Saturday, July 19, 2008

Comedy savers

To be a TV comedy writer you have to have thick skin. Generally you’re in a room with other comedy writers, all neurotics, competing against each other to get your ideas or jokes in the script. Eight puppies and one Milkbone.

Many times you’ll pitch a joke that doesn’t get a laugh or doesn’t get in. You’re out there with egg on your face. I find it’s best to develop a series of savers. As a public service, here are a few I use. (Note: if you find yourself using all of these in a five minute span consider other employment).


Hey guys, don’t all hoist me on your shoulders at once!

Okay, but you’re denying America pleasure.

Oh God, it’s my prom night all over again.

If Jon Stewart pitched that you’d put it right in.

I hear laughter but I don’t see the pencil moving.

Okay, don’t see your kids tonight. Stay all night. I’m doing this for you. Some thanks I get.

Sure, it’s not funny when I say it. But when (actor) says it…

You’re only mad because you didn’t think of it first.

Nurse! They’re being mean to me again!

The laugh machine will LOVE it.

I bet at CSI:MIAMI they’d be hysterical.

Fine. I wasn’t meant to be appreciated in my time.

I don’t feel the love, you assholes.

You try being funny when you’re having a stroke.

See it typed. You’ll think differently.

Okay, what if they said it in a funny accent?

I’m sorry. Are there no more seats at the Algonquin Round Table?

So you’re saying perfection isn’t good enough?

Hey, you hired me!

(In Forghorn Leghorn voice) I say, I say, I keep pitchin’ ‘em, boy, and you keep missin’ ‘em.

Jesus, people, doesn’t ANYTHING make you laugh?

You all remember. I used to be funny, right?

And of course, the ultimate saver and perennial crowd pleaser – Go fuck yourself.

20 comments:

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

And of course, the ultimate saver and perennial crowd pleaser – Go fuck yourself.

I guess some people must really want to please me.

Jason said...

I just watched Ball of Fire. I'm betting Billy Wilder's "Go fuck yourself" had 'em in stitches.

Tim W. said...

Or you would do what Johnny Carson used to do - just make a joke about how bad it is. [impression of Johnny] "Hmmm? Bomb-o!"

I just made that up. Feel free to use it on one of your shows, Ken.

emily said...

You've been a great audience. I'll be here all week. Try the veal.

Vermonter17032 said...

I'd reconsider using "Go fuck yourself." You'd be quoting that most honorable gentleman, Dick Cheney... who famously said that same thing on the floor of the senate to Vermont's Pat Leahy. Cheney would probably sue you for plagiarism.

Mary Stella said...

It reminds me of Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy bemoaning, "I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals."

Like Sundance said, "You keep thinking. That's what you're good at."

Phil said...

Your post reminds me of the recreation of the writing team scenario, in the play Laughter on the 23rd Floor; it was based on life in the team of writers for Zero Mostel.

Doug Walsh said...

I know you work in television, Ken, but blogs don't typically have a rerun season.At least not for posts less than a year old.

http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2007/11/savers.html

Monty Ashley said...

I like the "funny accent" line. Unfortunately, there appear to be shows where if you tried that, everyone would go along with it, and then you'd be stuck with a bunch of bad jokes in funny accents.

Gail Renard said...

Phil, wasn't the team in Laughter on the 23rd Floor based on Sid Caesar's writers? Zero Mostel's were on the 24th.

Brian Scully said...

"I hear laughter but I don’t see the pencil moving."

Careful there, Ken, you're dating yourself a bit there with "the pencil." That's one step away from "I hear laughter but I don't hear the chisel moving on the stone tablet".

Stacey said...

I may work at a computer store, but these three could be my every day staples at work:

I bet at CSI:MIAMI they’d be hysterical.

I don’t feel the love, you assholes.

Go fuck yourself.

In fact, I used that last one all the time at work -- with the customers!

KEN LEVINE said...

Yes, from time to time on slow traffic weekends I rerun some posts that have been popular. There are also a lot more new people who have discovered the blog and like they used to say at NBC "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you."

But sorry Doug, if my daily free posting doesn't live up to expectations.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

Forget it, Ken. He just wants to deny America pleasure. When you let people like him get to you, the terrorists have won.

emily said...

...thinking you could have used "the ultimate saver and perennial crowd pleaser" on Doug.

Tim W. said...

Is Doug the guy who points out every rerun post? Slagging a guy for having too much of a life to have a new post every day is all the more sad when that same person has enough time on his hands to search out the old post and post a link to it. I don't know. Just saying...

And Ken, I can't believe you didn't notice I plagiarized my suggestion from one of your shows. Apparently you didn't work on it, but I thought you'd still notice.

Anonymous Production Assistant said...

"Sure, it’s not funny when I say it. But when (actor) says it…" I use that one all the time.

Anonymous said...

but doesn't it get annoying when the comedy writers are _constantly_ trying to be funny? if the guy pitched an unfunny joke and then he has to make another joke to save face, won't everyone else feel forced to "courtesy laugh"? otherwise the guy will never stop. I bet most of the people in that room are secretly wishing they could give up this stupid sitcom to go write features, who wants to hear a non-stop stream of sit-com jokes, and from a guy who's not even funny?

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

By the way, please don't stop tossing us the occasional Greatest Hit. I've been reading this blog pretty often, if not religiously (I don't even practice my religion religiously), since before you posted "Comedy Savers" the first time, yet I managed to miss it until now. It's a great piece I'm glad you gave us another shot at. So even if re-running some of your favorite posts now and then didn't save you a little time, I'd encourage you to keep doing it. What's the downside? Who doesn't like watching or reading something they like already a second or third or in my case twentieth time?

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Ken, at my age you could repeat yesterday's blog and it would be new to me.

As for savers, try "Or..."