I’m so excited to introduce today’s interviewee: writer, actor and comedian Sofia Marie Gonzalez. Sofia is the creator of We Need To Talk, a comedy web series based on real-life breakups. You may recognize her from the viral BuzzFeed video, “If Latinos Said The Stuff White People Say.” (She’s also appeared on network television in shows like NBC’s Community!) Here, Sofia shares what it’s like to work and play in the world of comedy writing.
Meet Sofia Marie Gonzalez
Tell us a bit about your background, upbringing, and how you got into comedy.
The first part of my life was spent in the beautiful city of San Francisco. My father was elected to the board of supervisors and it was a very exciting time. I remember my mother and father catching up about their days at dinner and me and my siblings trying to get in on the conversation.
In school there were a lot of field trips to museums and live theater. I loved performance art from a very early age and started auditioning for the school plays right away. I’m so grateful my mom would help me with everything from my costumes to running lines.
When we moved to Sacramento there was a lot more celebration for sports and athleticism. I got to play soccer and basketball and learn the value of being a teammate. I was lucky to have fantastic teachers. My brother was a couple of grades above me and watched out for me. My sister began college at UC Santa Cruz and I remember getting to hear about all of the exciting things she was up to over the phone. I ended up attending UC Santa Cruz for college and majoring in politics.
When my brother Jaime and I released We Need to Talk, our friends from high school and college were the first to help us spread the word.
What was the impetus for We Need to Talk?
The truth is, I was busy with my one-woman show and my boyfriend at the time took me to a Starbucks to tell me he had gotten another girl pregnant. Now most people would have gotten up and stormed out, but I thought it was such a peculiar moment and I felt compelled to investigate.
The more questions I asked the more hilarious the specifics of the situation seemed. He met her at Applebee’s, he thought she was “hot or whatever” and he didn’t find it weird to answer a phone call from her while we were talking. My comedian friends encouraged me at the time to write it down and hyperbolize different aspects of the reality. Then when I looked back at other dating flops, I thought, Wait, maybe this is a fun theme to explore, when two people fire each other from their lives.
What (or who) else has influenced your work and passions?
Maya Rudolph on Saturday Night Live inspired me to follow my dreams. Her Pamela Bell character singing the National Anthem can still bring me to laughter to the point where tears are streaming out of my eyes from glee! It was important for me to see a woman shining and sharing her intelligence and talent. When I started my training at The Groundlings School of Comedy, I took a meeting with a manager by the name of Pam Thomas. She had represented Maya early in her career. I took it as a sign from the universe and Pam became my manager. Years later I got to meet Maya and tell her how much she inspired me. She was so gracious and kind. I hope she knows how much that meant to me.
How much time do you spend writing or editing material on any given day or week?
The days range for me with professional projects, but I write every day. I start the day journaling about what I want to achieve for the day. I am always writing things down on my phone whether it’s silly observations, a cool place to do a scene, or big ideas that I would love to explore. I think it’s important to carry a journal. If you love writing, you should treat it how you would a great romance! Lots of attention and excitement.
There are the days where I will avoid a deadline, but then when I start I think why the hell was I avoiding this? This is awesome!
What is your writing process like?
I chase feelings. I love to write when I’m feeling sad. It’s so dramatic and dark and later very funny. So I’ll feel hurt by a friend or boyfriend and then write the scene. Then I’ll go back and say okay how can I make this more fun? Where could they be having this conversation that would complicate the matter in a humorous way? Are they at a costume party? What details and specifics can I layer in while these characters hash this thing out?
Your work also involves a lot of collaboration with other writers, comics and actors. How does the collaborative process usually work?
Writers rooms are, to use an old lady slang, “da bomb.” I look forward to collaboration. Your idea can grow and get so much better. When I first started out I was very controlling of my work and didn’t want notes or suggestions. Then when I finally opened the door, I was so mad at myself for not being open to being collaborative sooner! Sometimes actors can make your written lines so much better, so give them a take or a chance to say it their way. If you truly don’t like it at least you gave them the respect as a collaborator to try. Also sometimes your ideas don’t have “legs,” and that is okay. It may just be a great one-liner and can be implemented in a different way.
Usually for a TV show you will pitch episode ideas. From there the group will discuss which ideas are the most exciting. Then the episodes get assigned to various writers. Then you regroup and punch up the script to make it better.
Describe the performance aspect of your work. How do you prepare for standup routines? What do you love most about them?
I usually write down things in my phone all the time that I think could be a “bit” or something to rave or rant about on stage. I am falling madly in love with stand-up comedy. I was lucky to join a class here in L.A. called Pretty Funny Women and then train privately with Jodi Miller. I am very lucky to perform consistently with awesome female comics. I am finding that revealing my fears and truth on stage is getting me bigger laughs than my observational humor.
What’s been your favorite project or gig so far, and why?
We Need to Talk was my favorite even though it was a lot of work to be wearing hats of writer, producer, actor and editing assistant! But I had so much fun working with the talent and the crew and of course my brother. I associate many happy memories with We Need to Talk. And I hope we get to do it again.
I also got to sit next to Chevy Chase one time in our make up chairs on NBC’s Community. And he was my favorite character in Three Amigos, so I get to brag about that!
With BuzzFeed I had the opportunity to make some social commentary with a video that received almost 5 million views, “If Latinos said the Stuff White People Say.” I am glad it resonated with so many people. Also I was part of the writer’s room for Fusion Comedy’s digital channel show SHADED and that was extremely rewarding to see our work come to life.
Comedy is still such a male-dominated arena. Have you faced sexism? How do you deal?
The truth is yes, it is there but I just say fuck that and keep moving. Yes, I have faced it and it was gross and awkward and awful. But then you just point it out to them in a clever way and you leave that B.S. in the dust. I’m cursing a lot in this answer aren’t I?
I have met amazing men in this business who have held my voice in high regard because I am a woman. I am proud to be a collaborator with men who are excited to work with women in comedy.
What’s your next plan? What’s your dream project?
I would love to write a feature film. I am also very excited for We Need to Talk to have a second life with other people’s stories.
What advice would you give to a young woman trying to make it as a comedian or comedy writer?
Do great work. I also advise finding community. There are so many great theaters, acting studios and excellent writing programs out here and if you hang around you will meet exciting, ambitious and lovely people. When you have great work to show people, the managers and agents will come. I am continuously working on making my reel and writing samples excellent and impressive.
Also have the most fun with your life and get inspiration from there.
Thank you Sofia for giving such an awesome behind-the-scenes look at the life of a comedian and writer. If you enjoyed Sofia’s interview, be sure to let her know in the comments and follow her on Twitter. Don’t forget to check out her series We Need To Talk.