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How 'Bob’s Burgers’ writers Lizzie and Wendy Molyneux cook up the show’s perfect puns




The Belcher family of Bob's Burgers.
The Belcher family of Bob's Burgers.
Fox
The Belcher family of Bob's Burgers.
(L-R) Lizzy Molyneux, Frame host John Horn and Wendy Molyneux after their interview on The Frame.
Michelle Lanz/KPCC
The Belcher family of Bob's Burgers.
Sisters Wendy and Lizzie Molyneux write for the Fox show, "Bob's Burgers." While their experience helps them understand the characters Louise (L) and Tina, they say great writers should be able to come up with great dialogue for everyone.
Fox
The Belcher family of Bob's Burgers.
Tina Belcher from the FOX show Bob's Burgers.
Loren Bouchard/FOX


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Now, not everyone gets along with their sibling well enough to forge a successful career together, but that’s not the case for Lizzie and Wendy Molyneux.

The sisters are longtime writers on the Fox animated series, "Bob’s Burgers," now in its eighth season. The show follows the antics of the Belcher Family — Bob, Linda, Louise, Gene and Tina — and their family burger joint. 

The series was created by Loren Bouchard. Anyone who’s watched the show knows that Wendy, Lizzie and the rest of the writers' room use puns with abandon.

In each episode, the burger special of the day is a pun, like the Yes I Cayenne Burger. Names of nearby businesses include the Welcome Back Potter pottery shop.

So, if the old adage that puns are the lowest form of wit is true, John Horn wanted to know what makes a pun good enough — or, I guess, bad enough — to make into an episode of Bob’s Burgers.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

Can you talk about what it takes to come up with the right puns for the storefronts?

WENDY: I think something being tremendously stupid is the heart of it. Just so dumb like, "Maxi Pads, large apartment rental," I know was one from one of our episodes. It's so stupid that it turns a corner from being like a pun into being also a very bad idea. I think the storefronts are usually like terrible ideas for stores.

LIZZIE: The more complicated the pun, too, sometimes is fun. Like it takes you three seconds and then you [say], I don't get it ... oh, I get it!

WENDY: And also if it makes no sense like, I remember one of Lizzie's was, "A ton in the oven for plus-sized babies." There's no such thing, that's just a larger baby. You just would go up a size. So I think the the less sense it truly makes, the more you think about it, the better that is as a storefront.

But obviously what you have done is that you've created these little Easter eggs that require you to stop and back up. So that when you're watching an episode ... you have to stop and back up, stop and back up, because you don't want to miss anything.

WENDY: You've got to stop and see all the storefronts, and a lot of them are throw-aways. Like when we did the food truck episode, I think there were so many food trucks in the background.

LIZZIE: Oh yeah, that was fun.

WENDY: That was a intensive pitching episode on titles of food trucks.

LIZZIE: Yeah, and we've just done so many throughout the years that it's hard to remember if we've said ones before, if there are people on the Internet [who] have been keeping better track than we have.

WENDY: Yeah, thank god for the Internet. For shows right now, that's such a boon, you can go look up ... there's an extensive "Bob's" Wiki that we don't keep, we don't maintain it, but we've frequently been, like, What is that tiny little character's name from that episode? And someone is maintaining that! And they're so helpful to us.

LIZZIE: They're incredibly detailed.

WENDY: We should send them a brownie basket.

I want to ask you more about your relationship with fans because you have an episode this season that has incorporated artwork from fans that is unbelievable. How did that idea start? Did you get these submissions or do you just know that they were out there?

LIZZIE: We were looking for a way to do an episode that was a little bigger and a little different than what we've done. We've had such a great relationship with our fans and it just seemed like to include them in some way would be the most fun and most rewarding way to do it. And so Lauren came up with that and then we got just so many submissions. We had a whole room in the office just filled with artwork and you just walk around like in a museum and just look at everything. There were so many amazing things and it was hard to narrow it down. Some of it came down to, Can we animate that in a way that will work for the show? But there's a couple that we didn't [use]that I just want to save. I need to go find them and get them framed.

WENDY: Yeah, yeah. That's my issue — in my house and in my office, I've bought a lot of "Bob's Burgers" fan art. We all like the fan art. Lizzie and I had an episode that featured the posteriors of animals that Gail draws and I found them on Etsy [laughs] ... I found some of the paintings on Etsy and I bought them and then I got a note and it was from the painter's mom like, You bought my daughter's paintings on Etsy! It was really cute. She was so proud that her daughter had painted these and that someone from the show had bought them. And it was really funny. They're up in our office.

I guess that's the highest and kind of oddest praise that you can get.

LIZZIE: Yeah. I get a lot of that too, just like tags on either Instagram or Twitter. Of actual art that incorporates anuses and someone will just like tag me in it like, Hey, look, it's real. You'll like this.

WENDY: You love anuses.

What were you doing together as writers before you got on the show? Were you always writing together, and what shows or things where you're doing?

WENDY: Yeah, I was a TV promo writer for NBC for many years ... It was more like I worked in what was called "special projects," so we would launch shows. We would see the new shows and I remember shows that no one else remembers because of that, like "LAX" with Heather Locklear. My only other real TV job was I worked briefly — and this actually wound up getting incorporated into "Bob's" a lot — both my husband and I were staffed on Megan Mullally, [who] briefly had a talk show. It was only on the air for about six months, but we got a nice working relationship with Megan and with her husband, Nick Offerman, out of it. And both of them have been on the show. Megan plays Gail, so it all kind of wound up being incorporated. But, yeah, Lizzie and I started working together when she graduated from college and we originally thought we would write screenplays, which we did.

LIZZIE: Yeah, they exist somewhere. We're not going to show them to anyone.

WENDY: But, yeah, originally that's how we started out, working on screenplays because we are both obviously working separate jobs and that was a lot easier to bounce them back-and-forth. But then, yeah, we got to interview for "Bob's [Burgers]."

LIZZIE: Yeah, we wrote a couple of TV specs as well. I think [that's] how we started getting that going. And then someone gave our spec, I guess our agency probably. I think that's how it works. We're still not really sure.

WENDY: Yeah, we don't know how the industry works.

How would you describe your working dynamic and what does it mean to be sisters who are working shoulder-to-shoulder?

WENDY: Literally shoulder-to-shoulder!

LIZZIE: Yes!

WENDY: We tie our hands together at the beginning of the day.

LIZZIE: Well, we we make a lot of jokes about that. Our mom writes all of our scripts and that we we live in...

WENDY: We live in a cabin and where we have bunk beds and in the morning we go down slides into our kitchen where our mom has already made us food. So that's fun.

LIZZIE: I think we have ... almost just like a shorthand that makes it easy to write together and to do things even separate, and then when we put them back together we sort of understand what each of the other is going to do.

WENDY: And I do think, like, within a family — because there are five kids and then my parents, they're not in entertainment in any way — we had to forge our own path. But they love TV and movies and so I think what helps is growing up watching the same movies and the whole family knows all the jokes. And so it's like there's just that kind of shared sensibility. I think other writing partners, I don't know if it's true, might have more trouble agreeing on what is generally funny, but will always, I think, for the most part find agreement really easily.

We're talking at a time when women in Hollywood has been a big conversation topic. In terms of the paths that you have forged, and the ways in which you've been treated as writers, would you say that you feel that your path has been relatively easy, or do you feel that you have had to prove yourselves more than a male writer might have?

WENDY: We haven't had to prove ourselves on "Bob's." I mean, it's an incredibly positive environment for women there, and we've been there for eight years. In terms of the larger world, there are times ... like, we do a lot of punch-up rooms, where we [work on] another show or movie ... there was one recently where it was all dudes except us. And we went to the bathroom at one point and we were both like, What is happening? Literally, we're saying stuff and then someone else would repeat it like three or four minutes later. It was as if it was being absorbed into this big sponge of the male writers in the room and then spat back out to acclaim. But when we said it, it was almost like we didn't exist, like there was an assumption we were there as tokens. And that was weird. That was a weird room but it's usually not like that. Honestly, I feel most of the time we have a pretty good time.

LIZZIE: Yeah, I mean, as a woman in any field or just in life, yeah, there's probably going to be a couple instances every month of somebody being a little strange to you or just not caring about your opinion or validating you in any way. But we're so lucky to work on "Bob's" and have a great environment there, that when we experience it in other projects we do, we can take it a little easier because we're, like, Well, we can go back to our great community that we have at work.

WENDY: And it's also nice to have somebody else there because, when that stuff happens ... we can look at each other like, What is happening? This one male movie producer said to us, You guys could write for television. And it's like, We are! Like he was so astonished that we had made jokes that he liked. That's the kind of low level hum that can be super irritating, but we also just don't give a crap, so it's fine what people think or say. But it is a low level irritation I would say.

I know you can't tell me about plot, but if things go well, "Bob's Burgers" the movie in late 2018?

WENDY & LIZZIE: I believe it's 2020.

LIZZIE: We have just sort of started talking about it at work and working on it.

WENDY: Loren Bouchard and Nora Smith [are leading it] Loren created the show and Nora has been on the show since before the show existed ... And so they're kind of taking point on it and eventually all of the writers will work on it as well.

To listen to John Horn's interview with Wendy and Lizzie Molyneux, click on the player above.



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