New Establishment second reveal: Tim McAuliffe

In just 10 years, the Montreal-born scribe's TV writing career has seen him work on iconic Canadian brands, such as This Hour Has 22 Minutes and primetime American series, including Up All Night.
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Earlier this summer, Playbackonline.ca put out a call to the Canadian screen industry to hear who amongst your peers may be the emerging game-changers and innovators. Leading candidates were selected to be profiled online, the second of which appears here. The ultimate New Establishment pick will be revealed in the fall issue of Playback, which will be arriving in subscribers’ mailboxes starting Sept. 4 and also available in the TIFF industry office.

TIM MCAULIFFE, WRITER

The Buzz: He began his career in advertising trying to sell his 1988 Dodge Aries, but in just 10 years his writing has been seen on Canuck series like This Hour Has 22 Minutes and George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight and U.S. shows, including Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Up All Night. He also penned the recent Muppets All-Star Comedy Gala at Just For Laughs in Montreal.

How did you make the transition from shorts to TV series?

Years ago I was trying to sell my 1988 Dodge Aries and I was working in advertising at the time. I made a short video, like a car commercial for it, and put it up on a site called adcritic.com and it started getting a lot of hits.

Then people started offering me little gigs here and there. I got a job as a freelancer, writer and performer on a CBC show called Nerve. Then I got a job at Much Music helping get Video on Trial off the ground, as well as some other shows.

After that I got a gig as a writer on 22 Minutes as a two-week trial, and they kept on extending it. I stayed there for three years.

How, if at all, does the change in format affect your writing?

Writing for Fallon, he has a very specific style. Writing for Will Arnett or Maya Rudolph is also a huge challenge because they’ve got such distinct comedic voices. You don’t want to go in there with stuff that’s not strong. So it’s stressful in a lot of ways.

Would you say that there’s a Tim McAuliffe brand or style of writing?

I really like realistic dialogue and finding those small things that happen in conversation that maybe haven’t been identified before. At the same time, I love hard jokes.
If people can relate to it that’s the most important thing. It’s fun to go back and read the script and say ‘That conversation is something I would have had.’ And quite often it’s based on one I did have anyway.

What challenges have you faced trying to build your career in Canada?

There’s a smaller amount of production. The other part that’s interesting is everything’s regional. One of the biggest challenges was that writing for 22 Minutes was in Halifax. Then you’d go to Regina to write for Corner Gas. So basically, you just don’t have a house.

What challenges are writers facing in getting work domestically?

There’s an amazing comedy scene and yet not a lot of jobs. Canada has so many funny people that aren’t working.

Why did you choose to go to the States?

It was the ability to do things that were really close to the style of comedy I wanted to work in. I always wanted to work on 30 Rock and I’m a big Conan O’Brien fan. So for me, it was just I wanted to work doing something I’d really love.

And the reality was that there are so few options in Canada that it felt like I’d done almost all of them at that point. I was looking for a new challenge, but wasn’t ready at that point to create my own show.

Also, because there are more people and more shows, you can do things that are more niche.

Do you feel, as some of your peers do, that you need to go to the U.S. to succeed?

I think there are so many Canadians down here that it really doesn’t give you that much advantage. The reason I got these two shows in Canada was simply because I had run 22 Minutes and I got to know the network execs.

How does working in the U.S. differ to working in Canada?

The difference is there’s just more in the U.S. There are also different sensibilities comedically. Canadians have a drier sensibility in a lot of ways. There’s a British influence, where in the U.S. sometimes it’s bigger jokes.

What keeps bringing you back to Canada?

The greatest thing for me is working in Canada. It’s amazing to be able to have this opportunity to make these shows that could possibly go to a series in the place I love to live.

What’s coming up next for you?

I’ve got these two pilots, Satisfaction for CTV and The Khouris for CBC, that we’re going to shoot in the next two months. Working with the Muppets was really good and is something we’re looking at doing a little more of later on. And Up All Night is about to start airing in Sept. 20 and we’re in production, shooting by episode next week.

Photo from cornergas.com