Before entering the television and entertainment scene in New York City, you may have found Tocarra Mallard doing stand-up comedy in Chicago or providing academic support to school-aged children in Indianapolis struggling with homelessness.
After working more traditional 9-to-5 jobs, Mallard decided to pursue her comedy dreams, and she has achieved notable success. What’s she up to now? Writing for “The Problem with Jon Stewart,” for one thing. Mallard tells us how and why she’s in the fantastic place she is today.
What inspired you to pursue a career in entertainment, specifically, comedy?
Since about 2015, I have been doing stand-up comedy on the side, open mics and paid gigs here and there. For the most part, I focused on a more traditional line of work, meaning, a 9-to-5 in the nonprofit sector. In 2021, the social services agency I was at merged with another, and I experienced a lot of annoyance and depression about general job specific changes. Those changes inspired a real pursuit of comedy because I thought, “I can’t keep pretending this is the life I want.” So long story short, dissatisfaction inspired me.
As a woman, was it ever hard in the beginning to book gigs, receive opportunities or just have people believe in you? What struggles, if any, have you endured in this industry being a female minority?
No, it wasn’t hard in the beginning. If anything stood in my way it was usually me and my self-doubt. Also, I was very fortunate because I was coming up at a time where so many more women were producing shows and booking shows, and I’m forever grateful to women like Kelsie Huff in Chicago and Christine Horvath in Columbus, and Kelly Collette from Cincinnati – who let me open for her in Indianapolis and co-signed me to her home club. Those women put me on. I will be honest and say that when it comes to clubs, sometimes people are more ready to believe a man is funny than a woman when it comes to club gigs.
How did you hear about the opportunity to work as a writer for “The Problem with Jon Stewart?” What does your position entail and how is it different from any other job you’ve had?
A friend of mine sent me an email. 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 that said, “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 kicked in and I was 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.” I got the job, and am currently working in season two as well.
I work with a team of other writers, a writers’ assistant, and a head writer to break down problems in our U.S. or global community/system, discuss the absurdities, potential solutions and the gatekeeper standing in the way … but make it funny! And that’s just the script. There are also killer researchers, producers, and footage and graphics teams that make our episodes sing. There is also “The Problem With Jon Stewart” podcast that we contribute to as well.
It’s incredibly different from other jobs because I’ve never worked in TV and I’ve never worked for Jon Stewart. In addition, I’ve worked in social services, 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.
What has been the best/most rewarding part about working for the show?
The most rewarding part has been meeting other talented writers and making a living telling jokes. It’s been over a year and I still can’t believe it.
What advice can you give female minority writers who want to build their brand and work for top names in the industry, but fear rejection or discrimination?
There is rejection everywhere, every single day. Even now, I have this job and it’s 70 percent rejection of my ideas, pitches, and outfit choices (That last one was a joke, I have incredible style).
You just have to know that sometimes, success is an open mic in the basement of a restaurant after a long day of work. I would also say hang with like-minded people and nurture your female friendships. I have no connections in the industry. I don’t have a manager, agent, or entertainment lawyer. I have the job I have because a friend saw this opportunity and thought of me. I am forever grateful to her and hope I can pay it back.
The featured image of Tocarra Mallard (top) was photographed by JT Anderson.