This December, Refinery29, in collaboration with TBS, will gather eight writers, all of whom identify as women, at the Public Hotel for a two-day workshop. The workshop is meant to be a 48-hour trip to comedy boot camp — this is a comedy lab, a type of program that’s become increasingly common, especially as companies continue to challenge the current comedy standard.
“The weekend lab and overall program is designed to workshop each participant’s original digital series from treatment through scripting and revision stages,” says Julie Miller, creative director and executive producer of RIOT at Refinery29. The end product of this particular program will be a digital pilot produced by TBS.
Labs like these are meant to promote and propel voices in comedy that might not have been heard yet.
“Progress is made in the evolution of comedy when industry leaders champion new, diverse storytellers,” says Miller. “When we launched RIOT, Refinery29’s comedy brand, we made it our mission to identify, support, and amplify diverse up-and-coming female comedy writers and performers. In less than a year, Refinery29 has worked with over 100 of the most exciting emerging women in comedy.” A few of these women include Jo Firestone, Aparna Nancherla, Phoebe Robinson, Jacqueline Novak, Michelle Buteau, and Lauren Adams.
Refinery29's comedy lab follows in the footsteps of programs such as NBC's "Writers on the Verge," which has occurred every year since 2005. The NBC lab takes place over 12 weeks, and provides a workshop environment for writers to develop their spec scripts, as per Deadline. They receive mentoring from NBCUniversal programming executives, and, at the end of it all, have the opportunity to apply for positions in NBC writers' rooms. NBC's program has funneled talent into shows such as The Mayor, Trial & Error, and the USA show Damnation.
NBC also runs a workshop for late night writers which takes place over several days, not weeks, and focuses on late night comedy specifically. Participants attend improv classes and keynote lectures, all while receiving mentorship from the staff writers and producers of the network's late night shows. (One of the attendees of Refinery29's selected participants for its comedy lab participated in the 2016 workshop.)
The goal of all such programs is to launch a group of talent into the television landscape which, even in 2017, is still depressingly homogenous.
"The weekend lab and overall program is designed to workshop each participant’s original digital series from treatment through scripting and revision stages," Miller adds. "The goal of the program is to provide each participant with meaningful mentorship and instruction from TV writers and TV execs to help participants sharpen their writing and navigate the scripted development process. Post-lab, each participant will implement the notes and insight they’ve received during the course of the weekend and submit a revised series pilot and treatment." One such series will be produced for digital platforms by TBS.
There's a shift happening in comedy right now — perhaps you felt it when Melissa McCarthy donned a bald cap and impersonated Sean Spicer. Or perhaps you felt it when Tiffany Haddish was the first Black comic to host Saturday Night Live. (Haddish also won the the New York Film Critics Circle award for best supporting actress for Girls Trip.) Or perhaps you felt it when Louis C.K. apologized for his sexual misconduct and relinquished his role as industry titan. It's as if the waters have parted and a new vanguard can make its way across the vast comedy ocean. At this point, it's inevitable, imminent, and exciting — Refinery29's comedy lab is here to help facilitate this change.
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