The Ladies Room
One Of The Most Successful Women In Comedy Comes Out Of The Writer's Room

"I didn’t see myself as a female writer, I swore and ate pizza and dressed like a little boy just hoping they wouldn’t notice and they’d let me stay.”

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Have you seen Charmed? Murphy Brown? Late Night with David Letterman? NCIS? The Simpsons? Monk? The Muppets? Sabrina the Teenage Witch? Did you read Lean In?! Then you’ve almost certainly laughed at Nell Scovell’s jokes - you just didn’t know it was her until now. Writer, producer, and director Nell Scovell has been behind the scenes for years but now she’s out in front of the camera to promote her first solo book project, Just The Funny Parts.
“I thought about calling [the book] ‘Just the Angry and Bitter Parts.’ It would have been an eight volume set. Actually, at one point the publisher wasn’t sure about the name ‘Just the Funny Parts’ and they said, ‘well, come up with some others that might be more about gender’ so I sent them ‘Penis Penis Penis Me Penis’ and after that they went ‘no, we like 'Just the Funny Parts.'’”
I talked to Nell about her new book and how she “snuck” into Hollywood and stayed there. “I tried to blend in [with the all male writers], you know, I didn’t see myself as a female writer, I swore and ate pizza and dressed like a little boy just hoping they wouldn’t notice and they’d let me stay.”
But once you’re in, how do you stay there? Be good at taking criticism. “I love criticism. It’s so — it is hard. The best advice I ever got was from my friend Rob Bragin, who I worked with at Murphy Brown and he had gone to [University of California] Berkley, and back in the 60s with all the Berkley protests there was...the advice they gave the protesters when the police came to grab you was, ‘go limp,’ because you could do more damage to yourself if you struggled, and it also gave them a reason to hit you harder. So when you get criticism, go limp. Don’t take it, don’t get defensive, don’t fight back, you know, it’s just really great to just take it all in, ask questions — ‘why did you feel that way?’ — but the audience is so important and I give another piece of advice in the book, it’s that the only way that we can move forward creatively is to allow ourselves to be judged.”
It’s worth noting that Scovell was the second female writer ever hired for Late Night with David Letterman and the only woman on the staff during at the time of her hire. She left the show within the year. In 2009, Scovell wrote a scathing essay in Vanity Fair calling Late Night a “hostile work environment” after Letterman admitted to having sexual relationships with his female staffers. Scovell pointed out that Letterman had hired only 7 female staffers over the course of 27 years. “The shows often rely on current (white male) writers to recommend their funny (white male) friends to be future (white male) writers." Scovell is a national treasure for that alone.
Check out my full conversation with Nell and for more conversations from The Ladies Room, be sure to follow Refinery29’s Strong Opinions Loosely Held page.
Nell Scovell Talks Toxic Comedy Writing RoomsReleased on April 25, 2018

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