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How a Middle-aged IT Guy From Peoria Tweeted His Way Into a Writing Job on Late Night With Seth Meyers
Bryan Donaldson lived in central Illinois nearly his entire life. He was born in Michigan but moved to a tiny town north of Peoria when he was just 4 years old. Now 40, he and his wife own a house in East Peoria with a big backyard, where their preschool-age daughter likes to play, and a side deck, where Donaldson likes to grill.
If he sounds like a regular guy with a regular job, he was — at least until a few months ago. He worked in IT for 20 years, the last ten of which he spent at an insurance company in nearby Bloomington. “Just a nine-to-five corporate job,” he says. “I supported their Linux and UNIX systems.” Today, he is guy with a decidedly not-regular job: He is a staff writer on Late Night With Seth Meyers. How does one make the leap from being an aging IT guy in Middle America’s emblematic town to becoming a comedy writer at 30 Rock?
Donaldson’s journey began on Twitter. In October 2011, he started posting a few jokes a day under the handle @TheNardvark. It was just his outlet for HR-unfriendly cracks that he couldn’t make aloud at the insurance company — often deadpans about family, marriage, and aging. “When I pick my daughter up from day care she screams ‘DADDY!’ and runs towards me for a hug and it’s like be cool bitch you look desperate,” he tweeted last May. “My wife and I use the pull-out method of birth control where we pull out our phones and ignore each other every night,” he offered a few months later. “My walk of shame is stumbling back to my desk like a newborn foal after sitting on the toilet so long that my feet fall asleep,” he wrote in January 2013.
Twitter loved him — his follower count quickly grew to five digits (it currently stands at 40,000) and individual tweets regularly racked up huge share numbers. The “DADDY!” tweet, for example, got 1,200 retweets and 2,500 favorites.
One of Donaldson’s longtime followers is Alex Baze, head writer and producer for Late Night With Seth Meyers. Last fall, when Baze began hiring for the writers’ room in anticipation of a February premiere, he had the notion of looking beyond the piles of packets coming from managers and agents and scouting for raw talent on Twitter. “If I go to somebody’s Twitter, I can see what he’s been doing the last two years — you get a much more complete sense of how he writes,” he says. “It’s like you get to flip through somebody’s comedy notebook.”
Seth Meyers felt the same way. “Twitter has democratized the process,” says Meyers. “We used to look at smaller samples, now you can look back and see what a person thought was funny for the past calendar year.”
Twitter has democratized the process. For writers, we would behoove ourselves to see social media as a distribution network. If you create content and you dump it onto any popular platform — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, whatever — there’s a chance your creative expression may end up in front of a pair of eyeballs which can make a difference in your life.
Now before we go any further, we need to remind ourselves of a few things:
* The odds against financial success in the entertainment industry through any sort of avenues including social media are astronomical. You cannot go into any venture thinking you will succeed because the chances are significantly more likely you will not.
* The only chance you have for possible success is if you (A) have talent, (B) demonstrate that talent on whatever platform you choose, and (C) have that special something that catches people’s attention. Like this young woman from Finland who made a video for YouTube in which she impersonated what foreign languages sound like to her:
This video has been seen over 11 million times and as a result of it and other social media events, she (Sara Maria Forsberg) has managed to parlay the attention into this:
She was interviewed on British BBC radio and Finnish public radio YLE, and Swedish TV in which she confirmed that she was contacted by a The Ellen DeGeneres Show producer. She was a guest on the show on April 7, 2014. She has been given a job within TV commercial production in the USA, worth around $400,000.
This in a little over one month since she uploaded her video.
Again social media = distribution network.
As for Bryan Donaldson, good for him. Here’s hoping he can rise to the occasion, working in a pressurized situation to generate comedy material night after night for a network series, surrounded by talented writers who while on your team are also competition. A TV writers room is a lot different than sitting at home composing humorous tweets.
But more power to him for embracing the Spirit of the Spec and putting content out there to see what happens.
For the rest of Donaldson’s story, go here.