Comedy is having a moment. You can't really talk about the vaunted New Golden Platinum Age of Television without reference to
We are also in a time when the nuts and bolts of show business have come to be regarded as entertainment in their own right. On television series like
It comes in book form, as well. Mike Sacks, an editor at Vanity Fair and himself the author of the humor pieces collected in "Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason" and co-author of the parody guide "Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk," has a new volume of interviews, "Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today's Top Comedy Writers." It offers a full hamper of humorists -- a few of whom are also performers, but most of whom are not -- discussing what they do and how they do it.
The pleasingly thick work, born to be well thumbed, is a sequel to Sacks' 2009 "And Here's the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft," issued by Writers House, a how-to publisher whose other titles include "A Writer's Guide to Character Traits" and "The Weekend Book Proposal: How to Write a Winning Proposal in 48 Hours and Sell Your Book."
Like its predecessor, “Dead Frog” offers learned advice for the aspiring comedy writer, with sections headed “Pure, Hardcore Advice” and “Ultraspecific Comedic Knowledge” alternating with longer interviews. (Some are just shorter, narrowly conceived interviews; a few seem to have been written by the subjects themselves; Sacks also includes the show “bible”
As seen here, accomplishment wears many faces; it is the product of different upbringings, and varying proportions of encouragement and discouragement, pleasure and pain, intention and accident. The interviews are not particularly jokey, but they are anecdotal often in a funny way.
The respondents represent a wide range of generations and mediums -- print, radio, film and, most frequently, television -- but this is overall a cavalcade of white men, a flaw in a survey otherwise wide-ranging. Among the women included are Poehler,
For the most part, the responses are descriptive rather than prescriptive: Like other sorts of writers, and artists, they can tell you what they did, and what they do, but not how you can or should do it. Every story being different, there is no universal set of instructions to make a career in comedy writing.
At the same time, common themes do emerge.
You should watch or read a lot of the sort of comedy you're interested in writing, and then write a lot of it yourself, and then write a lot more. You should write what you think is funny and not what you think other people will think is funny. You can't learn to be funny, but you can learn to be funnier. And as "Conan" writer Andres du Bouchet puts it, "If you can do anything else with your life and still be happy, do it, for crying out loud."
The subjects include
Sacks is above all a fan, but he's also a well-informed one. He asks productive, genuinely interested, insightful questions throughout, and, just as important, good follow-up questions: When “Parks and Recreation's” Mike Schur talks about
Poking a Dead Frog
Conversations with Today's Top Comedy Writers