It is the biggest and most exciting week of comedy writer Katie Dippold’s life, and she is anxious to the point that a nervous tic is becoming a serious problem.
“If I sound weird, it sounds crazy, but I grind my teeth at night sometimes when I’m stressed out, and all week I was stressed and I’ve been grinding like a crazy person so my jaw is crazy sore right now,” the 33-year-old screenwriter explains. “I feel like my whole bite is so messed up, and my row of teeth is hitting my back teeth — I’ve got to figure this out.”
She needn’t worry; if anything, her voice is exceedingly plain and quiet, belying all the excitement going on in her life. She has become a golden example for aspiring comedy buffs, having traveled the well-worn path that took her from college improv student to hot Hollywood screenwriter. Her film The Heat hits theaters this weekend and already has a sequel in development.
Having spent most of her childhood living in Freehold, New Jersey, Dippold attended Rutgers, where she found herself living on the same floor as comedian Chris Gethard.
“At first, I thought, Who is this weirdo?” she remembers, laughing. “He’d always be in his room, there was always some kind of trouble he was causing, like some prank.” Ultimately, they did start talking and “immediately hit it off,” leading to a lot of time hanging out, playing Nintendo 64.
“We would play Bond [Goldeneye] all the time and viciously fight about it,” Dippold recalls. “He’d accuse everyone of cheating. I don’t know how you can really cheat in a video game. I would always school when we did prox mines, but he would say prox mines doesn’t count.”
For the record, in a blog post earlier this week, Gethard remembered the matches a bit differently.
“Katie didn’t outright cheat at Goldeneye, but she did insist on playing with proximity mines every time and on the same board,” he wrote. “She memorized a sequence in which she could quickly place her proximity mines that made it impossible for me to move my character throughout the space without dying instantly.”
Spy games aside, Gethard’s trips into New York City to take improv classes piqued Dippold’s interest, but she was pledging a sorority at the time.
“They were a really nice group of girls, they were a lot of fun, but I just didn’t quite feel like that was the thing I wanted to do,” she says. “He was doing improv and he kind of forced me to audition for that group. So I did that and it was a huge life-changing thing.”
Gethard began taking classes at Amy Poehler’s Upright Citizens Brigade in the Village, and the summer before her senior year, Dippold began taking the train into Manhattan to join him.
“My first team was named Police Chief Rumble — every improv team name is the worst — but it had a lot of fun people, like Bobby Moynihan and Charlie Sanders,” Dippold remembers.
After college, she continued to take classes and play shows at UCB, spending her days working as a legal assistant and nights experimenting with the most bizarre comedy the city had to offer. She singles out Brett Gelman and Jon Daly’s popular UCB show Cracked Out as being one of the most bizarre, pointing to the “Cracked Out Wedding” that involved comedian/actor Jason Mantzoukas presiding over the ceremony as Osama bin Laden as well a power outage that left them performing in the dark at 1 a.m.
From there, it was on to an internship with Conan O’Brien, where she got the lunch orders for the writing staff — though the host himself had someone else pick up his food. “That was another level,” she jokes.
“That was awesome. I got to watch all those writers work and they seem like they had it made,” Dippold laughs, reflecting on the seminal time with Late Night. “They got to come in, they were surrounded by all these funny people and they got to wear sneakers to work and they didn’t have to come in too early.”
The internship got her a gig on MadTV, where she wrote for three years before joining the staff at NBC’s Parks and Recreation. There, she wrote some of Leslie Knope and company’s most memorable adventures — including the “Indianapolis” episode where Ron Swanson sternly instructs a waiter to “give me all the bacon and eggs that you have” — but defers much of the praise to the collaborative efforts of exec producer Mike Schur’s writing staff.
Clearly, though, her voice stood out; Dippold wrote the screenplay for The Heat on spec at night after her Parks duties, and it hadn’t even been presented to prospective bidders before producer Peter Chernin, the former head of Fox, signaled his interest. The script reportedly sold for $600,000.
The Heat, a raunchy buddy-cop flick starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, is the only female-driven mainstream movie being put out in this summer of superhero and disaster extravaganzas. It’s also almost entirely absent of romantic elements, with the only truly important relationship being the friendship between the two leading women.
“I would love for both those characters to find love, but it doesn’t have to be the wish fulfillment of every movie,” Dippold says. “I get frustrated when that’s all there is. Whenever I would watch buddy-cop movies and the two guys are super funny and just living it up and being badass and cool, I thought, I want to do that. It’s not just that I want to date those guys, I want to be one of those guys taking down a druglord and being funny and wisecracking, so I feel like that’s another kind of wish-fulfillment movie that women don’t get, not just, ‘Oh, is he going to propose?’”
Inevitably, the movie will draw comparisons to Bridesmaids, as a female-driven movie that stars McCarthy and was also directed by Paul Feig. In a way, it’s a commentary on just how few female-focused movies there are in Hollywood today, but Dippold is flattered by the company.
“That movie I just found so refreshing because there was a camaraderie in it that I don’t see a lot in big comedies with women, and I just feel that’s important,” she says. “As a kid, growing up, going to different parties and stuff like that, I always felt like the goal was always get a cool boyfriend. Any time me and my female friends would go out and have a crazy night, those were the best nights. It was really empowering.”