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January 17, 2010

WICF chats with ITV Festival Director, Jenny Tesler
by WomenInComedy - 1

This month, WICF interviews ITV Fest Director, Jenny Tesler. Want advice on what makes or breaks a pilot's submission to the festival? Read on!

AJ Tesler, Executive Director, and Jenny Tesler, Festival Director, at the 2009 Independent Television Festival.

What is your experience/relationship with comedy in general?
I have a love/hate relationship with comedy.  I love performing, I hate the anxiety before an improv show.  My comedy experience started at the Second City LA conservatory, from there I studied at the Groundlings and then the Upright Citizens Brigade LA.  All three training centers were vastly different from each other in style, I always felt there was something to learn.

How do you feel gender plays a role in comedy?
It depends what we are talking about.  I spent three years performing in a weekly show at Second City LA and the women in the show were strong and supportive of each other.  I'm the Festival Director for the Independent Television Festival now and have noticed that other mediums, such as Web Content and TV are different.  There is a strong majority of submissions that we receive that are male dominated.  I'm pleasantly surprised when we receive a submission that has a strong female's refreshing.  The world of comedy seems to be dominated by men, so I'm a big proponent of women being strong and making their presence known.

You are a working woman in "the industry."  Any tips for women who want to succeed in the industry as well?
I'm not sure if I have any tips, but I do have some cliches.  Just do it.  Don't give up.  Keep on keeping on.  If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.  They're cliches for a reason...they're true.  Focus on what you believe in and you don't have to listen to everyone who gives their opinion unless everyone's opinion is the same.  In that case, you may want to listen and adjust a little.  Side bar...your mother's opinion doesn't really count at all.  Side Bar to side bar...the previous side bar only refers to comedy.   Listen to your mother about everything else.

What is the most exciting part about working on the ITV Festival?
The most exciting part about working on the  ITVFestival is meeting the pilotmakers for the first time.  The day of pilotmaker orientation, everyone is excited and anxious to have their projects screen.  Most pilotmakers don't know each  other on that day, but by the end of the week, business relationships and friendships have formed.  There is a feeling of community...that's the best part.

Any overall observations about women's submissions to the festival? 
There is a subtle difference between a show that has been written by a male than by a female.  Women tend to show women in a positive way, with more layers.   There were two shows this year at ITVFest that were female driven, both written by women with a female lead.  Temporary Life and were both shows that I would watch if they were on TV because the female leads were well rounded, endearing and funny.

What do you think makes or breaks a Pilot submission to the ITV Festival? 
Each pilot is judged on production value, writing, directing, acting, and serial potential.  We are looking for projects that are creative, new, innovative and produced with some level of professionalism.  If you can achieve all that, you will have a successful pilot.  Oh, and story and character are important too.

Is there a common problem you see in submissions that you want to just take people by the shoulders and SHAKE them for?
Yes.  I don't think most people realize how important casting is.  There have been several shows that have been good ideas, but the acting was terrible.  This makes a show hard to watch, which means, if the producer of the show can't even cast it, then how can they sell it.  If you live in LA or NY, then you have no excuse for not finding good actors.  If you don't, then go to your local theater, I'm sure those actors would love the opportunity.  Another common problem is trying to make an entire pilot out of a sketch.  Sometimes this works.  Sometimes there's a reason sketches are 3 minutes long.

Don't shake the baby!
I'm not sure if you are insinuating that I would be a bad mom, but I do agree that shaking babies is bad.

How has your experience in improv and comedy helped you in what you do today?
My experience with improv and comedy has opened my eyes to many styles of comedy.  I can appreciate comedy for comedy's sake.  I also think I have a better eye for what works than I used to.  It helps me separate the good from the bad.

You have really nice teeth. Sorry, I guess that's not a question.
Thanks.  I had braces in middle school, I didn't wear my retainer, so now I might get invisalign to straighten them again.  If I had only known then what I know now, I would have worn my retainer and not kissed that boy Tommy.

Who are some comedians that you admire?
I am a fan of Christopher Guest, so the obvious players would be Jane Lynch, Catherine O'Hare, Jennifer Coolidge, and Parker Posey.  My other favorites would be Francis McDormand, Tina Fey, Kay Cannon, Amy Poehler, Lisa Kudrow, Gilda Radner, and Meryl Streep.  I think everyone should always say they admire Meryl Streep, no matter what.  She's probably one of the best of everything, steel worker, cop, lawyer, you name it.

How do you think women have changed/affected the comedy industry?
I think that the industry is constantly changing for the better.  I actually think women are running it now.  Most TV executives are women, some of the best shows on tv are written by women and every great male comedian wants a female counterpart that is on par or better.   Women even write better Evite comments.

Check out Jenny in her various projects, including the ITV Fest!
Independent Television Festival
Jenny on Funny or Die

Thanks, Jenny!

- Raero


1 comment

  1. Jenny does have nice teeth! And she's right about my mother, too.