Comedy writer highlight: Kate Anderson
Kate Anderson (website here; Twitter here) is DC-based writer who studied French Literature and Urban Planning before realizing her dream of freelance writing dark comedy (for McSweeney’s, The Belladonna Comedy, and Points in Case); producing an all-female variety show; doing improv; and meeting all your writing, designing, and editing needs (sometimes she writes not-funny things, too).
Below, we made her answer seven short questions.
One of your first articles was “Astrological Signs You Shouldn’t Date (Because They’re a Drug Dealer).” Can you tell us about the process of thinking that up, pitching it, and getting it published?
That was my first published piece, so it holds a special place in my heart. I’m an astrology nerd and have read way too many horoscopes over the years, so the style was easy for me to emulate. Also, I was taking an improv class at the time I wrote it, and the teacher really encouraged all of us to get dark and weird, so I think that helped me with the brainstorming (shout out to Pat Swearingen). I have a history of being a bit sterilized and overly polite and diplomatic in my communications, which is good in some settings, but bad for comedy, so I’ve had to learn to let out the strange. (Not saying that comedy makes it ok to be a bully, just that it's important to bring a sense of playfulness and exploration).
I had no experience pitching and didn’t know quite what to do, but I loved Reductress and McSweeney’s, so I pitched it there first. Reductress doesn’t take pitches that way, and McSweeney’s rejected it, but I’m so glad it landed with The Belladonna Comedy. They published a few other pieces of mine later, and are overall wonderful people and supportive of newbies like I was.
Tell us about the experience performing at an all-women’s variety show.
It was such a fun show! “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up the Patriarchy” is a mouthful but summed up the theme. It was the first and only show I’ve ever produced. I was inspired to do the variety show for a variety of reasons (bad pun intended). I was doing a lot of different performances at the time and it was around the new year when I first planned it, so I had a lot of momentum, motivation, and connections in the comedy world. Also, it was the Marie Kondo craze (early 2019) and I’d long been a Marie Kondo fan, so I capitalized on that (unfortunately I did not capitalize on it monetarily).
There was a good crowd and a lot of good energy and laughs. I had only done stand-up a handful of times before, so it was a bit audacious of me to do a set in front of a big crowd that I’d helped organize, but it worked out.
About the all-female aspect: There are amazing male comics out there, but the comedy scene is usually male-dominated which can get exhausting, and sometimes dangerous and toxic. So it was nice to create a different space (though there were a few men in the audience, they did not behave poorly).
You went to Harvard and Georgetown. At which institution did you laugh more? (And why?)
Lol I definitely laughed more at Georgetown and cried more at Harvard (Harvard was great in many ways but also… really hard). I went to a number of comedy shows while at Georgetown. Mike Birbiglia was a recent alum and just starting out, so he regularly came to campus to do free shows. I also went to see the school’s improv troupe and I’m pretty sure I saw John Mulaney, who was a year ahead of me.
I was way too socially-anxious to get involved then, though. At one point during an improv show, they asked for audience participation, and even though there were dozens of people in the audience, the prospect of getting called onto stage was so scary that I panicked and left the theater for 10 minutes and hid in the bathroom until I deemed it safe to return. It still blows my mind that I ended up getting really into improv years later.
There is another comedian named Kate Anderson. What would you like to say to her? How would you describe the difference between the two of you, in a haiku?
Haha I forgot about her! I discovered her when I was trying to use the domain name “kateandersoncomedy” but it was already taken (I am content with “kateandersonjokes”). I wish her only the best, but I will attempt a haiku:
Two Kate Andersons
Derivatives of “Katherine”
Hallowed be our names
Oops, that did not address the question of difference, and got unexpectedly religious, possibly sacrilegious? Feel free to delete this response.
How did you come up with your best joke?
I don’t know if it’s my best joke, but one of my favorite and most popular pieces is “Why I’m Waiting Until Marriage to Replace the Brita Filter.” That piece started with the title, and then I filled in the rest. I was doing a short brainstorming session at the computer and playing around with tropes and started with “Why I’m Waiting Until Marriage to___” and the idea of the Brita filter popped up and I laughed out loud, so I knew I needed to follow that thread. I had a lot of fun with it.
Describe your comedy writing process.
It really varies. Sometimes I get random ideas, which I try to keep in the Notes app on my phone (and usually I end up scoffing at them, but sometimes there are keepers). Usually I need to take the time to sit down with pen and paper and brainstorm, pick an idea, and then go with it.
Deadlines help me, so if there is a holiday theme or class assignment, I’m more likely to follow through. It has to feel funny and original to me, otherwise I’m gonna feel bored with it, and that will come through in the final product. So whatever I can do in the brainstorming stage to find what excites me will make the crafting stage easier.
Classes and workshops have helped me also with honing skills and building community. I started taking comedy writing classes awhile after I published my first piece and I was a bit arrogant at first, thinking “I’m already publishing, I don’t really need this”- but I did. It has made a huge difference. There are a lot of amazing classes out there, but the Second City online satire writing class developed by Caitlin Kunkel has had the strongest impact on my comedy writing journey.
I’ve also heard from a lot of teachers to ground yourself in truth, not jokes. Then it feels more personal and meaningful (even if it’s about Brita filters), and it doesn’t risk feeling hollow.
Anything to pitch?
Hm I don’t know, I just checked my Twitter drafts and it’s looking pretty bleak right now. Maybe a sacrilegious haiku?
Photography: Rob Thomas (first and third photos)