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Comedy screenwriters graduate with MFAs from DePaul University

First cohort finishes program in collaboration with The Second City

Emma Rosenthal and Courtney Hull
Emma Rosenthal and Courtney Hull are among the first graduates of a comedy filmmaking program at DePaul. As part of the MFA in Screenwriting program, they took courses at The Second City. (Images courtesy of Emma Rosenthal and Courtney Hull)
CHICAGO — Comedy writers Emma Rosenthal and Courtney Hull are used to finding humor in dark places. They are set to graduate from DePaul University this spring with Master of Fine Arts degrees in screenwriting with a concentration in comedy. Their shared experiences with grief, after both losing a loved one, has helped them find their voices and meaning in tough times.

“One of the reasons we became friends was using humor in situations that might not usually be seen as funny,” said Rosenthal. They are among the first group of graduates from DePaul’s comedy filmmaking program, a collaboration between the School of Cinematic Arts and The Second City. Wrapping up their studies while sheltering in place isn’t quite like interning in sunny Los Angeles, like they’d planned. “I think because we've experienced such change in our lives already, though this is a massive change, it's not anything that we can't roll with,” Rosenthal said.

She and Hull are teaming up to bring this levity and positive outlook to their commencement speech, when they address fellow graduates from the College of Computing and Digital Media during DePaul’s online ceremonies June 13. More information is available at

Writing to find ‘Good Grief’
 Grief camp may not sound very funny, but Rosenthal insisted it can be. After her father died while she was in high school, Rosenthal attended a camp for youth who had lost loved ones. She liked it so much, she returned as a counselor. “Everybody at grief camp has such a great attitude and outlook on life. And I thought, what a great premise for a show,” she said. For her MFA thesis, Rosenthal used that idea and created a pilot episode of a TV show she called “Good Grief.”

Rosenthal Hull
DePaul screenwriting graduate students Alisa Raisis, Emma Rosenthal and Courtney Hull, perform as a comedy trio. (Image courtesy of Rosenthal)
Hull also experienced a great loss; her brother died when she was 20. Her graduate thesis is a full-length feature about a young woman whose brother passes away. “Then she starts to see him kind of as a ghost, convincing her to finish his novel,” Hull said. The experience of studying at Second City helped her hone her point of view and learn to take criticism. “They really focus on not being precious about your work,” Hull said.

Collaboration and connection
Comedy writer and DePaul assistant professor Anna Hozian served as faculty advisor to both students. “As writers, they’re able to tap into an emotional side with their comedy. And it’s very rare to find somebody who can tap into both comedy and a deep emotion. It’s what makes comedy brilliant, when it’s done well,” Hozian said.

Hull and Rosenthal have performed as the comedy group Ideal Threesome with classmate Alisa Raisis, who is also set to graduate from the program. “We would all talk to Anna about our scripts and about life,” said Hull. “She really helped walk us through that we were going to be okay in our thesis, and we were going to be okay in our careers. She acted as a mentor in that way.”

During their studies, Rosenthal and Hull took a course on writing for late night with Michael McCarthy, the legendary Saturday Night Live writer and Second City alum who recently died from cancer. “His outlook on everything, just with one class, made us much funnier and better writers. So that was really awesome,” Rosenthal said.

Writing what comes next
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Hull and Rosenthal were planning to move to Los Angeles together as interns with DePaul’s L.A. Quarter program. Instead, they have been reviewing scripts for an entertainment company remotely from their homes in Pennsylvania. Hozian is impressed with their ability to collaborate. “I could see them in a writers' room tomorrow. They’re supportive, quick on their feet, bright. They understand story and they’re really, really funny. I cannot wait to see where they go next,” she said.

Reflecting on her time at DePaul, Hull said the MFA program in comedy has made her “far and away a completely better writer.” Faculty taught her how to master story, structure and character. After spending a year writing a feature-length film for her thesis, Hull said she would be happy “making a living writing in any capacity.”

For Rosenthal, her experience at DePaul and Second City has cemented her plans. “I grew up as an athlete and playing sports and being on a team and working with a team. Working on a TV show would combine those two things that I love.”

Last year, both students traveled with their classmates to Texas for the Austin Film Festival. While they enjoyed the experience, the films and the networking, it was also a reminder of the connections they had already made in Chicago.

“The best thing about DePaul has been finding each other,” said Hull.

“I can send scripts to my friends at midnight and be like, ‘Hey, can you read this by tomorrow. You know, I need notes,’” said Rosenthal. “I've got the people that I can count on.”

Media contact:
Kristin Claes Mathews