Despite the University’s best efforts, life for students post-graduation doesn’t always mean immediate job offers and stable careers. This is especially true for those who dream of pursuing a life in the entertainment industry. For aspiring writers and comedians, the years after college are usually a healthy combination of struggling to break into the business and working the oddest of odd jobs. It’s become part of the pilgrimage; you study, you work, you create and maybe you break through. It’s an uncertain lifestyle that can drive away even the most dedicated — but there are always exceptions.
University alum Megan Ganz knew she wanted to go into comedy since she was a teenager flipping through copies of Mad Magazine and The Onion. Once in Ann Arbor, Ganz wasted little time pursuing that goal. She earned the position of editor-in-chief at The Every Three Weekly and scored an internship at Mad Magazine in New York.
“My mom bought me my first Onion book, and I started by wanting to write for The Onion. Once I got to U of M, I started taking English Literature classes — I was considering maybe being a teacher — but I decided I wanted to do comedy full time,” Ganz said.
Her internship at Mad provided first-hand experience with professional comedy writing, and gave her one of her first big breaks in the industry.
“(The) first thing I ever sold was a fold-in idea at Mad … I just pitched something in a meeting and they liked it and they went with it,” she explained. “That was the first real money I ever made writing comedy, and that was a big moment.”
But it wasn’t the last. After Ganz graduated in 2006, she began working at her other dream job, The Onion. Despite her age and limited level of experience, she felt prepared to start her comedy career at a publication most writers would consider the summit of the comedy climb.
“I loved The Onion, so when I went to school I started writing for something that was like The Onion and that made me learn that form,” Ganz explained. “Then when I went and worked at that job, I knew that form really well.”
Ganz pitched and wrote satirical pieces on a variety of topics — similar to the work she had been doing at The Every Three Weekly. Riffing off of real news headlines, Ganz proved her talent for joke writing and storytelling, eventually becoming an editor at the publication.
“There’s not any formal training that you really need in order to do (comedy) … I had to start writing all the time. And I had done a couple of those internships, so yeah, I felt prepared to start,” Ganz said. “I kept getting offered jobs though. So that was a good sign.”
After a few years with The Onion, Ganz made the leap to television writing — first with a brief stint at Comedy Central’s “Important Things with Demetri Martin” then moving on to NBC’s “Community” and to her current job at “Modern Family” on ABC. This breadth of experiences has allowed Ganz to flex different comedic muscles, and have helped her to develop a range of skills to apply to her writing — both in her current work and in future projects.
“‘Community’ exercised a little bit more of my experimental side, but ‘Modern Family’ is great because you have to have humans talk they way they really talk and people engage with each other like they really do,” she said. “Not because the story dictates that they do it that way, but because that’s how actual people would talk to each other. If I ever go forward and write something of my own I’ll definitely bring what I’ve learned from both shows to the table.”
As for what she plans to do after “Modern Family,” it’s still up in the air. Ganz has been working on a movie script with a writing partner who also works in television, and then there’s talk of her potentially writing an animated show for FX, but nothing is set in stone. There is one thing Ganz is sure of though.
“I like TV. I think I’d want to stick with TV. The thing about movies is you’re putting in a lot of time for a long time before you kind of know where anything is going. You can work on something for a few years and then it can just go away,” she said. “Whereas television, the nice thing about it is you write something and the network decides to make it or not — like, pretty quickly. I like that it just feels like a regular job.”
That is, a regular job where you work alongside veteran television writers who have been in the business for decades and worked on shows like “Cheers,” “Frasier” and “Sex and the City.” With a writing room full of resumes boasting awards and years of experience, a day at work seems like a daunting task, but Ganz says she’s constantly learning.
“When you’re doing comedy, it’s an interesting business because obviously some days you just wake up not feeling funny,” she said. “And so I’m learning how to be professional and be able to work consistently every day.”
With a job that demands writers to be on their A-game every day, the ability to deliver material with consistency is a necessity, and a skill Ganz has gained through experience.
“You just push through it.” she said. “I think your ego takes over at some point and you feel like, ‘Oh, I don’t just want to sit in a room and be quiet all day.’ So you pitch stuff even if you don’t feel like it.”
Sometimes the off days result in the best work — as Ganz has experienced firsthand — and offer one of the best lessons for aspiring writers and comedians.
“Honestly, some of the jokes I’ve gotten into shows have been during days when I really didn’t want to be there or do this,” she added. “But that’s why you keep pitching.”