week to leer at the guests and watch that ridiculously talented and whip smart Stephen Colbert strut his stuff. As amazing as he is on TV, he's even better live.
CB: What does the research process entail for the show?
LK: We all read tons of newspapers, magazines, and blogs. I'm pretty sure we all also all watch a lot of TV. Of course, that could just be me rationalizing.
CB: What are your days like now that you are on strike?
LK: It's kind of nice. You get up. Make coffee at home because you're on strike. Read the papers on-line because you're on strike. Three days out of five you go picket unless you take a week off, like I did, because of a bum leg. (Torn calf muscle.) Then, sometimes, you meet with the other writers and talk about videos you might make so people outside of the WGA know what's happening with the strike and why we're striking. Sometimes, you make those videos. Watch TV and go to bed early because it's strike time and you need your energy. In between, you get slices of pizza and invent new cookie recipes. I made a really nice mocha chocolate chip cookie the other day.
CB: With the show's production on hold, do you still feel the need to write jokes or to research material?
LK: Don't get me wrong, comedy writing is a dream profession and I feel very fortunate to be making my living this way. That being said, I think there' a notion out there sometimes that comedy writers are like joke robots who constantly create and spit out jokes and TV producers just put buckets underneath them which they then empty periodically into the TV shows. I know that I, for one, don't really have a burning need to write jokes. Writing jokes is really hard work! You have to think a lot! I also don't have a crazy need to do research. I have a natural interest in the world around me and I like to see how people tick, but beyond that, I don't have a passionate desire to research people's voting records and different congressional districts. Because of the strike, we've missed a lot of funny news stories that would be great for the show but I haven't felt the need to actually write out any jokes.
CB: Despite what feels like a lot of support for the writer's strike, it's programs like yours and The Daily Show that people seem to be missing the most. Where should people be getting their news? From where do you get your news?
LK: I would hope people would be getting their news from the same places I get my news from; newspapers, magazines, blogs, television and radio. Lord, I hope people only use our shows for what they are, a satirical addendum to the news. We are definitely not a news source. We are a comedy show.
CB: The Colbert Report writers produced a video blog. Will you also be forming a band? Has there been any impromptu music playing or performance on the picket lines?
LK: There's been some really great music on the picket lines! Mostly percussion. A Colbert writer named Barry Julien plays the drums, so he's been laying down some nice fills on a snare skin. (Skin? - drum lingo) There was some talk of another writer renting a xylophone for the picket line because it's the only instrument he knows how to play. I play flute and piano but haven't tried bringing to any rallies yet.
CB: Is there any particular song or slogan that has become the rallying cry of the strike?
LK: I like "More Money! Les Moonves!" the best. What are the chances of being on strike against a guy named Leslie? You have to jump on these things.
CB: If the strike lasts a long time, do you have any good ideas for a reality TV show or game show that you'd like to share?
LK: How about "So You Want To Give Writer Laura Krafft an Allowance" It's a show where people compete to give me a comfortable financial stipend. The competitions start out sort of cute and small-townsy, stuff like pie eating and egg-tossing. But then, tension mounts and the final episode is a fight to the finish on top of an enormous skyscraper with the contestants using nothing but medieval weaponry and instinct. Who will win the top prize of compensating me for life? Who will suffer the humiliation of toppling off a skyscraper on live television!
CB: Apparently, and as supported by empirical evidence, television viewing is now an acceptable hobby for even the most refined and literate citizens. We tend to discuss the latest shows instead of the latest books. That being said, what are the shows on TV that you will not watch? And what shows are the important ones to watch in order to engage in public discourse?
LK: I'll watch most TV as long as it isn't sports. I'd rather watch people read from the dictionary or tie their shoes than watch a basketball game. Other than that, I'll happily watch anything. My favorite comedy show, hands down, is America's Funniest Home Videos. Any video involving ducklings or grandmas is usually great. I also like watching the local news. I like the local crime reports and how the weather people interact with the anchor people. "Chuck, pack your overalls because this is going to be a great weekend for corn de-tassling!" or "Chuck, unpack that net it's going to be crawfish CRAZY this weekend!"
CB: Is there a quintessential Colbert Report fan?
LK: Summed up in one word — diverse. One common denominator seems to be proud nerd. People who are interested in a lot of different things. People who appreciate trying to find the humor in what can be quite awful circumstances.
CB: What is the last album you listened to in its entirety?
LK: Parallel Lines by Blondie. I probably listen to it every three days. Aids digestion.
CB: What kinds of conversations do you have with your dogs?
LK: We like to sit down as a family and talk about our day. I'll tell them about things like riding on the subway or eating in restaurants. They keep me in their loop — Floyd's really focused on cursive writing, Emmy wants to study German. Open communication brings us together and makes us a strong unit.
CB: Have you ever done stand up comedy? Do you like performing live?
LK: Are you kidding me? I totally rock at stand-up comedy! AND I'm really funny at it. Basically, I'll just do hilarious things on stage and then the audiences' sides split all over the place. Performing is one of the most fun things to do on earth. I try not to do the same thing too many times because I like the rush of finding out when something works.
CB: What is your least favorite kind of performer or brand of comedy?
LK: I don't like when stand-up comedians do the same material for a long time. I also don't like when performers don't respect the audience. I always appreciate the fact that someone has taken time out of their own lives, traveled to a venue, paid to get into said venue and sat there for a couple hours all to watch a performance. The only part I really mind about bombing on stage is that I may have ruined part of the audience's night.
CB: Aside from Charo, what other massive celebrities have you jammed with?
LK: That's about it. What other massive celebrities are there?