Mormon Artist

Whitney Call

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Whitney Call is a writer and performer for Studio C. She has an MFA from BYU in creative writing with an emphasis in young adult literature. Whitney has been involved in sketch comedy for about five years, which includes teaching a comedic sketch writing class in 2012 that she established in the BYU Theater Media Arts department. In summer of 2013, she married fellow cast member Stephen Meek, which she considers to be the best decision she’s made yet. The two reside in Provo, Utah, with their fish Rafiki. Website
Photo courtesy Whitney Call

To start, could you share your thoughts on Shark Week?

Oh, goodness. Where to begin? I love sharks. I have ever since I was a little kid. I was always fascinated with them because of how scary they were. It didn’t seem true that an animal could be so efficiently built for killing. So, I’ve maintained that awe/fear of sharks since my childhood, and the Discovery Channel’s only increased my obsession. :) Every year, you can watch a whole week’s worth of documentaries/survivor stories/attack videos about the scariest animals of all time. I only wish they had a “Spider Week” as well. I’m sure that’d get a lot of attention, too.

My only critique of Shark Week this year is that, to bring in more viewers, they filmed a “documentary” about the Megalodon (a huge shark that supposedly went extinct during the dinosaur era) claiming that it still lurked the deep oceans in present day. The whole episode was fabricated, but they didn’t distinguish that on the air. I think their desire for viewers may have outweighed their desire for new footage and facts. Hopefully Discovery learns from their mistakes.

Whew! That’s a long answer. So, as you can see, I’m very passionate about the topic. :)

You have two different directions in your occupation as a writer, one in sketch comedy and one in young adult fiction. Why did you pursue writing? And how did these two genres rise to top of that pursuit?

I’ve always loved writing. As a little girl, I would write chapters of these fantastical stories—some more or less ripped off from current movies, and some from my own brain. Throughout high school, I became more interested in people. I’d planned to study psychology and become a counselor for teenagers. When I got to college, I took a young adult novel-writing course, and that sort of merged the two passions together for me. I love people, and I love writing about people. So, I kept studying YA lit through my undergrad and master’s program. Comedy writing was sort of thrown at me in the middle of college, when Matt Meese approached me before tryouts for Divine Comedy (the sketch group on BYU campus). I had no idea I could write comedy, but it was fun and a nice break from all of the heavy stuff I was writing for my classes. I love writing in both tones, so I try to keep up in both fields.

What is your typical day like?

It’s not always consistent. I try to write a sketch every day, but I find that I can’t write very well when I sit down and force myself at the same time every day. So, I try to pay attention to when I feel most creative throughout my routine. I’ll wake up, try to read something spiritual (I’ve found that’s important to my creative process—God helps us out when we’re open to his help), go jogging, eat breakfast while watching some comedy clips, then go into the office to discuss the needs of our show. I come home, make dinner with my husband, and probably do something with friends that night. In the middle of all this, I try to write a sketch. Today, I wrote a sketch after coming home from work. Yesterday, it was right when I woke up. This doesn’t mean all the sketches I write are fantastic, but I can at least get through them if I’m feeling more up to writing at one point in the day than another.

How has the shifting dynamic of a larger online viewership changed the way you develop sketches?

There’s definitely a bigger emphasis on cleverness. We’ve always tried to make our sketches clever, but while on this show, we’ve been reminded again and again that our YouTube audience will catch mistakes (and note them in our comments section :)). They’ll also appreciate subtle and clever jokes that you don’t always catch the first time. We’ve learned to pack as much punch into our sketches as we can so that people don’t get tired of seeing them again and again. It’s definitely helped us keep our comedy as tight as possible.

At times, sketch comedy can veer into some questionable/unkind material to try to be funny. How do you keep your sketches both appropriate and funny?

It’s actually fairly easy to keep things clean. Sure, there’s humor in shocking people, but once you get into a mindset that you don’t want to go that direction, your brain doesn’t wander there for material. We’ve always known we don’t want to make people uncomfortable with our material, so we’ve trained ourselves to find the funny in everyday situations. Or in fantastical moments. We find funny concepts, and we try to make clever jokes within those concepts.

I think it’s difficult for SNL to keep themselves clean because they have to come up with material every week, so they usually make very topical sketches about politics or pop culture. We try to come up with imaginative situations where the concept is what’s funny, not the topical-ness. We don’t have to make a sketch about Miley Cyrus; instead, we can make sketches about life-size shoulder angels, or having Darth Sidious for a roommate. We have the time to be creative, so we make sure our jokes are as clever and clean as possible.

Maybe that sounds pretentious of me. I don’t mean to say that we’re better than SNL at all, but we certainly are cleaner. We write for as broad of an audience as possible, and that means we can celebrate with as many people as possible! After all, to me, comedy is a celebration of life.

Which Studio C sketch is your favorite to perform? Why?

Oh man. I never know what to say to this question. An obvious sketch that comes to mind is any of the “Ann” sketches I’ve performed. Mostly because I like to get into character before going onstage, and so, when we’re performing, I feel like I can do things completely outside of my nature because I’m being someone else. Someone who I think is adorably awkward. :)

There are other sketches I love to perform just because there’s fun things going on around me. “Driver’s Ed” was just a delight because Matt was so fun to interact with as Mr. Ecklestone. “Candyland” was fun just because James had a tube of pudding steadily flowing over his face. There are awesome things in so many of our sketches, I can’t really say which is my favorite.

In your view, what is comedy’s role in the gospel?

I’ve got very strong opinions about this. There’s a book by Gene Perret, the head writer for The Carol Burnett Show. The book is called The New Comedy Writing Step by Step. In it, he states that a sense of humor consists of three things: seeing things as they are, recognizing things as they are, and accepting things as they are. And, when you think about it, it’s true! Most things that happen to us become much funnier when we’ve had time to see what’s happened, recognize why it happened the way it did, and accept that sometimes life is just like that. I don’t particularly like slipping on a patch of ice during the winter when I’m walking outside. It can be embarrassing! But I can tell other people a story of me slipping on ice in a crowded place and laugh my head off because I can see the humor in it. This is probably why we say God has a sense of humor, isn’t it? He really can see things as they are; he knows the reasons behind everything and he has the perspective to understand how things happen for the best. This life is hard enough, we need a good laugh to get through things sometimes. And the more we laugh, the more we probably can see going on around us. I think comedy is a perspective that can really brighten our lives because it’s truth. Hope that made sense, but I strongly believe that God loves to hear us laugh.

Photo courtesy Studio C

Congratulations on your marriage! How has marriage influenced your writing/comedy?

Thank you! Marriage is wonderful. While I don’t always want to write when my husband’s home and free to spend time with me, I’m so blessed to have a support and co-worker around all the time! Stephen’s almost become my personal editor. I show him all my scripts before pitching them because I trust his judgment. He has such great feedback and I know he only wants me to succeed, so it’s been so wonderful to have that support system. Plus, it’s just fun! We make jokes all the time together, whether we’re rehearsing for a show or just cooking dinner. And I can honestly say my husband’s hilarious! I get ideas from him all the time just by living together. I couldn’t begin to explain how much he’s helped my confidence, my idea generation, and my love for laughing.

Which writers have had the most influence on you? Is there a writer you would like to emulate?

I grew up watching Carol Burnett with my mom. She’s always been a role model for me just because of her quirky takes on everyday situations. I also love Kristen Wiig, Tina Fey, Key and Peele, and Amy Poehler. There’s a lot of creativity out there. I think we’re definitely alive at a good time for comedic geniuses.

Can you explain Williams Syndrome? Why did you choose to give the main character in your book Rae, Baby this disorder?

Wow, I’ve never been asked this question when talking about Studio C. :) Williams Syndrome is a rare developmental disorder caused by missing genes on chromosome 7. It causes those with it to lack logical connections yet possess very gregarious, social, and musical personalities. Think of it as an inverted form of autism. Before I started Rae, I knew I wanted to work with an optimistic protagonist. I’d just completed another novel with a kind of female Holden Caulfield protagonist, and it had really drained me to get so involved in a pessimistic, angry narrator. So, while starting this new novel, I knew I wanted the challenge to write from the perspective of a person with a different mindset than me, and I knew I wanted them to be fun and lovable. I actually ended up googling “happy developmental disorders” and found Williams Syndrome. The more I researched it, the more I wanted to write about it. I could already see this girl forming in my head who would be cheerful and sociable and lyrical and musical. And even though she experiences really difficult things, she sees the silver lining. It was a sort of healing process to write this book. It definitely made me look at the world with a better perspective.

Photo courtesy Whitney Call

In what ways does the gospel influence your work?

So many people have an idea of what will bring them happiness. For some, it’s a successful career; for others, it’s lots of money, or a smokin’ hot spouse, or a prestigious calling. I’m not saying any of these are inherently bad, but they’re a means to an end. The only true source of happiness is Jesus Christ. I’ve had to remind myself of that again and again. It’s easy to get caught up in a creative world and to think that what we do is the best thing ever. But the truth is, we’re here on this earth to come closer to Christ, and to bring as many people with us as possible. So when I think about my job and how much fun it is, or how hard it is to be critiqued, or how awesome it would be to become famous, I’m reminded that we’re using talents God gave us to celebrate the life he’s blessed us with. And we’re trying to get as many people on the bandwagon as possible. When I remember that, I feel very humbled, but also very excited to get to do the work we do.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Doing something I love with the people I love. I’ve learned not to be too set on my own plans. Ten years ago, I hadn’t planned on being in a comedy show, but my life now is much better than the plans I’d made for myself then. I’m hoping that if I work hard on my relationships with others and if I work hard on my craft, I’ll be in a good place. ❧

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