Each week on the infoMania feature “Modern Lady,” Erin Gibson shares her hysterical take on the often frustrating portrayal (and admonishment) of women in the media. After gaining popularity on the web from her internet show Roommating and numerous appearances on Funny or Die, Erin took over the women’s segment of the Current TV series earlier this year, quickly making it fun to laugh at how the fairer sex is still mistreated in society. Recently, the modern lady herself stopped by Hulu HQ to discuss her feelings about the media, how an ML story comes to fruition, and why the word “lady” is just so darn funny. — Martin Moakler, Hulu
Hulu: Erin, thank you so much for coming in today!
Erin: Thank you for having me! And by the way, [the readers] can’t see this but I got a very nice beer opener from Hulu today, which I’m going to use right when I get in my car!
Hulu: Could you tell us a little bit about “Modern Lady?”
Erin: I think “Modern Lady” is an exploration in all things that are happening on Planet Lady, which is not a real planet, so don’t Google it. If you do Google it, you’re just going to get this article and then it’s going to be a vicious circle and you’re going to be really mad at me.
Hulu: You took over the segment from Sarah Haskins this year. How has that been?
Erin: I don’t like to think of it as me really taking over Sarah’s segment as a vagina left the show and they hired another vagina to come on to the show. We have completely different comedic styles, so I thought it important that I try to handle things through a different filter. She mostly concentrated on commercials and how commercials depicted women and I thought it would be easier for me in the beginning to be just like, “it’s everything.” Anything that has to do with women, that’s my target. And how women are treated, talked about, portrayed in the media. Or women as media. What they do. Sometimes they’re wrong, too.
Hulu: How do you generate your ideas?
Erin: I look at the news and I see who is doing something stupid, then I decide if it’s timely, and can I filter it through a female perspective, which pretty much covers 99 percent of the stupid things that happen on TV. I try to figure out how I can make it the funniest while making a point and not being too preachy.
Hulu: Do you have a writing team or is this pretty much your baby?
Erin: I take a real stress-filled pass at a script and I usually come up with most of the jokes. I also do all the research … actually some interns help me with it. A lot of times, my video isn’t funny. You have to think about the joke as you’re writing the media, so oftentimes I just do it myself until I figure out, “Oh, I need newscasters talking about how other women should be dressing.” So I basically get it down to like, here’s what the piece is and then I write jokes around them. Then we go into a pitch meeting and people will pitch me jokes or different structure ideas and then I take a second or third draft, then we shoot it.
Hulu: Do you interact a lot with the other personalities on the show?
Erin: Yes. We operate our show as a proper television show and all the other hosts write for the whole show so Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday is dedicated to big story and magazine segments and any other thing we’re working on that’s sort of the show, and then, usually like half of Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, we’re working on host segments. We all try to help each other out because you’re not getting the immediate feedback of doing stand up or sketch. It could be funny to you in your office when it’s five o’clock and you’re exhausted and you’ve got the giggles but it’s just always important to have other people pitch on stuff because it just makes the piece funnier and better.
Hulu: How is it being the only girl at infoMania?
Erin: I love being the only girl at infoMania. I think any girl who’s on a TV show with all guys would say the same. If you’re the only guy on an all-girl TV show you get the same amount of attention. It’s a fantastic amount of attention. We have a writer right now who’s also a lady, and we have several intern ladies and we have a producer, and a woman edits my pieces … Kim Bubar, and so there are a lot of women behind the scenes which is great because when I have a joke that I’m like, “OK, you guys won’t think this is funny, but ladies are going to think this is funny.” Then I can bring in all the ladies and it always works. I’m pretty right as far as if there are jokes that only appeal to women. I pretty much know when to pick my battles for getting those in.
Hulu: You just now used the word “lady” and the segment is called “Modern Lady.” What is it about the word “lady,” that you just add it to something and it becomes hysterical?
Erin: Isn’t it funny?
Erin: You put the word lady in front of anything it is instant comedy. Yeah. It’s the same with “kitten.” Kitten church works. Also you can put the word “space” in front of anything. Like “space clock.” That’s hilarious. How about “space plant?” That doesn’t make any sense. There’s no reason to put the word “lady” or “kitten” or “space” in front of anything to make it more specific, so basically it’s like a comedy formula that I use a lot.
Hulu: Why do you think the media’s treatment toward women persists in this day and age?
Erin: I think it’s people being cheeky about “can you believe that was ever a thing or that is a thing?” I understand gender marketing. You don’t want to sell tampons to guys … that makes sense to me, but soaps or cars or anything like that, it’s ridiculous to give a gender, but I think that consumers are way smarter than they used to be. One of the reasons that I didn’t want to do commercials in this piece is that advertisers are savvy. I mean, Old Spice is super sexist. The Old Spice Guy is super sexist and yet, Jezebel, one of the number one “lady websites” covering female content with a feminist bent, they had them as banner ads on their site … because they were funny. If you can be funny and own up, Old Spice, that’s them owning up how “machismo” their advertising has been. It’s smart. I think that the reason that commercial works is because consumers are smart. They’re way smarter.
Hulu: Then why do you think the media is so obsessed with the woman bent?
Erin: I think of the media like a three-year-old. They kinda say what they want and they don’t play by the rules because there’s just this era of infotainment, so it’s boring to be practical and unbiased, so why not pick a target and attack them? A lot of times women are that target. I think women are getting a lot better about fighting back in a way that’s funny and respected.
Hulu: Is this something you’ve felt since you were a teenager in Texas?
Erin: Yes. I always said the thing that no one would say at the dinner table, and it got me in a lot of trouble, so I moved away, and I pursued a career that I could speak honestly and openly about things. And what is the most logical thing, as you know, in improv, truth is the funniest thing. It’s not even a joke sometimes. You’re saying what everyone else doesn’t say in their day-to-day lives. It’s important, but very difficult to do if you’re in a situation where you can’t speak up. It’s scary. You have to go to a place where it‘s safe, and you have to do a lot of drugs. [She laughs.]
Hulu: Can we expect anything new coming on the horizon soon?
Erin: I’m going to be on Parks & Recreation [next season].
Erin: I’m really excited. It’s a small part, but I’m really excited. I play a cat lady. You wouldn’t know it. I didn’t say anything about cats, but that was my character description, which I thought was interesting. [My friend Dave Horowitz] and I did a web show together that’s being edited right now called “Swift and French.” It’s about two jerks who work at a coffee shop and they suddenly develop superpowers, but they’re still jerks … they’re real jerks about it, so it’s like a comedy/sci-fi, kinda shot like a comic book webshow.
Hulu: Finally, why did you use a British accent on the “Modern Lady” opening bumper?
Erin: Basically, I love British comedy. I watch it all the time on the Internet, and I just love it, so I just felt like anytime anything comes up when I can incorporate something British, I don’t care what it is, I’ll just do it. The idea of putting a British voice that’s kind of robotized on this really Sex and the City opening that we have seemed over the top for me and ridiculous. Does that make it too sassy?
Hulu: No. It also makes me feel a bit naughty watching it.
Erin: Does it? Well, there are some very lewd things in the opening…
Hulu: Yes, there are.
Erin: There’s a baby, which isn’t lewd. There’s a high heel, a lipstick, an iPhone, a beer bong and a vibrator…you know, that’s what a modern lady should have in her opening tease…
We asked Erin to share some of her favorite “Modern Family” segments. Here are her picks and some thoughts on why they stuck out in her mind.
Gisele Bündchen and the Breastfeeding Brouhaha
“This is one of my favorite, favorite favorites, mainly because we got to film a little segment at the beginning where I got all the ladies in the office to go apeshit in their own little, tiny ways. If you watch closely, one of our producers, Catherine, just takes a tape dispenser and just pulls tape out for no reason just erratically. I could just watch that for 15 minutes straight.”
Eat, Pray, Love: Modern Lady and Friends Love Chick Flicks
“‘Eat Pray Love’ is a bunch of ladies that got drunk and watch lady movie garbage and I don’t think it can get any better than that. It’s pure enjoyment without any purpose. That movie is gross … in a great way! In a great, indulgent way.”
Can’t a Lady Cop Get Some Nuance?
“‘Lady Cops’ is something that I love to do which is making jokes out of video that’s not only not funny but kind of dark and sad. It’s a challenge to do. I also love dark jokes. I like to be really dark and sad … because I’ve had a sad life. Just kidding … no, I have. Ha-ha, just going back and forth! No, I haven’t had a sad life … No, I have!”
“Anytime I can incorporate dancing, I’m all for it, and at the end of this piece, I got to wear a hot dog costume!”
Infomania is on Thursdays at 10/9 Central on Current TV. Go to Current.com for listings.