It’s “From the Desk of. . . Marriage Edition!” Gloria Calderon Kellett is a playwright who will keep you laughing. And yet, when the laughter dies down, you realize that she’s also broken your heart (in the best of ways!). When she’s not writing plays, t.v. is lucky to have her. She’s currently a Supervising Producer of “Rules of Engagement.” Did I also mention that she’s a lovely actress?
And her husband, Dave Kellett, is a lovely actor. But that’s just a hobby—he appears in Gloria’s plays in part so they can get some quality time with each other. Dave’s true claims to professional fame are his very popular comic strips, “Sheldon” and “Drive.”
Gloria and Dave share a home office space. They also share a vision for challenging themselves—and each other—as artists. They might diverge on issues of cleanliness. . .
Me: Several years ago, you converted your garage into a joint office space. How did that come to pass?
Dave: I’ll let Glo take a crack at this one.
Gloria: Oh! I was gonna have you take a crack at it. [They both laugh.] Well, our house is 870 square feet for the two of us and our child. Because Dave works from home, and I sometimes work at home, it became a matter of logistics: Are we going to have a dining room? We very much wanted a separation of work space and living space.
Me: What percentage would you each say you spend in that space, doing your work?
Dave: I spend far more time than Glo.
Gloria: I’d say I spend 5 percent during a t.v. season?
Dave: Yeah, and I spend the exact opposite—95 percent. So when Glo is here I am generally also here.
Me: Dave, can you tell us about your drawing board versus your traditional desk, and how you make use of your space?
Dave: Sure! So I have two large desks on one side of our shared studio. One is a big five foot-long drafting table. I think it’s from the ‘60s or ‘70s. I re-surfaced it, re-finished it, installed the light board in it, and I installed some features from the old Disney animation desk to it. Now it’s the perfect little desk for me to draw at. I love it. It’s wonderful. But the permanent angle that it’s mounted at is terrible for computing. So I have a separate desk off to the side, which has a large form scanner and two screens—one is a standard iMac and the other is called a Cintiq.
Me: What is a Cintiq?
Dave: It’s a computer screen you can draw on. So I can draw directly onto my computer screen. I do my science fiction strip on that, and I do my traditional strip, Sheldon, on my drawing board.
Me: That’s very cool. How does working traditionally on the drawing board versus working on the Cintiq shift the way you think about things?
Dave: That’s actually something I’m exploring right now. Because, essentially what I am for a living is, I’m a mark maker. I make marks onto pieces of paper. Sometimes it’s a word. Sometimes it’s a picture. Sometimes it’s a pictograph. I’ve been making marks on paper now for 20 years—as silly as that sounds—but what that means when you compare it to something digital is that digital stuff is impermanent. It’s changeable, it’s malleable. When you make a mark on paper, it’s permanent. The only way to “fix” it is to mark over it. So you get very good over time at making permanent marks that you’re happy with. Whereas when you work digitally, you can very easily un-do things. I can go back 20 steps and say, “Nah, I don’t like this path. I’m going to go again.” What that does is make drawing akin to word processing. It’s changing the way my mind thinks about drawing.
Me: That’s really interesting, your word processing analogy. As writers, we pretty much missed the era of that “shift” from thinking longhand to thinking while typing—while word processing. And Glo, you have a gorgeous old-fashioned typewriter on the shelf next to your desk. Explain yourself!
Me: That would be cool.
Gloria: That would be very cool. But very labor intensive, oh my god. The paying attention that must have had to be done. The thought of it is excruciating. Think of how often we not only make errors, but how often we edit.
Me: The very shift Dave is thinking about right now, with his mark-making. Gloria, in one of the photos of your desk, you also have two monitors on it. . .
Gloria: Right now we’re getting a third desk for the office because we now have an assistant. The extra monitor/computer is hers. That’s why in one of the photos of my desk, things are in general re-arranged. Her own desk is coming next week.
Me: How did hiring an assistant come about?
Gloria: Molly is wonderful. She’s the best thing we’ve ever done for ourselves. We were realizing that parenthood. . . It’s a really funny thing—it takes time! And you actually like these little creatures that you’ve created and want to spend time with them. And—another thing—I really like my husband. So, because I really like my husband and really like my child, it became apparent that it would be great that when I’m working, I’m just working. And when I’m home, I’m just home. It’s a bit of a challenge because the thing about art is, you’re never really away from it—or “home” from it—because it’s always in your head. But Dave and I are trying now to leave more administrative tasks to someone else so that we can really just focus on the art itself and the creation of it.
Me: How’s that going so far?
Gloria: I love it! I think I’m much more comfortable bossing people around than my sweet husband is. [Dave laughs.] Perhaps that’s because I was an assistant. Because I’ve done it, I feel like I can ask someone else to do it. I had some great bosses and some not-great bosses, but as an assistant there was only one thing I refused to do, and it’s something that I would never ask Molly to do: plunge a toilet for a shit I did not take. [disgusted laughter] I’m not kidding! Somebody clogged a toilet with their shit, and nobody fessed up to who it was, and I was asked to plunge the toilet, and I said, “No. My parents did not come here from Cuba so I could plunge a toilet for a shit I did not do.”
Me: [trying to recover] That leads me in a way that I would have never expected into something else I was going to bring up! I want you to brag and explain to us what the shiny gold statuette is on your desk.
Gloria: [laughing] Oh my gosh! It’s an ALMA Award—and it really does live there, I wasn’t just posing it for the photographs! It’s for writing the episode of “How I Met Your Mother” called “How I Met Everyone Else.” Look, I really do feel—and I don’t just “have to say this”—it is the actual fact, which is: Comedy writing is a group effort. So I am happy to accept that with my name on it, but it is very much the efforts of the whole staff.
Me: Well it was a great episode.
Gloria: Thank you!
Me: Tell me about what both of you are working on from your desks these days.
Gloria: Beyond “Rules of Engagement,” I’m working on a few of my own projects. I will definitely be writing a couple of new one act plays soon. I really like working on plays coming out of a t.v. writing season. And my biggest project, really, is that I would really like to try to piece together several of my existing plays into an indie feature script. A series of vignettes à la “Paris, Je T’Aime.” Something that gives a “night in Los Angeles” feel. I feel like I have so much source material, and that’s the stuff that I feel is the most me.
Me: How about you, Dave?
Dave: “Sheldon” is my longest-standing project. The strip appears five days a week. My sci-fi strip, “Drive,” is a long-form story line that will take me between five to seven years to finish. I’m also working on a full-length documentary on cartooning after the death of newspapers. It’s about what happens next to these strips. We’re two-thirds of the way through filming it. We’re getting some great people involved—Jim Davis, Jeanie Schultz, Matt Groening. . . We’ve done about 50 interviews so far, really every cartoonist you’ve ever read in a newspaper, and historians, and museum directors. . . It should be really good. It’s my love letter to the art form.
Me: How did this come about?
Dave: My wonderful wife and I were out to dinner one night and we were talking about continuing to challenge ourselves as artists.
Gloria: And creating things in our own voices, that we own.
Dave: And realizing when we’re successful and comfortable with what we’re doing, it’s time to take a new artistic risk. Gloria is really my inspiration when it comes to that. She’s amazing at it.
Gloria: Really? I would say that you’re much better at it!
Dave: That’s sweet. We both agreed early on in our careers that we would both allow the other one to take risks provided one of us was stable. It’s like two people climbing a cliff. As long as one of us is pegged in, the other one can keep scrambling up. Then they peg in, and the other one scrambles up.
Me: I love that image. You guys do amazing work in tandem in that back office!
Dave: Thank you! We should add that when Gloria’s t.v. season ends, we often work outside of the studio. When you’re an artist, you’ve gotta get out of your head space every once in awhile. Sometimes that requires you physically moving. Coffee shops work really well for both of us. Because sometimes when you’re in the same physical space too much you get the same ideas. So, getting out and overhearing conversations and seeing people and seeing the world interact through the comfort of a window of a coffee shop is a wonderful thing. We have found one coffee shop nearby that has such a unique physical space. It’s Blue Butterfly in El Segundo. Imagine two tables that face each other with nothing in between, sitting in a nook. We each sit at one of these tables and then face each other. It’s kind of like that cartooning desk from “Caroline In The City.” Do you remember that?
Me: Yes! Why do I?!? But yes.
Dave: It’s that idea of two different artists facing each other, but their work is in front of them. If we ever build a bigger studio space, we want to incorporate that idea.
Me: Ah, yes! Dreams of the bigger and better “office!” I’m familiar. But getting back to your current space: I refer to the sofa in the middle of your office as “the fainting couch.”
Gloria: It was a very controversial decision, that couch. The couch is a lovely couch, but the couch was my fault.
Dave: It’s perfectly fine. It’s just that, without a back, it’s just not entirely welcoming. Gloria’s intent—in that square room, and using it as the dividing space, made perfect sense.
Gloria: You know what it is, we’re just not watching that t.v. back that much!
Me: Who lays claim to the treadmill?
Gloria: The treadmill’s mine. And it does get used. I do have the t.v. on when I’m using it.
Me: Dave, are you working while she’s on the treadmill with the t.v. on?
Me: And you can work while that’s happening?
Dave: I grew up the youngest of seven kids. I can find a way to work in tricky circumstances. I have learned to work while listening to the loudest treadmill that’s ever existed, over even louder programming of the latest episode of “Gossip Girl.”
Gloria: I love me my 14 year-old girl shows. I will not apologize. Dave has a joke about it which he’ll always say, which is. . .
Dave: . . . Uh. . . “xoxo?” I don’t know.
Gloria: No! Are you kidding me right now?
Dave: Oh, oh, oh! Chuck Bass!
Gloria: He’ll be working and he’ll say, “Uh oh, what did Chuck Bass do?”
Dave: For me, checking in every week with Chuck Bass is like checking to see if Frodo’s thrown the ring in yet.
Me: You really just linked “Gossip Girl” to “Lord of the Rings?!?”
Gloria: Wow. That’s a sentence that’s never been uttered before.
Me: I only have one more question—the standard question I’ve been asking everyone. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much did you clean up/prepare before you took these photographs?
Dave: For me, I would say an 8? Well, no, let’s not be extreme. An 8 is like a dead cow on the floor. I’ll say a 7.
Me: If 8 is a dead cow on the floor, what’s a 10?!
Gloria: A dead person.
Dave: Yeah, 10 is a dead body you need to dispose of. The only artist whose studio was probably a true 10 is Hunter S. Thompson.
Gloria: Wow! That is a very severe 1 to 10!
Me: What’s your 10?
Gloria: My 10 would be “It needs to be vacuumed and papers need to be gone through.” That being said, my answer to your question about these photos, I’d say it’s a 2. I keep a very clean environment. But honestly, my cleanliness is very often a procrastination tool.
Dave: My sweet wife is able to create wonderful work and stay spic and span, which I find amazing.