Amy Rhodes made her mark on the NY comedy scene with two original shows and countless late night improv performances. She then moved on to become the Director of Content and a staff writer for Funny or Die and now writes for the one and only Ellen DeGeneres.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in West Des Moines, Iowa.
What did you want to be as a child?
I didn’t really have career aspirations as a child. I was a jerk—getting in trouble at school, one of the mean girls, all that stuff—up until high school. Then I started acting and I thought I going to be the next Meryl Streep. I thought I was this amazing dramatic actress because I can cry on cue. So every show I did, I would cry at some point—even when it didn’t fit the part.
What was your history with comedy/performance prior to UCB?
I started doing comedy in high school. Not to brag or anything but I was in a mime troupe. There really is nothing sexier than me in a black leotard. Nothing. Anyway, that was my first experience writing and performing sketch comedy. Then in college I started doing improv. After college my friend Eric Pliner and I created a show called “Spooky Dog and The Teenage Gang Mysteries.” It was a parody of Scooby Doo for adults. It ran off-Broadway in New York for about a year and I played the Velma character in the show. I heard about UCB at that time, and started taking classes at UCB, then started performing and teaching there.
Who was your most influential teacher?
I was never very confident as a writer, and I had great teachers who kept encouraging me to do it—I’m lucky to have had that in junior high, high school and college. My mom is also a writer – so she was a huge inspiration and an amazing teacher. And JEN NAILS, who directed my first solo show, comes to mind—she brought out a lot in me as a writer and a performer that I didn’t know was there.
What was the most useful career advice anyone gave you?
I guess one thing I’ve heard from a lot of people is to just keep doing work – creating, putting your self out there. Do as much as you can. Don’t sit around and wait for someone to do something for you. Don’t be precious about your work. Like, don’t work on something for a year and never show it to anyone. That’s how people end up going the Grey Gardens variety of crazy.
What was your first paid writing gig?
Well, one of the first ones that I remember was taking science stories and making them funny – it was for a radio show. It was a really weird job. Partly the because of the material I was writing and partly because I was required to do it shirtless. The last part’s not true – but it was a weird job. But at that point, if someone was willing to pay me to write, I would do it. I went after every paid writing job I could no matter how small.
You now work for Ellen, what’s a typical day like?
Every day is different—it’s a high-energy job. I feel like if I don’t run from one place to another during the day at some point, I’m not doing it right. During the day it’s a lot of writing, rewriting, notes, things like that. It’s a long day and it’s a lot of work. But I like the pace—there is no way you could get bored at a job like this.
What do you admire most about your boss?
I don’t use this word often—but I really do think Ellen is a genius. So funny, so talented, and willing to try new things all the time. And she’s opened so many doors for people. As a woman in comedy, I’m used to being the only woman in the room. At this job I write for a woman, one of the Executive Producers is a woman, three of the writers on staff are women. That’s rare. Also, every time someone in the entertainment industry feels comfortable enough to come out – which is happening more and more – I believe it truly is because of what she did, coming out when she did. I have always admired her for her courage to do that—she changed so many people’s lives.
What are your long-term career aspirations?
If I say I don’t know is that bad? Because I don’t. I’ve always just been kind of like—I’ll do this or that and see what happens.
What is your creative process when writing?
When I write from home I take a lot of baths. If I have writers block I take a bath. Sometimes there are multiple baths in one day—like three or four. I have no explanation for why I do this. But, at work, you kind of just have to sit down and write—there’s not a lot of time to procrastinate. I’ve asked H.R. if I could get a bathtub installed in my office but they are being very rude about it. VERY rude.
Do you feel a divide between the opportunities men and women are given in comedy?
Sure. In all aspects of this field, women are a minority. But I think what worked for me was deciding not waste my energy focusing on that.
What ladies are you watching these days? Who do you think has a strong comedic voice both on a large and small scale?
I love Amy Poehler. And Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph are favorites as well. I think Casey Wilson and June Raphael are a great comedic duo. My college roommate Molly Erdman has an amazing blog called Catalogliving.net—I’m obsessed with. And I’ve been lucky to work with two very funny Laurens—Lauren Palmigiano at Funny or Die and Lauren Pomerantz at Ellen. I also think Lauren Graham is super funny, so I guess what I’m saying is if you have a daughter and you want her to be funny, name her Lauren.
What is your personal motto?
Well—I am not sure this is a personal motto, but Jay-Z has a lyric, “Those who don’t feel me are not real to me.” I like that. It’s kind of like, if you don’t get my comedic voice, I don’t have time to explain it to you.
What advice would you give to ladies wanting to pursue a career in comedy?
Don’t be competitive with other girls. Create your own opportunities—that’s really the biggest thing, I think. Every lady I know who is successful created her own opportunities. What else? Try to do projects that you want to do, not ones that you think other people might want you to do. Don’t worry about attracting agents and managers and all of that stuff—just find your voice and get it out there in as many ways as you can.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Thanks for interviewing me—and thanks for putting together this site!
Now watch Amy’s Funny or Die Intervention musical featuring Kristen Chenoweth. Then watch her hilarious haunted house ordeal for The Ellen DeGeneres Show. (So rude!)
You can follow Amy on twitter @iamamyrhodes