Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Checking in Halfway Through 'And Here's The Kicker'

Two weeks ago, we named And Here's The Kicker as the first book of the Splitsider Comedy Book Club. The plan is to give everyone a month to obtain and read the book but I wanted to check in as we're halfway through. So far, I've read the wonderful interviews with Buck Henry, Stephen Merchant, Harold Ramis, Dan Mazer, Merrill Markoe, Paul Feig, Bob Odenkirk, Todd Hanson, Marshall Brickman, and Mitch Hurwitz. Though the hope is to have a longer discussion at the end of the book, below are a few questions to be discussed in the comments section of this post to get the ball rolling (obviously, if you've already the book, please feel free to jump in as well):

  1. What do you think so far?
  2. Which has been your favorite interview?
  3. Do you find yourself maintaining interest when you might not be as familiar with the writer's work?
  4. Do you have any favorite quotes/passages?
  5. If there was one conflict in the first half of the book it is if comedy is about surprise or repetition. Especially, in terms of the repeating of characters on SNL. Do you think that repeating characters is fundamentally good or flawed writing?

To organize this, start any comment with the number corresponding to the question number and try to respond to each number's thread instead of starting a new one (unless your comment doesn't necessarily correspond to any of the above questions). Since this not a cheertatorship, I'm going to answer in the comments section below, as well.

On June 11th, we'll have the larger, final discussion. Also, around that time I will be talking with Mike Sacks about the book. If you have any questions for him you can include them in the comments or e-mail them to me at Jesse@Splitsider.com.

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  • http://twitter.com/JesseDavidFox Jesse Fox

    4) Buck Henry, the man credited for
    suggesting to Lorne Michaels that SNL repeat
    characters, explained, "If I hadn't then someone else would have—it was so
    obvious. Why not do the samurai character in different situations over and over
    again? The repetition is funny in and of itself."


    Harold Ramis, when explaining why he
    didn't like SNL that much told Mike,
    "…the writing was a little weak and gratuitous in a lot of ways. I
    though the notion of just repeating scenes over and over, week after week, was
    not a good thing."


    Bob Odenkirk, who wrote for SNL, stated, "I never liked the
    recurring character thing on SNL,
    although it works for that show. When I left SNL, I really wanted to get past that sort of thing."


    Less about SNL and more about television in general, Mitch Hurwitz says both,
    "One of the key ingredients with humor is surprise" and
    "Television is really about repetition. That's what the audiences truly
    want in a show. They don't necessarily want surprises."


    I think Hurwitz somewhat contradictory
    claims, reveals a lot about this question. There is obviously a necessary
    balance between surprise and repetition. Even the most hardened critics, who
    feel that SNL reuses characters too often, tend to be fine with certain
    characters (i.e. Stefon still exists mostly unscathed).


    Also, until recently there are some
    more practical reasons for repeating. First, without DVRs, HULU, or even VCRs
    (side note: while writing that sentence I had to look up the name of VCRs
    because I totally forgot about them), if you missed a sketch, you would never
    be able to see it again.


    Ultimately, I think repeating a
    character could be filed under good writing if done with the proper amount of
    effort. For example, in the book Odenkirk talks about how he created the Matt
    Foley character (the "van down by the river" guy) and how when he left the show, the writers went for cheaper
    laughs. As long as the writers continue to treat the characters with respect,
    and Lorne continues to monitor when a character has reached its peak, I say
    keep on doing it.

  • http://twitter.com/JesseDavidFox Jesse Fox

    2) I think a number of them were stupendous but I'd have to with Marshall Brickman. Not only did he co-write 'Annie Hall' and 'Manhattan' but the man invented Statler & Waldorf. In terms of influence on me personally, those things are huge. Also he probably offered some of the best advice of the book so far:

    "Audiences don't really care how bright you are as writers and how many literary associations you make and how brilliant you come off. When you're showing off, it becomes exclusionary to the audiences. You're just being precocious."

    • Slane

      …which is a solid argument for why Community can't find a large enough audience.

  • http://twitter.com/JesseDavidFox Jesse Fox

    4) Mike Sacks:
    "Many of the readers of this book weren't born when you started writing
    humor. In fact, many of the readers' grandparents hadn't yet been born. If
    anyone in this book is entitled to give young humor writers advice, it's you.


    Irving Brecher:
    "I would say that if you think you're funny, then do it. As long as people
    genuinely respond to what you produce, keep at it. If their laughs seem
    genuine, keep writing. And don’t stop. Never


    On the other hand, if
    nobody likes what you create, well … find another profession. Like


    Mike Sacks: "Thank
    you for your time. I hope to speak to you again one day."


    Irving Brecher:
    "Don't wait too long."

    • JeP

      2) Todd Hanson quoting Mark Twain. "The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow" and "There is no humor in heaven."

  • Toby Weiss

    1. Love it


    2. Anything Paul Feig has to share, I lap up. Favorite so


    3. Had no idea who Irving Bircher was, but his historical
    perspective made it an essential, fascinating read.


    4. “It doesn’t bother me if the world knows I sat in a
    waiting room in my underpants.” – David Sedaris



    5. The chance for a familiar character to surprise you is
    a worthy goal. It’s what keeps people watching their favorite sitcoms.