Getting past the bad stuff: An interview with Megan Amram
The comedian talks about Twitter, her new book, and life after Parks and Recreation
Asking Megan Amram what she's doing or thinking at any given moment is probably the easiest way to give the zany roulette wheel that is her bawdy brand of comedy a good, forceful spin.
The 27-year-old writer for TV shows like Parks and Recreation — who also just published a faux science education book called Science...For Her! — answers that question more or less daily for her nearly 450,000 Twitter followers. And the way she does so makes the platform a solid entry point into the mind of one of the sharpest, most subversive young comedy writers working today.
Indeed, the microblogging service helped make Amram's career possible.
Twitter is where Amram happily obliges her followers with snappy one-liners like "Skeletons have the best thigh gap," and "For an 'adult' bookstore, this place has a LOT of picture books." Ever since joining Twitter in 2009, the service established Amram as something of a heat-seeking missile of raunchy humor.
The discovery of her tweets helped land her spots in the writer's rooms at TV shows like Comedy Central's Kroll Show as well as Parks and Recreation. A few days ago, The New Yorker ran a piece by Amram titled "Bible System Updates" that imagines all the ways that system patches for the Bible would change if the book were treated like a mobile device.
With the publication of her new book, which pretends to be a science textbook while gleefully sending up stereotypical women's magazines (subjects include "what religion is right for your body type"), Amram has made yet another platform jump.
Ask her about the motivation behind wanting to publish a book, and tweet-sized quips immediately follow:
"I mean, that's where the money is. The print industry has never been stronger. Obviously!"
In a phone interview with The Week, during which Amram acknowledged perusing a Cheesecake Factory menu, she offered a glimpse of what life is like when you're on Rolling Stone's list of "25 Funniest People on Twitter," writing for hit TV shows, and educating the discerning reader on such debates as "Marie Curie vs. Marie Claire."
"I am in no way a confident person — except when it comes to what I'm writing," Amram says. "It's just like, this is what I can do, and I have what I think is a pretty strong voice, for better or worse. It's the style I like to write in.
"To develop your own voice, you have to keep writing a ton, and this is something where I think Twitter is helpful. I use it to write a ton of jokes. You have to write a ton of bad stuff before you know what you're good at. And that's what some people I think have trouble with, the thought of getting past the bad stuff."
While writing for Parks and Recreation, Amram says she had an urge to work on comedy prose that was different from a TV script. What she calls a high-concept idea began to take shape, in which she'd write a book in the voice of a self-obsessed airhead rambling about science.
To wit: an explainer on how to build a biological clock out of a potato. A dedication at the front of the book from Parks and Rec actor Nick Offerman compliments it thusly: "I may be but a man, but Dr. Amram's book has conditioned me to numerous new scientific hypotheses that are both fun and flirty."
Amram, meanwhile, says she has plenty of projects in the works and doesn't yet know where she'll land once Parks and Rec finishes its last season next year. She's plenty fine with that, though, explaining how life in Hollywood is unpredictable — in a fun way.
Looking back at moments she's particularly proud of, Amram points to a Parks and Rec episode in season 5 called "Ron and Diane," which she co-wrote. In that episode, Offerman's normally taciturn, gruff character Ron Swanson giddily attends a woodworking awards show, with the whole episode "ending up being sweet and funny. It's what is great about the show, how we try to mix the emotion and the jokes."
"I think writing in a group, even though it can be a challenge — you have to be on your toes all the time — is the way the best comedy gets written," Amram says. "It's very, very collaborative. A lot of comedy writers are definitely introverted nerds. But Parks has some of the truly funniest people I've ever met."
Some people, of course, would say that about Amram, who has nothing resembling a five-year career plan. She just wants plenty of room to keep being "creatively energetic."
"I just want to keep doing a bunch of stuff that I don't really plan," she says. "I'm so fortunate and lucky that people keep giving me these platforms. Because I'm kind of a crazy person."