When it comes to comedy squad goals, Kate Lambert and her collaborators, The Katydids, really take the cake. The women started a web series back in Chicago, Teachers, and now it’s on TV Land. Almost overnight, Kate and her gal pals went from improvising around the Windy City to running a sitcom on network television. Not only are the Katydids the creators, they are also the stars, the writers, the heart of the show. We talked to Kate before the show was picked up, and in this interview, we touch base with the actress about what she’s learned from her first season of Teachers.
How did you and The Katydids come up with the idea for Teachers?
The Katydids had been an improv group in Chicago for several years and we had started doing videos and sketch as well. Matt Miller, who is a director in Chicago and an Executive Producer on Teachers, was someone we always wanted to work with. He approached us with the idea of a web series about teachers. Matt had recently come across a few articles/studies that had said that teaching was one of the most gossip ridden and adulterous professions, but also one of the most admired. That dichotomy was really interesting to us to explore. We absolutely loved the idea and decided on elementary school as the level we would teach and developed our characters from there.
Teachers started as a web series and now it’s a hit on TV Land. What was the process of it getting on TV?
We were so lucky to have done the web series with a production company in Chicago called Cap Gun Collective—they were incredible partners and made the series look amazing. We started releasing several episodes a week and right away, it started to get traction. Some of our episodes were eventually featured on sites like The Onion and Funny or Die which really helped with getting our name out there and establishing a fan base. We started working with an agent, Alec Botnick, at William Morris with the intention of selling it as a TV show. Through William Morris, we were connected with Alison Brie and were so excited to have her come on as an executive producer for Teachers. While we were in the process of getting ready to go out and pitch to networks, TV Land contacted William Morris looking for an edgy, female workplace comedy where the stars of the show were also the writers. Our agent immediately suggested The Katydids and Teachers.
It was an atypical scenario: the web series served as a digital pitch which allowed us to showcase our brand of comedy and also present the framework of the show.
We are so grateful to be at TV Land; they loved the webseries and didn’t want us to change anything. They have been wonderfully supportive of us and have encouraged us to push the envelope with our comedy.
You went from Second City straight to running a TV show, which is insane and so badass. Can you talk a bit about that transition and what it was like not only as a first-time TV writer and star, but also an Executive Producer?
Haha thank you! It was a very cool experience. The work I did in Chicago with The Second City and iO was great in helping me as a writer and performer. You learn a lot testing material out with live audiences and I took a lot of what I learned and applied it when writing the show. At The Second City, you use improv to create material and that is something we use in the writers’ room as well. Because we have lived with these characters since 2012, we know them so well that we are able to improvise as them. It’s been a really helpful tool for writing.
One of the things that is different working on Teachers is the multiple roles we are playing on the show as creators, executive producers, writers, and actors. When we are on set, we are not only thinking about the lines we have to say as actors, we are continually considering new lines, tweaking jokes as we go along, providing notes to other actors, etc. We are constantly switching hats or wearing multiple hats and I personally love the energy and creativity that comes out of that.
What are some essential qualities that make The Katydids effective comedic collaborators?
I think one of the great things is that we all come from improv backgrounds. One of the tenets of improv is “Yes and,” which means you take someone’s idea and build upon it and that’s something that is so helpful in the writer’s room. We also know one another and our strengths so well, that we are able to think of stories and write really well for each other.
I cannot tell you how happy it makes me (and other girls) that there’s a show with six women at the helm and on the screen. Do you and The Katydids have an active dialogue about female representation in the entertainment industry and on television?
I’m so glad. It makes me happy too. We know it’s unusual to have a writers’ room where there are more women than men; in our writers’ room, we have 9 women and 2 men. Right now, there are so many women in the industry who are not only actors but writers and producers: Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, Ilana Glazer, and Abbi Jacobson to name a few. I think so many women creating and running their own shows is long overdue and it’s a really exciting time to be involved in comedy.
Can you teach our readers something they likely don’t know (something that surprised you) about working in television?
I think something I wasn’t initially expecting was the use of stunt doubles since we are playing elementary school teachers. But we wound up doing some really physical things during the first season: a teacher climbs all over the playground, two teachers fall through the ceiling, etc. The stuntwomen that came on were amazing and it was such a trip to see two people out of the corner of your eye dressed and looking exactly alike. You felt like your brain was melting.
What’s the best advice you ever got from a teacher?
One of the best teachers I ever had was my seventh grade history teacher, Mr. Woodfolk. I still remember the first day of school where he let us know he wouldn’t accept anything but the best from us. He made me work harder and encouraged me to push myself. He inspired me to bring that work ethic to all my projects. He was the kind of teacher that you wanted to make proud; I am very grateful to have been his student.♦
Catch up on Season 1 of Teachers on TV Land and don’t miss Kate in Season 2 coming soon!
Photo Credit: Maarten de Boer, TV Land