The multi-talented actor and creator shares her insights from her time writing, acting, and producing shows and short comedy sketches.
In recent years, viewers and creators have been pushing the entertainment industry toward inclusion. While this has created new, exciting stories on screen for marginalized groups, the representation of people with disabilities in film and TV has been sidelined. Characters who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids often were limited to stories that perpetuate harmful tropes about disability, and these projects rarely feature actors with disabilities in the starring roles or as writers working to create complex characters with a disability.
Shannon DeVido, an actor, comedian, and filmmaker, is pushing the boundaries within the industry by putting people with disabilities in charge of their own stories. With her appearances in Difficult People and Insatiable, DeVido has advocated for representation and inclusion through her performances both in front of the camera and behind it.
DeVido recently spoke with No Film School about her approach to writing comedy and how she creates her content to help break down the walls around the entertainment industry’s lack of representation.
Editor's note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.
No Film School: You are a multi-talented person, from acting to producing your skits to directing—you’ve done it all. What is your approach when it comes to creating your skits for your YouTube channel or something like ViacomCBS’s Showcase?
Shannon DeVido: Well, they are two very different processes. CBS Showcase was a team effort. We had pitch sessions, so we would bring in 10 ideas, and then we would pitch them to the head writers and they would approve the ones that they liked. Then we would kind of go and develop them. We worked in tandem with the head writers to make sure that we had good content that was being put out. We would write it and they would kind of help us edit it and do that kind of thing.
That was a different process than what I’m used to. It felt more like a writers' room kind of thing than when I’m on my own. For my YouTube channel, I mean, I work with all my friends. Their opinions matter because they’re much funnier than I am, and we would just come up with dumb ideas and then see whatever thing makes us laugh. It’s kind of just throwing spaghetti against the wall [to find] whatever makes us giggle.
NFS: The comedy that you write and perform is kind of on the darker side, but it also has this bright and electrifying energy behind it. What do you find special about writing comedy?
DeVido: I think comedy is the ultimate icebreaker. If you can make someone laugh, you already broke down this weird barrier between you. It’s like this unspoken language of laughter and I think that being a person with a disability, I’ve always kind of had to find a way to relate to people because anytime you meet someone different, there’s that weird elephant in the room like, “What do I say?” And it’s gotten better as representation has gotten better, but, for me, growing up I’ve always kind of had to have that icebreaker on hand.
Also, comedy is so collaborative, and I think that I love working with my friends and I love working with people who make me better at what I do. So all of that together is just why I love [writing comedy].
NFS: I read that Julie Klausner, the creator of Difficult People, kind of inspired your "forward-thinking" approach to writing. In what ways do you integrate this into your style of writing?
DeVido: I don’t think of it as forward-thinking, I just kind of have my thinking. I surround myself with people who kind of think outside the box and I think that helps when you’re writing. I try to surround myself with people who also have different points of view, and when you include those people, it becomes forward-thinking writing without even really thinking about it.
I guess in the idea of forward-thinking, I think it’s representation-thinking, and it’s more about just making sure that my voice, as a woman and as a person with [a] disability and as a weirdo, just gets out there.
NFS: What you’re doing with your work in front of the camera and also behind it is opening up more doors for other people.
DeVido: Thank you. I hope so. If that is true, that would be the ultimate [goal], right? I was not fortunate to see myself represented and I would love for that not to happen to the younger generation, and if I’m helping pave that way at all, I’m incredibly grateful for that opportunity.
NFS: When you were doing the Showcase, I know you were given a set of resources by ViacomCBS to help you produce your skits. What kind of equipment did you use?
DeVido: So, unfortunately, our class was completely pandemic-based, so we did everything on our own for the most part. I was very lucky that I had a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K and I filmed everything on that.
NFS: What made you gravitate toward the Blackmagic Pocket Camera 6K?
DeVido: First of all, what it puts out is gorgeous and very high quality. For someone who is not an ingrained filmmaker, I didn’t go to school for it or I don’t know how to use all the cool cameras, it makes me feel like a cool person because it’s just so easy to use and the quality is so incredible. Plus the company, everyone that works there is stellar and so supportive and just wants you to succeed. It’s just a great company to be associated with.
NFS: What editing software do you normally use?
DeVido: I use Final Cut. I learned it while I was working at a job and I’m very resistant to change. It’s not high-quality editing software, but I know how to use it and so it’s a lot faster just to use what you know. I’m not an editor by nature. I’m one of those people who knows how to use everything, I know enough to be dangerous, but I couldn’t tell you the ins and outs of anything.
NFS: What has been your favorite moment of your acting or filmmaking career so far?
DeVido: Oh man. That’s such a hard question. I’ve loved so many things. I’ve been so grateful and so honored to be part of some of the coolest things. Being on Difficult People and being around Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner, just some of the funniest people in the world, was a dream. Being part of Showcase was cool because all those people were just so awesome and are going to be famous because they’re all so talented.
I just worked on a show, which I can’t say what it’s called yet, but it’s coming out this summer. That was so cool because the director was somebody who was one of my heroes. I [also] have a show coming out on Monday called Bridesman that is on Grindr. It’s a thing. It’s not porn, I swear. It’s going to be on YouTube, but that was super cool because I got to work with a guy named Jimmy Fowlie who is just one of the funniest people that’s ever existed.
NFS: Thank you, Shannon, for talking with me today. Do you have any advice you would like to share with any aspiring filmmakers or performers?
DeVido: Don’t give up. I mean, I’m always an advocate for following your dreams, and if it’s something you want to do, then you’re going to do it. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t because the human mind is a crazy thing. If you put your mind to it, I think that anything is possible.