The Rumpus Mini-Interview Project: Amy Solomon
Years before Amy Solomon became a producer on Silicon Valley and Barry, she discovered a book called Titters: The First Collection of Humor by Women. Published in 1976, it featured many of her comedy heroes, like Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman, Phyllis Diller, and Candice Newman. Titters inspired Amy to edit the new book Notes from the Bathroom Line: Humor, Art, and Low-Grade Panic from 150 of the Funniest Women in Comedy.
Notes from the Bathroom Line has a varsity squad of contributors. They are writers, directors, producers, actors, illustrators, cartoonists, podcast hosts and stand-up comedians. They have names like Abby Elliott, Aisling Bea, Alex Song-Xia, Alexandra Petri, Alise Morales, Amanda Crew, Amber Ruffin, Amy Aniobi, Amy Hwang, Amy Kurzweil, Amy Silverberg, Andrea Savage, Angela Beevers, Anna Greenfield, Anna Konkle, Anna Seregina, Annah Feinberg, Anu Valia, Aparna Nancherla, April Shih, Ariella Elovic, Atsuko Okatsuka, Aya Cash, and Ayo Edebiri. And those are just the names that start with the letter “A.”
In my own creative practice, nothing brings me quite as much joy as collaborating with funny people. There is something magical about the process of co-creating comedy. This penchant for humor collaborations drew me to Notes from the Bathroom Line. Amy encouraged contributors to team up to write, illustrate, and design many of the pieces throughout the book. Collectively, they produced over one hundred original pieces.
I was delighted to talk with Amy recently over Zoom about producing and editing, vulnerability, and humorous dark fantasies.
The Rumpus: I would love to begin with how you got into comedy.
Amy Solomon: I was raised in Chicago, which is the perfect place for a comedy fan to grow up because there are always so many improv shows. I also started watching Saturday Night Live, but my parents claimed, “The real SNL was in our time.” I got these original SNL box sets from the 1970s and I fell in love with Gilda Radner. That she was a Jew from the Midwest was big for me. She was so funny and silly but there was so much vulnerability to her. She was clearly struggling in different ways, but she had this deep sweetness. I totally fell for her and she inspired me to pursue comedy.
After graduating from college, I got a job as an assistant to Alec Berg, the Silicon Valley showrunner. When he started to work on the Barry pilot, I became his development executive and started to do his production. I have worked for Alec for seven years, which is my longest relationship.
Rumpus: Speaking of long-term commitments, what was the process of creating this book?
Solomon: The process took three and a half years, but since television is so slow, I was accustomed to that pace. The unbelievable privilege of my job as a producer is that I meet funny women every day. Since 1976, there has been no other book like Titters, which is so weird to me. I decided to do a proposal with twenty women attached to it. They were comedians I work with and admire, like D’Arcy Carden. I included Catherine Cohen’s poetry as an example of the kind of humor that would be in the book. Harper Design bought the book and then I slowly added gals. I asked each new contributor who her other favorite comedians were and if she would connect me with them. The web continued to grow. Because I asked everyone to create new work for the book, I gave them a year to write. I did not want this to be stressful for people. Next, I organized all of the illustrations, grouped the pieces into chapters, and decided the ordering of each chapter. Then, we recorded an audiobook with seventy of the writers.
Rumpus: Coordinating and editing one hundred and fifty contributors is a feat. Were there certain skills that you learned as a television producer that transferred to the book editing world?
Solomon: The most important thing I learned as a producer is that everybody has a lot of feelings tied up in their creativity. No matter what, when someone sends you a piece, even if it is goofy as hell, it is a vulnerable thing for them to share something they wrote. It is important for me to respond promptly and tell them I am excited about their work. If I am busy, I let them know I will respond in a few days, so they do not worry that I dislike their piece. Making people feel heard and seen and not left out to dry is my job.
Rumpus: I think I am going to type that last line and frame it. On the flip side, were there unexpected challenges that you encountered as an editor that you had not experienced as a producer?
Solomon: Definitely. At HarperCollins, I had an editor who proofread the text, but they did not give creative notes. I was the only arbiter of humor, which was terrifying. With television and movies, the decisions ultimately land on the showrunner, but before that people give a lot of input. It is almost too much, sometimes. With the book, I asked friends and my boyfriend to read drafts. My dad was also so helpful. For a sixty-year-old cis white man, he has a pretty hip sense of humor.
Rumpus: My next question is about one of my favorite topics. I am always curious about logistics. Notes from the Bathroom Line has so many formats, including essays, poetry, cartoons, illustrations, graphic art, letters, diary entries, and even sheet music. There are so many fantastic concepts, too. There is Ayo Edebiri’s “Rom Com Job Listings,” Mitra Jouhari’s “Script for My Ideal Run-In with an Ex,” and Hallie Cantor’s “My Therapist’s Diary, Probably,” which is illustrated by Grace Miceli. I could keep naming pieces I loved, but I’m starting to sound like the Table of Contents. How did you solicit so many unique formats and topics?
Solomon: I sent out a document of themes and ideas I thought could be fun. It had suggestions for formats, like essays, poetry, and flow charts. I asked each contributor to share what they thought they would write about. They would write back something like, “I’m going to do a Venn diagram about my dad’s two girlfriends” and I’d write back, “Great!” It was nice to be able to invite people to try something that was not their normal style. There were very few overlaps, which was lucky. I also solicited specific content, like long-form comics from comic artists and cartoons from cartoonists. I loved connecting people to collaborate, too. The writers were such fans of the illustrators and vice versa.
Rumpus: One recurring theme in the book was this fantasy of being on your deathbed and all of your exes and former crushes realizing that they are still in love with you. It is a dark fantasy, but it is funny.
Solomon: I am so happy you noticed that. It is so funny to me. When a theme popped up in multiple drafts, I knew it had to stay in the book. Another theme that came up in submissions was, “Can I have a kid when the earth is melting?” I mean, there is so much anxiety. Almost everything in the book was written pre-pandemic, so things have only gotten darker.
Rumpus: In your introduction to the book, you wrote, “One of the things I loved about Titters was that in bringing all those pieces together, it became a time capsule of sorts. It gives you such a visceral sense of its wild era, and all through humor, which I think is our most honest and illuminating lens.” This resonated with me as I read your book, which already feels like a time capsule of pre-pandemic life. If this were written a year later, I imagine it would be a very different book.
Solomon: Completely. I did not think it would become a time capsule so quickly. The first chapter is about socializing. I am glad that people are getting vaccinated now and it seems as though we might be able to socialize again one day. As I edited the book, I wondered, “Is this even going to make any sense?”
Rumpus: My socializing muscles have definitely atrophied. I hope I remember how to do it. Were any topics explicitly off limits?
Solomon: I didn’t want everything to be about dating and I didn’t want everything to be about vaginas. It was important to me to show that women are funny about everything, not just about stereotypical “women” things. I wanted pieces to pass the Bechdel test. Luckily, they did.
Rumpus: What is the backstory of the title?
Solomon: I am glad you asked. Rebecca Shaw deserves all the credit in the world for the title. When I was first pitching the book, I wrote to a bunch of friends asking for help with the title. They endured a lot of emails from me. Rebecca just wrote back, “Notes from the Bathroom Line.” Are you kidding me? That just came out of her brain. There was a time when I wondered if a bathroom joke was too binary. But that is the point. It is absurd that bathrooms are divided that way. The title is a social comment on that. My friend Adam came up with the low-grade panic subtitle, which I also love.
Rumpus: You posed questions to contributors like, “A time you accidentally sent a text to the wrong person,” and “a lie you’ve told to get out of plans.” Cecily Strong, Tawny Newsome, and Karen Chee gave especially funny responses throughout the book. How did you design the prompts?
Solomon: I sat down with this brain trust of gals to decide on the questions. The prompt, “Is there a commonality that many of your exes share?” came from personal experience. There was a time when I continuously dated men named Evan. I wanted to ask questions that many people could answer. Everyone had a response to, “A sentence excerpted from your obituary.” I just wanted to maximize how many people could be in the book.
Rumpus: I love the obituary excerpts because they reflect the contributors’ personalities in such a clever way. One of the other prompts in the book was, “Slang that you made up that will never catch on but it should.” What is an expression that you invented?
Solomon: In college, I always wanted people to say, “best of the semest,” as in the best thing of the semester. For example, if you had a great meal, you would say, “That lunch was the best of the semest.” I still think we should do it. I have started to use the contributors’ slang in my day-to-day life. Chelsea Peretti’s is “dinfo,” and when I want to know information about dinner, I now ask, “What’s the dinfo?” Christine Nangle’s is “flopportunity,” which she defines as, “when my dog smells something he wants to flop over and roll in.” Emily V. Gordon’s is incredible, too. I love them all and I hope readers adopt them.
Rumpus: What is your “best of the semest” advice for emerging comedy writers?
Solomon: I think tweeting is actually an unbelievable exercise. It helps with sharing your thoughts in a succinct way. When you think of a funny idea, it is such a skill to be able to figure out what is a tweet, what is a humor piece, and what is a pilot. It is good practice to realize when something is not just a tweet and that there is more to the idea. The economy of words is so helpful. I also found many of the women in the book because I love them on Twitter. It is such a good way to get out there and get your work out there. When someone recommended a potential contributor to me, it was helpful to go look them up on Twitter and read through all their bits. Everyone talks about how bad Twitter is, but I say, “Good website!” Clearly there are horrible parts of it, but it can be fun if you only follow comedians.
Photograph of Amy Solomon courtesy of Amy Solomon.