"The thought that women aren't funny has led to the idea, with political correctness, that we have to have a woman on every staff. And unfortunately when you make quotas like that, you are going to run into situations where you hire people who aren't funny, men and women. Hiring women who aren't qualified at the job, whatever it is, is going to shed a bad light on everybody else who is qualified."
– Morgan Murphy
Guy MacPherson: You live in California?
Morgan Murphy: I do, yeah. I live in Los Angeles, but I've been kind of out on the road for about a month.
GM: You're with the Comedians of Comedy tour.
GM: And how's that going?
MM: It's great! It's going fantastic. We have two more shows yet. We did a big show in New York last night. I think everyone's resting today.
GM: Where was it?
MM: At Irving Plaza in Manhattan.
GM: How long have you been with these guys?
MM: This has just been like a 10-day run, from Nashville up to Providence, Rhode Island, just hitting about eight or nine cities.
GM: And this is your first tour with them?
MM: Yeah, my first tour with them. Maria Bamford has done all the other tours.
GM: And they can only have one female at a time?
MM: Yeah, that's the comedy rule.
GM: (laughs) Do you find that, actually, to be the case?
MM: It used to be that way. I find it more so with writing. I've been on writing staffs and have been the only female writer on staff. There are some shows that don't have any women on staff.
GM: You still hear from some people that women aren't funny. Do you hear this?
MM: The thought that women aren't funny has led to the idea, with political correctness, that we have to have a woman on every staff. And unfortunately when you make quotas like that, you are going to run into situations where you hire people who aren't funny, men and women. Hiring women who aren't qualified at the job, whatever it is, is going to shed a bad light on everybody else who is qualified. It's a touchy subject. In my head I know a ton of women who should be working more and should be on the road more and writing on different shows. And there are other women who have gotten, I can only imagine, sort of token slots because they've acquired a resume. As an artist, you sort of have to take yourself out of all the politics of it. I guess it's not the wisest thing, but to try to ignore them and just do what you do and hope that someday somebody likes what you do and hires you because of it. That's pretty much it.
GM: You say some people in a quota system get hired who don't deserve it or aren't funny. How do they get hired? Is it a case of the squeaky wheel getting the oil?
MM: You never know. It's one of those constant questions. You know, I have a ton of friends who have been doing comedy in some capacity for, you know, 20, 30 years and are still struggling. And I have friends who really get their breaks the first year out and are doing tremendously well. I really think it's just chance and luck. It's not just about being funny. Do you have a good sample? Are you good in meetings? Are you good in interviews? I think a lot of creative people... I know I'm not particularly that good in a meeting situation with executives, but I know that my strong suit is that I'm good in a room with other writers and people that I can be creative with.... If you want to stay in it, you've got to abandon any kind of resentment or comparing yourself to others because that stuff will bury you if you pay attention to it.
GM: You're only 24, aren't you?
MM: Yeah, I'm 24 and I've been doing standup seven years.
GM: Seven years?! Let me do the math... Since you were 17?
MM: I was 18. I'll be 25 in October.
GM: Are you from L.A. originally?
MM: I grew up in L.A. I moved around a lot. I was born in Portland, grew up in L.A., moved to Connecticut, back to Portland, and back to L.A. for college. Moved around mostly in middle school and high school years. I started just in coffee houses and whatnot, in youth hostels, and just whatever open mics there were. I'd just go. In college I would go to classes during the day and comedy shows at night.
GM: You can't really appreciate the struggle some of your colleagues have gone through.
MM: No. I was really lucky in that even when I was just starting standup I kind of had the buffer of being in school. That was a bit of a safety net in some ways. I wasn't necessarily supporting myself entirely. I was going to classes.
GM: What did you study?
MM: I was an English major and a theatre minor. But pretty much English. Yeah, the struggle thing, I got hired to write on a pilot while I was still in school.
GM: How? Was it connections? How does that happen?
MM: It was doing standup. At that point I was three years into standup and was represented. I was essentially submitting packets for a couple of shows. I knew I was going to graduate but just doing it more or less as an exercise. And then a couple of friends of mine, this guy BJ Porter and Scott Aukerman, who wrote for Mr. Show, they had a sketch pilot at Showtime and hired myself and a couple of young comics, really funny guys. We were all friends in comedy. They hired the three of us, kids in comedy, to come on board and write. I would skip classes and go work on that for a couple of weeks and come back. That was fun. Then I got out of school, waitressed for a couple of weeks. I was terrible at it. A friend of mine, an older writer, this guy Ron Zimmerman, this really great writer, I respect him a lot, essentially hired me as his quote/unquote assistant. Really I just took care of some things around the house and hung out with him. And he'd help me pay my rent.
GM: Nothing fishy going on?
MM: No, nothing at all. He's just this really good writer. he writes screenplays and TV shows and comic books. Kind of a bit of everything. It's kind of just a fun company in a sense. He has a ton of dogs. It's sort of a weird lifestyle. Literally I'd transcribe. I'd type while he talked out loud. He was amazing with dialogue. I learned a lot about that from him. But some other days I was like, "I'm gonna paint your hallway." And paint the hallway. And literally did that for, like, a couple of months to keep from being broke. And then I got hired on Crank Yankers.
GM: Did you audition or did they come to you?
MM: I was unrepresented at the time. A friend of mine who worked on the show, I was talking to him at the Improv one day. He said, "You really should submit." I kind of had heard. The show had been looking and word kind of spreads around. I was waitressing and I just wasn't sure where I was going, so I just said, "All right." And he passed along my e-mail to the head writer of the show, who e-mailed me the... They give you a packet, outlined with what they want you to submit. And I hunkered down and filled that out and submitted it. I actually submitted it while I was waitressing. I basically got fired from waitressing, or quit, and then got Crank Yankers.
GM: How do you write for Crank Yankers? Is it just setting up scenarios?
MM: It's actually a lot more writing than people would imagine. And like a really fulfilling writing experience. You set up basically the call scenarios: So-and-so's gonna call this place and this is what they want. And you come up with just a ton of lines. You kind of predict where you think the call will probably go and just come up with a ton of lines. Some of them just general sort of conversation lines and a lot of just joke lines for people to use possibly if the opportunity comes up in a call. Essentially just conversational jokes. And then two writers get sent to every call session with the talent. And we'd sit in the studio with headphones listening in on calls and write on white boards during the calls and feed lines while the calls are going on, which is the most fun.
GM: A lot of the talent were comics, so you'd expect they could come up with a lot on their own.
MM: But there are so many calls in a day. You're sitting there for hours with people so it's... And there's a research team that researches marks, the places to call. You can go so far as finding out if there's someone specific to talk to at a certain shop or something. Sometimes they're that specific. But some people are not comics. Like when I was there, some of the sessions I did were with Jason Schwartzman and Jeff Goldblum, not necessarily people who you'd imagine spending their days making prank phone calls. But it was really fun. Writing on the white board was the best part.
GM: Was it something you spent your days doing as a kid, making prank phone calls?
MM: No, I was always too chicken. During some calls, I was actually at the point where I'd start to feel so bad for the person on the phone. I'd have to stop for a second and go, "All right, it's sort of funny." I mean, it is funny. When the people on the phone were assholes, it was much easier to sort of say something, but every so often you'd get a sweet old lady and I'd be like, "I can't do that!"
GM: Would you call back to let them know they were part of the show?
MM: Yeah, they have somebody who does that. They have to get it signed off. They have to get a release. This kindest lady calls back and says in her sweetest voice, "Hey, would you sign this piece of paper? And how would you like a t-shirt?" (laughs)
GM: Do you know the success rate?
MM: Most people signed off on it. And a lot of people were actually really excited. People knew the show. There were times, especially with Wanda Sykes and Sarah Silverman, we'd be in studio and they'd make the call and ten seconds in the person would be like, "Is this Wanda?!" They'd recognize the voice and go, "I'm on Crank Yankers!"
GM: The show's coming back, isn't it?
MM: Yeah, it's going to be on MTV2.
GM: Are you going to be part of that?
MM: No, I'm not working on that now. Jimmy Kimmel executive produced that show and I left that show to work on his late night talk show for two years.
GM: You're not there anymore, though, are you?
MM: No, I left it to do some of my own stuff, especially to be able to get on the road more doing standup. I never would have been able to leave for a week, let alone a month, which is what I've been away right now. That was kind of a big struggle there because it was a great opportunity and a great job and I learned more than I could ever really ask for in a job, just being thrown into the fire. And I really loved it. But I love standup as well. I can see myself writing forever. I don't know if I can see myself doing standup when I'm 60.
GM: And you can always write on your own.
MM: Yeah, yeah. I love writing. I just thought now at 24, it was a good age to take some sort of plunge in my life as opposed to when I possibly had a mortgage or a family or something, when there are other people who could suffer from bad decisions I made. So hopefully it's just me.
GM: Do you also go out on your own, away from the Comedians of Comedy, and play clubs?
MM: Yeah. I did a week with this guy, Neil Hamburger. And I'll be doing the Punchline in San Francisco. I'm still just featuring. I'm a middle act, not quite a big enough draw to headline yet. But the feature spot is a plum spot because unless you're truly a bad comedian, there's no failing and you sort of gain a handful of new fans hopefully every time you go up. And the Punchline is probably my favourite comedy club.
GM: Have you been to Vancouver before?
MM: I've never been. It's my big reason for going because I've never seen the city and I hear it's beautiful.
GM: Your persona on stage is really deadpan. Is that essentially you or is it exaggerated?
MM: It's pretty much me. After the shows I can get a little bit rowdy, and by rowdy I mean a little chatty, but I'm fairly low energy almost all the time. I probably get excited on stage as much as I do off. Every so often I'll go off on some tangent that's not really written out and I'll find myself more excited about the story I'm telling and my persona seems to change a little bit. It's really me just telling a story the way I would off stage. The deadpan thing is what came naturally. It came from not wanting to be loud and big on stage because I don't think my strong suit is acting things out. It seems contrived for me to be doing it. A lot of people do it really well; I just don't think it's something I could repeat time and time again.
GM: When someone reaches out too much, I almost recoil. I want to be drawn in to listen.
MM: Yeah. Cough, Dane Cook, cough. (laughs)
GM: (laughs) I didn't say that.
MM: I did.
GM: People hate him. But you know, he's not the only one.
MM: Yeah, no, no, no. I mean, I have friends who are very high energy comics who are hilarious. I've never judged somebody based on their energy level. I think it's whether or not it seems natural.
GM: You've got to be who you are.
MM: Right. If I were to be really super high energy on stage, it would seem like I was just playing a character.
GM: Well, you do kinda look like Carrot Top.
"The deadpan thing is what came naturally. It came from not wanting to be loud and big on stage because I don't think my strong suit is acting things out. It seems contrived for me to be doing it. A lot of people do it really well; I just don't think it's something I could repeat time and time again."
– Morgan Murphy
GM: Maria Bamford, who you replaced on the tour, will be in Vancouver.
MM: Yeah, and that'll be great. She's one of my favourites. The lineup in Vancouver looks amazing. When I saw names starting to pop up, I called my agent and I was like, "I'd love to be there." It looks like a great lineup for a few days.
GM: One photo on your site is from a rock album in the 1970s.
MM: Oh yeah, the Blind Faith album. It's the only quote-unquote celebrity I've been told I look like.
GM: And nobody knows who she is.
MM: Nobody knows who she is but real rock fans and stuff say it's me. For a couple of years people said that and I'd never seen it. And then I finally went on-line and I'm like, "She's naked!" With her prepubescent boobs on the cover of this album. But I can sort of see it [the similarity].
GM: How far down the road do you plan? You say you don't see yourself doing standup at 60.
MM: I don't know. I love doing standup and I love writing jokes and I like writing just in general. I think anyone's ultimate goal, if they're a writer and performer, is to develop a significant project for themselves and hope that other people get behind it. But right now I don't think much beyond "I'm doing this and we'll see what's next." But I try not to project too much and get ahead of myself. I try to enjoy what's going on now, which certainly is not making the day-to-day money I was making at Kimmel, but I'm living a sort of lifestyle that I'm pretty pleased about. I've seen a bunch of cities in the last three weeks that I'd never been to in my life. And I get to go up on stage in front of people and get paid for it.
GM: And hang out with your friends after.
MM: And hang out with my friends. Hang out with the funniest people in the world, in my opinion. How many people get to say they did that?
GM: And at 24, most people aren't even into their careers yet.
MM: Yeah. It's funny, I can't predict in ten years. I think this is the road, but I don't know.
GM: Are your parents proud?
MM: Yeah, now they are. I think there was some apprehension while I was in college and when I first got out of college: "All right, you did your little comedy routine. Now what are we looking at? Where are you gonna work?" I think once I started making a little money they started to get more proud. Any print I can send them they're a little more assured of my future.
GM: It bides you some more time.
MM: Yeah, and just assuring them I have food. (laughs) Don't worry, I'm fine, they're giving me dinner.