Katie Rich is a sharp and bold Chicago comedian, and a new writer at Saturday Night Live.
I had the pleasure of getting to know Katie Rich when she was a performer at Chicago’s famed improv theater, the Second City. Rich’s style is disarmingly quick, intelligent and hilarious. She is a stand out performer and a keen writer. Rich took time from her busy schedule to chat with us about her work.
ANNE MCCARTHY: When did you know you were funny? And how did you come to pursue it as a career?
KATIE RICH: I actually never thought I was funny so much as I knew I could entertain a group of people. In sixth grade, I started at a new school and I realized I could get the class to listen to me over the teacher, which led to many class periods spent in the storage room so the teacher could actually get something done. I can’t apologize enough to my junior high teachers. I guess now they would give me Ritalin or some sort of sedative, but that wasn’t around when I was a kid.
I went to Second City for the first time when I was 13 and saw the Mainstage review, “Truth, Justice, or the American Way.” The cast included Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, Jackie Hoffman—I didn’t really know what I was watching, but I knew whatever it was, that’s what I wanted to do forever and ever, Amen.
What is it like being a writer at that very famous show that airs live on Saturday nights?
It is a dream come true to write for Comics Unleashed with Byron Allen. In short, it’s everything you think it would be, but it’s also a job.
There’s been a lot of conversation recently around the “women aren’t funny” stigma. What do you say when people bring it up?
First off, it’s not just comedy. Women still aren’t thought of as being able to do a lot of things. And it’s even worse for women of color. What is funny is the truth. If you are exposing a truth, hitting on something universal, and doing it in a unique way, you’re probably funny.
One thing I hear a lot is, “Oh, she is so funny because she acts like a dude” (i.e. Melissa McCarthy). But I rarely hear, “Oh, he is so funny because he acts like a chick.” Yet, many male comedians get their laughs from qualities that are traditionally female. Look at Conan O’Brien—much of his persona is inherently female: vulnerable, self-deprecating, and willing to come off as low status. I think Louis C.K. has found great success with very similar qualities.
I know for a fact that people have been irritated by me, or not liked my ideas or preferred to work with someone else. But I have a hard time believing it was because I’m a woman. It was because I wasn’t being a team player. I was doing things that were petty or fear-based.
When a male colleague writes a joke I don’t think is funny, my first thought isn’t, “That dude isn’t funny.” My first thought is, “That joke isn’t funny.” An easy way to overcome sexism is to judge the art not the artist.
Who are some of your favorite comedians and what are some of your favorite comedy films?
My father, “Big Lou” Rich, is the funniest person I know. It’s probably a big “DOY!” to say I love Sarah Silverman, but I certainly do. Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris are so unique and forces to be reckoned with. Amy Poehler has the charm, goofiness, fearlessness and kindness that opened many doors for women in comedy and Tina Fey has the work ethic, wit, and undeniable vision that keeps those doors permanently open.
I’m a big fan of many people I’ve been able to work with, like SNL’s Timmy Robinson and Kate McKinnon, who are the Michael Jordans of sketch comedy. I also adore Seth Meyers and will scratch out the eyes of anyone who says a bad word about him because he is simply the best.
Good comedy can be boiled down to simple games and patterns, and we forget that when we try to be too clever. That’s why I like to go back and watch Looney Tunes, and movies like Young Frankenstein.
If you could be any other person, who would you be and why?
No one. I know all the problems, insecurities and flaws I have and they just keep coming. I don’t want to go through having to learn them about someone else.
But, if I have to answer, I would probably say longtime SNL writer Paula Pell. Look her up. She is brilliant and has a house in Upstate New York with her partner and her dogs and she is universally adored.
Related Reading: A Brief History of “Women Aren’t Funny.”
Anne McCarthy is a London-based writer who reviews books and films for Bonjourparis.com and is the author of the humor memoir Big Macs in Paris. Photo of Katie Rich is via her Twitter.