"Crazy coincidence, huh? It’s unusual to have two women directors on any project, let alone a comedy project.” So says Liz Plonka of the setup at Mind of Mencia, where she and Kelly Hommon comprise both sides of the directing team for the versatile Comedy Central hit which recently wrapped its second season.
Hommon was on board first, hired by the show’s creator Carlos Mencia and producer Robert Morton to direct the show for the antic, outspoken Latino comic. As the program caught on and the budget increased, the single-camera work got more ambitious, ranging from man-on-the-street improvisations to parody sketches with full sets and costumes.
Midway through the first season, the job was split in half; Hommon goes out with the crew to create the single-camera material, while Plonka, a longtime director on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, handles the in-studio segments. Though their paths rarely cross, “we give our support to each other when we pass in the hall,” says Hommon.
Hommon loves the creative challenges of the constantly changing sketch work. “A lot of it is found comedy—we go out with a structure and a concept, and I set up a situation for Carlos to react to,” says Hommon. “You find out on a Thursday what you’re shooting on a Friday.”
While the world of late-night comedy is notoriously male-dominated, both in its staffing and its target demographic, these women have managed to beat the odds and carve out careers working on top shows. Plonka started in New York as a production secretary, then moved up to AD work on variety shows and stand-up specials for HBO and FX. “It’s important when you’re in the trenches to be able to laugh while you’re doing your job,” she says. Her big break on Conan came via Don Ohlmeyer, then NBC West Coast president. She had AD’d for him and he was looking for a new director for Late Night. The gig lasted seven years, from 1995 to 2002. “I’m blessed that I don’t have a lot of downtime,” says Plonka, who also fills in on The Tonight Show.
Hommon started out directing television news in Detroit and broke into variety shows when The Tony Orlando Show was produced live in the Motor City. She then moved to L.A., and forged a diverse career that has included producing and staging the 1992 fundraiser for Bill Clinton at which Barbra Streisand performed (“that’s probably the thing I’m most proud of,” she says). Hommon has also handled the audio and video portions of the Vanity Fair Oscars party at Morton’s and directs single-camera segments for Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Hommon credits Mencia’s open-mindedness for removing obstacles to the “statistical oddity” of having a show whose two directors happen to be women. “Carlos looks at people and says, ‘what do you have to contribute as a human being?’” Hommon says. “I think it’s encouraging that the show is successful. That has to say something to somebody.