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April 3, 2013

It's Kind of a Funny Story

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Company

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Her humor, Feig tells me, is "smart, funny, irreverent, but grounded—and that's all I ever look for." I press Dippold to name the episodes of Parks and Rec she conceived. "There may be some ideas that I'm proud of, but someone else probably added to it, and that's where it gets tricky," she tells me. After further prodding, she relents and admits she came up with the idea for "Indianapolis," which finds unapologetic carnivore Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) devastated to learn that his favorite steak house has closed. In another episode, in which Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) goes on a blind date with a crazy MRI technician (her then husband Will Arnett), Dippold owns up to writing a killer line that has Knope confessing that her ideal mate has "the brains of George Clooney and the body of Joe Biden." She tells me, "I liked [the line] because I really do believe it works both ways: George Clooney is very smart and Joe Biden is very handsome." Dippold is gender-agnostic when crafting funny bits—she's as comfortable writing for a meat-and-potatoes type guy like Swanson as she is for an ambitious do-gooder gal like Knope.

"What attracted me to the script [for The Heat] was that Katie didn't write a female-buddy movie thinking, Hmmm, women aren't supposed to say or do that on film," Bullock tells me over e-mail. "Katie wrote a story that required two human beings to be uncensored and not mind looking like idiots, something both women and men do on a daily basis."

To be clear, Dippold wasn't thinking about all that when she set out to write it. "I loved cop movies growing up—Lethal Weapon48 HoursRunning Scared," she says. "I always felt like those guys, the buddy cops, were so cool and badass and funny, and I always wanted to see two women like that."

Born in Freehold, New Jersey, she attended Rutgers University, where she dabbled in college improv. Later, after watching a classmate perform at the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) in New York City, she signed up for classes there, too. "At that time, UCB was still a really small theater on 22nd street, with people like Amy Poehler [a founding member] and Adam McKay [Will Ferrell's writing partner] performing in Asssscat," the theater's now legendary Sunday night showcase. Dippold took a class with Mindy Kaling, performed with Saturday Night Live's Bobby Moynihan, and hung out with UCB regulars Ellie Kemper (The OfficeBridesmaids) and Casey Wilson (Happy Endings). She landed the internship at Late Night With Conan O'Brien and later had cameos on the show.

Still, for a while she was on the fence about a career in comedy. "I would go back and forth between FBI and comedy writing," she says. "I was obsessed with The Silence of the Lambs when it came out; I loved the FBI so much. But you had to apply online and there was no room to make myself sound good. 'Do you speak any language fluently?' No. 'Do you have any full-time employment?' No. 'Have you done any drugs?' Yes. And that was it. 'We aren't interested in you.'" So she stuck to comedy.

In 2006, Dippold relocated to Los Angeles for a writing job with MadTV and, after the show was canceled, began work on an original pilot—a dark comedy about the mayor of a Northeastern island town plagued by spooky, supernatural crime who is nonetheless trying to lure new homeowners. The pilot didn't go anywhere, though it did score her a meeting with Mike Schur and Greg Daniels, the creators of Parks and Recreation. "There were 15 awkward moments in that meeting," Dippold recalls, laughing. "I think at some point we talked about the title Parks and Recreation and I might have accidentally suggested a different title. I remember thinking, No! Don't suggest they change the title of a show that you are trying to work on!" She got the job anyway.


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