We finished the book! How do you feel? Well-read? Inspired? Gassy? But (haha, "gassy but") seriously, I really enjoyed the thing. Some thoughts:
– The book definitely was much more of a writer's guide than a storytelling party, which was fine by me since I am an aspiring writer. Did any of you non-writers have a problem with this?
– My favorite chapters were Marshall Brickman because that guy has had the coolest career ever and Larry Wilmore, who beyond having a really great career, was also just a really funny, giving interview.
What did you think? I'm interviewing the author of And Here's the Kicker, Mike Sacks, later this week, so if you have any questions for him, please include them in the comments or e-mail me at email@example.com.
Below are my absolute favorite quotes/passages. If you have your own, please share them in the comments.
Buck Henry, p. 6:
I think all writers should have a voyeur nature. You have to look and listen. That's why some writers might run out of material; they're not looking, they're not listening.
Stephen Merchant, p. 25-26, answering why they spent so much time deciding upon the characters' names for the The Office:
It made it much easier for us to create their backstories. The name David Brent came to Ricky in an epiphany. What we loved about that name was that it was so utterly bland. There is nothing about that name that is evocative or emotive in any way. It's almost like James Bond. It's a completely neutral name for a character who has to remain sort of shadowy. It's a nowhere name. It's white noise…
Ricky was on public transport one day, and he phoned me up and said, "I've got the name for the rat—Chris Finch. I just heard a guy saying to another guy, 'I spoke to Chris Finch last night.'" And, again it just seemed exactly right. There is something about the word "Finch" that's got this slightly hard consonant at the end, but it also sounds like a tweety little bird.
The name "Gareth" here in Britain has a very specific association with a particular kind of social group, and it tends to be the working class but with the slight pretensions. It's also slightly outdated, probably mid-seventies, early eighties. The name just said a lot to us about Gareth's parentage—subconsciously, without ever being explicit.
As for Dawn, I'm not sure if you have the name in the States, but in this country, it's a bit simpering and a bit wet in its own way. It seemed kind of perfect for the character. I think it has associations, perhaps with a certain class yearning to reach a higher class. It's quite southern England. It says a lot about Dawn's parents and where they come from, and suggests that she's trying to escape the associations of the name. In some weird way, her aspirations for a better life are sort of draw up in her name. She's constantly reminded about it.
Merrill Markoe, p. 81, on the rules for the writers of Late Night:
We wanted them to avoid every comedy cliché, unless the point of the piece was to showcase how something was a cliché. We didn't like anything maudlin and we didn't want anything with a sentimental core—unless we were trying to make fun of coy manipulative sentiment. Otherwise, we were up for anything we thought was interesting and funny, and anything that had an original or authentic quality to it.
Paul Feig, p. 91:
When we were doing Freaks and Geeks, we always wanted to avoid that typical route. Real-life experiences are rife with bad decision-making. And bad decision-making is, in a lot of ways, the key to comedy.
Irving Brecher, p. 117, when asked to give advice to aspiring humor writers:
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 stop,
On the other hand, if nobody likes what you create, well … find another profession. Like interviewing.
Thank you for your time. I hope to speak to you again one day.
Don't wait too long.
Todd Hanson, p. 147:
I certainly know that in my life humor has been all sorrow and horror. Mark Twain said, "The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow." He also said, "There is no humor in heaven." That's one of my favorite things that anybody has ever said.
Marshall Brickman, p. 157:
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 a little exclusionary to the audience. You're just being precious.
David Sedaris, p. 189, answering how the crazy situations he writes about happen to him:
I wrote a story for The New Yorker that was called "Journey Into Night". I sat in the business-elite section while out on a book tour. This was new to me—sitting there. After we took off, the flight attendant asked, "Do you mind if I move somebody next to you?" The seat was empty. She said something like, "I got a passenger a few rows up, and people are starting complain about his crying. He's polish, and his mother just died; he's on his way to the funeral."
So this guy sat next to me, and it really kind of ruins your good time. If you're watching a funny movie on a plane and that person next to you is crying, it sort of brings the whole thing down. If you're thinking in terms of writing, you as yourself, Can a crying Polish man sit next to me for six hours? The answer is, Sure. But if you're not a writer, and you're not thinking in those terms, then your reaction will probably be, Fuck this!
Al Jaffee, p. 223, talking about fellow Mad writer Dave Berg:
He wrote a book called My Friend God. And, of course, if you write a book like that, you just know that the Mad staff is going to make fun of you. We would ask him questions like, "Dave, when did you and God become such good friends? Did you go to college together, or what?
Allison Silverman, p. 242-243:
Are you tired of being asked what it's like to be one of the few female comedy writers in television?
I am tired of it.
I hesitated to even bring up the question, truthfully:
Most of the time when it's brought up, the question isn't actually about being a woman; it's really about how poorly male comedy writers are perceived. Usually, people want to know how I survive in a writing room with a dozen men, whom they image are bullies and misogynists. That hasn't been my experience at all. I've written with great people. And it is important women hear that being a female comedy writer doesn't mean you're going into battle. Maybe more of them will give it a shot once they know it.
Robert Smigel, p. 251:
[Jim] Downey once summed up SNL sketches this way: actors love to act in sketches about a crazy person in a normal situation, and writers love to writes sketches about normal people in a crazy situation.
Robert Smigel, p. 252:
I have a lot of respect for alternative comedy, but it's a different challenge to survive and get laughs on mainstream TV while still being hip and smart. It's a lot more difficult to be a rebel in a sweater.
Dave Barry, 265, comparing comedy to magic:
I've often said that about humor, both spoken and written. It's a lot like a magic trick, in that there's a very mechanical way in which it's done. There are a lot of obvious and basic structural things you do with a sentence and with a joke and how you set it up on the page. And the trick is to do it in such a way that it doesn't look liker there was any effort involved—that it's somehow magic.
Dan Clowes, p. 291:
I receive letters from young writers asking for advice about a "career" in comics. If somebody asks, I always say not do it unless you can't not do it. If you need encouragement from a stranger, then you shouldn’t do it.
Larry Wilmore, p. 296:
Stop with the fucking ironic distance. Let David Letterman have that for himself.
Larry Wilmore, p. 300:
I worked on a show for Fox called The Show, what was about a white guy who joins the writing staff of a black sitcom. It was a solid idea and fun to work on while it lasted. We had a fantastic actor for the pilot. He was extremely funny and just brilliant, but Fox didn’t want him for the series because they thought he wasn't good-looking enough. That man's name? Paul Giamatti.
Larry Gelbart, p. 334-335:
You want to know what I think is missing from comedy today?
[Long pause] Are you kidding?