Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Something fun to do (maybe)

A final thought on the DMV. It brings to mind a writing exercise. (“Hey, what the fuck? I’m getting homework from a blog?”)

Just as professional golfers will still go to the driving range and hit a bucket of balls, it never hurts writers to exercise their creative muscles.

And this is an assignment you never have to turn in.

But just as I did a post on my day at the DMV, see if you can write a one-page description of something that happened to you. And if you’re a budding comedy writer, try to make it humorous.

In selecting the topic to write, here is what you’ll find: Those incidents that caused you frustration work better. Comedy comes from tension. If you go to the market, find a parking space right out front, buy a lot of things on sale, and encounter no line at the check out stand you’ll have a much tougher time mining mirth than if you had gone to any Costco on any Saturday afternoon.

The exercise also teaches you to be observant. You’d be surprised how many funny things are going on around you all the time – you just have to recognize them.

So think.   Could you write a one-page account of the Super Bowl party you just attended? Or trying to do your taxes yourself? Or jockeying for position in the carpool line? Or going to the mall to buy a suit? Or trying to assemble some piece of Ikea furniture? You get the idea.

There used to be a radio commentator named Jean Shepherd. You may know him from A CHRISTMAS STORY. It was his story and he did the narration. For years he had a radio show on WOR in New York. For forty-five minutes a night he would just talk. Just tell stories.

I remember being in New York and catching his act one night. He talked about trying to get a piano moved into his apartment. I was enthralled for forty-five minutes. There’s a real art to storytelling.

If you ever start a podcast this is a real good skill to have.

Two friends of comedy are attitude and specificity. There’s gold in the details. And the piece comes alive when you have a take.  You can get a lot of humor from just your description of events if you do it with a point-of-view. 

Like I said, no one has to read it. You’re not being graded. You won’t even get extra credit. But it will sharpen your skills. And you don’t have to blow ten bucks on a bucket of balls (unless your story is your day at the driving range).  

30 comments:

bill said...

As a teenager, living outside Philadelphia, like many kids in the WOR listening area, I was addicted to my nightly dose of Jean Shepherd. I still listen to the archived podcasts of his show that you can find around the net.

So sad to read that later in life he renounced his radio work and claimed all of it was made up. And for someone who had so many teenage fans, it was hard to read in his biography that he had abandoned his own kids.

I guess a lesson to be learned from him and Cosby: things are not always as they appear in showbiz.

Brian Hennings said...

Friday question: Following your comment about THE CELL by Mark Legan and Mark Wilding, do you think it is worth writing something that is good but has no chance of being made as a way of obtaining recognition? Maybe an unusual subject matter helps a script cut through the noise of so many other scripts? Does the writing shine through, or do people in the industry discount it since the writer clearly doesn't understand the market?

Bg Porter said...

I've always enjoyed this take on Shepard by Donald Fagen of Steely Dan: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2008/12/the_man_who_told_a_christmas_story.single.html

Oat Willie said...

In the 70s/early 80s PBS did a number of Shepherd TV adaptations like "The Phantom of the Open Hearth" and "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories". When "A Christmas Story" came out I thought it was a bland dumbing-down of a great series (I was wrong). Later, The Corporation removed these adaptations from the planet and replaced them with pledge drives.

Hamid said...

So, wait, I'm a little confused...

Is this gonna be in the test?

MikeK.Pa. said...

I worked with a guy who said early in his career he'd worked at PBS with Shepherd. He said Jean was ornery and cranky. Probably what helped make his humor so pointed; there was always an undercurrent of discontent.

A Friday question: On what sitcoms did you do spec scripts and if you were starting out today, on what shows do you think you'd write specs?

LouOCNY said...

On the A Christmas Story DVD bonus track, the late Bob Clark - and Billingsley both have several....interesting...stories about working with Shepard, who was on the set of course, and was occasionally asked to leave.

Igor said...

Ken, thanks for the shout-out to us "budding comedy writers", 'cause I've often thought of your blog as my comedy training bra.

Just, you got anything with an under-wire? Not that my buds are big, but I need all the structural support I can get.

Bill O said...

Shepherd was offered to narrate and contribute to The Wonder Years, "inspired" by Xmas Story. One disastrous meeting with Spielberg ended that.

kent said...

You buy your suits at the mall?

Dan Ball said...

This hasn't been a good week on the blog for anybody with the surname Shepherd. If I were Sherri, I'd start running now. Dax and Sam shouldn't make any assumptions about immunity either.

John in Ohio said...

Hence the frustration

Ken Copper said...

Shepherd fans might enjoy checking out flicklives.com and hearingvoices.com. Both have a wealth of Shep related material and audio.

gottacook said...

Bill O: You wrote "Shepherd was offered to narrate and contribute to The Wonder Years, "inspired" by Xmas Story." Does this mean The Wonder Years was originally set in the 1940s (perhaps early '50s) so that Shepherd might be able to contribute meaningfully? Or does it mean they were asking Shepherd to contribute to the story of a kid who, when the series began, was 12 years old in 1968? Sounds implausible either way.

Bill O said...

@gottacook: I put "inspired" in quotes cuz the show had no direct connection with Shepherd or his works. Just the format. I'm sure it was always '60's set, but he would've given it that feel. I don't know the extent of his creative involvement, but my info came from one of his bios. Once it fell thru, he'd call the show a rip-off.

Len said...

This writing assignment reminded me of a rerun of the George Burns and Gracie Allen show that I saw not too long ago. Gracie has asked George to mail two letters for her. George deliberately switches the letters before he mails them, so that each letter will go to the wrong recipient. Why? George, who didn't just break the fourth wall with viewers, but ignored the existence of any such wall completely, explains to us: their show is a situation comedy, and in situation comedies, you have to have plot complications. At that point, they were ten minutes into the show and didn't have a plot complication that they could get another twenty minutes out of. So either he had to help things along by creating a plot complication, or we'd all have to just sit around and stare at each other until the show was over.

Which is, admittedly, a solution to creating plot complications that I can't imagine any other show using. George and Gracie's show was kind of unique that way.

Andrew Parker said...

Ken,

Random Friday question. You obviously don't like Mindy Kaling's show. But have you watched an episode since the pilot? How many episodes do you usually give a show before making a definitive statement on the quality of it? I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your assessment, but just curious.

DrBOP said...

Wasn't quite sure why your "Bring on baseball" didn't thrill me like it has done in past years.....

....but THEN....a wonderful pic of Natalie.....

.....thrilled AGAIN!


(It was the combo I was missing :+)

Hamid said...

Just for a bit of variety, I'd like Ken to post a photo of Elizabeth Montgomery every now and then instead of just Natalie Wood, as I recall him mentioning she's the other Hollywood babe he likes.

A photo like this..

https://jonmwessel.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/fotos-de-elizabeth-montgomery-6.jpg

Barry Traylor said...

I was a fan of Jean Shepherd from back in the days when I first encountered his work in Playboy magazine (believe it or not there was good stuff in there besides the pictures). I have all his books and quite a few of his radio shows. One of the few people that could make me laugh out load when I read his work. He also had an excellent voice for telling stories.

Bill O said...

According to his bio, he spent his last years, fat and bearded,in Florida. Even visited the radio museum there, no one recognizing or remembering him.

Mike O. said...

And then there is Garrison Keillor: http://youtu.be/SHLZT0KVCtk

Bill O said...

One of my favorite moments on The Simpsons was when Bart brained Keillor with an ashtray.

bill said...

I don't know how many of you know that Jean Shepherd was the model for the Murray character in A Thousand Clowns played by Jason Robards.

Bill O said...

Never saw that much of Shep in the Murray character. Jack Nicholson, with his intimate radio voice in KING OF MARVIN GARDENS, however...

Johnny Walker said...

I did this homework several years ago... I should really do it again.

http://thunderpeel2001.blogspot.co.uk/2007/08/sunny-beach-holiday-blues.html

Not the best written thing in the world, but it's not too bad. I should keep writing more things like that, I think. Crafting your life into amusing anecdotes feels like very good practice for spotting good stories.

Dixon Steele said...

Bill O.,

I don't think Spielberg has anything to do with THE WONDER YEARS...

Bill O said...

Dixon:Look up "Jean Shepherd Spielberg". Should take you to shepquest part 4. Mentions the two meeting about re Shep's Wonder Year's narration.

Artie in Sin City said...

His book, "The Ferrari in the Bedroom" is a MUST read...Laughed so hard I nearly choked...Really, snot gushing out of the nose...It was a total mess...BUT I was so damn happy...He was a stellar storyteller...Loved his pipes and delivery...

lee woo said...
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