News of Harold Ramis’s death this week rocked the comedy community, and a bunch of folks posted uncharacteristically heartwarming things about the effect Ramis had on their careers and lives. The one that stuck with me most was by Jon Perry, who excerpted this Ramis quote from comedy writer manual Here’s The Kicker:
The only thing totally unique is you. There's no one like you. No one else has had your experience. No one has been in your body or had your parents. Yes, we've all had the same cultural influences. We've all lived at the same time, watched the same shows, gone to the same movies, listened to the same music. But it's all filtered through our unique personalities. And I honor the things that have influenced me. I'm grateful for whatever it is that became the particular lens that's allowed me to put out what I have.
I interviewed Becky Yamamoto about her series Uninspired last week, before Ramis passed away but, in retrospect, it’s a perfect example of the kind of relatable, yet uniquely personal comedy product that resonates because it rings so true. As comedy writers, we’re often afraid that our audience won’t “get it” if we allow our unfiltered thoughts to spill out on the page. In reality, that’s probably the best way to be remembered and Mr. Ramis is shining proof of that.
How did you get started in comedy?
I started comedy in LA. I took improv classes at the Groundlings and UCB and then wanted to do stand up so I started doing that and then I did theater for a little bit but then decided that I like comedy the best and I moved to New York to pursue that out here.
Ah, the old reverse move.
I think I read some actory book when I was just starting out that said in New York you can go out and try stuff and in LA it kind of feels like you have to have your game on. I don’t know if that’s the truth or if people still feel that way.
I feel like New York is a testing ground where a lot of comedians build up their credentials and then make the move back out.
Because there’s just so many opportunities out here, there’s like a billion little shows, so many ways to just try out something and see who you are.
What was the inspiration for Uninspired? Haaa.
It’s a couple things, like about being a lady and growing up and getting your shit together. Buying homes and getting married and having kids, you start to remember, “Oh didn’t I want to try this career thing?” and then it feels like maybe you’re too old for that.
Constant self doubt. Love that.
It get’s very philosophical, like “Who am I?”
That’s comedy. So what’s next for this series, are you going to keep making episodes? Are you trying to spin it into a longer form thing? What are your plans?
I’ve got 4 more episodes that’re coming out every Thursday. They’ve all been shot and are just being edited now. This was kind of an experiment. I entered the first two episodes in the NY Television Festival this year and they got in so that was really cool. Then I was just like, “I might as well finish this out,” so I wrote the next 4 and shot them with Adam Wirtz.
He’s all over the place right now.
He’s amazing; he’s kind of like a one-man band. He makes everything look amazing.
He really is a talented dude. So what was the budget like for this? Talk to me a little bit about the logistics and the challenges of pulling this off.
Not that big of a budget. I paid Adam to do stuff, but I didn’t pay the actors. The hardest part was locations, which I feel is like everyone’s problem. So you have to ask friends if you can shoot in their apartment or ask the wine store that I go to or finding a bar.
I think every comedian in New York is well versed in that. “Well I can’t pay you, but I can offer you a thank you in the credits of this series that maybe nobody will watch.”
This one wine store I wanted to shoot in really gave me the third degree, “Can you give us a synopsis of the show? A resume?” and then when I sent that to them they said they weren’t interested.
Anytime I’ve had to go out to find a location for a production it’s been a miserable experience.
Some people are like, “Well, you could use our bar for $400.” And you’re like, “That’s my whole budget.”
What else are you working on?
here are some other series that I’ve started planning out with friends but we’re still in the early stages. I’m starting something hopefully with Meghan O’Neill. Beyond that I’m looking at other projects. I don’t think I’m gonna do a second season of Uninspired.
You just sort of did this as a showpiece?
I just wanted to see if I could do it, as a challenge to myself, to see if I could get into a festival. And then I did and it was like, “Okay cool, now can I get other people to see it?” That’s a little harder because there’s just so much good stuff out there. And it’s kind of long right now. But I wanted to create something that I liked and I did.
And I’m glad you did. What advice do you have for people looking to break into digital comedy?
I’d say the best way to get started is to find other people who want to create something and keep each other motivated. I was in a web comedy group where we just met and wrote stuff. Just having to bring material each week to get notes and such made me a better writer. I think that’s key and I think just setting a date and shooting it is also really important. I think the best thing about doing this is working with people you love, with people who actually appreciate comedy.
What other web series are you watching right now?
High Maintenance is so good. My friend is doing a series that I’m really looking forward to. I also love Broad City and Ann Carr’s The Actress.
Only two episodes of Uninspired have been released. Usually we wait until there are at least three installments of something to cover it here, to make sure we’re not writing up comedy outliers. In this series’ first two episodes, we’ve got a TV pilot’s worth of Grade A product so we figured we’d make an exception. Here are two reasons to watch (though there are many many more than that).
Lots of people try to get understated comedy right and most fail—ending up with a product that’s just boring. Yamamoto ain’t one of these people.
There are many gut-wrenching moments of everyday misery in Uninspired and they’re what made be laugh the hardest.