Harvard graduate Alan Yang is an American screenwriter, producer, director, and actor. In 2015, he received his first Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series for PARKS AND RECREATION, and the next year he won his first Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for MASTER OF NONE, which also garnered him two more Emmy nods.
Yang has made a name for himself in exceptional comedy series and he isn’t slowing down any time soon. Here are a few things we can learn from him about the craft of comedy.
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Comedy is Timely
After a four-year hiatus, MASTER OF NONE returned with a third installment in May 2021 — and the show has reflected that break in major ways. “There’s been a lot of time since our last season. When we first made this show, it was a very optimistic time in this country. It was still the Obama presidency. A lot has changed, and we felt, tonally, this was more reflective of the year we just had,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
Comedy serves as a savvy mirror that reflects the human condition by exposing our truths. More than drama, comedy needs to be timely in order to resonate with audiences.
Connect With Your Community
Comedy is cultural — it relies on trends, current events, and relatable experiences. Yang recognizes this and has learned to love group chats to help him stay connected with funny people.
“I have so many group chats, it’s probably bad for my health. I have group chats for every show I’m working on, group chats about the NBA, group chats about movies, group chats about music. I just like the jokes on them. A lot of my friends are really funny people, and I’m getting updates not just about their lives, but their takes on current events,” he told Interview Magazine.
Watch comedy, hang out with funny people, and constantly develop your joke-writing muscles — they are a skill and a mindset.
‘Master of None’
Celebrate What Makes You Special
“Know that what makes you feel like an outsider and an underdog is what makes you special and great in many circumstances. And that’s great! I know that it can be hard…but that’s what’s going to [give you] a cool perspective,” he shared with The Mash-Up Americans.
What might feel like an isolating experience is probably something that other people have encountered and they are looking to connect with others about it. You can write something that draws “outsiders” together. Ever the optimist, Yang encourages positivity, including spinning unique experiences into writing gold.
And there’s nothing quite like comedy to break the ice and dissolve some tension.
“We don’t want to be optimistic at the expense of being thoughtful or being realistic about the issues we have. But I like taking the optimistic perspective in terms of almost everything,” he reflected. Yang’s projects have been optimistic ones, from Leslie Knope’s can’t-lose attitude on PARKS AND REC to finding the good in humanity on THE GOOD PLACE.
Dark humor has its place and Yang, who recently created the deeply personal feature TIGERTAIL about a Taiwanese factory worker who leaves his homeland in Taiwan to come to America, is no stranger to exploring challenges, but when it comes to comedy, he just might encourage you to look on the bright side.
The human experience is endlessly complex but comedy has a nearly miraculous way of helping us understand ourselves. It’s an opportunity to bring levity to any situation, to explore our world, and, ultimately, to make people feel better.
Comedy writers can and should connect with each other to write projects that aren’t just funny but actually make our world just a little bit brighter.
Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com. She has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!