The Head Writers For Cards Against Humanity Just Want To Make You Laugh
Cards Against Humanity is the self-proclaimed “party game for horrible people” — and if you’ve ever played, you know exactly how entertaining it can get. Between hilarious black cards and despicable white ones, the game has the power to make any group of friends feel awkward AF. Not to mention, it's gotten so popular that more and more expansion packs are being created and released regularly. Have you ever wondered who’s writing the main card pack and its expansions, though? Believe it or not, the head writers for Cards Against Humanity are two young women whose intentions, they say, are to make people laugh.
That’s right: You can thank Julia Weiss and Jo Feldman for all of the nights you’ve spent cracking up with your friends over the absurd card game. Weiss, 33, and Feldman, 32, are the co-head writers of Cards Against Humanity, and their job involves creating new black and white cards on the reg. However, the card-writing process is much more complicated — and collaborative — than you might think.
“We have a room full of writers, who we manage, who write throughout the week. We all come up with cards together. It’s very a collaborative process," Weiss says. "And then we pass those along to the partners [the guys who co-created the product]. They’re the ones that ultimately have that final say of what actually makes it into the game.”
According to Feldman, they’re “pretty much playing the game all day long.” Jealous?
Feldman describes the work as a shared effort amongst the writers. “The process that we use comes from the partners who founded this game, which was really collaborative and anonymous,” she says. Instead of owning individual ideas, the writers put all of their ideas on one spreadsheet. Feldman continues, "Every time we write a card, we all do a chant; we all go, ‘We all wrote this card! Everybody wrote this card!’"
In order to create the white cards, Weiss tells me that their team of writers chooses a black card from the game and tries to fill in the blank off the top of their heads. She says, "We just take our observations of the world, of how humans talk, things that exist, and put them into those boxes.”
I think one of the biggest misconceptions that really bugs us out is that the goal of the game is somehow to be hurtful or offensive — when really, our goal is to make people laugh.
Sometimes, the group needs inspiration for new cards — and they have a few ways of getting it. Feldman says that the team will often "put on a dumb movie or YouTube video" for inspo — but sometimes, they even pull it from their own personal experiences and stories. Feldman continues, “We share these little funny things, and then, they become cards — and we see them enjoyed by other people."
While speaking about the writing process, both women wanted to make one thing clear: Cards Against Humanity wasn’t created to offend players.
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions that really bugs us out is that the goal of the game is somehow to be hurtful or offensive," Weiss says, "when really, our goal is to make people laugh; to empower people to construct these jokes with their friends and make each other laugh. Finding ways that we can play with some of the darkness that exists in our world, and find laughter there.”
But yes, they think about how offensive the cards could be. “We look at cards we’re writing, and ask how they can be played poorly," Feldman says. "In the worst possible hands, what can someone do to this idea that would make it hurtful for another person? And we try really hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
You’d think that pumping out game cards every day would have taken a lot of studying and practice — but both women went to college for majors that aren’t exactly related to writing jokes. Feldman studied radio broadcasting and audio production, while Weiss majored in theater.
Their Cards Against Humanity opportunity came a little over three years ago when Feldman and Weiss were touring together with Second City, a Chicago-based comedy theater that focuses heavily on improv and sketch comedy. The partners of Cards Against Humanity knew Weiss because of a podcast she does (called Improvised Star Trek) and reached out to her while they were developing their Hanukkah card set. Since Weiss is Jewish, they invited her their office to write for them and asked her if she knew "any other funny Jews."
“Jo’s literally the funniest Jew," Weiss tells me, "and also just the funniest person. So I was like, ‘Yes.’”
Feldman says that a few months after the Hanukkah brainstorm, the owners emailed them out of the blue and asked if they wanted to be in charge of a writers room that the company was starting. The rest, as they say, is history.
Feldman calls the idea she'd ever be writing the cards "out of the realm of possibilities" she'd thought about. “I don’t think we could have imagined this job, because it didn’t exist," she says.
When both women aren’t writing on the job or collaborating with hired creatives, they can be found doing typical office things. Weiss says, “On non-writing days, sometimes we get to brainstorm with the partners and other people here and help bounce ideas around about what we’re gonna do next. But more often than that, we can be found at our desks doing pretty normal managerial stuff. Spreadsheets — a lot of spreadsheets.”
Still, the day-to-day at Cards Against Humanity sounds like it can get pretty personal. In fact, one thing that surprises Feldman the most about this job is “how much [the writers] have to share about themselves in the writers room.” She says, “We tell really personal stories to each other about our lives and those are often the tidbits that become our favorite cards.”
With that being said, you have to be a good listener in order to fill Feldman and Weiss’ shoes at the company. While discussing the skills needed in order to be a head writer, Feldman says you must have “a willingness to learn and be wrong.” Weiss, on the other hand, says you need “a joy in collaboration," and “a willingness to celebrate other ideas and let go of competitiveness.”
Apparently, grammar is also key. Feldman says, “And a general understanding of when to use an apostrophe is pretty huge.”
While further explaining the qualities of a great Cards Against Humanity writer, Weiss says that you need to “sort of leave your ego at the door.” She continues — in true Cards Against Humanity fashion — and says, “I feel like when I’m doing my own writing outside the room, I have such a boner for my own words. And then within the room, you have to really, like, have a boner for everyone’s words, and words in general.”
As you can imagine, both Feldman and Weiss are exposed to a ton of different card ideas on a daily basis. However, they do have some favorites in the pack. Feldman’s favorite card is a wholesome choice, which is “Becoming a blueberry.” Weiss’, on the other hand, is “When the big truck goes toot toot.” However, some of Weiss’ favorite cards haven’t been made yet… “but they will be.” So keep your eye out for new cards in the future — because one of them might be Weiss’ favorite.
Speaking of the future, both Feldman and Weiss are excited about what's to come. While Weiss admits that she’s focusing on living in the moment and “seeking joy in every day,” Feldman tells me that both women are excited to create more packs for the game. She says, “We’re able to sort of pitch our own ideas for expansion packs based on causes we care about." In 2018, they created the Cards Against Humanity Pride Pack and proceeds went to Howard Brown Health, a nonprofit organization that helps the LGBTQ+ community acquire health care. “This year, we’re excited to do more of that. Writing for causes we care deeply about," she says.
One project both women are specifically excited about is the Science Ambassador Scholarship, which lets Cards Against Humanity send one woman who’s studying STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) to college for free. Eligible women can apply here and submit their applications by Dec. 11, 2018.
Those who aren’t studying STEM can still work toward being a head writer like Weiss and Feldman. Both women encourage chasing your dreams, whether they involve performing or simply being creative. Weiss says, “I think that wanting to write or wanting to perform is the goal in and of itself. Finding your passion and pursuing it with integrity and honing your craft for its own sake — for your own sake — that would be my biggest advice to people.”
Feldman says, “Our writers are all pursuing their careers outside of here, also, which is something we encourage. They’re all writing their own projects; everyone here is creative and performing in addition to being here.”
In other words, if you want to write Cards Against Humanity decks for a living, get your creative juices flowing. Write something new every day, and chase any opportunity that comes your way. In the meantime, practice by playing the game whenever you have downtime. You can buy the main deck here. The jokes are up to you.