Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Writing partner etiquette

Tonight at 9 PM Eastern/ 6 PM Pacific I’ll be holding another FREE teleseminar. The topic is writing partners and my partner, David Isaacs will be joining me. We’ll answer all your questions. If you’re interested in participating and not already on the alert list here’s where you go to sign up.   You must sign up by noon PDT.  Did I mention it's FREE?

This is the type of subject matter we’re going to discuss:

What happens when a partner pitches a joke that he thinks is great but the other partner thinks it sucks?

This happens all the time. If it doesn’t there’s something wrong.

The key is this – you have to really respect your partner’s opinion. One main reason writers team up is because they want that feedback. Especially for sitcoms. It can be tough writing comedy in a vacuum. You’ll feel a lot more secure if someone you trust also thinks a joke or bit is funny. But if you think your partner is a great guy, and can introduce you to some hot girls but thinks Pauley Shore is the funniest comedian in the last hundred years – find someone else.

Next, make this commitment to each other: both members have to agree to whatever you ultimately turn in. And make this a cardinal rule.

Now… you pitch the single best joke ever written and your partner makes that “meh” face.

Cardinal rule number two: You can argue but never make it personal. Many times David and I are arguing over the story we're breaking. A half-hour goes by; we’re no closer to a resolution than we were when we started, but we put it down and go to lunch. And if you were at the next table you’d never know that fifteen minutes ago we were ready to kill each other.

It’s hard, I will grant you that. You get very passionately swept up in an argument and it’s so easy to slip and say, “this is why women hate you” but resist temptation.

So when David and I find ourselves in situations where one pitches a joke that leaves the other cold, we have this rule: If the joke pitcher can’t convince the pitchee in like two minutes why it should go in then just throw out the joke entirely and come up with something else. Trust me, it’s easier and takes less time to come up with an alternate joke than to fight for forty-five minutes and ultimately one partner is unhappy, resentful, etc. (which breaks cardinal rule number one). Again, this relies on trust. You may not agree with your partner but you do acknowledge that he knows what’s he’s doing and perhaps he’s right in this instance.

Here’s another dilemma. One partner pitches a joke, the other thinks it’s funny but you’re both on the fence. Is the joke maybe out of character? Is it a callback but maybe one callback too many? Are you sure the actor can pull it off? Is it a little jarring? Too topical perhaps? Might it be crossing a line of good taste? There’s no clear cut answer here. It depends on the joke itself, the show’s sensibility, and what time of night it is. Do you just want to go home?

Most of the time if a line or bit requires that much discussion we’ll opt to discard it. However, there are also times we’ll just say, “Fuck it! This is fucking funny. Let’s put it in.”

And when it doesn't work you can always blame your partner. NOTE: That's a joke. Cardinal rule number three: Never throw your partner under the bus. And if that doesn't seem obvious then you shouldn't be in a partnership to begin with.

More war stories and tips tonight. Hope you can join us.


rockgolf said...

Okay, now I have to know: Why do women hate David Isaacs?

Be explicit.

Johnny Walker said...

Any chance that we can call the number afterwards and hear a recording of the call? (I believe that's what you did last time?) Starting at 2am on a school night is a bit late for us Europeans! Thanks.

Mac said...

"... thinks Pauley Shore is the funniest comedian in the last hundred years – find someone else."

But then he says "only kidding!" so you have a laugh and sign a contract together. Then he says "Everyone knows the funniest comedian in the last hundred years is Rob Schneider!!" But this time he's not kidding...

Peter Aparicio said...


Hi Ken, I have what I think is an EXCELLENT idea for a (yuck!) reality show. What do I do with an idea? How would I package it? Sell it? To whom? Help!

By Ken Levine said...

I don't know if we'll have the teleseminar available but are exploring that. In any event, it would only be made available to those on the alert list. So sign up even you can't hear it live. Thanks.

Johnny Walker said...

Super. Thanks, Ken!

Chuck Warn said...

Sorry I could not find you and David for the webinar. My email is if there is a link to it...thanks, chuck

Malinda Hackett said...


I'm almost finished writing a spec script I plan on using to enter the tv writing fellowships. There's just one problem. The show I wrote a spec for used my idea in their season finale. I don't have time to write another script before the fellowship deadlines. What should I do? Will it look like I stole the idea?

Caroline Godin said...

@Malinda Yes it will look like you stole it so find the time to re-write.

@Ken Levine Great call tonight, thanks. And for the record, David was charming and quite likeable :-)

Frank Paradise said...

Too bad there was no cream pies involved in the New Mickey Mouse Club old writers fight. Really enjoyed hearing you and David, you guys rock!

Cheers from Vancouver.

GC said...

I stayed up all night for the teleseminar. It was interesting , thank you! I am impressed by the long running of your team. I try to understand, and i like to think maybe the fact that you started together, at same level has something to do with it. This make me realize why my partnership with some guy didn't work few years ago. He had more scripts under his belt.
Oh, about the army. Film festivals could be the army.

Johnny Walker said...

@GC I think that's a good insight. Mutual respect and admiration works well, too. I remember Graham Linehan (FATHER TED, THE IT CROWD) saying that the reason his partnership with Arthur Matthews worked so well was partially because he just thought that Matthews was so funny that he wouldn't ever contradict him unless he was absolutely convinced he had something brilliant.

Of course, their partnership didn't last, and Linehan writes on his own now, so maybe that's not the best recipe for a lasting partnership.

It sounds very much like a marriage: Without respect, trust, and admiration, you're sunk.

GC said...

Thanx, @ Johnny Walker! Yes, it "sounds" like a marriage. The longest marriages are not necessarily the happiest. But the longest writing partnerships definitely are... i think

chuckcd said...

Are those like Asimov's three laws of writing with a partner...I mean robotics?

ChicagoJohn said...

This reminds me of when Mel Brooks was working with Gene Wilder were working on Young Frankenstein.

The way the story goes:
Gene pitches the "Putt'in On The Ritz" scene to Mel, who hates it.
They start to argue about it. Gene cannot understand why Mel doesn't get the joke, and is so infuriated that he starts to become convinced that he has the wrong guy to work on the script with.
And then - quite suddenly - Mel tells him, "its in."

Mel later said that he just wanted to make sure that Gene would make the scene funny. I'm fairly convinced that Gene must have spent extra time on the scene, just to prove Mel 'wrong.'