Writer in Residence

Writers on TV Feature Interview: Rupinder Gill

By Carey Toane

One of the best things about this writer-in-residence gig is using it as an excuse to interview smart people who are doing interesting things somehow related to books and TV. This week's feature interviewee is writer Rupinder Gill, who I wanted to talk to about the difference between writing for TV and books.

Gill's first book, the best-selling On The Outside Looking Indian, was shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Medal for humour writing. Named one of Canada's funniest female writers by CBC Book Club, she has also written for The Onion, O Magazine, The Rumpus, McSweeneys, CBC Radio and was a staff writer on the NBC/Shaw comedy Working the Engels, as well as the political comedy series This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Winner of a 2014 Canadian Screen Award for Best Writing in a Variety or Sketch Comedy Series, she was recently named one of Playback Magazine’s “Five to Watch” in Canadian entertainment.

Your TV and publishing work is connected by the fact that it's all comedy. What's your favourite subject to joke about? 
I find everything funny. I find too many things funny, things normal people probably wouldn't find all that amusing. But I think that is a common trait in comedy writers. What I find funny is often reflected by where I am, both geographically and in my life. My favourite subjects are usually just the run of the mill trying-to-get-through-life stuff: dealing with other people, dealing with yourself, when your private jet runs out of champagne for the mimosas - you know, normal people stuff. 

Did you want to work in TV or write books as a kid?
I guess deep down I always wanted to write, but never had any real plans to pursue it. It always seemed like something for other (better) people. I always wrote when I was a kid, but just looked at it as a fun hobby, not a practical career. As a kid, I didn't really have any plans for a future career, possibly because I wasn't excited by anything but writing. I wrote a lot when I was young - I published poetry, I won some writing contests, I edited the school paper and wrote plays. But again, I never looked at it as something that would ever extend past a hobby. It was only when I turned 30 that I had to admit to myself that it was always going to be something I wanted to pursue, so I decided to just give it a real go. Life's too short. 

How is writing a book, i.e. for a reader, different from writing for television i.e. for an actor on-camera and a broader viewing audience? What else is different about the process of writing for the two mediums? What is the same? 
Writing for TV is fun because it's a collaborative process. Book writing is enjoyable because you have more say in the final product, but it's very solitary. I loved writing the book and am working on a second, but it is a lot of hours of sitting by yourself, asking yourself whether or not something works then asking yourself why you are talking to yourself. In terms of the actual writing, whether you're writing a sketch or a book or an essay or a movie, things need a beginning, middle, and end. Once you learn the importance of arcs in storytelling, you can apply them to any medium pretty easily. In terms of lifestyle, you can clock some very heavy hours in both forms of writing, but TV writing often has an added bonus of craft services. I'm not above going back to the lunch table 2-3 times. 

What was it like working on a political sketch show?
 It was a lot of fun and a great way to get into the rhythm of TV writing. It can be long days and a lot of pressure but it's also pretty luxurious to have a job where you sit around and laugh all day and get to explore things you think are funny and/or weird in the world. I've met some of my closest friends from working on 22

Did you have a favourite sketch that was cut?
Every sketch of mine that was cut I loved dearly like it was my child and then got over immediately. 

I always assume that TV writers make more money than your average author. Is that true? Is the life of a TV writer glamorous? Or do you prefer the romance of the novelist's garret?
Both roads can be glamorous. Mostly they are sitting around in sweat pants, cranking out work and hoping any of it makes the slightest bit of sense.  Im not a fan of talking about money, and in truth, you can't really make a generalization here because the exceptions to the rule really throw the system off. A JK Rowling would make more than your most successful TV writer. Even if glamor is part of the allure for people pursuing writing, that usually dies down once you start in this line of work because the reality of how much work it is sets in. Everyone I know in writing is in it because they love writing and would be unhappy doing anything else. TV writing can definitely be fun. You get to work with people you've admired and see something come to life. Book writing has a lot longer wait to the glamor as you spend years writing the book, then another couple of years waiting for it to come out. In short, a lot of writing while wearing sweat pants exist. So if writing while wearing sweat pants excites you, writing is for you! 

Who has the better parties/events/awards, TV people or book people?
TV parties tend to have a lot bigger budgets so I'll give the win to TV here, though I will happily attend any party where there is free cheese. 

What are you working on now?
I'm working on a second book, with the working title "Why Don't You Get A Real Job?" and on a few TV projects. 

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Carey Toane is a librarian, journalist and poet. Her first collection of poems, The Crystal Palace, was published in 2011 by Mansfield Press. She lives in Toronto, where she is currently working on a collection of poems inspired by and dedicated to Twin Peaks. She is on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/careygrrl

You can contact Carey throughout the month of May at writer@openbooktoronto.com