When Rachna Fruchbom ’99 graduated from Wellesley with a degree in International Relations, her career goals were, in her own words, “I know I don’t want to be a doctor.”
Fast forward 17 years, and Fruchbom works as a writer and executive story editor for “Fresh off the Boat.”
“Executive story editor is mostly nothing even though it sounds kind of fancy,” Fruchbom said. “Creatively, all the writers in a writers’ room have essentially the same job, whatever their title might be.” The many titles writers can have, Fruchbom explained, largely indicate how long they have been a writer, or how long they have been working on the show. In other words, it’s “a way for people to know how much to pay you, based on Writers Guild standards.”
Before “Fresh off the Boat,” Fruchbom wrote for the final two seasons of “Parks and Recreation.” Though both comedy television series, Fruchbom noted some considerable differences between the two experiences. For one, she joined “Fresh off the Boat” in its second season, as opposed to its sixth. As a new writer for a show, Fruchbom noted the necessary balance of “on one hand, honoring the characters as they’d been developed, and on the other hand, finding new ideas so that I wasn’t just repeating the amazing jokes from earlier seasons.” With “Parks and Recreation,” the challenges were different. Fruchbom acknowledged both the pros and cons of writing for such well-established and well-known characters: “the advantage is that you know exactly what you’re going for, but there’s also the challenge of making it feel fresh and not too one-note.”
“Fresh off the Boat” is a little bit of a different situation. “Since it’s still relatively early, there’s been more room to add to who the characters are, which is a lot of fun,” Fruchbom said. “But it’s still the push and pull of being true to the personalities of the characters as they are and then giving them room to evolve.”
Her relationship with the characters might vary, but it does not correspond, according to Fruchbom, to a difference in difficulty. “For me, it’s usually the story of an episode that can make writing for characters more or less tricky.”
While Fruchbom said that “good writing is good writing,” she also noted some things specific to the comedic writing process. “In comedy, as much as you’re thinking about story and character, you’re also thinking: what’s funny about this scene? What’s the joke here? And you really have to balance that with the story points you’re trying to get across in that scene.”
And what about being funny? “I think there are definitely people who are just funny in a way that can’t be taught,” Fruchbom said. But she also noted that she considered humor to be largely developed over time and through life experience. “I also think there are lots of different ways to be funny, and that a lot of people are pretty funny,” Fruchbom added. “So much of it is about being yourself. People who I find to be not funny are generally trying too hard and not being true to who they are.”
The job itself is one thing, but the industry is, of course, another. The lack of diversity in film and television, both onscreen and off, is a near constant presence in entertainment news. While few would argue diversity is not a problem in Hollywood, outlooks for the future range from optimistic to despairing. “I oscillate on whether or not I think progress is being made,” Fruchbom said. “I mean, it’s becoming a bigger and bigger conversation. So that’s definitely progress. But it’s not necessarily always translating into reality, which is obviously not great.”
Fruchbom did note, however, that her current workplace is a welcome outlier: “I work on a writing staff right now that’s about half women—including the showrunner—and is also incredibly diverse across the board, and while that’s somewhat rare, it’s also awesome and hopefully a sign of change and progress.” She listed her coworkers as her favorite part of the job but also acknowledged the sedentary lifestyle that comes with writing. Fruchbom, who is pregnant, jokingly described herself as a BB-8 prototype. “You could just roll me down the hall to the writers’ room by the end of the day,” she quipped.
Any advice for aspiring young writers? “If you already have an idea that you might want to be a TV writer, then bravo you are already crushing it!” Fruchbom said. “And if you’re not sure, that’s fine too. But if you do already have an idea, then watch TV and read scripts and start writing. Know that everything you type isn’t going to be gold and that’s okay.
“Collaborate with people. Make shit. It’s such a cool time where you can probably film something pretty good on your phone. Maybe move to LA or New York so you are in a place to meet people who are doing jobs you’d like to have and to meet for jobs yourself. Do other things too. Feel free not to have a singular path or focus. Your personal and professional narratives don’t have to be so clean or linear as a script. And don’t be discouraged if it all feels scary and hard and overwhelming. It should and that’s totally normal.”
“That would be a really long sentiment to embroider onto a pillow,” Fruchbom said in conclusion. “But maybe I’ll start an Etsy shop where that’s what I do.”