There are maybe 10 things in the world that deserve the title "best-kept secret", and one of them is comedian Nicole Drespel. A legendary improv coach and teacher at the Upright Citizens Brigade, Nicole has appeared in Broad City and 30 Rock, and written for The Chris Gethard Show on TruTV and Wet Hot American Summer on Netflix. She currently hosts the podcast InBox, where she and co-host Matt Stroup dig through their guests' email and chats.
Nicole Drespel on Broad City
We asked her how she manages her own inbox, and all the other parts of juggling a career in comedy.
Location: New York, NY
Current Gig: InBox podcast host, writer for The Chris Gethard Show, UCB teacher
One word that best describes how you work: Lists
Current mobile device: iPhones 5S
Current computer: Macbook Air
First of all, tell me a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I graduated from a women's college with a degree in English Literature and Medieval History. Then I moved back to New York where I spent a year in my parents' basement reading Harry Potter and the Collected Works of William Shakespeare. I started hanging around the UCB Theatre where I took the very privileged path of student to performer to teacher to freelancer to paid writer to underemployed person back to paid writer and podcast host.
Take us through a recent workday.
I'll wake up and maybe spend a half-hour doing a lacklustre stationary bike ride at the gym. Then I'll try to get some work done which means sending my co-host, Matt Stroup, dramatic text messages demanding he respond to my emails. If it's a show day at The Chris Gethard Show I'll head in a little after noon, go to our production meeting, then we do whatever work needs to be done before rehearsal, then rehearsal, then a dinner break where we do last minute work and I follow our internet liaison, Bethany Hall, around the studio filming Instagram bits on her phone, then the 11PM LIVE show, then some meetings and home again!
In addition to your writing and performing career, you're a well-known teacher and coach at UCB. How has each informed the other?
I think running a good improv class involves being able to take the emotional temperature of a room and then adjust accordingly so that everyone feels supported and optimistic. That approach gets flak from "tougher" coaches, but I think the work is better in those conditions. Even if I'm wrong, someday we'll all die so screw it, we might as well enjoy the process. Room-reading is equally valuable on a set and in a writers' room.
Does working in comedy "ruin" watching comedy?
Yes, it does. If something is really good I think, "Christ, why bother?" And if something isn't good I think, "Christ, this whole system is rigged." Or I'll worry that I'm not working hard enough, fast enough or enough enough.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can't you live without?
Pocket is the most wonderful app ever invented. It's makes it easy to keep track of articles I want to read. And it syncs across all your devices.
When I'm writing, I'll use Diptic to create collages to capture the essence of a script or story.
I also swear by Google Docs, especially spreadsheets. For everything. We have a meticulously maintained shared doc tracking every upcoming InBox guest and every ask we have out.
Then Instagram for fun and Starbucks for necessity.
What's your workspace setup like?
Minimalist. MacBook, headphones, notebook. When I'm not staffed on a show, I tend to do my writing in coffee shops because I feel invisible and removed from other life concerns. Also, I love coffee and treats.
What's your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
Mobile ordering! It hurts my heart because of the lack of human interaction and the realisation that we may all eventually be replaced by computers. But it calms my other heart because of the time it saves. I have two hearts. I'm a Time Lady.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I have a lovely little Moleskine notebook where I write my daily to-do list. When I'm at work I'll very leave concise post-its all over my desk. They get tossed as I complete tasks. And I aim for Inbox Zero so that when I open my email, the only thing I see are things that need to be addressed. A cluttered inbox leads me to make some very quick assumptions about our podcast guests.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What's your secret?
I'm generally aggressive about editing my emails so they only contain vital information and are considerate of other people's time. Or at least I try. Hours spent reading other people's emails for the podcast might be inspiring me to leave behind a more efficient digital footprint.
How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
To recharge, I clean my apartment. I'm not a super neat person but if I clean I feel like I am capable and strong and virtuous and in control of my life.
I will re-watch episodes of Once Upon A Time for the tenth or eleventh time. I also love, love, love watching YouTube "Get Unready With Me" videos. These feature ambitious, driven, entrepreneurial lifestyle vloggers taking off their makeup and lighting candles and showing how they wind down at the end of the day. I can't believe this is a genre of video and I love every one of them.
What's your favourite side project?
Book club! For the last three years I've been in a book club that meets monthly and is very disciplined about discussing the book and THEN getting drunk and playing relationship-destroying games.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see _________ answer these same questions.
Zadie Smith, Emma Thompson, Lin-Manuel Miranda
What's the best advice you've ever received?
You can't control other people, you can only control how you respond to them. When I believe other people are behaving poorly I wildly overreact and it can cause me to become a real rude dude with a bad attitude. I have to work to keep that in check.
What are you currently reading, or what's something you'd recommend?
Currently reading Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull (with Amy Wallace) and The Lifted Veil by George Eliot. I'm supposed to be reading Salem's Lot by Stephen King for book club and I haven't started it yet and I'm going to be in so much trouble.
I've been recommending Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng for the last year. It's heartbreaking and exquisite. Also anything by Helen Oyeyemi but especially White is for Witching. Also On Beauty by Zadie Smith and her essay collection Changing my Mind. After Midnight by Irmgard Keun might have an uncomfortable relevance right now. And finally, anything by Joseph Ellis for non-fiction. But not finally because also Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville and the series The Once And Future King by T.H. White which both jumped to my list of all-time favourites as soon as I read them. And The Sellout by Paul Beatty. I'm done. And Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov.
We've asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.