A year ago I was a confused, unemployed college kid applying to graduate schools in a panic and watching Obvious Child on repeat, crying. I’ve been thinking a lot about the passage of time recently and how school conveniently chops your life into four-year chunks with little landmarks of accomplishment. Puberty. Driver’s license. Graduating. Drinking. Graduating again.
When I was a junior at Harvard, I was elected president of The Harvard Lampoon, the school’s 140-year-old humor magazine whose staff has included Conan O’Brien, B.J. Novak and Colin Jost. Let’s just say it was a big deal, and not because I was an economics major but because I was the first black woman to hold the position. The Lampoon was notorious for being a white boys’ club. After the announcement, everyone wanted at me. New York magazine, Forbes and the Chicago Tribune clamored for my story, which goes like this: I grew up in a small town outside Milwaukee—the type of place that causes people to say, “Oh, my grandmother’s best friend grew up there.” My father died when I was a toddler. In his absence, my mom single-handedly raised two hardworking ladies. I went to Harvard. My sister went to Yale.
I applied to write for the Lampoon my freshman year. I was rejected. I tried again the following spring and nabbed a spot on the masthead. Two years later they voted me president. Like I said: big fucking deal—to me, and to a bunch of people I never imagined would care.
I’ve always been interested in the political process as another form of entertainment. As an undergrad I worked for Harvard’s Institute of Politics and helped Mark Halperin and John Heilemann do research for their book Double Down. I had to track down Condoleezza Rice’s phone number and stalk the Instagram accounts of politicians’ daughters to see what the insides of their homes look like. It felt very Olivia Pope meets Anonymous.
Getting a call from Veep’s executive producer Dave Mandel before graduation was a serious WTF moment. As much as I questioned whether I could handle being a staff writer, I realized it was a rare opportunity where people would actually care about what I have to say. As a woman—especially as a young woman of color—I thought, This might be it. This is my time. I accepted the job and became the youngest writer on staff.
I showed up way too early on my first day. I didn’t know how to dress for a writers’ room, so I wore a blazer and a blouse. Trying to be as humble and unassuming as possible, I didn’t sit at the writers’ table. I didn’t want to piss off anyone by sitting where I shouldn’t. When Dave came in and started the meeting, he turned to me and said, “Alexis, what are you doing? Please join us at the table and be a normal person.”
One thing I love about Veep is that Selina Meyer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character, is a sexual being, but it’s not her whole story. Her story never focuses on her love interests, whether it be her ex-husband or, in this season, John Slattery. It’s a B-plot, and it’s rare to see a woman in charge as sexual without it being her weakness or flaw. That’s really powerful and closer to the truth. My life never revolves around the dick I’m chasing.
As a 23-year-old woman who has been in charge of a very male organization, I know what it’s like to walk the fine line between being feminine and being the boss and having people respect you. So I identify with Selina. I know how hard it is.
I will always strive to be surprising in my work. I remember the first time I wrote a dark joke for Veep anonymously. When it was revealed the joke was mine, the other writers were shocked. They didn’t think I had it in me. Those are the best moments, especially as a black woman. You think you know what you’re going to get from me, but you have no idea. The only thing you’ll know is that whatever I do is going to be good, and it’s going to be funny.
That’s the epitaph I hope to walk away with at the end of all this: “Alexis Wilkinson: Here she lies, a funny-ass bitch till the end.”