Grace Nkenge Edwards is a writer, actor, and producer who has both written for and performed on MTV’s Decoded, Inside Amy Schumer on Comedy Central, and is currently a writer on MTV’s Untitled Nicole Byer Project. She co-writes and performs in a monthly show with her sketch team The Heavenly Creatures. She has an MFA in Screenwriting from Columbia University, a BFA in Acting from the University of Michigan, and has taught television writing at NYU.
I had the pleasure of meeting Grace at Columbia where I was acting in her screenwriting class taught by one of my favorite playwrights, Israel Horowitz. Since then, Grace has created a TV writing career that many creatives only dream about. How did she do it? With perseverance, preparation, and well… grace. Check out my interview with her below.
NATALIE: You moved to L.A.! How has that been for you?
GRACE: Honestly, as a naturalized New Yorker, I made a silent pact to hate all things Los Angeles, but… I really like it. I love my new job. I’m writing for an upcoming sitcom starring the brilliant and hilarious Nicole Byer. I learning a lot and everyone is so funny and supportive in the writers room. The weather is lovely and I have so much more space than the chic little box I live in Harlem. I have even been able to incorporate things I like about NYC like the walking and taking the train. I’m one of those rare birds in L.A. who can take the subway to work. So, yaaas L.A. I might keep you. I may come back home to New York doh.
How important was it for you to attend Columbia? Do you feel it helped prepare you for the real world?
Columbia was incredibly important because I learned to tell stories there. I had incredible instructors like Alan Kingsberg, Andy Bienan, Malia Scotch-Marmo, Eric Mendelsohn, and so many others who taught me how to craft a narrative and the importance of finding my voice. I use those lessons everyday in my work. That being said, nothing in school can really prepare you for the “real world.” Working on a show is so different than writing specs in class. That’s why I encourage people to intern. You kind of have to in order to figure out if you really want to work in TV.
Was there a learning curve when you first started on Broad City?
Broad City was an incredible experience and my first live action narrative show. I was an experienced writers assistant at that point, but there were differences between BC and Schumer. Broad City was the first room where I got to see narrative stories broken, outside of class. The coolest thing was to witness Abbi and Ilana’s process and I was in awe of how razor sharp their voice and perspective is.
What was your path to the Amy Schumer show like?
In 2009, I was chosen for a now defunct (unfortunately) writing program called Comedy Central Summer School. There I met Dan Powell, the EP of Inside Amy Schumer. He was the head of development at the time. I pestered him for a year for a job. He finally took pity on me and hired me as a production coordinator on a show called Ugly Americans. We have worked together ever since. While we were doing Ugly Americans, he was hired to showrun Amy’s pilot and I asked if I could be the writers assistant. The rest as they say is history.
What’s a day in the life of Grace Nkenge Edwards like?
Hahaha. Quite boring at the moment. I live like a monk: rise, workout, work, repeat. Maybe some fun on the weekends, but since I’ve been in L.A. I’ve been really focused on work.
How important is it for you to bring personal causes to the public arena? (And I’m referring specifically to your support for Amber Rose and your devotion Golden Girls.) Feel free to be serious as well.
Well Amber Rose is a gorgeous national fucking treasure who is a sneak tip feminist so I’m going to stan for her. Also, come on Netflix, the Golden Girls is a no brainer… also Living Single.
On a more serious tip. I do believe it’s important to speak to the things that bother you or inspire you on social media. I had to take a little hiatus, because reading Internet articles/comments about people I hate can send me down into a k-hole of negativity and the trolls win. I literally do not acknowledge the existence of, say, a comb-over, tiny-lipped, balloon faced buffoon. I think we give bad people too much energy at times.
Who do you look up to?
Dan Powell, Jessi Klein, Amy Schumer, Shonda Rhimes, Issa Rae, Larry David, Robert Carlock, and Tina Fey are all my comedy heroes.
How do you replenish ideas when the well runs dry?
Stepping away from the project helps. I like to take a walk or go to the gym, hang out with friends. Sometimes I find the well runs dry because you need to refill it with life experiences and/or rejuvenate yourself.
Do you have a personal passion project you’re working on right now?
Yes. I have a web show I wrote and am starring in that I just secured funding for. It should premiere online in the next year or so.
Where do you hope to be in 10 years?
Starring in a show I created and writing features. Also, married to a hot dude who’s made millions from his diamond and cupcake business, who likes to bring his work home.
What is the #1 thing you want comedy writers to know before they reach out to you to “pick your brain?”
Just know that there is no answer to “How do I get my big break?” There are things you can do to be prepared for opportunities that present themselves: classes, writing often, networking. However, everyone’s path in is different. Also, before you meet with anyone, make sure you have a basic understanding of the business you are asking about. I once talked to a writer who wanted to write comedy who didn’t know what an act break was.
What are you most proud of?
My boobs. They are pretty great. JK. I’m proud that I’ve stuck with my dream of writing and acting for TV through a multitude of setbacks, discouragements, and challenges. I’m proud of the progress I’ve made and excited for the future.
What specific actions (classes, relationships, training, work ethic) do you think someone needs to become a successful comedy writer?
UCB, UCB, UCB or stand up or form a sketch group or make comedy videos. Anything that allows you to do comedy consistently. Practice your craft. It will make you better at it.
Best advice you’ve been given? Worst advice?
Best advice I have been given was by Malia Scotch-Marmo. I had graduated film school and I was complaining about the uncertainty in this business. Malia said I had two choices: go to law school or something and get certainty or learn how to enjoy the uncertainty. I remember that when I am between gigs. Nothing makes me happier than the work I do so I have chosen to enjoy the uncertainty.
Worst advice? Have a practical fallback career. I’m a firm believer that “being practical” is a cop out. It just gives people an excuse to not try the thing they want to do, but are afraid to do.
What books are on your bookshelf?
Right now I’m reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Other items on my shelf include all the August Wilson plays, all the Tennessee Williams plays, the Artists Way, the Goldfinch (I’ve tried to read it 17 effing times) and my fave, fave fave, Americanah.
What advice would you give your 22 year old self?
Relax bitch! Have more fun. Say yes to more adventures. Also, you don’t have a bangs face so stop wearing them all the damn time. Also, why wear heels? They hurt and guys don’t care.
Follow Grace on Twitter: @gracyact
Natalie Kim (@NatalieKimNYC) is a comedy actress, writer, and contributor to The Nerds of Color. She’s appeared on The Blacklist and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. She also enjoys drawing by herself and with other people. Her latest project, a short titled SEE ME SEE YOU is being screened at film festivals around the world. Fan of The New York Peace Institute.