Sunday, November 22, 2009

And Here's The Kicker by Mike Sacks

In this collection of interviews with 21 top comedy writers - a couple of notable things emerge. Producers of humour it seems are most likely sufferers of OCD and possibly have a science background. As a comedy writer myself, I rejected these sweeping generalisation until I remembered that I tend to do most of my writing sitting on the exact same bench in Highgate Woods and when I was young I did want to be a vet and so did take all the sciences in high school. Add liberal doses of depression and yes, perhaps I am cut out to be a comedy writer after all.
There is a definite tone to this book - and not a lot of laughs. The world of comedy is a frustrating one. Executives rule the roost and executives are all idiots. It didn't matter how many Emmys Arrested Development won, not enough people watched it so it was killed. It's creator Mitch Hurwitz is one of Kicker's interviewees and took this destruction with a shrug. He's a veteran of Golden Girls, Ellen and The John Larroquette Show, so the cruel and unfathomable activities of the network higher-ups must have been painfully familiar by then. The book is full of this kind of pain. Bob Odenkirk's frustration in the SNL writing room, Jack Handey's joy in the SNL writer's room, but frustration at everyone thinking he doesn't really exist, Robert Smigel's ill-advised first sketch on the Dana Carvey Show, which featured Bill Clinton suckling a puppy with his own milk filled teats, Harold Ramis's shame about Caddyshack II. As Steve Martin noted, 'Comedy is Not Pretty'.
Certainly if anyone has an interest in writing comedy, this book is an excellent deterrent. Many of the writers advise trying something else. Annie Hall co-author Marshall Brickman implores prospective writer's to learn CPR and enter health care. Bruce Jay Friedman echoes Grace Paley's advice to 'keep a low overhead'. Wings and Becker scribe Ian Gurvitz describes the process as 'propeller blades that you are about to walk into'. You only do it if you have to do it. If you have some almighty compulsion that forbids you from trying anything else. It helps to be a comedy nerd, ambitious and to have an uncle that works at the William Morris agency. Don't even start if you think you're about to spear a particular cash cow or drown in golden statuettes. It's a book that is both inspiring and disheartening in equal measure. But it's good to hear that even the mighty George Meyer, the man responsible for The Simpsons comic sensibilityand along with Michael O'Donoghue my comedy writing hero, finds writing scripts 'usually traumatic'.
Anyone interested in the creative process, or possesses the misconception that comedy writing must be really fun, will take something away from this illuminating compendium. As The Onion's head writer Todd Hanson notes 'you don't have to be a genius to figure out that humour is connected to pain'. I'll remember that when I'm on my bench, trying to make with the funny.

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