Break the Rules Like ... Kate Wiswell
Not all Wonder Women wear capes, and not all Unladylike role models need to sit in the C-suite to spark change. We want to introduce y'all to rad women and nonbinary folks we admire. They'll offer up pointers on how we all can #breaktheruleslike they do and help them make the world a better place. If you have a role model to shout out, send hot tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Introduce yourself: Who are you, where are you from and what do you do?
Hello! I’m K.S. Wiswell (Kate to my friends, Aunt Katie to my family), a comedy writer and part-time logic teacher. I’m also the author of the book Full-Frontal Nerdity.
Getting here took a long and winding road, starting as a band-geek mathlete in New Hampshire, attending Harvard to become a cryptographer, graduating with a BS in English — and debt — surviving the corporate marketing world for three years to pay off that debt, then moving to Los Angeles to take improv classes because it was cheaper than therapy (and way more fun).
For the past dozen years, I’ve been writing for film and television — and occasionally for my young nephews — while teaching logical reasoning to people trying to get into law school. Indulging the mathematical side of my brain keeps me sane, and helping others achieve their dreams while I work toward my own keeps me motivated. I’m also a trouble-making feminist, determined to create stories that center smart, multidimensional women even if that gets me rejected by the industry gatekeepers time and again.
2. When did you first realize this was the right path for you?
Looking back, it is ridiculous that I didn’t realize I was a writer until almost my 30s. I wrote and produced my first play in kindergarten (The Joy Ride — a jail break with farm animals) and used to hand write and bind my own Nancy Drew mysteries. But I’m also a nerd who felt the responsibility of doing something “useful” with my intellectual gifts (not yet understanding how useful it can be to tell stories). As I got older my plans touched on being a cryptographer, an actor, a lawyer, a teacher and a political speechwriter (with a brief stop on professional clown — which many would say is the same thing).
Through it all, I performed improv to keep myself brave, and it was while at The Second City in Los Angeles that I finally woke up to the through line of my life. Writing sketch comedy forced me to unleash my voice (which I was delighted to discover I had) and rekindled my love of storytelling. At the same time, being an almost-30 woman in “Hollywood” was a crash-course in daily sexism, and thus another raging feminist comedy writer was born!
3. What’s unladylike about you and what you do?
According to almost every producer, agent, studio head, or employer of any kind I’ve encountered in my adulthood, I’m too smart and shockingly funny for a girl. I also curse like a Sam Jackson and voice my opinions, which is unacceptable for a lady. Now that I’m over 40 in the entertainment industry, I’m also too old to be a female human, which I guess makes me … dead? Refusing to be dead is very unladylike.
4. Which of your heroes or role models would you immortalize in bronze?
I’ve had so many over the years, many fictional (the most recent being Lyanna Mormont), some real (Gabrielle Union and all the Emmas: Thompson/Watson/Stone) … but I have to go with the OG, the first real-life hero, my once and forever queen: Carrie Fisher.
5. What was your feminist aha moment?
Oh, I feel like I have a new one almost every day! But early on in my career, I became part of a very successful sketch group that was unique in that we were six women and two men. Almost every time we performed, we got the same two reactions: first, amazement that we were so funny(!) and then almost immediately on its tail the assumption that our two men did all the writing. As the most prolific writer in the group, I took great pleasure in watching the shock upon learning the truth. But also rage. Lots and lots of rage.
6. What’s the best advice you’ve received? The worst?
I remember once getting incredibly stressed out about whether I should apply for a job because I wasn’t entirely sure it was what I wanted. Unless I knew for sure I would take it, I reasoned, I should never apply, because it would be totally rude to get offered the job and then say no. My father basically sat me down and told me, “It never hurts to apply — you have no obligation to say yes if they want you, and until they DO want you, why worry about it?” It was an epiphany for me — not just the concept of an application not being the same as a commitment, but also the concept of worrying about a decision once I had to make it, rather than before. I quickly realized I had been taking a similar mentality to dating and needed to adopt my dad’s outlook there as well.
The worst advice I ever got was from my first manager, a woman who always told me to date the men (usually twice my age) who would hit on me at work, because “you never know what they can do for your career.” Not all women are on our side, ladies!
7. What’s bringing you joy right now — or at least keeping you sane?
My cats, rescued sisters named Martini and Olive, bring me joy every day and remind me to take naps whenever possible. I’m also about to go on a road trip to wine country where I’ll be experiencing champagne caves for the first time, and I suspect I will never want to leave them. The sound of a popping champagne cork is the happiest sound in the word. On a non-alcoholic note, a daily crossword puzzle and the continued existence of Emma Thompson gets me through life.
8. Aside from keys/wallet/phone, what do you never leave home without?
Water! Always be in arms reach of water! It keeps you alive and young. (But also, band-aids.)
9. How can unladies help you and/or your mission?
I wrote a funny book and I’d love to get it out into the world! Based on the blog I wrote for two years (originally as a writing exercise while waiting on a pending film project that never went), Full-Frontal Nerdity: Lessons in Loving and Living with Your Brain is a collection of 28 comedic essays that use my personal mistakes (usually embarrassing) to apply concepts from my academic passions — like quantum theory, mythology and statistics — to the more practical lessons I’ve learned about coping, striving, dating and loving. It’s a great book for anyone who wants to be more rational in the face of this increasingly irrational world, use more intelligence in their emotional intelligence, or just get a leg up on this whole “adulting” thing after graduating school.
My tiny publisher is great, but they have a marketing budget that is basically big enough for social media ads and that’s about it. So, I could use some help. Let’s make the world a little smarter and funnier, one embarrassing story at a time!