Artist at Work

Five things you should know about the man behind TV’s hottest sitcom.

By Patrick L. Kennedy and Amy Laskowski | Photo by Chris Smirnoff

Abraham Higginbotham (’92) is a writer and co–executive producer of Modern Family, which won an Emmy Award in 2012 for Outstanding Comedy Series. About 12 million viewers tune in each week for the misadventures of an extended family, played by an ensemble cast featuring Ed O’Neill and Sofía Vergara. Higginbotham usually works behind the scenes, but Esprit draws him out of the writers’ room and into the spotlight.

The writer started as an actor. Higginbotham took his BU acting degree to New York, where he worked in theatre as well as in political fundraising and gay-issues advocacy, before moving to Los Angeles. “I got a couple of jobs as ambiguously ethnic bad guys on Aaron Spelling shows, like 7th Heaven and 90210, where I played ‘Gangbanger #2.’ You know you’ve got a long way to go when your character’s name is an idea and a number.”

Acting taught him to live. At BU, Higginbotham learned the craft of acting, but more important, how “to live—to feel, to fail, to take risks, to trust myself, to play. I was pretty shut down when I got to college, a closeted gay kid from a small town. So, to run around a room and jump and crawl on the floor and indulge my feelings and let go of inhibition and discover the truth of who I was and how I fit into the world—that was the most priceless lesson I learned.”

He almost didn’t graduate from CFA. “I was actually almost cut from the acting program,” says Higginbotham. But his fellow students and his professors petitioned on his behalf, and he was reinstated a few days later.

Photo by Hopper Stone

He is a disgruntled old man at 42. “I love writing Jay,” the Modern Family patriarch played by O’Neill. “So much of my personality resides in that disgruntled old man place—somehow I got there at 42. I love his reluctance to do anything, his misanthropic tendencies.”

Art does imitate life. In Higginbotham’s episode “Aunt Mommy,” gay parents Mitchell and Cameron consider Mitchell’s sister’s offer to be the surrogate mother to carry their child. The writer’s sister made the same offer to Higginbotham and his partner. The quandary was “tough and difficult in life, but fun and interesting on camera.” This episode won a 2012 Humanitas Prize for exploring the human condition in a nuanced, meaningful way.

Click here to read the full Q & A with Abraham Higginbotham in BU Today.

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