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April 3, 2013

It's Kind of a Funny Story

With her buddy-cop movie The Heat, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, hitting theaters this summer, up-and-coming comedy writer Katie Dippold is set to prove once and for all that women can pack 'em in—and keep 'em laughing.

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Photo Credit: Peter Yang

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GLAMOROUS THOUGH THE JOB MAY SOUND, sitcom writing is a grinding profession where storylines and jokes are conceived, tweaked, and discarded in a process as ruthless as it is democratic, making it virtually impossible for any one writer to claim bragging rights to much of anything. There are few I's in the writers' room—save for the one in charge, better known as the showrunner. Breakout stars in such a collaborative milieu are the exception, not the rule, and even those who manage to sell screenplays written in their off-hours quickly learn the perils of high hopes: Promising projects routinely wither on the vine, and for those who do make it, the process is a slog that can easily take years from start to finish.

So it must have seemed to Katie Dippold, one of roughly 10 writers for Parks and Recreation, that the stars had magically aligned when in February of last year, after just two and a half months of writing a script about two female cops, she promptly sold it to Chernin Entertainment for $600,000. Excitement for the project was so pitched that 10 days after the acquisition, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy jumped on to star, and Bridesmaids director Paul Feig signed on to direct. The Heat was on the fast track to becoming one of the buzziest properties in town, and by the time it opens in theaters nationwide on June 28, its gestation period from beginning to end will have been just 20 months—a supernova by Hollywood standards. "I had just gotten a haircut and was walking back to my car when my agent called and said the producers were on the other line and they were going to make an offer over the phone—the deal would either happen or not by the end of the call," recalls Dippold, 33, a petite, delicate-looking blonde with a faint resemblance to a young Doris Day. "Then I realized my cell phone was dying, so I was trying to stay on the call while driving to get home in time to plug it into my charger. I finally made it just as the deal closed, and my car was a pool of sweat."

There is a dryness to the way Dippold tells a story—straightforward, without affect, as though utterly unaware of just how crazy-funny it is—that makes it hard to believe that she is one of the hottest on-the-rise comedy writers in Hollywood. Over lunch at Little Dom's in Los Angeles, Dippold is downright demure. More goofball than wiseacre, she doesn't curse much or gesticulate, doesn't crack jokes, do imitations, or tweet witty quips (the equivalent of a mike and stool for comedians these days). As we brunch on scrambled eggs and Arnold Palmers—half iced tea, half lemonade—she regales me with a kooky story about wanting to impress her bosses on the first day of a college internship with Late Night With Conan O'Brien. "I remember I wore heels, like some new pair of shoes that I would never normally wear. I thought I had to take it up a notch. And they were like, 'OK, run downtown and take this ferry, and then this plane and get on this train, and, like, grab onto the wings of this bird.'"


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