Fall 2016

Akilah Green

Akilah Green, ’06: From the Conference Room to the Writers’ Room

By Amy Spooner

A lawyer walks into a bar and tells the bartender, “I’m moving to L.A. to be a comedy writer…”.

It’s not the setup for yet another lawyer joke. It’s Akilah Green’s career path, which has pointed toward Hollywood for decades.

Green, ’06, is a writer on Chelsea Handler’s Netflix show, Chelsea. Before landing this job in August, she was a researcher for Chelsea, a sketch writer for Kevin Hart’s production company, and a consultant for Real Time with Bill Maher. Before that, she practiced law as a lobbyist at a firm in Washington, D.C., for seven years.

Weeks after quitting her firm and moving to Los Angeles to pursue a comedy writing career in 2013, Green landed her first show business job, working for comedian Greg Fitzsimmons, the brother-in-law of Green’s friend and Michigan Law section mate Molly Kovel, ’06. Kovel offered to connect Green with Fitzsimmons years earlier, but Green wanted to prove herself first. 

“I didn’t want to be a person who says, ‘I’ve got this dream.’ There are a bunch of people with dreams. If I were him, I’d want to talk to someone with a plan.” So she didn’t reach out to him until she already had relocated to L.A.

Soon after they met, Fitzsimmons was hired as a showrunner for a VH1 late-night show, and he invited Green to the production company’s offices for what she thought was an interview. 

As it turns out, it was more of a “here’s-your-desk situation,” Green says. “Greg never formally made me an offer; he just escorted me to HR and told them I needed a key card.”

Green quickly proved her worth in an industry where many people have to earn their stripes by fetching lattes and walking famous people’s dogs. “I showed up game for whatever they threw at me and was hired as a writer’s assistant. Because there was an empty desk, I even got to sit in the writers’ room. It felt like a sign that I hadn’t made a huge, gaping mistake.”

The career switch always was part of Green’s plan. As a latchkey kid, she grew up watching sitcoms such as Mad About You and Golden Girls after school. “I loved TV, and I knew that I wanted to make shows like those,” she says. Not knowing how to get from loving TV shows to making TV shows, however, Green came to Michigan Law. “I didn’t see a clear path to Hollywood, but I knew how to get to law school. You take the LSAT. You apply to school. There’s no mystery to it.”

Fascinated by politics, Green moved to D.C. to work as a lobbyist after law school, but gradually suffered from what she calls “going-through-the-motions sickness.” She already had been orchestrating her move to L.A. when she was heading to Capitol Hill for congressional new-member receptions at the beginning of the 113th Congress. It was a see-and-be-seen occasion for lobbyists, but Green “told the cab driver that I was over it. I was moving to L.A. to be a writer.” He replied, “Life is once,” and three months later, she moved.

Now in her fourth year in Los Angeles, Green is attacking her Hollywood bucket list. Be a staff writer on a Writers’ Guild TV show? Check. Write a movie? Check. (Last year, she co-wrote and produced Scratch, an indie horror film shot entirely on iPhones. The project currently is in post-production.)

But for all the years of planning, what is perhaps Green’s breakout moment was brief. Cast to sit between two characters having an argument as part of a sketch in Chelsea’s inaugural episode, Green improvised funny faces—and Handler took notice. Then Green was asked to submit writing samples. Next she was invited to be a part of Handler’s team at the Democratic National Convention. Soon after, she was offered a position as a staff writer.

Green’s friends and family noticed, too. “I graduated from a top-10 law school and passed two bar exams, yet no one has ever been as excited about anything I’ve accomplished as they were about me being on Netflix for five seconds,” she says.