It’s only kind of a joke, Liz Hynes ’17 says, that she considers a brain injury and messed-up teeth after she crashed her bike as a kid the origin story that led to a comedy-writing career.
Since graduating with a degree in film, television and theatre, Hynes has worked as a production assistant for The Chris Gethard Show, a writer’s assistant for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and a writer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. In 2021, she shared an Emmy for “Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series” with the Last Week Tonight staff.
How did you get involved in comedy writing?
Writing was the only thing I ever wanted to do, and I was extremely lucky to have parents and teachers who encouraged me. Throughout school, I wrote for fun constantly — my college admission essay was actually submitted as a script (do not recommend; I did not get into Notre Dame the first try). That constant writing sometimes got me into trouble, either because of the content and/or because it usually came at the expense of my math homework (which is probably why I did not get in the first time).
I studied FTT during the school year — a small but mighty program, where I met many of my best friends and favorite professors, who taught me as much as any job has — and interned on productions during the summers. Those internships led to production assistant jobs, which led to personal assistant jobs, which led to writer’s assistant jobs, which led to someone DMing me on Twitter to apply for a staff writer job, which I didn’t answer right away because I thought it was a scam. But I did, and here we are! Let this be a lesson: Always answer suspicious messages.
Do you think humor can be learned? How does one “become funny”?
“Being funny” is probably something you’re born with, though it can also happen to you later on. For instance, I became funny after being heavily concussed in a bike crash as a child. I am barely joking. It rewires your brain! The mouth damage also meant I had braces all through high school, which required me to develop a personality.
“Joke writing,” I’d argue, is a separate skill that can absolutely be learned, particularly if you’re writing (as I usually do) in someone else’s voice. A lot of it is formulaic and you get the rhythms down the more you practice. But none of the people who make me laugh the hardest are comedy writers — they’re just naturally, effortlessly funny, which means my succinct answer to your question is probably “No!”
Are there certain comedic tropes that you think are way overplayed? Others you always find funny?
Overplayed: “dramedies” about going to therapy. Always funny: people falling down.
Favorite bit/joke/scene of all time?
Easy. 30 Rock, Season 1, episode 10, roughly 10 minutes in.
Dr. Spaceman is in his office, smoking a cigarette while studying an X-ray of a human rib cage. He takes a puff and says, “Damn it. Where are my car keys?”
It’s five seconds long, and I am in tears just thinking about it.
What motivated you to become a council member for the Writers Guild of America?
I come from a union family, so I was over the moon to join the guild and wanted to get more involved right away. It’s not an exaggeration to say joining the WGA changed my life overnight. A lot of people assume working in entertainment is inherently glamorous for everyone, but throughout the industry, there are egregious discrepancies in pay and working conditions — just listen to testimonies from Hollywood assistants, or thousands of [union] crew members who nearly went on strike last year.
Though the struggle for fair treatment is constant, joining a union will guarantee significantly better benefits and pay. I’m active in my guild because I believe all writers across all mediums deserve a union, and I would love to get more entry-level workers unionized as well.
Should we use the illustration you loved so much that accompanied the item we published about your Emmy win?
Please use that drawing. Desperate to find out how I wronged the artist.
Interview by Julianna Conley, the magazine’s spring semester intern, who will be teaching in Sacramento, California, with Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education.