Ceara Jane O’Sullivan was hired last year as a writer on “Saturday Night Live.” An alumnus of both the Improv Asylum and My Mother’s Fleabag, the long-running improv troupe at Boston College, she’s looking forward to her second season on the job.
But with screenwriters on strike, O’Sullivan, 30, is pouring some of her creative energy into TikTok (@cearajane), where she has attracted more than a half-million followers with short-form videos about everyday foibles, from nail-biting to writing “shower” on your to-do list.
She’s also booking live events: She and a fellow “SNL” writer, Bedford native Jimmy Fowlie, 37, are bringing their two-person show to Deep Cuts in Medford next month.
As Hollywood writers approach the four-month mark of their strike, live performance venues are scrambling to make room for a growing number of them who are hitting the road. Some writers are also performers who have developed a following, but others are grabbing the microphone for the first time since their amateur days, both to earn a little grocery money and to keep their chops up.
Representing more than 11,000 screenwriters, the Writers Guild of America went on strike on May 2 in a dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over multiple issues, including residuals from streaming media and the future of artificial intelligence in entertainment. On July 14, the actors’ union SAG-AFTRA launched its own parallel strike.
Live performances that are not being recorded aren’t governed by guild rules, clearing the path for writers and actors who want to stay active during the strike.
Around Boston, writers for “SNL,” the acclaimed behind-the-comedy-scenes HBO series “Hacks,” the Tim Allen sitcom “Last Man Standing,” and other shows have stepped on local stages in recent weeks.
The live comedy schedule is packed with familiar faces from your TV screen heading to Massachusetts, including John Oliver at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway (Aug. 27-28) and Jon Stewart, John Mulaney, and Pete Davidson on a triple bill that will hit the MassMutual Center in Springfield Sept. 8.
But the calendar is also filling up with lesser-known names, many of whom make at least part of their living behind the cameras. Rachel Feinstein, a writer and comedian who has worked on “Inside Amy Schumer,” was scheduled to perform Friday at Dreamland on Nantucket. Hampton Yount, who has worked on the sets of MTV’s “Ridiculousness” and the revived “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” will appear at Hideout Comedy at the White Bull Tavern in September.
O’Sullivan and Fowlie will perform their drag show, “Trauma Blonding,” Sept. 9 at Deep Cuts, the new live venue in Medford Square.
“The timing of the Deep Cuts opening was magical” in terms of booking more comedy shows for intimate audiences, said Andrew Mather, who books shows at venues including the Crystal Ballroom and the Center for the Arts at the Armory in Somerville for Bill Blumenreich Presents, the local comedy heavyweight who handles the Wilbur Theatre and the Chevalier in Medford.
Mather and his boss, Blumenreich, recently traveled to Montreal for this year’s Just for Laughs festival, the world’s largest annual showcase for comedy. They were inundated by agents representing comedy writers and actors who are out on strike.
“I had four or five managers who basically gave me their roster and said, ‘If any of these work, please tell me,’” Mather said.
Most comedy writers have experience performing in improv troupes or as stand-up comics, Mather noted, but not all. “There are some people who don’t have personal appearance agents. They never would have considered doing this before the strike. It’s almost the kick they needed to know they could do it.”
Mather and his colleague Clay Fernald recently brought two comedy writers to Deep Cuts: Garrick Bernard, who has written for the animated sitcom “Solar Opposites” and appeared as a recurring character in Hulu’s “Single Drunk Female,” and Pat Regan, who has written for “Hacks” and appeared in Ziwe’s two-season variety series for Showtime.
One big part of Mather’s job is monitoring social media accounts such as TikTok and Instagram. If a writer has a large following and has achieved “influencer” status, that’s a good indication they could sell enough tickets to merit a booking.
“I don’t want to say yes to everything. Some can’t sell tickets, and that’s not good for anybody,” Mather said. “You look at the whole mix and see what kind of content they put out. You can see the ones that have a real organic following.”
Such as O’Sullivan, who also has more than 100,000 followers on Instagram. Earning supplemental income while she’s on strike is a welcome development, she said. But her primary reason for booking a few live shows when she should be getting ready to begin her second season in the “SNL” writers’ room is to keep those creative muscles toned.
“Writers — we love to create,” she said. “It’s the thing that makes you feel most like yourself. So until a fair deal is reached, I’ll be on stage. But I want to go back to work writing for TV.”
For Norm Laviolette, cofounder of the Improv Asylum and co-owner of Laugh Boston, offering gigs to striking writers and actors is “100 percent a gesture of solidarity.” He booked O’Sullivan at the Improv Asylum earlier this summer.
“We tend to know these people personally,” said Laviolette, a comedian himself. “We’re on their side, even if we function as management” in the comedy-club world.
In late July, Mather and Fernald booked Jenny Yang into the Crystal Ballroom, which opened nearly two years ago inside the Somerville Theatre. Yang has written scripts for the award-winning animated show “City of Ghosts” and the Tim Allen sitcom “Last Man Standing.” She’s also an actor (“The Brothers Sun,” an upcoming Netflix series starring Michelle Yeoh), a voice actor (“The Great North”), and a former union organizer.
At the time of her visit, Yang said she was getting out ahead of some of her colleagues, who are planning tour dates after Labor Day in the event the strike continues. She laughed at the notion the studios could “starve out” the striking creators, forcing them to come to an agreement.
“Every writer and actor is like, ‘Little do you know, not working for long stretches at a time is my superpower,’” she said.
O’Sullivan has been on the picket line “every week” outside the network television offices in Manhattan. For once, she said with a laugh, being on the receiving end of honks from truck drivers has been a welcome part of her day.
“New York is a union town,” she said. “I think people love movies and TV, and they think the humans telling the stories should be compensated fairly. Everybody gets it.”
James Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.