A three-day festival held by the USC School of Cinematic Arts on Nov. 18-20 celebrated the launch of the Comedy@SCA Initiative, the school’s new multidisciplinary track.
“We intend to fill a gap in university education with instruction in writing, directing, editing, shooting and producing funny work,” said Barnet Kellman (Murphy Brown), who hosted the festival with fellow USC professors Jack Epps Jr. (Kojak) and David Isaacs (The Simpsons). “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.”
Paul Feig ’84, one of the festival’s attendees, is a producer whose television and film credits include Freaks and Geeks and the Emmy Award-winning The Office, as well as the summer blockbuster Bridesmaids.
When he was a cinematic arts student in the ’80s, things were different.
“I came [to SCA] wanting to do comedy,” Feig said. “It was Godard or nobody. I just wanted to make goofy movies. One of my [student film exercises] was called The Day Pac-Man 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 the festival’s first evening, Peter Segal ’84 hosted a Q&A session with actor and producer Steve Carell. Segal directed Carell in the 2008 comedy Get Smart.
The key to directing comedy “should be fun,” Carell said. “It should be a joyful experience.”
The director, he added, should be “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, two cinematic arts scholarships were named in honor of Carell and Segal by David Sonne, a trustee representing the Jack Oakie and Victoria Horne Oakie Charitable Foundation.
During the second night, the school hosted a panel on women in comedy. The panel included producers Liz Meriwether (The New Girl) and Nanatchka Khan ’94 (Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23), comedy performers Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome (Garfunkel & Oates) and comedian/writer Chelsea Peretti (Parks and Recreation).
Meriwether spoke about television’s increasing dominance of women working behind the scenes on comedy shows.
“There are so many [shows] out there right now from women that have women in predominant roles, and their voices are all so different. I think that’s a really important thing,” said she said.
On the final day of the festival, a panel of new-media outlets opened the evening with Mike Farah (Funny or Die), Brian Hunt (Yahoo!), Oren Katzeff (Cracked.com), Michael Rousselet (5 Second Films), Aaron Simpson (Mondo Media) and Steve Woolf (blip.tv). USC professor David Goetsch moderated the panel.
The session was followed by a panel of veteran showrunners, including Bill Prady (The Big Bang Theory), Larry Wilmore (The Bernie Mac Show), Phil Rosenthal (Everybody Loves Raymond) and Paul Junger Witt (Soap).
Asked about the pressures of working behind the scenes, Prady said, “Being a showrunner is like having your normal job as a writer and then running three 7-Elevens on the side.”
The festival ended with a Q&A featuring longtime director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Stripes).
Reitman said that although comedy may be new to academia, it’s always been an art form in which storytellers can flourish.
“Comedy forces you to be humble,” he said.