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Alumni Advice: Amy Aniobi ’06, Comedy Writer at HBO

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Name: Amy Aniobi 

Stanford Graduating Class: 2006

Major: American Studies 

Current Job:  Comedy Writer

During COVID-19 you can find me with Netflix, a bucket of salted popcorn and my mum. We’re slowly running out of TV shows to watch religiously: this week you could have found us eyes-wide, eyebrows raised and shouting at the TV while rewatching “Game of Thrones.” I know that many of us at Stanford can relate to this. Whether it’s “Tiger King,” “Rick and Morty” or Friends, we’ve all got our favorites. But have you ever paused to consider how Rachel from “Friends” became Rachel? How the characters we love so much became themselves or how that surprising plot twist came to be? These events were once mere ideas on a page, discussions around a table and thoughts in someone’s head. 

Enter: Amy Aniobi. One of these seemingly elusive creative titans who decides exactly how characters are developed and how plot is created for television. She has written for HBO’s “Insecure,” “Silicon Valley,” “Brothers in Atlanta” and NBC’s “The Michael J. Fox Show,” as well as “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.” With multiple projects currently in development, she squeezed me in for an interview to talk about how she broke into the industry and became the successful comedy writer she is today. With that, let’s jump in.

1. Tell me what your job is like. What does a typical day look like? 

“As a writer you go through different periods in your life. During production you are on set all day, and when the show ends you are in [post-production]. But, when all that is over, you are on hiatus. As a TV writer I’d say about 30% of your work in the evenings and mornings is finding your next project. But when I go into the office, it’s very normal. I am in a room with four to 14 other writers ‘breaking’ stories. Breaking stories is where you come up with all the plot points. You talk about it for hours, figuring out episodes and then the series. A typical day in a writing room is talking all day!”

2. What are the most significant dissatisfactions and challenges connected with your occupation?

“With any career there are always dissatisfactions. I used to think that Hollywood was sleazy. But that is not unique to entertainment. Hollywood only has this reputation because entertainment is talked about so loudly. Knowing that you have to work with people whose morals don’t line up with you is tough. But sometimes you can’t avoid that. That’s true in every industry. Another big challenge is waiting for a yes. Constantly writers come up with new ideas for shows, but many of those ideas don’t work out. The process makes art seem more commercial. But I wouldn’t love it as much if it wasn’t art. I make a lot of shows independently for this reason.”

3. What jobs and experiences have led you to your present position?

“Being Greek. Joining a sorority was the craziest thing that I ever did. As part of being Greek, I went through the rush, where I had all these little conversations with women who are different to you. It was essentially a mixer. When I got to LA, I was faced with mixers but I had already done it for three years at Stanford. Thank God I was Greek! A lot of people in Hollywood are Greek. Another word of advice about networking is that many people waste a lot of time trying to network up. Instead, try and network horizontally. Kill that feeling of competition against women, other people of color, and link arms with those beside you. When you network this way you find more opportunities that are right for you.

“I also was a part of Stanford Women in Business. It forced me to plan events and meetings and now I do it all the time in my job. Stanford really helped embrace that part of myself. I was also a part of Stanford Film Society. It was the first time I hadn’t used my brothers as actors! It was the place where I learned the vocabulary, how to cast and how to work with a crew. It was instrumental.”

4. How has your life been different from what you imagined when you were at Stanford? 

“At Stanford I didn’t know that I wanted to be a writer until the spring of my senior year. I majored in American Studies but I didn’t know what the major opened doors for. I said I was pre-law to my parents, and if you had asked me then, I would have said I wanted to work in the legal department at a music company. But I didn’t really want those jobs, I wanted to see a path. Sometimes working as a creative, it is difficult to see the path. But being an established writer is a regular job, and it is really cool. But it’s the time that it takes each person to become established that can sometimes seem impractical. Sometimes that is the part that is impractical.”

5. What would you say to someone considering writing? Do you have any special words of encouragement or warning as a result of your experiences?

“Explore every facet of the industry. On the outside you see the most famous jobs: actors, directors and writers. But those aren’t the only roles. You’ve got development executives, public relations, set decorators, costume directors — and I wish that I would have learned about everything. When I did internships, I used to ask people: What do you do all day? Why do you like it?

“Like taking a bunch of Stanford classes, I tried them and shopped them. I discovered that every job is a storyteller. You can tell a story through costume, editing, writing, et cetera. You’ve got to write a script before you start and explore everything. This was reinforced to me by another Stanford alum who said, ‘Always do things before you are ready, otherwise someone else will have done it already.’ If you want to be a writer, write a script. Go out there and get involved.”

One of our readers could be the next Amy Aniobi — destined to bring us copious amounts of joy as she has done through her writing. So, 

  • Shop careers as you would classes. Once you pick an industry that interests you, ask around. What new career will you explore next?
  • Network across, not up. How will you link with your peers? 
  • Act before you are ready. What next steps will you take to move out of your comfort zone?
  • Don’t stress about not seeing your path. With many majors it’s difficult to see where exactly you will go next. Take a deep breath, be patient — you’re going to be okay. 

Contact Emily Broadhurst at ebroad23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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