In the writers’ room of NBC’s new comedy “Guys With Kids,” Cortlandt Manor native Lauren Caltagirone is one of the few who is neither male nor with child, but she is funny — just ask the tens of thousands of people who follow her augmented Twitter persona, @MrsRupertPupkin.
“It’s ironic that I’m writing for a show called ‘Guys With Kids,’ since I’m a lady with cats,” she said of the Jimmy Fallon-produced sitcom, premiering Wednesday.
Caltagirone’s path has always been a bit circuitous. “I wanted to be a ballerina or a bus driver when I was really little,” she said. “And then, I got too big to be a ballerina, and then I guess being a bus driver lost its appeal.”
As a student at Hendrick Hudson High School in Montrose, she found her calling in comedy. But instead of performing someone else’s lines on the high school stage, she opted to write funny material for class projects.
“Growing up, I always wanted to perform, but at my high school, the only performance outlet was musical theater, and I can’t sing,” said Caltagirone, who graduated from HHHS in 1999. “I never got any parts [in shows] or anything, so I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s not for me.’ I think I had to be funny, because I wasn’t the smartest or the prettiest or the most athletic.”
Riveted by a film class she took at the University of Virginia between her junior and senior years of high school, she continued to study cinema as an undergraduate at Boston University and moved to Los Angeles with her degree to pursue a career in showbiz.
But the path to success for most people in the entertainment industry isn’t guaranteed, let alone quick. Caltagirone spent almost a decade toiling through a series of unglamorous jobs, ranging from waitressing, nannying and working as a personal assistant to playing an elf at Santa’s Cottage at the Grove.
Along the way, she kept running into comedy writer John Viener, who one day informed her of a job opening as an assistant at Fox’s “Family Guy.” Although she didn’t get that position, she did snag a similar one in the same building for the animated series’ spin-off, “American Dad,” and found herself working with both writing staffs from 2007 to 2011.
While working as an assistant on “Family Guy” in 2010, Caltagirone was encouraged by her co-workers to join the increasingly popular social network, Twitter. Loathe to use it for mundane status updates, she was inspired in part by Rupert Pupkin — Robert De Niro's hapless wannabe stand-up character in the Martin Scorsese movie “The King of Comedy” — and began tweeting under the name @MrsRupertPupkin.
After signing up for Favstar.fm, a website that tracks the number of times each tweet is retweeted or tagged as a favorite, she started contouring her material based on which tweets resonated most with her growing audience. In the process, she refined the humor account’s focus to reflect the feelings of a lonely bachelorette who’s obsessed with her cats, Harris and Austin.
As of Wednesday morning, @MrsRupertPupkin had more than 65,000 followers, including Fallon, style icon Nicole Richie, parody singer “Weird” Al Yankovic, basketball star Blake Griffin, and actor-comedians Patton Oswalt, Mindy Kaling and Rob Delaney. Even @MrsRupertPupkin’s cat, Harris (@VerifiedHarris), has amassed almost 4,000 Twitter fans to date.
Caltagirone insists she’s not a lonely cat lady, despite actually owning cats named Harris and Austin. “Usually, my tweets are inspired by true events,” she said. “All my stuff relating to cats is usually true, because the cats are very funny, and they write themselves. But the more absurd, sad, desperate stuff is just really an exaggeration of the sad, desperate things that are actually happening.”
The attention she secured through Twitter led to Hollywood representation, which last year helped her land her first paid writing gig: MTV’s single-camera teen comedy “Awkward.” Caltagirone said “Awkward” creator Lauren Iungerich reached out to her after reading one of her pilot scripts.
“I was shocked to get the job,” she said. “I got the job five days before my 30th birthday. It was the greatest week of my life; it was so wonderful.”
After her 10-week commitment to “Awkward” ended in December, Caltagirone continued to write a feature film while waiting to see what TV opportunities would open up during spring pilot season. She said she fielded a few offers, and found the “Guys With Kids” gig to be the most promising.
Fallon — himself a Hudson Valley product who grew up in Saugerties — stopped by the Los Angeles set a few weeks ago to watch table reads and sit in the writers’ room.
“He couldn’t have been more delightful,” Caltagirone said. “I feel like he is this perfect example of the celebrity you see on TV and feel like, ‘Oh, my God, I hope he’s not a [jerk].’ He lives up to all his charm. He’s just the nicest guy, and I feel so lucky to be on a show that he has anything to do with.”
It may have taken longer than Caltagirone would have liked to get where she is now, but she’s excited that the humor writing she first paid attention to in high school helped her there.
“I can’t believe all these years later, I sort of used the same thing to make money and mold it into a career,” she said. “It’s great. If I can do that for the rest of my life, that’s amazing.”
“Guys With Kids” premieres at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday on NBC.