I told myself I wasn’t going to post this until Tuesday, but then Alicia’s answers landed in my inbox and that plan went straight out the window. So here I am two days early sharing my interview with the incredible Alicia Lutes.
Tell us about yourself.
The name’s Alicia Lutes. I’m a human! Who also happens to be a woman! Isn’t that crazy and exciting and not-at-all rare but also great?
What do you do?
During the day, I’m the Managing Editor over at The Nerdist, an entertainment website, infused with the good, ol’ fashioned obsessive love of nerd culture. I’ve been incredibly lucky in my short career to touch a whole host of projects — from helping write episodes of Nerdist News, be a part of the writer’s room for She Said with Cameron Esposito & Rhea Butcher on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, and am even working on scripted projects of my own on the side (because I’m a Los Angeles cliché now, but it’s FINE).
Who are some women that inspire you?
It’s hard to only list some, because I’m inspired by so many women on a near-constant basis. I honestly feel so lucky to be a woman and have such incredible, intrepid ladies to look up to and learn from their example. People like Elizabeth Warren and Gloria Steinem, whose tenacity have only made the world a more equal, functioning society. Hilarious, thoughtful minds like Amy Poehler, Gilda Radner, and Tina Fey. Brilliant writers who make me think deeper and be better like Roxane Gay, Margaret Atwood, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alice Munro, Zadie Smith, and Jhumpa Lahiri; Activists and storytellers like Ava DuVernay, Lindy West, Ruby Dee, Jessica Valenti, and Amma Asante; The host of women in my family who are doctors, nurses, cops, and social workers who strive on a daily basis to make society better. And that’s not even including the badass ladies I am so deeply lucky to call my friends and colleagues that inspire me every single day with their tenacity, intelligence, compassion, and ability. I honestly feel so lucky to be alive in a time where women are truly advancing so many conversations and aspects of society and not taking any shit. I learn so much for everyone I’m surrounded by on a constant basis — it’s so invigorating. What a time to be alive!
What are you passionate about?
Laughter, honesty, empathy, intellectual evolution, the future, learning the past. Puppies on Instagram and good coffee.
Most helpful piece of advice someone has given you?
I have to skirt the rules again here (because I’m the worst), as there are two particular people and bits of advice that truly paved the way for me. First was my writing professor in college, the astoundingly talented Tiphanie Yanique. I was always so inspired and giddy to be in the room with her, and she reminded me to be fearless in the emotional honesty of writing. To look inward and outward and find the truth and power in each and every story; to harness it and let it explode with possibility and its own vivid inner life. For a really long time I was absolutely terrified to let my writing be anything other than a private thing I did for myself; afraid I wasn’t good enough, or that my desires were a sign of some latent narcissism that I didn’t want to explore. Tiphanie showed me that was not the case, and pushed me to be a far better writer than I would’ve been without her teachings. I only hope for my writing to be as lush and extraordinarily brilliant as hers.
The second came from a man named Geoff Todebush, a VP at Nickelodeon and an old mentor of mine from my first job out of college (I scheduled commercials at MTV, which is a whole ‘nother story for a different day). He was the first person to ask me what I would do with my life if there were no limitations and ultimately set me on my course. It’s a really simple, obvious sort of question but one I simply wasn’t asked until I was in my early twenties. Up until that point I had been terrified of the eye rolls, the judgement, the seeming frivolity of admitting I wanted to write for a living. I’ve always felt an incredible amount of guilt about wanting to live a creative life — afraid it meant I was arrogant and self-servicing and narcissistic and terrible. (Even though I know that’s not the case for many people in creative pursuits.) But when I admitted it for the first time aloud in that room — when he asked me, “So why not do it?” — I went home and began working on my first spec script and haven’t looked back. The simple act of Geoff asking me that question and telling me he believed I could do it changed everything for me, and was the best bit of advice I could’ve gotten at that time. I always make a point to ask myself “why not you? why not now?” when it comes to my own aspirations and ambitions and that is 100% thanks to Geoff.
Why do you do what you do and what do you love most about what you do?
I honestly don’t know how to answer this question without coming across as trite and cliché, so you’ve been warned. On the most basic level, I love communicating with people (I’m chatty as hell!), and I wouldn’t be the recovering people-pleaser (it’s a process) that I am if I didn’t admit how much I am fueled by making other people laugh and/or feel happy. (Sometimes to the point of extreme annoyance — just ask my younger siblings.) Nothing makes me happier than knowing I may have made someone else happy and/or feel good. Even for a moment.
And I’m not ashamed to say I love pop culture and entertainment. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being fun and frivolous: sometimes it’s exactly what we need. And other times, there’s no better way to get a point across or teach someone a lesson (heck, just look at like, 90% of Amy Schumer’s sketches, or pretty much anything anyone’s ever done on The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver). I get the opportunity to do that in so many different ways in my career — be it as a freelance writer, or a managing editor, or even an aspiring television writer. Making people laugh AND think at the same time is the ultimate to me. Besides, society’s understanding of the world is heavily influenced by popular culture and entertainment storytelling. Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of that aspect of the conversation?
Are there challenges you have faced in your work specifically because you’re women? If so, how did you overcome them?
You know, it’s always hard to pinpoint subtle sexism and misogyny when it’s happening. Heck, sometimes it’s hard to call it by its name when it’s super-duper overt. I could list out a whole host of things I’ve experienced, but I think it’s more important to understand how to overcome it — by learning from it and using it as another tool in your arsenal. I tend to spend a lot of time (too much, probably) thinking about things and experiences in my life and what they mean and how I can learn from them. Because those big, third-act “we’re not going to take it anymore!” moments rarely happen in real life, and when you try (which I have), they don’t usually end with the person going, “Well would you look at that, I’ve completely changed my perception and understanding of a thing!” Whether we like it or not, change happens on other people’s terms and it’s almost impossible to change a person’s mind by confronting them — you have to let actions and words speak in those moments, taking an empathetic approach to the subject. Because people are by nature insecure and defensive (it’s that whole ‘we’re still animals’ part of being a human we, as sentient beings, struggle with on a minute-by-minute basis). So you have to also understand that’s where so many people’s shit comes from. So I look inward and try to overcome it by paying it forward in my words and stories. By allowing it to inform my greater understanding. I listen with compassion and try to discuss these things a certain level of empathy: sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s all helpful stuff.
I’ve been extremely lucky in my career to largely work in environments run by women. And truly, that’s made a world of difference. My direct supervisors at MTV were women; when I worked in social media management and marketing, the director and account executives were all women; even while writing for Hollywood.com, Bustle, The Hollywood Reporter, and even now at Nerdist (our Editor-in-Chief is a total queen by the name of Rachel Heine): all women, all badass babes I’ve been lucky enough to call colleagues.
Are there any particular people who you would absolutely love to collaborate with on something or people you would like to meet?
Oh gosh, so many. Maybe too many to list! And so many people I probably would love to work with if I knew who they were. Like HONESTLY. I mean, there are the obvious lady heroes — Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy, Lisa Cholodenko, Tina Fey, Jessica Williams, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer (which: omg <3), Ava DuVernay, Jenji Kohan, Laverne Cox, Tig Notaro, Lily Tomlin, Ana Lily Amirpour, Sharon Horgan, Melissa Rosenberg, Michelle Ashford, Shonda Rhimes — and the boys — Cary Fukunaga, Bryan Fuller, Sam Esmail, Lord and Miller, David Becky, Sam Shaw, Ron Moore, Mike Schur and Dan Goor, Dan Weiss and David Benioff. As long as I am learning from whomever I collaborate with, I know I’d be happy.
As for meeting people: can I put everybody in the world (save Donald Trump cuz, uh, no thanks) on this list? Because in a perfect world, I’d be able to meet anyone and everyone I could and have a conversation with each. I think you only truly learn when you’re talking to people whose experience is vastly outside of your own. It’s called gaining perspective, and I’m obsessed with it.
*all images used with permission.