Hello, internet website (powered by Squarespace)! I'm back to business after a month-long hiatus which I feel is acceptable behavior since I'm a mother to a toddler and I'm not being paid for this. But I couldn't be more excited to be back, and I'll attribute this rare, enthusiastic temperament to Eric Ledgin, my latest interview buddy and writer for two of FX's most treasured comedy series, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and The Comedians. Soon, he'll be making his way to NBC to lend his talent to their newest workplace comedy, Superstore, set to air in the 2015-16 season.
Like most writers I've talked to, Eric is incredibly smart and entertaining, but there's a particular masterful flow to his writing that makes you recognize why he's in the position he's in. I asked him if he's ever considered another career path, to which he responded "Yes, but only like three or four times a day", but I'm here to communicate my unsolicited argument that he should continue down the screen writing path for a very, very long time. (At least until a Kardashian is elected President, at which point we can all just give up.)
And while I'm doling out free-willed judgment, Eric, this is clearly not a selfie. Your arms are not in optimal positions to be holding a camera, and your general demeanor does not scream insecurity. But I've chosen to let it slide as I am extremely sensitive to conflict.
Welcome to my blog, Eric. I’m so sorry you have to go through this. It’s totally fine. We all have to do things we don’t want to in life.
I feel a little anxious because you didn’t respond to my email, so I’m very uncertain you even exist. Tell me something I should know about you. Prove to me you’re a living man. I got immediately defensive when I read this question and started searching through my email to prove it wasn’t true and shove that in your (dumb?) face. Then I saw you were right and really had to adjust my attitude. I think that story does a solid job of proving I’m a man.
Though, to your point, my face is a little dumb. What traumatic life events guided you into comedy writing? Did you know you wanted to become a writer from a young age? I don’t really buy into that idea, that every comedy person has had that. But there was that one time in middle school where I had no friends for two years…
We all owe middle school a big shout out, I think. Middle school, thank you for hair that was so structured it looked like a lamp shade, my subsequent nickname "Lamp Shade" and for my compensating personality. Tell me about a time you had to pay your dues as a newcomer in the industry. I spent a summer doing internships where I read movie scripts and did “coverage,” which is an industry term for “book reports.” I read about thirty awful, almost unreadable scripts, and then one really good one. I thought I had struck gold and ran to my bosses going “I found one! I FOUND ONNNNE!” And they were like, “Oh yeah, that. It’s not really marketable. Someone’s doing an ultra-low-budget version with Dean Cain.” Which was fine, I guess – I’m just not sure why they were having me read scripts that were already getting made.
You’ve written for several late-night shows including Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and The Pete Holmes Show. What draws you to the variety format? It’s a hard question to answer because I’ve kind of stopped doing variety. But now that I’ve spent a little time on the narrative side of TV, I can tell you that I definitely miss the immediacy of doing a show that will air THAT NIGHT. There’s an episode of Always Sunny (which is another industry term that means It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) I wrote in March that won’t air until February 2016, which is kind of crazy. Another fun thing about variety is that all that matters is the jokes, and whether or not they make people laugh. Like my answer to this question, for example, would never be on a variety show. And I think that’s a good thing.
Jimmy Fallon seems like he would be the world’s best boss, am I right? He’s probably the funniest person I’ve ever been around.
You wrote for Season 11 of Always Sunny, which is arguably as funny as it gets, and I'm having a really hard time not asking you to intricately describe Glenn Howerton's face up close. What is the hiring process like on such an established project? Was it an easy adjustment? I met with Glenn a while back, and then a year later met with all three guys. I think that time I had just come off another job and was probably more confident, which always helps in those situations. I’ve had meetings where I just crumbled and it’s truly awful – plus I did not get those jobs. It wasn’t the easiest thing going into a room of fourteen people I didn’t really know, many of whom have been with the show for years, but comedy writers are generally kind and welcoming in my experience, and this room was no exception. As long as you’re hardworking and a little self-aware, you can generally fit in wherever.
What is it like writing for a show where the creators are also the stars? How heavily are Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day involved in the day-to-day creative/writing process? They’re very involved and constantly coming up with great story turns and jokes. A lot of the funniest lines in the show are things they just came up with riffing in the room. And then most of the other funny lines are things that I wrote. That’s not true.
The show is known for its offbeat, outlandish style of comedy and has been described as "Seinfeld on crack". Are there any topics that are off limits? The one thing I don’t think they would do is an episode about Jerry Seinfeld smoking crack, but that’s mainly for legal reasons. Otherwise I think they’re open to literally anything that’s smart/funny enough to justify how offensive it might be.
The show is approaching its 12th season making it the longest running live-action comedy in cable history. Is there any concern about keeping it fresh, or is this an opportunity for the writers to take even more risks? No, it’s the first thing. It’s a constant challenge because they pack a lot of big ideas and situations into each episode. That said, the season shooting right now is getting out of Paddy’s Pub way more than usual, and I think that speaks to the “opportunity to take more risks” part. But, and I can’t stress this enough: it’s mostly the first thing.
You currently write for The Comedians which airs Thursday nights at 10pm on FX. How did you land the project? Honestly, I kind of begged for it. The showrunner, Ben Wexler, read a sample I wrote and brought me in to screen the pilot, and I was dying watching it. I couldn’t keep cool in the interview, just kept saying how much I wanted the job, which, FYI, is a TERRIBLE negotiating technique. But I think we had similar thoughts about the show and its potential, so he brought me back to meet with Billy Crystal, Larry Charles, Josh Gad and Matt Nix. I know, right? Matt Nix! I barely remember that meeting but I think I made Billy laugh once or twice and considered that a huge success.
Billy Crystal is co-creator and stars alongside Josh Gad in a story about an established comedian aversely joining forces with an up-and-coming comedian on a late-night variety show. What is it like working with the pair? As someone that grew up watching Billy’s stuff, and then saw Josh Gad come up in the last few years, I find the two of them together really compelling and cool. And they’re both amazing improvisers who bring so much to whatever you write for them.
Tell me about the writing process for the show. All the writers gather in a writers room for weeks discussing general ideas and specific bits that would be fun to do. You’re generally serving the vision of the showrunner (Ben Wexler) and the show’s creators, which in this case included Billy. He was in the room a lot, which was at first very fun and scary, and then later, just
Do you prepare differently to write for each character? I wouldn’t say I prepare, but after I write a scene I’ll definitely go back and go, “Would this character do/say these things? Would they say it differently than that?”
Are there real life scenarios that Billy and Josh ask to be included in the scripts? For sure, yeah. In an episode I wrote, “Billy’s Birthday,” Billy tells a really touching story about what his parents used to do with him on his birthday. There are things like that where I can take a shot, but I completely understand that nothing I write will feel as powerful to Billy as what really happened in his life, particularly because he’s playing Billy Crystal, not just some dude.
What makes the show unique to other projects you’ve worked on? Writing for people who are using their real names and to a degree their personas is definitely a trickier thing, but a challenge I really enjoyed. Also just sitting in a room and joking around with Billy Crystal.
Can we talk about Stephnie Weir for a minute? How am I just now finding out about this woman? It’s honestly ridiculous. I saw her do an improv show once (“Quartet”) that was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen live. I was like, “She’s gonna be huge!” And someone said, “She is, she’s on MadTV and a successful writer.” But some insanely talented people just slip through the pop culture cracks for a while, I guess.
She brings the most hilarious, oblivious-yet-likeable energy to the show. Do you find joy in writing for characters who are completely unaware of themselves? I really do. One thing I spent about a year on was this movie I directed about a delusional stand-up comedian (played by Stephen Schneider) who comes to Hollywood with the specific goal of “being a huge star.” And it was heavily based on the worst fears we had about what we seemed like to people, trying to “make it” in comedy. Like, what if we’re actually completely unfunny and untalented, and just tragically unaware of that? It’s a funny concept but in the saddest way possible.
How is writing for a first season different than writing for a second? I assume it’s very different for every show, but in general, how is a team of writers assembled to develop a pilot episode? Aside from the show creators, writers are brought in only after the pilot has already been shot and then picked up to series. But writing for a first season is definitely a unique challenge because you’re trying to really develop these new characters, and expand the world they live in.
How much does a writer’s room change from the beginning of a series to the end? How often is the original team still around at the end? As far as I can tell, some people will stay on and move up the ladder, some will move on to their own pilots or other projects they’re interested in, and then occasionally people won’t be asked back. It’s totally dependent on the show and that particular group of writers. But one thing I think is a constant is that as a show gets more seasons, the snacks get better.
What do you do in the event of extreme writer’s block? Do you have a secret process for overcoming? You just kind of have to write something. Sometimes a bad line is like two words away from being great, or it’ll spark a really good reaction from another character. The nice thing about writing as a job for someone else is that you can’t really be too precious about writer’s block. You have to do the work or you’re in serious trouble.
Who’s your favorite writer? Charlie Kaufman.
What inspires you? Honestly, potentially anything in life that’s not “being on my phone.” Traveling always does it in some way. The speech Charlie Kaufman gave to BAFTA was really moving to me. The show Extreme Weight Loss. Also just seeing smart and different stuff succeed with even a medium-sized audience. A show like Mad Men becoming this cultural phenomenon where they got to do seven seasons. The last few movies I saw were Mad Max, Ex Machina, and While We’re Young. You can get really cynical about what comes out of the entertainment industry, so it’s shocking and invigorating that each of those films were made and released.
Have you ever considered taking a different career path? Yes, but only like three or four times a day. I think I would be an incredible travel agent, or whatever you call a person who works at a juice bar. A juiceologist?
Based on your tweets, I’m under the impression you’re watching this season of The Bachelorette. I mean, come on.
Were you pulling for Britt or Kaitlyn? It’s tough because even though the whole world should clearly be #TeamKaitlyn I thought it was extremely mean that they did that to both girls. And the reality is that if you met Britt and just connected with her, who’s to say Kaitlyn is “better” just because she’s more self-aware and better on TV. I think I could fall in love with Britt. The important thing is that I watch every episode of this show no matter what.
Do you think the onscreen bromance between JJ and Clint is real? I’m answering this before the whole thing “blows up,” so I will reserve judgment until then. My instinct is that those types of hyped-up conflicts on the show never go anywhere and distract from the truly amazing stuff that happens. All that aside, I think both of those guys are pieces of dog shit.
To close out the interview, I’d like you to write your bio if you were to be cast as the next Bachelor. Tell me about your life, your interests, why you’re looking for love and whether or not you’re “here for the right reasons”. Eric Ledgin is in love with his wife, but if it’s totally cool with all parties (including the wife), he would love to have a three-month long trip around the world on helicopters where a bunch of mostly stunted women vie for his time and affection as he jumps off cliffs into the ocean. Eric loves all kinds of activities for the first few months of dating, and after that it will be mostly reality TV and dinners on the couch. He will make some of those dinners but not clean up after a lot of them.