Ever wonder what it’s like to walk a day in someone else’s shoes (or spend a day in someone else’s job, as the case may be)? Us too! In our “Women at work” series, we’re talking to some of the most accomplished women we know about how they got to where they are in their careers, what advice they’d give their younger selves, and any tips & tricks they’ve picked up along the way.
Name: Aisha Muharrar
Job title: Co-Executive Producer at NBC’s Good Place; previously writer at Parks & Recreation (2009 – 2015)
College major: English
What does your typical work day look like?
Get to work around 9:30. We gather as a group to debrief and download, then we move on to the task of the day. Sometimes that’s brainstorming (or breaking) a new story. Other times it’s revising a script before we shoot. If I’m the writer responsible for a specific episode, I might be in my office writing.
How did you get into TV writing in the first place?
I always wanted to be a writer. I wrote a book as a teenager. Then senior year of college, I took a screenwriting class. It was fun, so I went with it!
TV writing tends to be a pretty male-dominated industry, right? Have you had any female mentors?
Sure, yes, though I don’t think of them as mentors per se. Maybe because “mentors” sounds very business-like. Emily Kapnek, Emily Spivey, and Chelsea Peretti were all writers on Parks & Recreation with me at some point and showed me that you can do this job and still be yourself.
Sometimes, there’s an idea that there is a certain way of being a comedy writer. A disheveled man-boy — you know the type. Also, Amy Poehler and Rashida Jones. They’re actresses, but they’re both writers and producers. Any time I’ve asked for their help, they’ve come back with the most perfect feedback. Just observing them is a great class on how to be creative and efficient.
Who are your favorite female writers (TV or otherwise!)?
Shonda Rhimes, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Lorrie Moore, Jennifer Egan, ZZ Packer, Andrea Lee, Adelle Waldman, Jane Austen obviously… I just discovered the works of Liane Moriarty and I love her! There are too many to name. That’s a good thing. The male list would have been much easier and shorter to compile. Teasing. Kind of.
What advice would you give to women looking to break into TV writing or comedy in general? How do you get experience? Get noticed?
Find ways to make yourself laugh. And then share that. That’s very basic advice, but I find that more specific advice really depends on the individual. If you start by writing and creating something you love, that will keep you going if/when you face rejection or criticism.
What’s something you know now that you’d tell your 25-year-old self about navigating your career? In general?
Oh boy, so many things! But actually, maybe I’d tell her not to listen to a 32-year-old me. That old lady doesn’t know your life! Keep doing what feels right to you.
What’s the best part of your job?
Making people laugh. Surprisingly, that is way more fun than writing down character motivations and crafting plot.
Parks & Rec character you most closely identify with?
Rejected P&R storyline you would have LOVED to see make it onto the show?
We wanted a character to get stuck in a hot air balloon as it’s taking off and yell out, “Find me!”
What was your most recent Netflix binge?
Not on Netflix, but I’m currently watching The Night Manager.
What TV shows are you into right now?
The Americans. The Americans is the best show. Everyone should be watching it. Keri Russell truly is a national treasure.
Who would star in the TV show about your life?
Hmmm. I wrote a play for Jerrika Hinton last year. She’s incredibly talented and can do both comedy and drama. We don’t look alike, but I’d still go with her.