Writing lines down in Final Draft does not a screenwriter make. That kind of writing requires training, an understanding of story structure, an ability to re-write until you want to curl up in a ball and go to law school like the rest of your friends (JK, Steve – I love you, dawg!) and then re-write some more. Jenny Donheiser and Meagan Kensil have respect for the process and have decided to devote their lives to it. Their goal isn’t just to “become writers,” it’s to become better and with this as a starting point, it’s safe to say they’ve got some very green, LSAT-free pastures ahead.
How did you get your starts in comedy?
Meagan: I’ve always loved comedy, since I was a little girl. When I was little, that translated into theater because that was my only outlet in elementary, middle, and high school. I almost always played the comedic relief or, if it was a comedic play, I played the comedic lead. I was obsessed with SNL and cartoons as a child. That’s why I wanted to go to NYU because I thought that was where I could go to become better at making people laugh.
When did you graduate?
Meagan: We both graduated in 2009 and that’s where we met. We were in the acting program there and also took classes at UCB. We were also in an acting company that we had helped to found but were a little “eh” about it and decided we should just try our hand at comedy. That’s how Roomsies came about; we just decided to just do it.
Was this the first thing that you guys made together?
Jenny: Yeah we were in school and acted together but this is the first attempt at making comedy videos together. Unless you count our sketch show at NYU, which was a hot mess. We did co-write a single sketch for an NYU sketch show which didn’t even end up in the show, and the show was not great.
How did you get better? Can it all be attributed to UCB?
Jenny: I think it was mainly spending a lot of time together and figuring out what made both of us laugh and UCB was a part of it certainly, but also watching online comedy videos together inspired us to make our own.
Meagan: When we first started doing this we had the same day job and we would just sit in our office and watch videos on YouTube all day. I think that was the beginning of learning. We had experience in learning but had no experience in film or in making videos.
Jenny: We also had some really talented film friends who helped us out.
Are you guys doing comedy full time or do you still have day jobs?
Jenny: We do both have day jobs. I work at a law firm and Meagan works various jobs. Ideally we can leave all of that behind one day.
Did you mull over any other series ideas before you decided on this?
Jenny: Did we? I think we had lived together for a really long time and had known that we’d make it about that. The style of it came from joking around and taking a small thing one of us said and making it crazy and just expanding on that.
What were the biggest challenges in making this?
Meagan: I guess it always kind of comes down to production. It’s always a learning curve in terms of making things and how to pay for them. We lose money in making this but it brings us so much joy. We both always wanted to write but we were never trained. We took sketch comedy classes and we took a playwriting class through the acting program, but we both knew that we liked making our own work. We both have now completed the sketch writing program at UCB, but it’s not like we’ve let that stop us from learning more. It’s been really fun learning more about both of our voices.
What’s your writing process like?
Jenny: We normally will brainstorm and come up with the idea of the episode and then one of us will usually have a handle on that specific joke of the episode. Like we moved so many times, we have a sketch idea about moving and then Meagan is like, “Oh I have an idea about that already” and then I’ll be like “I have a bunch of ideas about this one” and then we’ll make a draft of that and then come together and share ideas and work from there.
Meagan: When we first started, I lost track of who wrote which sketch because we both edited them so much but now it is more like we do our brainstorming together and then go off on our town. I also feel like it would be unfair not to mention how much our editor, Andrew Mallonee, has helped us. He directed the last two and then edited all of them. He is a huge part of why Roomsies has been successful. This most recent season he took a look at all of our drafts. All of the directors we’ve had take a look at our scripts and even if they don’t give any feedback, it’s still good to have that outsider eye. It’s good; it’s just a different perspective.
What advice would you give to people looking to break into the digital comedy space?
Jenny: I think the most important thing is just finding someone with a similar comedic voice as yours, someone that you can collaborate with.
Meagan: A big part of what helps with us is that we’re best friends. We’re the odd couple. We don’t live together anymore officially but we just know each other so well and we’re very comfortable with telling each other if something is not funny. We’re good at taking care of one another. It’s like we have the same mind sometimes, it’s weird. I would also say just in terms of advice to people looking to break into the scene, we’re not that far into the scene. We’ve had some tiny successes that have carried us along but the only way we got those was by working really hard, sending out emails to people, posting on Twitter. If you don’t try to really put yourself out there it’s really pointless.
Jenny: You have to act like this is your job even though you’re not getting paid for it.
Meagan: I quit my full time job in order to do this more.
What’s the best way to tell your writing partner something’s not funny?
Jenny: At this point I don’t really know how to not be blunt.
Meagan: Sometimes when we’re the bluntest is when we find our best stuff.
Here are your three reasons to watch Roomsies.
The Grief Stages of Moving
Jenny and Meagan are likable. Some of that’s because they’re good actresses (and they are), but a lot of it is because they’re good friends who look like they’re genuinely having a good time together. A good lesson for your first web series where everything is new and the self-imposed pressure is high: cast people you know, then fire those people and cast people you know really well. Then, apologize to the people you fired.
In the wake of Broad City domination, there are plenty of web series popping up about two female Millennials navigating city life. None that I’ve seen have synchronized dancing this brilliant.
The key to creating good digital comedy on the cheap is: simple premises that become more layered through smart writing that probes every possible angle of one core joke. The “Sexy Time” episode is case in point.
Luke is a writer for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.