Writer Cindy Caponera on Showtime’s ‘I’m Dying Up Here’

Inasmuch as LB himself is a huge (Whew, almost said “yuge” but managed to stop meself in time) fan of I’m Dying Up Here, it’s a thrill and a delight to have found this interview with Consulting Producer and writer for the show, Cindy Caponera.

by Patrick McDonald

One of the great new premium channel TV series, which piggybacked on the “Twin Peaks” return on the Showtime Network, is “I’m Dying Up Here.” Set in the 1970s, it tells the stories of fictional stand up comedians in Los Angeles, and one of the Consulting Producers and series writers is Cindy Caponera.

Caponera wrote the latest episode, “Girls Are Funny, Too,” which focused on Cassie (Ari Graynor), as she tries to break new ground in an era where women in comedy had even more obstacles in a man’s show business world. The episode was loose, poignant and funny, and highlighted the excellent cast, which includes Oscar winner Melissa Leo as Goldie, the owner of the club that the stand up comics perform in. Add in Jake Lacy, Al Madrigal, Andrew Santino, Erik Griffin and RJ Cyler, and the world of the comedy in the 1970s is magnificently represented. – the series even places real people like Johnny Carson and Richard Pryor in the mix. “I’m Dying Up Here” was created by David Flobette and Executive Producer Jim Carrey.

Cindy Caponera was born on the Southside of Chicago in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. She honed her comic skills with two stints in at The Second City comedy club on Wells Street, and began her television writing career with the early Comedy Central series, “Exit 57.” She landed a writing gig on “Saturday Night Live” in 1995, and after three seasons on that show has worked as a freelance TVwriter ever since. Her credits includes “Norm,” “My Boys,” “Sherri,” “Ground Floor,” plus Showtime’s “Shameless” and “Nurse Jackie.” In 2014, she published her collection of essays, “I Triggered Her Bully” – named a Kindle Top-Rated Humor Book – and it’s available both in online and print versions. She talks with HollywoodChicago.com for a third time, about her involvement with “I’m Dying Up Here,” both in an interview transcript and audio.

HollywoodChicago.com: The episode you just wrote, ‘Girls Are Funny, Too’ almost seems personal. What was the cathartic effect of writing something that profound about the situation with ‘funny girls’ in the 1970s?

Cindy Caponera: Well, for example, when Cassie [the woman comic portrayed by Ari Graynor] is assaulted in the parking lot in the episode, that was the extension of the oppression felt in that situation. I really identify with Cassie, coming up in a comedy world where you’re struggling to be really funny, yet still be feminine and live your truth… and that world is primarily men. I came up in that type of world a decade later, not in stand-up, but improv comedy. At The Second City back then, if there were two women in an improv group, it meant that there would be four or five guys as ‘the balance.’ Even in TV writing today, my agent will tell me that a show has their ‘woman writer,’ and often I’ve been that one woman in the room.

HollywoodChicago.com: How do you connect with the character of Cassie directly?

Caponera: There was a scene in the pilot where she goes in and essentially blackmails Goldie. And I thought, ‘geez, that character has balls.’ She’s always asking for what she needs, and she still gets the backlash like the assault. She’s complicated, ambitious and confident, and in that era she was really doing something different, much different than anything her girlfriends were doing. I was doing the same thing in the 1980s when I was learning improv comedy, not staying in the neighborhood and marrying someone from the gas company or a fireman. It was really difficult….

Read it all at HollywoodChicago (and listen to the audio recording there too!)