Nahnatchka Khan launched a show (NBC’s “Young Rock”) during the COVID-19 pandemic, but she considers herself lucky that she was able to start the writers’ room ahead of the lockdown. This meant getting to sit with her new team in person for “five or six weeks” in early 2020.
“It was honestly a gift,” she says. “On a first season show, it’s invaluable to just be all together like that to get into the flow.”
Once they did have to pivot to working from home, she was leading her room steps away from her wife, Julia Bicknell, who was also in a Zoom writers’ room. Their two dogs were always in her space, as well.
“We were like, ‘Our house is too small!’ Our thing was, ‘Let’s get on Zillow and figure out where we’re going,'” Khan says, adding that they did recently successfully close on a new home.
Just for Laughs
During her work-from-home months, Khan had a mini-audience of stuffed animals — or, to be more precise, stuffed food. Bicknell actually made the onion and eggplant and “found” the banana, Khan says. “She doesn’t sell them, but I think she could because she’s pretty talented. She just made them for me one Christmas.” Since they were given human traits, such as eyes (and in the case of the banana, a beanie), it was “the closest audience that I had,” Khan laughs. Normally, she and co-creator Jeff Chiang sit in her office and go “back and forth with jokes,” and there is banter and ways to “bounce stuff off” the larger group in the writers’ room, as well. This year, though, even the table reads were virtual, which drastically altered the way feedback was given.
Spin Those Tunes
A few years back, Khan recalls, a friend gifted her a record player, which she keeps downstairs in her living room. While she notes she doesn’t exclusively listen to records, she and Bicknell did start buying more of them during quarantine. One of her favorites is Amy Winehouse’s debut album, “Frank,” which Khan says “has played us through a lot of this COVID time.” Winehouse is also one of the singers she listens to while writing.
Khan keeps a pair of paintings by Jacques Flèchemuller close by because she finds them “really inspirational.” The Chanel No. 5 painting rests on her mantel, surrounded by photos of loved ones, while the other, which says “Beware the Tenants in 23” in French, normally hangs on the wall. (That latter canvas was such an inspiration it inspired the title of one of her former sitcoms, “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23.”) “I find these very calming,” she says. “Everything on the computer is just chaos.” But additionally, she notes, these paintings are also what she would save in a blaze. “We always say, ‘If the house was on fire, what would you take? Of course your loved ones and your dogs, but what kind of possessions would you take?’ These two things are my thing.”
Khan doesn’t consider herself VERY competitive, but she does still enjoy game nights. “I think we’ve been doing more of that this past year probably than we ever have, just because we’re all stuck in our house,” she says. A favorite one she’ll pull out is Gay Monopoly, which went to market for a short time in the early 1980s before Parker Bros., which made the real Monopoly at the time, “quickly shut it down,” she says. The game was designed to be a “celebration of gay life as it existed in 1983, and it’s pretty amazing,” she continues, noting that instead of hotels and houses, the properties are bars and bath houses, and the various places on the board are “iconic gay streets.”
Khan’s pig keychain is not just a functional item, it also represents, in more three-dimensional form, the porcine tattoos she has on her ankle. “In college some close friends and I just started calling each other pigs,” she says, noting she doesn’t recall exactly why, but that it was always a “term of endearment.” A few in that friend group got pig ink — although not matching ones —and they stay in touch today via a group text chain called named for the animal. Over the years, Khan has added to her tattoo so that it is now a band of pigs of different colors to mark special occasions, including wrapping Season 1 of “Young Rock.”