Battle of the Sexes, Exes, and Seriously Funny Sketches: The Sixth Wall Gets Deep with Comedienne and Satirist Katie Schwartz
By Ariel Nishli
Katie Schwartz appreciatively sips her iced coffee, patiently waiting as I arrive to our interview a few minutes late. There’s some small talk – turns out we grew up near one another in New York – but little need for formalities. In no time she’s rattling off hard-earned opinions on comedy, our culture, and the aspects of life that make people tick, sometimes like time bombs.
With an air of constantly trying to draw some sense out of life’s contradictions, Katie employs a powerful weapon – absurdist sketch comedy. Her show on KoldCast TV, You’re Thinking of Someone Else, holds up a funhouse mirror to the trivialities of office life, the monotony of dating, and even jeggings, just to name a few targets.
Internet TV, which Katie views as a powerful force for social commentary, but perhaps more importantly, as an enjoyable end in itself, is begging for innovative content creators to break the mold of traditional entertainment. We picked her brain about how and why that should happen; she did not disappoint.
THE SIXTH WALL (T6W): Let’s start at the beginning. How did you conceive You’re Thinking of Someone Else (YTOSE)? It’s arguably the most eclectic show on KoldCast’s slate. Between the monologues that introduce each episode to their sketch format, YTOSE is the farthest thing from conventional.
KATIE SCHWARTZ: I wanted to create a semi-autobiographical comedy about women. That was the intent. I’m a woman and I love to create funny, complex characters for both men and women. I like to see strong women flourish and taking the lead, so I do tend to write a lot of roles for women. I like to see them twisted up in knots first.
T6W: The way Ellie gets extremely uncomfortable in “Legs” as she’s going through all those horrific blind dates?
KATIE SCHWARTZ: Yes. “Legs” for example, was based on a real story. That actually happened. And the last guy she meets, it was horrible. He didn’t have a leg! How do you not tell someone you’re missing a f*%king leg? I wanted other women writers to share their experiences, to share stories that were humiliating, funny, or just crazy.
Click to watch “Legs”
T6W: We’re currently at a place in television with shows like 2 Broke Girls, Don’t Trust the B- In Apartment 23, and YTSOE where men are more comfortable seeing girls in uncomfortable positions. It started with Judd Apatow creating comedies for men and women. Now comediennes don’t find the need to be raunchy like Sarah Silverman in order to relate to men.
KATIE SCHWARTZ: I love paring female comedians who have a strong point of view with male comedians who have strong opposite points of view. They bring their own nuances, their own thoughts and ideas that bring the characters to light.
T6W: What do you think is a recurring theme in YTSOE that speaks to audiences?
KATIE SCHWARTZ: I think what happens is that you see women go through a lot of twists and turns. Ultimately, they win. Even if what they need isn’t what they wanted. Whether they end up insane or killing someone, there’s a reason for it. I think, thematically, the reason is they do things that aren’t socially accepted.
T6W: Such as?
KATIE SCHWARTZ: For example, we have an episode where a mother is brainstorming with her son about ways to stop parenting him, and he’s only sixteen. She’s basically saying, “I’m exhausted, so how do we figure out how to end this social contract?” There’s another character with a compulsion to confess everything she’s ever done wrong in her life to a police officer whenever she’s pulled over. In an odd sort of way, it’s very empowering for women. They’re doing things that aren’t expected of them.
Click to watch “Adventures in Parenting”
T6W: There’s an element of neuroses to them. You put the characters in these moments of extreme stress and they do stupid, yet very funny things. These snapshots don’t exactly paint them in the best light, but they’re likeable.
KATIE SCHWARTZ: That idea is embodied by Brittany Flickinger (pic below), who opens each episode with coy monologue about something she’d never do, like withhold an intervention from her boyfriend because it’s too expensive. She ties the series together, which is at heart a sketch show.
T6W: We ran a story related to your show about the things all women do and deny, which really resonated with readers. I suppose because it allowed them to connect with the less flattering, hidden side of human nature. YTOSE shows people at their worst which is a pretty bold move. Audiences usually want to relate to characters as heroes. You seem to throw that out the window.
KATIE SCHWARTZ: I tend to throw a lot of conventions out the window. I like characters that are complex, who get in their own way. Watching a female character fight for what she wants in the funniest and most intelligent fashion is the most important element to me as a content creator. To me, men and women are not that different. I think society paints us as extremely different. It perpetuates a lot of tension between the sexes.
T6W: Do you reject the idea that men and women have intrinsic differences?
KATIE SCHWARTZ: I do not think men and women think differently. Women have always been painted as neurotic and needy. A woman needs to be in a committed, monogamous relationship for a certain amount of time before she can have sex with the guy she’s with. That’s bullshit. My point is that men are seen as individuals. They’re not categorized under one umbrella, whereas women are. Women are expected to behave in a certain way: neurotic, needy, smart, or funny.
T6W: Those are certainly labels our society has reinforced, but are you saying the inherent nature of men and women are the same when you strip down all the external constructs?
KATIE SCHWARTZ: Absolutely, yes. Men are not different from women. We have to be judged individually. Men are not stereotyped. A lot of men walk into situations with a woman and create an expectation based on the way she looks. That’s all I’m saying, and in my opinion I think it has to do with societal pressures. We just tend to separate the sexes more than we need to. It frustrates me to no end. And I love men. I’m not bashing them in the show. In fact, it portrays incredibly strong men as well. I love to see men at their finest, but just as vulnerable as a woman in their own way.
T6W: In your opinion has urban America completely warped gender roles?
KATIE SCHWARTZ: I think if you see a girl crying on the street, your first thought is, “her boyfriend must’ve just broken up with her.”
T6W: That’s more of an assumption.
KATIE SCHWARTZ: It is an assumption but it’s sort of like the article you published about women denying things. That’s also an assumption the same way my series is about things women do but would never admit. I’m not speaking for all women. I hate to make generalizations.
T6W: You do make that clear in the show’s description as a semi-autobiographical comedy.
KATIE SCHWARTZ: Anyone who watches it, whether they agree with it or not, finds there’s something about it that’s very liberating and empowering for women.
T6W: Is there going to be more of a through line as the show evolves, or is it going to remain a sketch comedy?
KATIE SCHWARTZ: This first season is all independent sketches. Next season what we’ll probably do is weave in more of a narrative. It will still be sketches but a more pronounced story and a smaller cast. The beauty of this show is that it keeps morphing. People keep seeing women in entirely different lights.
T6W: Call me a man, but it seems like some of the characters are bimbos. In episode two, one thinks long and hard before confirming that the Pope is Catholic. Then she and her roommate plan a long winter of starvation inside a bank lobby before realizing the door is a “push” instead of a “pull”. And a third abuses a guy because he has no leg. How is that empowering?
Click to watch “Awkward Moments”
KATIE SCHWARTZ: What was empowering for me was creating a female lead put in the same position a male might be in. It’s just my opinion, but if a man goes on several dates and is meeting these kinds of women, I think the outcome would be the same. This girl was taking so much crap from a string of awful blind dates. Hitting this guy who lied to her over the head with his prosthetic leg is so badass to me. A man might do the same thing, at least in my opinion.
T6W: Take a woman’s fake leg off and hit her?
KATIE SCHWARTZ: Absolutely! I can see it. Again, it’s not all women and I don’t like broad, sweeping generalizations but the message is that sometimes it’s ok to behave this way. To be so disgusted when someone lies to you that you reach your breaking point.
T6W: Everybody has that duality inside of him or herself. There’s the side that says “I am going to do or say whatever the hell I want regardless of what anyone thinks because it feels good.” Then there’s the side that says, “think about that for just a minute before you act.” YTSOE essentially seems to root for that first voice. The characters are driven to the point of shirking reason for impulse and it’s hilarious.
KATIE SCHWARTZ: The series is about letting go. It’s about allowing yourself to do the things you shouldn’t do; sketches where people are murdered, blown up, or disowned by their parents. Everyone thinks of doing these things.
T6W: I agree with that. Everyone is undergoing his or her own lifelong struggle for sanity.
KATIE SCHWARTZ: And the most important thing is that the show is entertaining. There’s not necessarily a social message I’m trying to shove down people’s throats. In the end, whether you break the social contract or maintain societal norms, the sketch has to make sense. Even if it’s insane.
Click to watch “Rights of Passage”
Ariel Nishli is the Editor-in-Chief of The Sixth Wall. He’s got a big apple in his heart but moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. After graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2007, he worked in the motion picture literary department at ICM, then moved on to feature film development at Parkes MacDonald Productions. Ariel’s wardrobe has steadily devolved from designer suits to worn out slippers, as he now focuses on screenwriting and journalism when he’s not obsessing over this magazine.