In 2014, Forbes interviewed Alexis Wilkinson. Then a junior in college, she had just become the President of the Harvard Lampoon. The interview ends with the question, “Do you see yourself pursuing a career in humor when you graduate?” and Wilkinson answers, “Ideally. If I could make a living writing jokes, that’d be amazing. That’s the dream.” Now 26, Wilkinson has done it in just five years.
Wilkinson has written for shows including Veep and Brooklyn 99 as well as for publications such as Time, Vulture, the New Yorker, and Elle. She has been nominated for two Writers Guild of America awards.
Growing up, Wilkinson wrote for herself and in high school wrote a satirical newsletter with her friends, but she didn’t take being a writer too seriously. “I didn’t really think it was a real job that people had. I didn’t think it was a thing that you could make money doing” she continues, “until I got to college and realized that this is a real industry.” Once in college, Wilkinson was elected the president of the Harvard Lampoon and became the first African American woman to have done so in the 143-year history of the collegiate comedy publication.
While at Harvard, Wilkinson also took screenwriting classes and in one wrote her first script. Still, she didn’t know if she was going to send it out or not. “My senior year, I wasn’t sure if I was going to go into television at all,” she explains, “I kind of was just hoping that I would get an opportunity to do it eventually. And I think I lucked out that I got an opportunity to do it right away.”
During her senior year as president of the Lampoon, she got to know David Mandel, a member of the Lampoon’s Board of Trustees who had just become the show-runner for Veep. Right out of college Wilkinson started writing for Veep before moving to Brooklyn 99.
While Wilkinson comes off as extremely confident, she remembers a time when she was less secure. “When I first started on Veep, I was so nervous and insecure and living in Los Angeles for the first time and just scared of everything. I was scared of my own voice in a lot of ways,” she says, “but I think being able to work with that staff of people and having so much encouragement and so much support really sort of set the stage for now. I feel like I can write anything.”
Wilkinson recently took a break from TV writing to work on her first book. “I wanted to take a break from television. I learned so much writing for two very different shows and I wanted to take a second to just figure my own voice out a little bit more.” She continues, “[I went into] TV writing sort of immediately, you know, I was 22 at the time. Now, I want to peel back a little bit and think more about what I really want to say and how.”
While Wilkinson is taking a break from sitcoms, she hasn’t completely left TV. “I’ve recently gotten to do a couple of award shows, which are so weird and so fun. I’ve never done anything that has kind of a live component,” she says.
Recently Wilkinson moved to San Francisco to work on her book and write for ad campaigns. “I feel like as a young writer, you often get put in a box.” She continues, “It feels almost like sometimes people will think that you can’t write about anything outside of your literal 20 odd year experience, which I think is really disheartening for me… I want everyone to know that I can write anything for any reason.”
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