Jessi Klein has been working in comedy for more than a decade, writing for such sketch-based series as Saturday Night Live, Michael & Michael Have Issues, and Kroll Show before signing on as head writer for Inside Amy Schumer, for which she just nabbed her third writing Emmy nomination (and fourth overall).
The writer-comic knew Schumer from the standup scene, and was invited to collaborate by Schumer herself when Comedy Central offered a pilot. “Then we went and got drunk and had some wine and talked about what it could be, and that was the beginning,” Klein says.
For Klein, the writing process for each sketch show contains one common truth. “Writing sketches is a little bit like–and this is a very pretentious thing to say–but it’s a little bit like the poetry of comedy, you know?” she says. “You’re trying to make every word mean as much as it means in the shortest amount of time.”
Despite Schumer’s proclivity for unfiltered comedy that pushes the TV boundaries, Comedy Central has never killed an idea. “It has never felt like some kind of oppressive bank that we’re working for,” Klein says, adding that it’s “pretty awesome” Comedy Central has continually supported emerging, female-driven series. She is proud of Inside Amy Schumer’s contribution in that arena. “I think most women in comedy today, if they’re over 30 years old, have had at least one experience where they felt like, ‘Oh, me talking about an experience I had that somehow relates to being a female isn’t necessarily welcomed in the room,’ whether it’s a comedy club or a writers’ room,” Klein says. “But it seems like there’s just been more and more women taking the reins, as directors and showrunners and creators, and the people who pay to buy shows have realized, ‘Oh, people, men and women alike, respond to these things. We don’t have to be so terrified of quote-unquote female stories or female voices.’ ”
From Season 3 Klein is most happy with her work on Episode 3, “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer,” a parody of the classic Sidney Lumet film in which a group of highly acclaimed actors meet to vote on whether Schumer is hot enough to be on TV. Originally conceived as a sketch, the idea eventually became the basis for an entire episode to give more space “to get into all the minutiae of male bullshit about women on TV,” Klein says. The episode featured a killer assortment of guest stars, including Paul Giamatti, John Hawkes, Jeff Goldblum and Dennis Quaid, and, according to Klein, was an extraordinary shoot. “All of a sudden we were shooting all of these incredible actors over the course of two days at a former porn studio in Brooklyn during an insane blizzard, and then it just kind of really became this dream-like experience.”
Currently, Klein is sitting at her desk, writing the final chapters of a book she describes as “a bunch of autobiographical essays about trying to fit in to the expectations of what a female is supposed to do and look like, and always feeling like I’m failing. Please underline and put in bold, ‘failing.’ ” Klein just had a baby, so her efforts with the book are about “keeping me and a very small human alive.” She’s also finishing up a pilot for Showtime but said it’s too early to discuss.
To see a clip from “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer,” click play below: