What It’s Like to Get Hired as a Late Night TV Writer

Okay, so you aren’t living the dream yet. Sad to say, neither are we. But lots of other writers are, and Justin Caffier has talked to several of them to find out what their lives are like. Give a “listen:”

Seth Meyers – what do you mean you don’t know who he is?

by Justin Caffier

f you’re reading this website, there’s a high likelihood that you think it’d be pretty tight to land a job as a writer on a late night talk show. Where else can one collect a steady paycheck for churning out jokes that actually wind up on TV, all while enjoying fringe benefits like catered meals and celeb rendezvous?

Unfortunately, how one might go about landing one of these plum gigs is as enigmatic a riddle as any pertaining to “making it” in Hollywood. Some slave over packets for decades, fruitlessly chasing that dragon. Others seem to just trip and fall into the writers room from out of nowhere. We asked some current late night writers about the path that led them to their prized position and got as varied a group of responses as you might imagine.

If you’re reading this website, there’s a high likelihood that you think it’d be pretty tight to land a job as a writer on a late night talk show. Where else can one collect a steady paycheck for churning out jokes that actually wind up on TV, all while enjoying fringe benefits like catered meals and celeb rendezvous?

Unfortunately, how one might go about landing one of these plum gigs is as enigmatic a riddle as any pertaining to “making it” in Hollywood. Some slave over packets for decades, fruitlessly chasing that dragon. Others seem to just trip and fall into the writers room from out of nowhere. We asked some current late night writers about the path that led them to their prized position and got as varied a group of responses as you might imagine.

 

Ariel Dumas, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: I was an actor who didn’t start doing comedy until I was 26. I moved to Chicago to take improv classes after two years of failing the auditions for MFA acting schools. And thank God, because I saved thousands of dollars’ worth of rolling on the floor in a unitard.

Improv and writing and comedy in general was so much fun, I wanted to do it all the time. And while I wasn’t banking on it, I thought maybe if I worked really hard and got good and was a nice person, someone on some coast would offer me a job by the time I was 40.

Five years and one cruise ship gig later, I saw that The Colbert Report was soliciting packets. I was very intimidated and sad, somehow. Like a lot of comedy people, I was a depressed person who thought I was a hot piece of garbage and definitely not good enough to write for a TV show I loved. But then my therapist was like “Who cares! Write the packet! You’ve got nothing to lose!”

He was right, as therapists tend to be. I locked myself indoors for a long weekend and wrote, subjecting many patient friends to living room performances of my drafts (thanks, Katie and Neil and Jennifer!). I cried several times and ate a lot of stress-pizza.

A few days after I turned in the packet, I got an email saying the producers wanted to talk to me. After reading that email, I rolled off the couch onto the rug. On all fours, I let out a guttural wail like a beast who had finally killed, I don’t know, some sort of rival beast.

After a fun and nerve-wracking Skype interview (“Cool talking with you! Let’s see your apartment!”), a second packet, and an in-person interview in New York, they hired me. It was a friggin’ dream come true, and it’s been a blast ever since.

Moral of the story: hustle, be kind, be patient, eat pizza, and listen to your therapist.

Ian MorganLate Night with Seth Meyers: My TV career started with an internship out of college at Letterman, which led to a part-time job as an audience page at the show, and then to a full-time position in their mail room. Around the same time, a friend of mine who was working in the cue card department at SNL invited me to check out the studio during a Friday rehearsal….

Read it all at Splitsider