The Problem with Our Staff
Q&A with Tocarra Mallard, Staff Writer
If you’ve listened to our podcast, you know that our staff is loaded with talented, hilarious writers. We thought we’d give you a chance to get to know them a little better by asking them probing questions about their hopes, dreams, and fears of dying in embarrassing ways. Keep reading to hear how staff writer Tocarra Mallard got this gig and which celebrity she’d body swap with for a week.
Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you were doing before you took this job.
I’m Tocarra Mallard. I’m a military brat, born in Germany. I’ve lived in various places across the U.S. I lived in Fairbanks, Alaska. I lived in Fort Polk, Louisiana. I lived in Oklahoma. But I call Florida home — I spent a lot of my childhood there and that’s where my mom is now. So that’s home. Before this job, I was doing stand-up way, way, way on the side. I started in Chicago in 2015, and then I moved to Indianapolis in 2017. So, I was doing stand-up in Chicago and Indy and Columbus, really just staying in the Midwest. And for my full-time job, I was working at a social services agency. I was their volunteer manager, and then I moved into a dual volunteer-management DEI role, which is very, very exhausting because we weren’t, like, planting trees. We were training people to answer a suicide crisis line and lead domestic violence support groups. There were a lot of i’s that needed to be dotted and t’s that needed to be crossed, but it was a very rewarding job. I don’t necessarily miss that work, but I miss the people who were doing direct service.
Our hiring process has been pretty well covered. But what was it that made you decide to sit down and actually write your packet?
I have a very good friend, a well-documented supporter of mine, and she knew that I was hungry to do something else more aligned to what I really wanted to do in comedy. So she sent me a text message just like, “Hey, I don’t know if you know this, but Jon Stewart is looking for writers. I sent you an email.” And I was like, “I want it. I want it. I want it. I want it.” But then, of course, imposter syndrome kicks in and is like “You’re a loser. You could never.” Then I got another email from a listserv that I was a part of eight hours later, and I’m like, “What? Two messages about the same job on the same day?” Let’s give it a shot. So that’s really where it began.
I was pregnant, and I was hiding in a broom closet.
Tell us about finding out that you’d actually been hired. Did you feel like you won the meme lottery?
Haha, well, I will go on record as saying that I don’t think my interview was great. At the time, I was pregnant and I was hiding in a broom closet, because I did the interview at work. I was like where will no one check to see if I’m talking to somebody else? So I was hiding, and I was very stressed out. And then the meeting was at 4:30, and they were LATE. So I was like, “This was a joke. This was a huge prank. I did all this work. I fell for it.”
Imagine that feeling, and then they get on the line and were like, “Hi!” And I was like, “You guys, I’m cool. I’m so funny. Even though I’m devastated inside, let me work to reverse that feeling.” So I answered all their questions, and they were so nice. And then we all say goodbye over Zoom. And I think, “That was the worst!” I literally was sad all the way home. I was super, super sad. And then, of course, [head writer] Chelsea gives me the phone call that changes my life, and she’s like, “Do you want to be a writer for Jon Stewart?” And I basically cried, “Heck yeah, I want to be a writer for Jon Stewart.”
How long did you have to wait between the interview and the call?
About 90 minutes. It was a very sad 90 minutes, but I was like, “You know, at least I applied, and I’m so brave, and that’s all that matters.” But it felt incredible to get it, and then to sit on this news that all of the internet was abuzz about was of course very lovely for, you know, not crying constantly.
This is the first show you’ve written on. How does it compare to your other jobs?
Well, I’ve had lots of different types of jobs. You know, social services, but before that I was working in the art world, before that I was working at a university. So I have to say this job is nice, in that I understand what it truly means to be stressed out. Like one time in Chicago I was a field trip manager for architecture walking tours specifically for school kids. And there was a shooting in the Loop, and I had a group of kids out in the loop somewhere, and I was like, “Oh my God, these kids, I have to call the volunteers. I have to tell them not to go over there because even if the area is safe, they’re going to be so distracted by the news and the police.” So that is stress. Now even when something is due right now or isn’t working out or you’ve got to pitch right now, I’m like, “Please remember that you know what stress is.”
No one has been shot. It’s fine.
No one has been shot. You do not have to run out of a building in subzero temperatures looking for a group of 22 students. So you’re fine.
So what is it like to write about objectively bad news and make it funny?
It’s basically an extended group chat experience. I do that all the time — you hear something that is terrible and you have to go around and find the absurd, funny part of it just to make sure you don’t lose your mind. And instead of doing that for me and my friends or me and my family, I get to do that for Jon Stewart’s audience. So it’s fun and it’s comforting, and it’s really just an extension of who I am as a person.
What’s the most surprising part of this experience so far?
I’m sure you’re familiar with the Sunday scaries. With my other jobs, there was this fear, this genuine fear and anxiety about knowing that the weekend was ending, because you’re going to have to go back to a job that you feel ill-equipped to do or you don’t like. You were actively trying to get out of it, which is very hard. To me, I have the opposite thing now, where I’m like, “It is Sunday night. Yeah, I’m ready to make the team proud. Let’s make some TV!” I was really surprised that feeling was replaced. I’m not saying that there isn’t anxiety, because now I don’t want to let anyone down, but the fact that I can come out of a weekend being like, “Back at it again!” is really, really cool. I don’t take that for granted at all.
Now let’s get to the really hard questions. What habit of yours do you think your coworkers find most annoying about you?
Haha, there are a couple, but probably my insistence that anything funny that we say could be made into merch. I’m the person in the writers room that’s like, “That would make a great T-shirt. Put that on a hat. Put that on a bag!” And everyone else is like, “Oh my god, will she let this go?”
I’m also the person when everyone wants to go to lunch, that is like, “Oh, I’m just going to get a poke bowl.” I just get the same thing at lunch every day. It’s either that or I’m not eating anything, and I’m pretty sure that’s super frustrating when they’re like, “You want to walk with us to Sweetgreen? You want to go to the bodega?” And I’m like, “I’m going to get the same exact thing I had yesterday and the day before that and before that and before that.”
Okay, you have to do a Freaky Friday-style body swap with one famous person for a week. It’s got to be someone currently alive. So you’re spending a week in their skin, living their life as them. Who are you picking?
Oh my God. A whole week? Hmm. I’m going to say Dolly Parton. She just seems so smart, and I bet her head is full of all kinds of secrets. And I know “Jolene” was about someone very, very hyper-specific. I know that’s not the story she shared with the world, but I believe — I’m putting on my conspiracy theory tinfoil hat — I believe there was a Jolene. Something happened in a relationship, and instead of killing her, she wrote a song. I want to know, and Dolly will never tell. She’s so good at keeping secrets.
That’s an element of this question I didn’t even consider, the potential for getting good gossip out of someone’s brain.
That’s exactly what I mean. Sure. there is being that person and the wealth and the talent, but I want to know what you know.
And think of a book deal that you could get if you knew. You can move beyond merch and into book deals.
Yeah. See, now that’s something I didn’t even think of: How do I use this information to my advantage? That’s the capitalist mindset I should have had from the jump. The merch-to-book-deal pipeline is something I was not even considering.
This might be an incredibly hard question for you since you actually have children, but what is the funniest thing a child has ever said or done to you?
It was not to me, but here’s the funniest thing that happened in my vicinity. It was my child. My sister came to visit us, and she was standing outside the door and was trying to do this very sincere goodbye to my child. Like, “I’m going to miss you so much. It was wonderful spending all this time with you. You’re just so smart. You’re so brave.” She’s in mid-sentence and my kid just slams the door — like “You said goodbye, so we’re done.” I think about it all the time, just how truly heartless it was in that moment. I mean, just tears in her eyes like, “Oh, I’m going to miss you.” And my child thought “You said goodbye. We’re done.”
Almost done, what is the dumbest way you are afraid of dying? Mine is getting crushed by a revolving door.
That’s actually terrifying. I’m a very visual person, so I’m just staring off into the distance and imagining just a full squish situation. I think for me, I’m pretty sure this is possible, but drowning in the bathtub. So embarrassing, so embarrassing. You didn’t mean for it to happen, but you are just like, “I’m taking a nap, I’m relaxing,” and then boom.
What is your dream future episode of the show?
Boy, you know, it has to be The Problem with Mothers — or children or families, something to get to the point that the nuclear family as designed is bullshit, and it makes mothers out to be sacrificial lambs, and it is truly destructive and problematic. And not only that, so much of our media is based on this premise. It’s really hard to escape, and anything outside of that norm is somehow novel. But in reality, families look a lot of different ways, and mothers should have the support that they need and universal child care should not be… exciting. You know, it should not be a new idea.