Monday, August 10, 2009

Why it's cool to be a TV writer

I’ve had a number of readers react to my recent post on Writing Room Dining Tips by asking, “So why WOULD I want to become a TV comedy writer? What are the pluses?”

Okay, how about these?

First – a disclaimer: these points apply to when you’re in a good working situation. No matter how “dream” the “dream job” is, if your boss is a monster, your co-workers are the Manson family, and the working conditions are a notch below the Triangle Shirt Factory you’re going to be in the sixth ring of hell. But assuming you’re in a decent situation (and many of them are):

You get to work in a big Hollywood movie studio (or maybe a warehouse in Chatsworth but there are still sound stages and stuff).

Parking is provided (usually)!

You spend all day working with funny people. And I don’t mean “Funny People” like the Judd Apatow movie – these people are ACTUALLY funny. (Also, unlike the Judd Apatow “Funny People”, these won’t force you to watch their indulgent home movies.)

So all day long you laugh and make them laugh. Can you think of a better way of making a living once you’re too old to be a porn star?

Without having to give thousands of dollars to charity first, sometimes hot actors and actresses on your show will hug you.

You see your name on television.

People who thought you were a total loser see your name on television.

Words that you write get performed. Not by waiters but former waiters who are now TV stars.

You’re fed all day long. This is great for the first couple of years.

You hear amazing showbiz stories. Every so often one is true!

You receive a birthday cake from your agent. And, as a bonus, he doesn’t drop you!

You have scripts to donate for your kids’ school silent auction. (But do yourself a favor and don’t compare what your script brings in versus the SEINFELD that another parent donates.)

As you hear other writers discuss their upbringing, you suddenly feel sooooo much better about yours.

You know the expression “women are attracted to men with a sense of humor”? The REAL expression is “women are attracted to men with a sense of humor who are getting paid for it.”

You sometimes get nominated for awards...

You sometimes win...

On television (see the part about people who thought you were a total loser watching).

Sometimes a show that you write goes into syndication and pays residuals. In how many professions can you make money while you sleep?

People will follow you on Twitter!

When you have a blog in twenty years people will bookmark it.

You get show SWAG. I still get compliments on my WINGS jacket.

But most of all it’s that laughing thing. For all the hours and aggravation, being able to laugh all day is a wonderful way to your spend your life. Hopefully the bad food won’t shorten it.


Max Clarke said...

"You’re fed all day long. This is great for the first couple of years."

Hilarious, Ken, very funny.

There's a good book about comedy writing by Phil Rosenthal, who was the show runner for Everybody Loves Raymond. He also originated the show. The book is, You're Lucky You're Funny.

Phil mentions how he insisted that the comedy writers have the best food in town. He also paid a price for it, he wrote, gaining something like 30 pounds in 5 years. His saintly wife never mentioned it, but he eventually took it off.

So your line, "...This is great for the first couple of years" was funny and truthful.

Mel Ryane said...


YEKIMI said...

Wow! Clicked on the photo of the "WINGS" jacket and it was super enlarged. Not to dis but looks like they took an old leftover wool blanket from the M*A*S*H* show and made it into a jacket and then slapped the "WINGS" logo on the back.

Ben Scripps said...

"You see your name on television." 6 point Helvetica for eight frames during the closing credits.

Pat Reeder said...

I'm not a TV writer, but have been writing a daily radio comedy service for over 16 years. I don't like the writing room atmosphere; prefer to write when I'm alone and can think. My wife is my co-writer, and she also works alone and brings her stuff in to me to blend with mine.

This all combines into the ideal job for me. I can be completely noctural (the service goes out at 5 a.m. just before morning shows start). I never need to worry about my retirement because if I retired, I'd sit in a recliner and make humorously nasty remarks about the news. I do that now and get paid for it. I work out of a home office and never have to commute (I hate traffic jams). And best of all, I work with my wife, which means I can sexually harass my female co-worker all I like and she can't sue me.

Life is sweet.

VW: "reepl." People who repeat themselves.

Tim W. said...

I guess you watched Funny People. I finally saw it the other night. As with every single Judd Apatow movie, it was too long, several scenes were simply awkward, rather than funny, and what is it about some Apatow films where there are incredibly difficult to watch arguments between couples? It's why I didn't like Knocked Up. The movie just felt like being stuck with a couple who argue ALL THE TIME. And I've had experience with that. My wife and I went on a weekend camping trip with another couple who argued the entire time. It was excruciating, but what made it worse was that, individually, they told us they had a fabulous time and wanted to do it again. We're no longer friends with them.

Anonymous said...

"I work with my wife, which means I can sexually harass my female co-worker all I like and she can't sue me. "

It would make a great lifetime movie if she did

Anonymous said...

That's an oxymoron. "Lifetime" and "great movie" do not belong in the same sentence.

impwork said...

Missed one (not as much the in things as twitter):

And people will follow the feed of your blog

Karen from Mentor said...

When you're mad at the male lead you can write in the direction (gets slapped repeatedly by female lead)
This kind of thing is the most fun when either or both are method actors.

"Can you think of a better way of making a living once you’re too old to be a porn star?"....hmmmm Ken, there IS that gap in your bio from your twenties...anything you want to *share?*


Richard J. Marcej said...

I've been recently watching my Dick Van Dyke DVD sets and I'm guessing that the writing room of a TV show is similar to that of Rob, Sally's & Buddy's?


Don't tell me that TV writers don't all have hot wives like Laura!!!

Don't shatter that dream!

Brian Scully said...

You also get to swipe office supplies. I could open a Staples Store with everything I have swiped over the last 20 years.

Anonymous said...

boy, are you right about the laughing... writing a pilot w/my friend now-- comedy-- after sitting inside for a straight year writing DRAMA

you feel it, takes it toll on you... want to just laugh; used to want to jump off a building

Roger Owen Green said...

So how are you feeling about a couple members of the Manson family asking to be released? here and here.

bella said...

Where do I sign up? ;)

Jane Lloyd said...

Hilarious! As a female TV writer, there
are a few differences. Like men don't
want to date you if you're funny, whether
you're getting paid or not. They'd rather
sleep with the unfunny 22 year old stand in
who is two heads shorter than the actress
she's standing in for. And yes, they feed you,
but while men can get a little gut and enjoy
the food, we get fat and made fun of behind
our backs - mostly because that's where the
burgers go from sitting all day. That aside,
it's the best job in the world. The coffee is
made when you get there, you stall talking
about days events until lunch comes, take
a nap, work for a few hours and go home.

Noel Larson said...

"(Also, unlike the Judd Apatow “Funny People”, these won’t force you to watch their indulgent home movies.)"

And yet, this was the only time you could connect with the main character!

Chazz said...

Love your blog. I really do. I'm here every day. However, I have noticed you take swipes at Judd Apatow before. The odd thing is, an awful lot of people in the audience laugh their asses off at his movies.

Your comment reminded me of the Slate podcast where the host admitted that he laughed throughout, but it (yawn) it bothered him that he wasn't sure why or that he should.

Sweet Jesus!

By Ken Levine said...

I like Judd's funny movies too. This wasn't one of them. I loved 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, laughed a lot at SUPERBAD, and liked KNOCKED UP.

Tom Quigley said...

Never had the chance to work on the writing staff a show, although that was my ultimate aspiration. I remember however, when I used to bring a small audience in to the Wednesday rehearsals of HOME IMPROVEMENT, and Jenny McCarthy was the guest star one week. I had the chance to talk with her for a few moments, and she gave me a friendly reassuring pat on the back when we were finished. I can imagine the scenario if I had been a writer and she came over to me and sweetly asked me to change a line for her. I would have gladly done it... Hell, I would have changed my underwear for her... By that point, I probably would have HAD to change my underwear...

wv: horpr -- Paris Hilton's publicity agency...

willieb said...

As long as we're talking about aspiring writers -- any truth in those "everybody has a screenplay" stories ("My hairdresser/valet/dry cleaner gave me a screenplay to read")? Have you been bombarded with sample scripts? If so, what's the wierdest situation you've had to deal with?

Frasier Fan said...

That "WINGS" jacket is awesome!

Raymond said...

"You receive a birthday cake from your agent. And, as a bonus, he doesn’t drop you!"

... or bill you for the cake.

Alan Coil said...

"You get show SWAG. I still get compliments on my WINGS jacket."

I'm still salivating over the Forever Knight leather jacket a crew member was wearing when I met him.

Willy B. Good said...

All day munchies and possibly getting Katherine Heigl to hug you, can life get any better, where do I apply?

Cap'n Bob said...

For Friday, and ignore it if you've covered it before.

I just saw a M*A*S*H episode written by MacLean Stevenson. When actors do this are massive rewrites usually required or are they pretty good to start with?

Will Teullive said...

Free bagels and danish are real nice and all but no three day coke benders with Kelsey Grammar and prostitutes in Vegas??

WV: knetit- The first two body parts that touch when Joan Rivers sheds her clothes.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

"Parking is provided (usually)!"

... and you pointed out one of the notable exceptions:

I missed that post both times, or I would have mentioned that Rob's piece was what brought me here in the first place.

Anonymous said...

you're never too old to be a porn star. rule 34 of the internet ensures that