July 2023 | Teresa Hsiao AB '07

by Laura Frustaci AB '21

Teresa Hsiao AB '07 is an American television producer and writer. As a screenwriter and producer, Teresa Hsiao is known for WHAT'S UP WARTHOGS! (2011), FAMILY GUY (2014), AMERICAN DAD!, FRESH OFF THE BOAT (2019), BLACK MONDAY (2019), AWKWAFINA IS NORA FROM QUEENS (2020), and she has co-written and produced JOY RIDE (2023).

Believe it or not, Teresa Hsiao (AB ‘07), one of the sharp minds behind the new raunchy comedy JOY RIDE (opening in theaters on July 7th), never imagined that the film would actually get made. The film’s origin story goes like this: Teresa, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, and Adele Lim are old friends who kept saying to each other, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to write a movie together that we would have wanted to see growing up?’ and then one day, they actually decided to write it. The three would gather at Adele’s house and put beats on a board, trying to make each other laugh. Once they had plotted out a rough idea for the film, Cherry and Teresa went on to write the script on spec. “We wanted to make a movie that you’ve never seen,” Teresa explains. “Asian people on screen saying these jokes, being insane, messy, and crazy.”

Ultimately, the pair took it out to producers and decided to team up with Point Grey Pictures, Seth Rogen’s production company. Point Grey had produced many successful R-rated comedies like GOOD BOYS, NEIGHBORS, and SAUSAGE PARTY – and they agreed to Teresa, Cherry, and Adele signing on as producers on the film as well. “As producers, we had more sway in how the movie turned out. As writers, we were on set the whole time, and it was all hands on deck through the entire process.” The film has since premiered with 100% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, which Teresa said feels pretty fake. “Give me one criticism, I want one person to say that it sucked,” she laughs.

Writing and producing a film is not where college-aged Teresa would have pictured herself. During college she studied Economics and initially worked in equity research. “I did the very practical thing and worked for a summer in 2006 at Lehman Brothers, one of the top tier investment banks at the time,” Teresa recalls, thinking she had chosen a “safe” career path. “Then they went bankrupt and it triggered a huge government bailout. So, the safe path ended up not being so safe.” But writing was never something that had even crossed Teresa’s mind in college. “It felt like a separate entity from me, because you rarely saw Asian women onscreen or doing comedy,” Teresa explains. “But after I did the safe thing and it didn’t work out, I started writing scripts on the side. Then I saw an ad in Harvardwood Weekly looking for comedy writers, so I sent my script in and got hired on a Canadian kids show called WHAT'S UP WARTHOGS!”. 

The writers ended up pumping out 20 episodes in 12 weeks, but it was the first time Teresa had been paid to write. “Through that, I got an agent, and the next staffing season I got hired on FAMILY GUY,” Teresa recalls. On FAMILY GUY, Teresa learned what it was to be a “writer”. “You’re not writing,” she comments. “You’re sitting on a couch and pitching jokes and a writers’ assistant is writing down everything you say.” However, Teresa was pleasantly surprised at how collaborative it was: “Your best joke might not be in your episode, and your episode might be full of other peoples’ jokes. [And] that’s what was nice about writing the movie with Cherry. We both came from a TV background. The best idea wins. You have to have no ego.”

So, certain aspects of writing for TV transferred over to the film process quite nicely for Teresa. But in terms of her long and successful history in TV, Teresa’s played the roles of both writer and a co-creator, which are definitely distinct from one another. “When you’re a writer on a show and it’s someone else’s show, you’re just pitching ideas and trying to be helpful. Someone else makes the decision about what direction you’re going in,” Teresa notes. “There are different levels of responsibility. When you’re writing on a show, someone makes decisions for you about what to write. When creating and showrunning, you have to pitch ideas and make all the decisions.”

When Teresa first made the jump from writer to showrunner on AWKWAFINA IS NORA FROM QUEENS, she said that a lot of people were there helping and supporting her through it. “You’re a leader of the hundreds of people who work for you on the crew. You’re putting out fires on set,” Teresa says. “It’s like ‘We lost this location, the actor has comments, the wardrobe doesn't have this shirt’, so many things you have to deal with on a daily basis. It’s chaos at every point.” Sounds like… fun? Yes, it is, Teresa confirms.

So how does one maneuver from writing pilots in their spare time to being a showrunner, producer, and screenwriter extraordinaire? “The biggest piece of advice,” Teresa says, “is if there ever is the chance for you to be on set and just sponge it in, do it. Try and see something through from the writing stage to shooting it. You learn so much knowing what goes from page to screen.” And, Teresa’s other major piece of advice? “It’s tough to be able to start writing,” she acknowledges. “The starting and the finishing I always find really hard. It’s okay to give yourself permission to not write. Go and live your life, experience things, turn your brain off, walk around the block, go on vacation if you’re able to. So many of your ideas are going to come out of living life versus just sitting in front of a computer screen.” As creatives, sometimes the pressure to constantly be creating can get too heavy. It’s okay to just… take a step away. And finally, Teresa leaves us with this nugget of wisdom: “The virtue of being a writer is that our work never ends.”

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