It’s easy to be funny in private. Standup, however, is an entirely different thing. After watching Morgan Murphy effortlessly kill at a packed room at Laugh Factory, it became clear to me why she has been responsible (at least partially) for so much TV comedy. Murphy currently writes and produces the CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls. Before that, she wrote for Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (where she was part of the original writing staff), and Crank Yankers and consulted on Human Giant. After over a decade in comedy, Murphy released her first standup special, Irish Goodbye, earlier this year, and I recently chatted with her about it, how she started doing standup, and working for 2 Broke Girls.
Is comedy something you always aspired to do?
I loved comedy. I don’t know when it clicked that someone has to write the funny stuff on TV and that it might be a cool job. I gravitated towards it because I loved standup, comedy, and anything that was funny on TV.
How did your career start?
I applied for an internship at Conan O’Brien at eighteen, and I got it. So I went out to New York for a summer to do the internship, and I ended up watching a lot of bar comedy. I am still friends with a lot the people I met that summer. They were super nice and welcoming. I was just this nerdy kid hanging out, lingering, and watching.
That gave me the courage to do standup. I did one set in New York and then I flew back to LA. The second I came back to LA I went to every open mic I could find and started writing constantly. At that point I was 100% writer and 0% performer. I am a dry comedian now, but back then I was just like: One-liner. Stop. One-liner. Stop. I wasn’t trying to be like Steven Wright, it was just the only way I knew how to perform. So I spent years at open mics and hanging out at whatever bar or laundromat would have me.
Did you find the Los Angeles comedy scene difficult to break into?
I think I got really lucky. I was given a couple jobs when I was 20, 21 that I wouldn’t have landed but for my standup. I wrote on this sketch show when I was a senior in college called The Offensive Show on Showtime with B.J. Novak and Dan Mintz. We wrote the pilot and it didn’t go to series.
At 21, when I got out of school, I got hired on Crank Yankers. It happened pretty fast for me. Faster than I thought it would. I suppose a lot of that is the right person seeing you at the right time and hoping they think that you’re funny. You have to be funny when those people see you.
Do you consider yourself to be a prolific writer?
No, I look at the number of specials that Louis C.K. comes out with… I am just baffled at how much material people can generate. Trying to write my own standup while writing for other projects is difficult. I’m grateful for my job though.
Do you make a conscious effort to joke about dark topics in your standup, or does it just happen?
I just know what’s funny to me and what my sensibility is. I don’t even realize how dirty my comedy is until I hear it. I just think that the most horrible things to say are hilarious. I don’t know why. I can’t explain it. I didn’t have comedian parents. I wasn’t raised to appreciate dark humor. Every comedian has a voice. For reasons I can’t figure out, I tend to talk about subjects that some people think are taboo. I think that there is a way to make anything funny. I would much rather be criticized for having a bad joke than for having a good joke about something someone thinks I shouldn’t have a joke about.
Why do you think 2 Broke Girls is so popular?
I think the heart of the show is the friendship between Max and Caroline. I think that’s what people get attached to. That’s the heart of the show. Everyone understands the relationship between two best girlfriends [and] Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs are so talented. When you’re watching them you believe that they’re best friends and that they love each other. They go through these weird adventures with all these different characters, and you buy into it even though it’s an absurd setting at times. There’s a horse and a crazy Polish lady upstairs.
You get to write this incredible friendship between these girls. And then you get the pure fun of writing a character like Sofie, played by Jennifer Coolidge, where you get to be wild and absurd and crazy. It’s such a joke-heavy show. I love writing jokes. It’s one joke after another. The writing process is really challenging and fun, to go, “Well, we have this 10-second period where no one is laughing. How do you make a straight line a joke?”
Tell me about your Netflix special and iTunes album Morgan Murphy: Irish Goodbye.
I really wanted to record an hour of my material. I did it with friends, out-of-pocket. We didn’t go through a big production company. I shot it at NerdMelt Showroom. The iTunes release reminds me of days I would lie on the floor and listen to a comedy album. It’s kind of romantic and feels like a throwback. Also, you don’t have to worry about people judging a low budget visual.