Charlamagne & Alan Yang Ch1: Writers Room Diversity & Working on ‘Parks & Rec’ | Emerging Hollywood

(R&B music) – Hollywood is being rebuilt by artists not afraid to disrupt the status quo. Telling fresh stories and
bringing to life characters who until now have been
confined to the margins. This is Emerging Hollywood. (futuristic music) Today, we’re meeting up with Alan Yang the Emmy Award-winning
co-creator and director of Master of None and Forever. Alan creates shows
starring three-dimensional characters from diverse
backgrounds who reflect the new state of entertainment. Alan Yang, what’s happening, my brother? – What’s up, man? – You good?
– I’m great. – I feel like I’ve met
you before, with Aziz– – You know what happened
with Aziz a long time ago we met over at the Greenwich Hotel. This was five years ago,
man, it was a while ago. – Yeah, clearly you didn’t
find me interesting enough. (laughs) – To put me on Master of None. – You know, there’s still time,
we might do another season. – True, true. Now, you picked this bar because you filmed here for a scene
in Master of None, right? – Yeah, it was a while ago,
I thought it brought back some good memories, it was
a scene late in Season 2. It was a scene with Aziz and Eric Wareheim and as you can see here, these ceilings are really low, and
Eric is six foot seven. So he had to fold himself in two to sit where you are right now. – That was tight. (laughs) What was it about comedy
that drew you towards it? Like was it a, I don’t
know, a defense mechanism growing up, like what was it? Yeah, you would think
so but not so much, man. You know, I felt like I got pretty lucky. Growing up, I was one
of the only Asian kids in my school, but I managed to get by and I wasn’t really getting picked on. So it was more like a way for
me to bond with my friends and we would just make jokes all the time. We’d watch all these comedy shows and it was just part of who I was. – Did you always thought you was funny? – I always thought I was kinda funny and I never thought this was a job. You know, where I grew up no
one went into this business my parents are immigrants,
my dad’s a doctor my mom’s a high school teacher,
and this was not an option. – Are they proud of you
or were they disappointed when you decided– – Yeah, they’re pretty proud now. (laughs) – Okay – But at the time it was, you know I had to explain to them,
I was a Biology major. – Biology major at Harvard, right? – I was a Biology major in college and so that seems like you
have a very bright future and then you graduate and
you tell your mom and dad you wanna go write jokes or write scripts in Hollywood and be broke. – Well, how the hell did
you end up in Hollywood? How does a Biology major from Harvard end up in Hollywood to begin with? – Yeah, man, I mean,
so when I got to school I felt a little bit out of place. A couple of things saved
me, I started playing in a punk rock band, and I started writing for this comedy magazine
called The Lampoon. Getting on the staff of that magazine you’re thrown into this fire and there’s all these people there they’re funnier than
you, and the only thing I can liken it to is the
first day in a writer’s room. – Yeah, I see. So when you move out to L.A.,
you get in a writer’s room there’s 20 people looking at you some of them who may have
run your favorite shows. I remember working with Mike Scully on Parks and Recreation,
who ran The Simpsons when I was a kid, so it’s
like, he’s sitting next to you he’s pitching jokes. – Lot of pressure? – Yeah, are your jokes
gonna beat his jokes? So what that magazine helps you do is become a little bit more comfortable because in the beginning you should maybe not speak up as much, you
should learn how to be a little funnier before you say stuff. And then you starting
learning, you get better you get better, you get
better, you get funnier. You get funnier by hanging
out with funny people. – Yeah. – So when I graduated, it sorta gave me a little bit of confidence
I needed to move out to L.A. And just give it a shot, you know? – Who was the first character that you saw on TV or in film that you saw yourself in? – Oh man. Probably
Jerry Seinfeld. (laughs) Because I was obsessed with comedy I was 12 or 13 or whatever, but I bought Jerry Seinfeld’s book,
Larry David the same thing where it’s like, these guys
just have an interesting view on the world. – Yeah. – And I think the expected
answer is “Oh, I saw an Asian character”, but,
look, there’s a lot more to us than what we look like, it’s
like what’s your point of view what shapes your sense of humor. So that was really early on in the show and I think later when
we did Master of None a lot of people were
comparing it to other shows or these Otura shows or films. But what people don’t talk
about is we watched a lot of Curb Your Enthusiasm,
and some of the show is funny because we were
inspired by those guys. We love Larry, we love
Seinfeld, all those guys. And that’s kind of a secret
thing written in the show that people don’t wanna
talk about as much. – You wrote for South Park too, right? – I did, yeah, that was crazy. – And Carson Daly’s Late Night Show? – That was my first child
when I was 21, 22 here, yeah. – And Parks and Rec? – Yeah. – So how diverse were
the writing rooms then? – That’s a good question. So
I will say for Parks and Rec I think Mike Schur who
was the boss of there did a great job, he’d always
wanted to be 50 percent women because the show had a
female lead, Amy Poehler. And we were just starting back then and I feel like South
Park was writing stuff for two or three people,
so (laughs) I don’t know how much diversity there was,
I was the diversity, probably that year, but I think that
was like, the pre-that age we weren’t even thinking about it, and that’s a real deficiency. By the way, I think there’s
still writer’s rooms out there that are super homogenous,
super homogenized and it’s just kind of a secret you know, there’s still rooms out there. So what you’re missing out on
is these other perspectives. Not that this happens that
often but, let’s say, an issue about an Asian character or
something like that comes up and you’re the only Asian
person, where everyone just looks at you like, alright speak for all Asian people,
right, is that okay? – Yeah, yeah. – It’s tough, ‘cos you don’t,
you don’t speak for everybody and you’re just gonna do the best you can that’s unavoidable in some ways but we should do the
best we can to avoid it. (R&B music)

12 replies on “Charlamagne & Alan Yang Ch1: Writers Room Diversity & Working on ‘Parks & Rec’ | Emerging Hollywood”

Love you CTG! So glad to be hearing black voices coming out of Hollywood and using power to give other people a chance to share their stories. We need more, more, more just like you. I’m so glad my white children have leaders from many racial and economical backgrounds to look up to. Bless you!

I love that his answer about seeing himself was based on his comedic voice; while he also addressed the presence of homogenized writing rooms in Hollywood.

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