By Isaac Hughes
The road to Greg Thompson’s career as a longtime screenwriter for the wildly popular TV show Bob’s Burgers involved back-and-forth journeys to both coasts, an MBA, a valuable friendship, and a healthy amount of both luck and hard work.
While this path may not have been the most straightforward, it secretly played a critical role in his success today.
Thompson majored in English at the University of Washington, where he also was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. While he enjoyed creative writing, he didn’t initially see many avenues post-graduation for his English major. So, he first tested out working on the marketing side of several magazine companies in New York, before eventually pursuing an MBA at Dartmouth.
After receiving that MBA, Thompson moved back to the West Coast to work for The Los Angeles Times as a market planner. It was in Los Angeles that Thompson reconnected with an old friend, Aron Abrams, who was trying to make a living as a screenwriter. One day, Abrams suggested that they write something together. They did, and Thompson and Abrams later sold the script — something that encouraged Thompson to believe that screenwriting was a career that he could pursue.
Thompson began to focus more of his time on honing his screenwriting craft. A couple of years later, Thompson was hired to join the writer’s room of a TV show (Fired Up), further cementing his career as a writer and ultimately leading him to his current position as a writer and producer at Bob’s Burgers, where he has worked since the popular show’s first season in 2011.
When considering the lessons learned from his journey as a writer, Thompson observed, “There is something to be said for doing what you’re best at, even if you think it’s maybe not in the top ten of the most marketable job skills.” While continuing to work in marketing may have made more sense at the moment, Thompson always seemed to know that it was his creative work that fueled his passion for writing.
This is not to say that creative writing as a career comes easy for Thompson. With decades now as a working television writer, Thompson is deeply familiar with the challenges of maintaining the creative drive over the course of a multi-season operation such as Bob’s Burgers.
“Bob’s Burgers has 22 episodes a year, so that means people together have to come up with 22 really good ideas. And ideas are hard to come up with — good ones, anyway,” Thompson said.
The pressure to continually generate new content only grows stronger as old concepts are exhausted and the well of novel jokes and stories dries up. Often, screenwriters have to contend with a critical inner dialogue, he added.
“There’s always this pressure of ‘What if I won’t be able to think of anything this time? What if I won’t be able to think of any jokes this time?’” he explained.
In the face of this perennial fear of failure, Thompson finds comfort in the collaborative environment of the show. With Bob’s Burgers, the collective thinking of other talented writers, producers, and cast members creates an environment that fosters high-quality work amid stress and deadlines.
“Ideally, a successful TV show kind of works as one big brain that has a lot of different inputs, and I do believe that a pool of people is going to do better work than any one single person can,” he said.
When looking back to his time as a college student, Thompson is grateful for the liberal arts background he received. In fact, Thompson said that the wide range of disciplines that he was exposed to plays an important role in his creative work as a writer. Thompson is a strong advocate for the humanities, which he hopes can survive the growing national trend towards more career-ready majors.
“College is a time to be educated, it is a time to learn,” he said. “Focus on that, and the rewards will be there in your career even if you can’t draw a direct line between then and now.”
Perhaps the next time you crack open your laptop to watch Bob’s Burgers, consider the way that Thompson’s journey between “then and now” played an essential part in the creation of your favorite episode.
Isaac Hughes is a recent graduate of Knox College, where he majored in environmental studies and philosophy. He was inducted to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior in 2020.