Thursday, August 14, 2008

Friday question of the week

Leave your questions in the comment section. I’ll get to as many as I can. Thanks.

From PP:

Any thoughts on the challenges of transitioning from stand-up comedy to writing for television? Any specific insights you've gained from working with such people over the years? Their strengths/weaknesses, etc.

When a stand up wants to leave the glamour and glory of working comedy clubs in Omaha on Thursday nights for eight drunks, I generally wonder if (a) he’s really funny, and (b) whether he can adapt his comedy to other characters? And the short answers are yes and no depending.

I don’t go to comedy clubs anymore because on any bill there are invariably three or four deluded souls who are so painfully unfunny it makes my teeth hurt. Who EVER told these idiots they were funny? If anything is going to cause the downfall of modern civilization it’s not drugs, it’s “open mics”.

So there are any number of failed comics trying to transfer their magic to the written page.

On the other hand, there are also some hilarious stand ups who just get tired of the road and seeing that Dane Cook is a success and decide to give writing a try. To them I say, “Welcome!”

And it’s not like you can’t do both. Patton Oswalt is equally brilliant on the stage and page.

But caution: It’s been my experience that most comedians have this insatiable need for love and attention. That usually doesn’t sit well in a room with others. Imagine being trapped in a small office twelve hours a day with Ant. And some comics find it hard to adjust to being behind the scenes.

Other problems.

Good stand ups all have developed very well defined comic personas. The angry guy. The put upon guy. The Asian/Swedish/mother/lesbian/figher pilot/model. Many times they’ll write spec scripts and suddenly all the characters from OLD CHRISTINE sound like them. The good news is you have a strong voice. The bad news is you’re not Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Stand ups tend to be stronger on the jokes than on story (big revelation). It’s a different skill set but one that can be learned. You can’t teach funny (although a lot of community colleges misguidedly try).

At the end of the day talent trumps all. Comedy writing is a big adjustment if you’re a brick layer too. But if you’re good, and funny, and your name isn’t Gallagher you’ve probably got a good shot.

Thank you, ladies and germs. You’ve been a wonderful audience.

15 comments:

Ollie said...

I feel like a goober for being the first one to comment two days in a row, BUT...

I just went to an open mic two nights ago, and it was so painful I had to write about it. If you're interested on the comic scene in Boston, read away.
seeandsigh.blogspot.com

rob! said...

i would watch patton oswalt do pretty much anything.

Stephen Gallagher said...

Well, I'm screwed.

John S said...

Okay, I will pose a question based on personal experience: in a situation comedy spec script, how do you show you can write in the form as it has been established without writing a trite plot that's been done a skabillion times before?

Your Humble Correspondent said...

Interesting, but more about Lisa Edelstein, please.

She's delightful. And hot.

Kevin said...

You've talked about writing comedy, and you've had other writers talk about writing dramas. Can you talk about, or find someone to talk about, writing shows are both comedy and drama? I'm thinking about shows like Ugly Betty, where there are many comic situations, but it is not a sitcom and it has dramatic/serious moments also.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

It wasn't until the second hole that I asked the guy who joined our golf group what he did for a living. Oh, what a mistake. He was a 'comedian' and the pulp never stopped spewing...

Patton Oswalt is Nathan Lane's love child.

Tom Quigley said...

"It wasn't until the second hole that I asked the guy who joined our golf group what he did for a living. Oh, what a mistake. He was a 'comedian' and the pulp never stopped spewing..."

That's almost as bad as being with someone who in his head has some fantasy that he's another Jay Leno and never shuts up. -- By the way, did you hear the one about a priest, a minister and a rabbi...

Grant said...

I watched one episode of "Last Comic Standing." They put 12 insecure, attention-seeking comedians in one house. With cameras on. 24 hours a day. It was either going to be genius or brutal.

For me it was brutal. All 12 of them had to be "on" constantly. All 12 had to try to be more "on" than the other 11. It was the most depressing thing I'd ever seen. I used to think that the worst parents' daughters turned out to be strippers; now I know they end up as commedians.

I guess enough people liked it though, it did run for a couple of seasons.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Writers don't like actors who come from stand-up because they can't 'live' the moment and they call 'making it work for an audience' usually means dumbing it down. Any improvisation or improvement on a line by a stand-up comedian is usually just finging a way to say it simpler.

ChrisO said...

Great. People are judging comedy by an open mike and Last Comnic Standing, a show that is universally reviled by comics. Ollie, as someone who has been a comic for 18 years, I would ask that you please refrain from going on blogs offering to illuminate people on the comedy scene in Boston based on one open mike. Jesus, at least go to a real show. Try the Comedy Studio on a weekend. Boston has one of the best comedy scenes in the country.

Debby G said...

I have never tried to write for TV or film, but I write humorous young adult novels and humorous books for children and a humorous newspaper column. I'm now taking a standup comic class (it's a midlife crisis thing), and the writing is coming pretty easy for me. I think the talent for writing funny stuff translates well to lots of different kinds of writing.

Though, of course, success is not just dependent on talent. I'd imagine that anyone who puts in the effort of writing a standup act and perserveres through rejection and low pay also has the capacity to work hard and perservere to succeed at other types of writing.

Anonymous said...

A possible future Friday question: Have you seen the movie The TV Set? (It's about a TV writer/creator whose dream project is turned to dreck by compromises with the studio.) And if so, how much of it rings true and how much seems exaggerated?

Anonymous said...

I especially agree with the fact that most stand ups couldn't handle being a in room and on a team. I do stand up in the LA area and open mics are absolute HELL! But if you are a comedian you have to do this boot camp phase of your career. I find the bigger the crowd the better. Thats why open mics suck. You have ten nervous people waiting for there turn. THEY'RE NOT LISTENING. If you want to check me out (shameless self advertising) myspace.com/rthrock

chefboyardee said...

Ken,

I don't *think* I've seen you address this question before: What is the biggest difference (if any) between the way you shop a spec script around today and the way you did it when you were starting out?