I know this isn't the forum to bring it up, but I ate an entire block of brie in two nights time, and it's caused me a very dissatisfying comfort level. I feel bad that you know this dark truth, but at least I feel free from the private disgrace I've been living in. I should also come clean that it was the size of brie you bring to a party with no less than 20 people, not the smaller kind you share with just one other person.
Now that we're loose as a goose, I'm going to ease everyone out of their weekend bliss and into the reality that we're all basically prisoners to our jobs by introducing you to another professionally fortunate soul. Another gentleman who gets to write words that make people laugh AND get paid for it.
His name is David, and I'm afraid of him. He's written for monster successes like New Girl, United States of Tara and Mad Men (if you've ever heard of those). Oh, and he also used to write for some smaller show I can't remember the name of, but I think it's called Saturday Night Live or something dumb like that. Not only is he immensely talented, but he's insanely smart, he's a very strong writer from both a technical and a creative standpoint, and he's probably going to read this. A combination that makes me very nervous. I didn't even give this post a title because I'm afraid he'll hate it. Anyway, I'm nauseous, enjoy!
(To prove my point, he sent me this incredibly threatening selfie. I can't tell which one is him, but I think he's the guy on the right.)
Let’s start by acknowledging the fact that you have intimidating hair, and I can’t decide if you look friendly or not. I’ve never been accused of being intimidating. I wear glasses. I’m short. Three days ago a middle-aged man in hospital scrubs threatened to kick my ass in a convenience store because I didn’t get out of his way fast enough as he was rushing through an aisle. Then he walked back to his car and I saw that he had a disabled placard on this rearview mirror. So, he wasn’t intimidated.
You feel insulted, but also kind of empowered now, right? It’s hard to feel insulted about my hair. I don’t know what I would have if I didn’t have my hair. I don’t know if it’s hard and fast science, but it is said a man can gauge his eventual baldness by looking at his maternal grandfather. Mine was totally bald. My dad’s father, also totally bald. But I’m at the age right now that if I was going to be totally bald, I would be totally bald. My brother also has a full head of hair. We’re defying genetics. We are marvels of modern science. I am beating the odds every day.
Your resume is impressive and makes my job incredibly easy. You’ve written for enormously successful shows like SNL, New Girl and Mad Men. How did you get your start in the industry? I moved to Los Angeles and had a series of jobs where I made coffee, answered phones and read scripts. In between those jobs, I tried to write as much as possible and then tried to get people to read my stuff. Also, through someone I worked with, I got the opportunity to submit jokes to Weekend Update. I got a few jokes on the air and they hired me and that was my first writing job. Also, my dad is Steven Spielberg and he said I could have any job I want.
A few weeks ago I watched James Franco’s documentary, Saturday Night, where he filmed the behind-the-scenes creation of an episode of SNL. Have you seen it? No. Should I?
You should. It's the least offensive thing James Franco has ever done, in my opinion. How do these writers and cast members not spiral into hysterics week over week? I don’t know how the cast doesn't spiral into hysterics on the air, but when I worked there, which was a while ago at this point, there were so many amazingly funny people around and everyone laughed all the time and that was what made it fun.
What is the biggest challenge aside from the strict deadlines and no sleep? This has apparently changed since I worked there, but there was always a ton of food around, so the challenge was not to gain hundreds of pounds and die from an overwhelming amount of McNuggets.
Let’s shift gears. New Girl is one of my favorite shows of this decade. What is it like being in that writers room? It was a huge writers room with a lot of great people. It’s like being at a dinner party with, like, 17 of your friends all day. But also like having to go back to the same weird dinner party every single day. Sometimes you just wanted to have dinner at home.
Do you write for a specific character? No, it doesn't really work like that. A writer on that show, and every show I've ever worked on, writes for every character.
Nick Miller is a free loader and a scrooge. Maybe you can help me understand why I love him so much?Let’s unpack this. Does he remind you of your father?
I think my dad showers more than Nick Miller does, but otherwise, they're basically the same person. How much impact do the actors have on making adjustments to the script? It’s different on every show, but both the actors and writers hope the script is pretty solid before the cameras are rolling and no one has to adjust a script. Ideally, it’s a collaborative process and you are writing to the actor’s strengths and they are excited about the script and game to make it work.
Mad Men is a bit of a departure from your comedy roots. How did you find your way to the drama department? I like that you said “drama department” like I was trying out for the school play.
Thank you for pointing that out, David. I felt the same way after I wrote it, but it was too late to fix it, and I will never forgive myself. Let me re-phrase so we can all sleep comfortably tonight. How did you make the shift from comedy to drama? I've always written things for myself that exist in a tone somewhere in between comedy and drama. That’s where I’m most comfortable, real emotion mixed with comedy. I don’t consider writing for drama much of a departure from what I was doing on my own. The biggest difference between writing television drama vs. comedy is that the scripts are twice as long. The Mad Men writers room in particular has plenty of people who began in comedy so it felt a very natural place to work.
It’s a common philosophy that it’s easier to write for drama than for comedy. Would you say that’s true? Is that a common philosophy? I never found either of those things particularly easy.
Is there a particular show on TV right now that you would like to work on? There are shows I’m watching right now that I love: Broad City, Fargo, Better Call Saul, Louie, Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, The Americans, Transparent, Orange is the New Black, Man Seeking Woman...Hopefully my next TV job will be on my own show in which case I’ll be content just enjoying those shows as a fan.
Your first novel, Firecracker, was released last year. Tell me about the book. How did you come up with the concept? Firecracker is a funny young adult novel about Astrid Krieger, a 17-year-old girl from a very wealthy and powerful family who is kicked out of her boarding school and forced to attend the local public school in her hometown. It’s also about her trying, with mixed success, to be a better person. The character came to me almost fully formed one evening when her name jumped into my brain. The concept was a means to see the world through her very specific point of view. I’m very proud of the book and everyone should buy it. Everyone. Absolutely everyone.
My favorite blog post of yours is your interview with Astrid Krieger, whom the book is written about. She seems unimpressed. Astrid is unimpressed by most things. In her home, she describes a portrait of her extended family where she is rolling her eyes, which she finds particularly amusing because it’s not a photograph, it’s a painting. I was excited to write a character who isn’t weighed down by normal insecurities. She doesn’t give much weight to the opinions of others so she moves through the world completely validated and pleased with herself. Most people find her unpleasant and, but that’s a lot of what makes her such a pleasure to write.
There are plenty of screen writers who aspire to write books, but they find it difficult to organize their thoughts long enough to get something significant down on paper. How is your process different for writing in this capacity? Well, I guess I’m not that different because I also find it very difficult to organize my thoughts long enough to get something significant down on paper. Writing a book was very hard and took forever. I’m not even sure how I managed to finish the thing. So my process was different because I somehow finished, but every second was a struggle. I always weighed writing against taking naps. Writing won like half the time.
The book has 4.6 out of 5 stars in the Amazon.com customer reviews section. What would you like to say to the 8% of people who rated it as less than perfect? My wife doesn't let me read reviews, because I have a very thin skin, so for all I know the negative reviews are about how the packaging got torn in shipment or they thought they were ordering actual firecrackers but got my book instead and barely anything happened when they lit it on fire.
To close out the interview, would you mind writing an exclusive VERY short story? Okay. I’m currently staring at my dogs, so I’ll write a fictional story about my dog, Jones.
Jones, a 40 pound dog, worked for 23 years at Stasher Manufacturing, a mid-sized company specializing in farm equipment. He eventually rose to level of VP of Quality Assurance, but in the wake of a poor profit year, he was forced to take an early retirement by Mr. Stasher’s nephew, who had a lot of new ideas about the company.
They threw Jones a retirement party on a Thursday afternoon and Mr. Statcher gave a speech and presented Jones with a gold watch, which he felt was fitting because Jones was part golden retriever.
Jones got up to speak and instead of fake gratitude, he felt the weight of all the indignities he felt over his two plus decades at the company and his voice rose in rage. “Don’t you think a watch is an impractical gift for me because I use all four legs to walk and can’t use a watch the way people do?” he asked. “And the hors d’ouevers table? There’s cheese and I do love cheese, but there are also grapes. Grapes are basically poison to dogs!”
Jones imagined that he would make people think about how they treated him and how he worked so hard and got few rewards and then got discarded like he didn’t matter. He expected applause. He hoped for tears. He longed for his dignity back. Instead, almost no one in the room even listened to him because they were all like, “Holy shit! A talking dog!” Those fuckers.