Striking WGA Late-Night Comedy Writers Launch YouTube Show Lampooning The Studios
Late-night comedy shows were shut down on the very first day of the ongoing Writers Guild’s strike, but many of their now out-of-work writers are banding together to put on a weekly YouTube Channel show alternately titled “Picket Tonight” or “The Jokes You Love from the Picket Signs but We’re Saying Them Out Loud.”
“Whatever it’s called, this is where two striking WGA writers sit at a desk and tell you jokes,” said Greg Iwinski, a former writer for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, who co-hosted the inaugural episode along with Sasha Stewart, a former writer on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.
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Lampooning studio bosses for refusing to pay writers an additional sliver of their companies’ profits, Stewart quipped, “Come on. That’s not a lot of cash. It’s what the studio heads would normally call ‘pocket yacht money.’”
“As you may know, writers are on strike,” said Iwinski, who will host the show with a rotating ensemble of joke-tellers. “What you may not know is that according to nine out of ten doctors, if a late-night writer doesn’t do monologue jokes for too many consecutive days, they die.” Those nine doctors, he revealed, include Dr. Fauci, Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, Dr. Zhivago and Dr. Pepper.
“We’ll bring you jokes and sketches whenever we can,” he said in the intro, “and you’ll get to hear from writers inside the strike about what we’re fighting for and why the studios need to talk to us.”
Or as Stewart put it, “We’re two of the many writers who will be reading these strike propaganda jokes, so if you’re like, ‘I want to watch someone more attractive,’ just wait a week.”
As for the contract talks that broke off on May 1, Iwinski joked: “One of the biggest issues with the negotiations is that the studios provided no counter to many of our proposals. The first time in history that a studio had no notes.”
In a telephone interview, Iwinski told Deadline – in all seriousness – that the issues at stake in the strike are “existential” for late-night comedy writers.
“As the studios continue to move into streaming, but especially as they move into the free ad-supported space where stuff looks more and more like old TV,” he said, “you’re going to be seeing more late-night television, soap operas and game shows in the digital space. And right now, we have no protections there. We don’t have a payment amount; we don’t have contract-linked minimums; we don’t have residuals, really. We’re in the Wild West.
“And so for us, our whole genre of television could move to a place where we have absolutely no protection. So we’ve got to get that, especially when the studios’ counteroffer to our asks for the same things we have in free TV, their response was to propose a day rate, where you write a day of a show similar to The Tonight Show, you go home and wake up the next morning and hope you get called for another day of work. And anybody who’s worked on a late-night show will tell you that that’s just not how you make those shows.”
Iwinski had been working on an animated children’s show for Disney+ and Disney Junior called Star Wars: Young Jedi Adventures that premiered during the first week of the strike. “So it was a very weird week for me,” he said.
“Picket Tonight,” he said, aims to put out new episodes mid-week during every week of the strike with an all-volunteer crew and an all-volunteer writing staff.
The show, he said, hopes to fill a little of the void left by the absence of late-night comic relief in these very serious times. “As the show gets its sea legs a little bit, I think our hope will be to also address some of the bigger things that are out there, because as late-night writers, we have a relationship with our audience, and we help take the edge off a little bit when there’s horrible news. We’re doing that for the strike, but hopefully we’ll have some space to take a few side-shots at things going on in the world.”
Indeed, this week’s show featured a non-strike joke about alligators. “A ten-foot gator was found in a Florida couple’s back yard,” Iwinski joked. “Not found? The couple.”
Future episodes can been seen on the YouTube Channel by searching for “Contract TK” – an inside journalism reference meaning “Contract To Come.”
The end of the show came with a disclaimer that notes that it “was made with zero budget using only grassroots volunteers and is not an official message of the WGA.”
The end-message also asks viewers to donate to the Entertainment Community Fund “to support the crews and staff of late-night impacted by the strike,” and a link where viewers can donate.
“We thought it was important that we didn’t just do the jokes and needle the studios,” Iwinski said, “but try to help all the people that we know on these shows, some of which have a hundred or two hundred employees – our friends and colleagues who are out of work right now because of the strike. So, we want to do what we can to help them and make sure that they can pay rent and hang on during the strike action.”
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