Kay Cannon talks writing Pitch Perfect 3 and creativity ahead of Saturday’s Laughs for Limbs show at ComedyCity

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Ten years ago, when local drummer and comedian Billy Brimblecom lost his leg to cancer, his friend Kay Cannon — with whom he performed at ComedyCity — and several other friends (including Cannon’s ex-husband, Jason Sudeikis) organized a fundraiser so that he could purchase a prosthetic. 

Brimblecom is now the executive director of Kansas City nonprofit Steps of Faith Foundation, an organization dedicated to getting prosthetic limbs to people who need them. On Saturday, Cannon — who has spent the past decade writing for 30 Rock and New Girl and creating Pitch Perfect — comes back to town (along with comedian Monique Madrid) for a special improv show called Laughs for Limbs at ComedyCity, which benefits Steps of Faith. I called Cannon at her home in Los Angeles to chat about her connection to the organization and how she stays funny. 

The Pitch: You’re actually on the board of directors for Steps of Faith. I understand your connection to Billy Brimblecom, but I also know that your life has really sped up in the last few years. Why does this cause remain important to you?

Cannon: Beyond my personal connection — and it’s a strong one with Billy, I was a part of the crew 10 years ago that did the fundraiser so that he could purchase a very expensive prosthetic for himself — but beyond that, what’s so great about Steps of Faith, and why I feel so connected, is that it helps all kinds of people from all walks of life. It’s based on need.

You can lose your limbs for all sorts of reasons — cancer or car accidents or war or working in a factory. When someone loses a limb, it affects the whole household, because that person often lose their job, and when they can’t get a prosthetic they lose their livelihood. Steps of Faith makes it so easy — there’s no middle man, we get prosthetics for the market value. So a little bit of money goes a long way.

After I was a part of a fundraiser a couple years ago, I had asked Billy what I could do to get on the board. I’ve seen the success stories, and that’s what I love so much about it — it’s tangible. There’s a real need, and when I see so many different kinds of people getting this need filled, I feel like we’re really making a difference. Recently, we got prosthetics for a survivor of the Oklahoma City bombing. Not to sound too fluffy about it, but it’s quite heartwarming, to see the change in those people.

Let’s talk about some of your other work. You’re currently writing Pitch Perfect 3. This thing is a franchise!

I know! [Laughs.] You know, I wrote the first draft [of Pitch Perfect] before Glee came out, and, you know, it became Glee, and the script sat there for years. I sold the script to Universal [Studios] in 2008, and the movie came out in 2012. I was so thrilled it got made at all. I remember going to the premiere and thinking, “People are actually going to see this.” So the idea that I’m sitting here this morning and trying to think of the story of the third one is wild.

And I imagine that it can be overwhelming, having to answer to a lot more people on the second and third time around. Expectations are much higher now.

Yes. And critics are much harsher. Well, people who are paid to be critics are much harsher. [Laughs.] There’ a lot more people being vocal. I get dozens and dozens of tweets a day from strangers telling me what should happen in the third one and who should be in and who shouldn’t and they’ll die if this doesn’t happen.

What I really wanted to do with the second one is honor the fans. There is a lot of pressure — it gets harder with each movie to show different stuff. I’m trying to make the characters evolve in a way that’s really entertaining to the fans. I can’t say any more than that — no spoilers! [Laughs.] It’s been hard, but I remind myself everyday that I get to do this, and how awesome that is.

It’s so hard to be funny under pressure. Is there a particular kind of head space that you have to be in to write?

The good news is that I know the characters really well and I know what makes them tick — not to sound cheesy about it. And I just recently re-watched Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2, and that gets me in the head space. I’m comparing what you saw on the screen to what was in the script, and with some jokes that got lost and got missed, I’ll be like, “Oh, maybe that’ll fit in the third one!” And I’m constantly, constantly watching television, to an insane degree, watching comedies. I try to stay in a playful zone and try not to think too much about having to be funny.

You’ve said before that you always wanted to be a performer — do you still feel those ambitions? Or does writing totally fulfill you now? It’s certainly a different creative process.

I think writing is very hard, and I still have a hard time doing it — although I’ve gotten much faster, because of television writing. I guess I’m just riding the horse in the direction it’s going. I like having creative control, and I’m gonna start directing as well. I like being on the other side.

I still do audition, and I’m going to be in a movie in February coming out, I do little things here and there. I just got callbacks a week ago, and I sat in the audition room, and I was like, “I hate this experience so much.” It’s such a vulnerable, terrible place to be. That feeling of vulnerability and having no control grows tiresome pretty fast, and that always kicks me back to really enjoying writing. I feel like I’m putting out something that is me as opposed to trying to get a part that comes from someone else.

Laughs for Limbs takes place on Saturday, October 24, at 7:30 p.m. at ComedyCity. Details here

Categories: A&E