Please Consider Megan Amram (For Something)

The Twitter maven, comedian, and writer for The Good Place and Parks and Rec has been awards-scheming with her webseries An Emmy for Megan.

Megan Amram is thirty years old, and despite the end times we are presumably living in and millennials’ fondness for performative angst, she exudes a preternatural enthusiasm. The enthusiasm is sometimes laced with menace, as though its purveyor is mere seconds from a breakdown. Her toothy smile is too wide, almost face-splitting. Her attitude is light, but her humor is black.

The billboard Amram bought to advertise her webseries An Emmy for Megan was up for one month on Hollywood and Wilton in Los Angeles. Three giant black-and-white stills of Megan’s face from the series were featured sky-high: One sobbing, with Natalie Portman eyebrows and mascara dribbling down both cheeks; another with lips contorted into a gleeful grin; and a third open-mouthed, laughing. Maniacal.

Perhaps inspired by Frances McDormand’s recent maternal fury, Megan purchased said billboard in a deliberately desperate Emmy bid. It’s one of the many pandering “For Your Consideration” placards found around LA this time of year, but Megan is promoting a six-episode, twenty-five-minute-long webseries she wrote, directed, and starred in for the sole and devious purpose of acquiring one of the top awards in television. She filmed the whole thing in a single day, just a few weeks ahead of the April deadline, making certain she’d be eligible in two categories: Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series and Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series. She convinced celebs like Julianne Moore, Jane Lynch, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Rogen, and J. J. Abrams to give the show their blessing via short, chipper iPhone cameos in the series or on social media.

“An Emmy—let’s say, for the past six months—has been my lifelong dream,” Amram tells me. “It’s a great way to objectively show that you’re good at your job. Not a lot of careers have something you can put on your desk that immediately means, ‘I’m good at this.’ Also, the speech would mean a lot to me, even though this Emmy would be part of the Creative Arts Emmys, so it wouldn’t be in the big ceremony. But I still have a lot to say.” She concludes with a veiled threat: “If I win, I will keep talking until they physically remove me from the stage.”

***

You might not know Megan Amram by name, but you’ve seen the shows she’s written on: Parks and Rec, Silicon Valley, and most recently, NBC’s The Good Place, the latest from The Office writer Michael Schur (you may know him as Mose). Everyone on the show (featuring an elfin, twinkly Kristen Bell as the lead) is living in hell, though they are first tricked into believing they’re in heaven. Eventually, the point system for doling out afterlife compensation is questioned, and the series moves to consider the very nature of what it means to be a “good person” on earth—and whether people can evolve and become better when given the chance, even post-mortem. It’s pretty heavy shit, albeit draped in a sunshine-y, cornball overcoat.

“If I win, I will keep talking until they physically remove me from the stage.”

Season three begins September 27, and Amram is hard at work in the writer’s room. She’s penned four full episodes of The Good Place so far, including season-one favorite “The Eternal Shriek,” in which Janet—a robotic personal assistant with infinite knowledge, and the character whom Amram calls her kindred spirit, equal parts “jolly” and “weird”—begs for her life as several others contemplate her murder. Megan also wrote “Mindy St. Claire,” an installment where the deceased visit a “Medium Place,” not quite heaven or hell, home to a serial masturbator named Mindy who lives all alone; and season two’s “The Burrito,” guest starring Maya Rudolph as an all-knowing Judge who enjoys a burrito dipped in unconventional sauce (“The concept of envy—it’s really good on Mexican food. Gives it a little kick”).

Megan attended Harvard and has written pieces for The New Yorker (“Jared Kushner’s Harvard Admissions Essay”), McSweeney’s (a scathing review of America as a TV series), and an entire satirical “textbook,” Science for Her, published in 2015, making ample use of Amram’s sly feminist humor and scientific aplomb. She made a Twitter account after graduation and began amassing followers with puns and morbid quips; she later scored a professional writing gig within a few months of moving to LA, thanks to her online persona.

Today, Megan has over a million Twitter followers, whom she more and more regularly regales with (liberal-minded) political-leaning jokes (“I always get annoyed when a movie I’m seeing in a theater turns out to be bad because there’s a pretty good chance there will be a shooting and it’ll be the last thing I see”). Her Twitter avatar has remained valiantly unchanged since Day 1: It’s her face, heavily makeuped and distorted by a rippling of triple chins. She has compared it to “Jabba the Hut on his Quinceañera,” explaining to PAPER Magazine how the photo was conceived as a simultaneous defense (“If I’m jumping the gun and already putting up a picture that is arguably very fat and ugly, then you don’t really have anything you can say that can cut me to the core”) and gender-neutral comedic aid (“I wasn’t tweeting then as a girl, but more as this weird cypher”).

“There’s so many days where I’m just like, ‘Ugh, my heart hurts,’ and I literally cannot find the words—which is bad, because I’m a writer.”

The most famous tweets in her arsenal probably come from the Trump Series. Dutifully and every day since May 2017, Megan has tweeted the same thing—sarcastically, of course: “Today was the day Donald trump finally became president.” It’s a simple sentence, doomed to redundancy, but somehow it takes on fresh meaning each time you see it. The tweet is sad, funny, or alarming, depending on the day (and sometimes it’s all three). She doesn’t set the tweets to go automatically; Megan types them anew whenever Trump does something, and inevitably, he does something, whether it be separating babies from their parents, defending himself against accusations of collusion with Russia, or calling Kim Jong-un short and fat. All in a term’s work.

“I want to take credit for the fact that it seems like this very insightful piece of performance art,” Megan says. “But it’s also that my brain broke, and there’s so many days where I’m just like, ‘Ugh, my heart hurts,’ and I literally cannot find the words—which is bad, because I’m a writer, I should really be able to boil it down to some pithy, beautiful comment. Instead, I’m like, ‘I guess I gotta just tweet the thing. ’Cause I’m sad.’”

***

An Emmy for Megan, available for your viewing pleasure on Vimeo, tiptoes along a razor’s edge slicing playful from deranged. Amram shows up aggressively casual: leggings, chipped nail polish, socks with dragonflies on them, filming in what is presumably her actual LA apartment. In the second episode, she sits by the pool with (real life) manager Clifford Murray. “I saw the dailies,” he tells her. “You are so talented. And I guarantee you will likely get nominated for this award.”

“That is so good to hear,” Megan responds, glowing. “Because that is truly why I’m doing this.”

Over the course of six short episodes, Megan goes the distance in her Emmy quest: She pleads with friends, binge drinks, becomes the subject of an intervention by Shannon Woodward of HBO’s Westworld, tries feverishly to lose weight, brings in writer Ira Madison III for “diversity,” attempts to master the violin, sings the National Anthem at an ear-splitting decibel, and (spoiler alert?) is eventually murdered in cold blood by D’arcy Carden (who plays Janet on The Good Place). The series’s meta ingenuity is odd but kind of brilliant; here is a piece of entertainment made for the explicit purpose of attaining an award. The content cannot be overpowered by incessant debate over the show’s award-chances, because the content is its award-chances.

An Emmy for Megan is also blissfully apolitical. The fictionalized Ms. Amram, a girl who believes herself unduly deserving of an elite golden statuette, is the ultimate Lady of Rich White Privilege. Megan admits the series’s absurdist premise is “a real escape,” and “the least necessary thing to possibly talk about,” but also points out: “People need distractions, too. You can’t just scream all day long.” By using her real name, manager, and friends, Amram blurs the fact/fiction line. Almost every interview she’s ever given—and almost every piece she has ever written—quivers with irony as is, so it’s near-impossible to tell where the fictional Megan leaves off and the rational one begins. They might be locked in eternal battle, à la the doppelgängers of Annihilation’s climax.

“I would love [for season two] to have stunts, get into the action space. I really want to get hit by a car or something.

Emmy nominations are announced July 12, and Megan is planning some next-level publicity stunts for post-nom promo, amidst growing concerns over her funds. “I’m afraid I’m gonna bankrupt myself,” she confesses. “I want to see how much a billboard in Times Square costs—that would be awesome, to have An Emmy for Megan right there in the center of it all. I don’t know how much money FLOOD has to help…” I tell her I’ll look into it. “It’s the least you could do for me,” she says graciously.

In weighing her Emmy prospects, Megan concedes that losing could, in fact, add more fuel to the fire for season two, since nothing incites melodrama quite like the bitter sting of failure. “I would love it to have stunts, get into the action space,” she muses dreamily of second series potential. “I really want to get hit by a car or something.”

***

Not everything Megan writes or says is silly. By her own admission, she didn’t grow up funny. Amram was raised in Portland, Oregon, with her twin brother by their single mother, and both family members are doctors. Megan describes her mom as “the only sixty-year-old woman I know who knows what shit-post memes on the Internet are—she’s extremely tapped into teen Internet comedy culture.” Megan’s brother was always the class clown, while Megan was a serious student who adopted her twin’s sense of humor. “I didn’t make a joke until I was eighteen years old,” she says. “And I don’t mean that humbly, like, ‘Oh, I wasn’t the funny kid, I was just the nerd.’ I had hair down to my waist, braces for like seven years, all I did was study. And it really turned me into who I am today: a crazy person.”

Megan has written a few things intended to be wholly earnest: some lovely poetry, a Tumblr post about her mom on the occasion of Father’s Day (her dad left when she was a kid and her mom raised her to rely on herself, never on men), and another Tumblr post about grappling with joy in the face of September 11. Despite their somber subject matter, the essays are laced with wisecracks—she can go, on average, less than two sentences without making a joke—but their cores are tender and guileless.

“I think I’ve really screwed myself, because every time I try to be serious or an elevated writer, everyone’s like, ‘Wait, what’s the joke, where’s the pun?’” Megan laughs. “That’s one of the things I like so much about writing for The Good Place: so many of our conversations at work are not joke-driven—they’re about what it means to be a good person. But I would totally talk more about real things if I felt like I’d gotten enough perspective on them. I’ll wait until I’m, like, fifty to talk about what my twenties were like.”

“I think I’ve really screwed myself, because every time I try to be serious or an elevated writer, everyone’s like, ‘Wait, what’s the joke, where’s the pun?’”

Embarking on her TV writing career, Amram was intimidated and fascinated in equal measure by showrunners, assuming there was no chance she’d ever become one. Then she watched a lot of people—mostly men, who typically had less experience than her—decide to assume that level of creative responsibility. “If they just decided to do it, I could! Someday, hopefully, I’ll have my own show,” she says of future plans, before quickly correcting herself: “I mean, I do have my own show. An Emmy for Megan was a true auteur experience for me. And it’s going to pay off, hopefully, with two Emmys. So that’s going to prove my point.” How many women—conditioned to be sweet, to take what they are given, to gracefully come in second despite having more expertise—know what they deserve and ask for it outright, as brazenly as Amram has done with this show?

Despite the shallow quality of her desires, you can’t help but root for fictional Megan. She should get that Emmy. You’ll want to cheer for the real one, too—a writer who is simultaneously shameless and shrewdly self-aware (she went to Harvard, after all). “I don’t know anything else but writing comedy,” she tells me early in our conversation. “I have no perspective. I’m a coastal Hollywood elite.” FL

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