November 22, 2011

Comedy and Art

Comedy@SCA Kicks Off with a Three-Day Festival

Paul Feig ‘84 is a respected filmmaker. He executive produced the beloved show Freaks and Geeks, dozens of episodes of the Emmy Award-winning The Office and the summer blockbuster Bridesmaids but, when he was a student at the USC School of Cinematic Arts in the 80s, it was a different story.

Peter Segal with Steve Carell

"I came [to SCA] wanting to do comedy,” said Feig. “It was Godard or nobody. I just wanted to make goofy movies. One of my 290s was called ‘The Day Pacman Got Full.’ When I got here comedy was not encouraged. They said, ‘When are you going to make a movie.' That’s all changed thanks to this initiative.”

On November 18th, 19th and 20th, SCA professors Jack Epps, Jr., David Isaacs and Barnet Kellman hosted a three-day festival to celebrate comedy. The festival was presented in conjunction with the launch of the Comedy@SCA Initiative, a new multidisciplinary track at the School of Cinematic Arts.

“We intend to fill a gap in university education with instruction in writing, directing, editing, shooting and producing funny work,” said Kellman. “It’s our goal to foster a greater appreciation of the difficult art of comedy and to recognize, preserve and pass on the legacy of great figures in film, television and future media.”

On Friday, SCA alum Peter Segal ‘84 hosted a Q and A with comedian Steve Carell. Segal directed Carell in the 2008 comedy Get Smart.

When asked what the key to directing comedy is, Carell said, “This should be fun. We had a great time [on set]. It should be a joyful experience. Someone who has the capacity to care about the actors. Someone who gives actors the freedom to fail and be honest.”

At the end of the evening, both Carell and Segal had scholarships at SCA dedicated in their name by David Sonne from the Jack Oakie and Victoria Horne Oakie Charitable Foundation.

On Saturday, SCA hosted a panel on women in comedy, hosted by Women of SCA, a student organization. A discussion with alumni (and classmates) Gabe Sachs ’84 and Paul Feig and a screening of the The Muppets with a Q and A with director James Bobin.

The Women of SCA panel included Liz Meriwether (The New Girl), alumnus and showrunner Nanatchka Khan’94 (Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23), comedy performers Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome (Garfunkel and Oates) and comedian/writer Chelsea Peretti (Parks and Recreation).

Meriwether spoke to the increasing predominance of women in comedy television.

“There are so many [shows] out there right now from women that have women in predominant roles and their voices are all so different and I think that’s a really important thing,” said Meriwether.

On Sunday, a panel of new-media outlets opened the evening  featuring Mike Farah (Funny or Die), Brian Hunt (Yahoo!), Oren Katzeff (Cracked), Michael Rousselet (5 Second Films), Aaron Simpson (Mondo Media) and Steve Woolf ( SCA Professor Dave Goetsch moderated the panel.

The session was followed by a panel of legendary comedy showrunners including Bill Prady (Big Bang Theory), Larry Wilmore (The Bernie Mac Show), Phil Rosenthal (Everybody Loves Raymond), Paul  Junger Witt (Soap) and James Burrows (Friends).

The events closed with a Q and A with iconic comedy director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Stripes).

Bill Prady, James Burrows, Paul Junger Witt, Phil Rosenthal and Larry Wilmore at the showrunners
panel on Sunday

When asked about the pressures on the business end of being a showrunner, Prady said, “Being a showrunner is like having your normal job as a writer and then running three 7-11s on the side.”

The launch of the Comedy@SCA brought many of the issues that comedians face in the modern world to light and also paid respect to the long heritage of comedy figures that have come through SCA and the industry. At the closing event, Reitman stated that, while comedy might be new to academia, it’s always been a place where storytellers can flourish.

“Comedy forces you to be humble,” said Reitman. “All of the people who see what you do, if you want to make a living at it, they are going to respect what you do but, in the end, people like it. That’s always been the greatest joy of this job for me.”