Creative Minds: How Lauren Iungerich got so 'Awkward'
Lauren Iungerich’s effervescent comedy “Awkward,” about a teen girl who gets noticed by her fellow high schoolers after what appears to be a suicide attempt, ends its first season Sept 27. [Updated Sept. 20 at 9 a.m.: An earlier version of this post had the finale date wrong and has been corrected.] It’s been such a hit with MTV’s viewers that the network has already ordered a pilot for her second series, “Dumb Girls.” Iungerich talks about her not-so-overnight success and creating fresh voices for TV.
“Awkward” feels very different from a lot of other sitcoms. How did you get to a place where you could create your own world?
At the end of my junior year of college, I interned for Hollywood producers. After I graduated, I worked in production and eventually … I quit my job to focus on writing. I ended up getting hired to write a movie for Warner Bros. and having a script optioned by Mel Gibson’s company. The wonderful executives at Gibson’s company said, "Do you have any TV ideas?" Over the next couple of years, I sold two pilots a season….
Those series never got on the air?
Right. But I ended up getting a job [on the writing staff of ABC Family’s “10 Things I hate About You”] based on a play I wrote during the writers strike called “Love on the Line.” A bunch of TV writers had put together a charity night for all the people out of work, with 18 one-act plays. My play was about an [imaginary] love triangle with two guys on the strike line. All these TV writers I admired came up to me after and said, "You have a special voice." I thought, "This is what I should be writing: I should be writing about myself."
From there, ABC Family approached me to write something for them, and simultaneously, because people had loved my direction of the one-act play, I started making some Web content.... "My Two Fans" was very "Curb Your Enthusiasm" -- it's about a woman who has her own fan club that gives her advice. The idea came about because I was Facebooked by two guys who said they were my fans. I was like, how do I have fans? How weird! So I met them, and I thought every single woman should have a fan club.
How did you pitch “Awkward” to MTV?
I thought, "What is the worst stigma you could have in high school?" When I was a teenager, when a kid would kill themselves, it was the first time I ever really thought about my life and mortality. It’s a time when you’re defining yourself on a daily basis while being humiliated and embarrassed. Sometimes being a teenager makes you want to die -– it just hit me, and I knew what the show was.
“Dumb Girls,” my new comedy, is like a piece of me in my 20s -– it’s actually more autobiographical. “Awkward” was just a love letter to my 15-year-old self. I laugh and I cry all the time when I’m working on it because I’m going back to that time of life when everything is the first time, the torture of what has made me.
"Awkward" creates its own vocabulary, and sometimes it's also a little more graphic than your average teen show. Girls' lives are full of gross stuff, and you've allowed them to talk about things like tampons. ...
I love that line in the show: "What girl hasn't had that awkwardly inserted tampon?" It’s so graphic and terrible, but it’s true. I wasn’t ever looking to shock. As the "Jersey Shore" would say, "Do you. I do me," to be true to the audience and connect and bring into the world the real conversation we have. Even though I’m not 15 anymore, I’m still ... 15. I’m a better 15-year-old than I was when I was 15 because I’m more secure. Where it’s a little raw sometimes, it’s never to be salacious; it’s to do justice to an audience that needs a real show.
-- Joy Press
Top photo: Lauren Iungerich. Bottom photo: Ashley Rickards in "Awkward." Credits: Elisabeth Caren