Tuesday, September 21, 2021

A question for young readers

Now today’s post might sound like a rant, but it’s actually not (or not entirely).  It’s a sincere question.  

If you’re a young person in your early 20’s and you’re funny and want to go into comedy somehow, what current direction would you like to go in?   

Would you like to write for sitcoms?  Late night shows?  Do stand up?  Do improv hoping to get on SNL? Podcasts? Feature writing?  Playwriting?   Essays on websites like The Onion?  Acting?  Radio?  Comic novels?  Comic strips? Animation? Cartoons for the New Yorker?  Directing? Producing? Talk show host?  Game show host?  Or something else?

Usually one enters a particular field because they’re inspired by the work being done in that field.  They want to be like Bob Newhart or Mel Brooks or Norman Lear.  

When I was starting out I was inspired by everything.  It was a matter of choosing.  TV sitcoms were enjoying a golden age.  You had MASH, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, ALL IN THE FAMILY, in features you had Mel Brooks and Woody Allen, radio was filled with master funnymen like Dan Ingram, Robert W. Morgan, Lohman & Barkley, Bob & Ray, Klavin & Finch, Dick Whittington, Larry Lujack, Dale Dorman, Gary Burbank, Gary Owens.  The Comedy Store was starting to take off.  Every night you’d see Richard Pryor or David Letterman or Robin Williams.  SNL premiered and was a revelation.  Neil Simon was writing hilarious plays.  The National Lampoon was writing brilliant satire.  

I don’t mean this to sound like “back in the good old days” but I’m curious, based on what is considered comedy today, what inspires you?   What makes you say, “Yes, I know it’s hard to break in but I HAVE TO write for sitcoms/late night/the theatre, etc.”  

Obviously some of today’s comedy doesn’t resonate with me — and that’s okay, it’s not meant to — but I seriously wonder, if I were 21 today, what area of comedy would I gravitate towards?  

So if you are in that situation, I sincerely would love to know what your objectives are and why?  And what inspires you?    Thanks.


VincentS said...

As opposed to an old writer in their twenties? :)

Andrew said...

You're about to find out that all your blog-readers and commenters are 50 and above.

Just kidding. I hope you get some great and informative responses.

Me? I weep for the golden age that is no more.

RichRocker said...

Most of my former film students (two to three years ago) only wanted to become YouTube stars by doing sketch comedy or satires or cheap horror. From there they might land their own show on a streaming service which would just be them doing what they did on YouTube. And they wanted total control from day one. None of them wanted to get into traditional TV. None of them wanted to work their way up by "paying their dues". They would rather just stay on YouTube rather than give up control of their material and work for someone else. They didn't want to learn about screenwriting or TV writing (not even script format). They just wanted to grab a camera and improvise.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Since 2007, I've been wanting to create and produce a number of sitcoms for television that really throw back to the golden age of TV, as much of my original production work on YouTube already does; "in the vault," so to speak, I have about eight or nine different concepts, treatments, and ideas that I'd like to execute, but there's one catch: all of them would feature puppets instead of actors.

Unfortunately, I know none of these will ever see the light of day, because I do my homework - part of which includes reading this very blog. I know that in this day and age, even if I were able to bring any of my shows to the airwaves, they wouldn't even be my shows, because it would end up being the networks who own the shows, not me; it would end up being the networks who decide what my shows are, not me; it would end up being the networks who decide who my characters are, not me; it would end up being the networks who make all of the creative decisions and decide what directions my shows would go in, not me. And this is one of the main reasons why I choose to remain independent, so I can maintain ownership and creative control over my own work . . . unfortunately, we no longer live in a time where independence is allowed to thrive like it once could . . . somehow, other independent individuals and companies like John R. Dilworth, Sid & Marty Krofft, and Bagdasarian Productions continue to sustain themselves in this day and age of corporate influence, albeit just barely.

I'm basically stuck within the confines of YouTube, but even YouTube, for the past several years, has been making it far more difficult for the little guys, like me, to even get any notice, because their algorithms constantly sweep us under the rug in favor of these vapid vloggers or narcissistic reviewers who don't do a damn thing but essentially whine about their lives, or review other people's work because they can't make their own.

And even so, with the turn my life has taken in recent years, with both of my elderly parents being disabled and in need of caretaking, that pretty much has put an end to whatever bigger dreams or ambitions I once had, so, yeah. I wish I was born in a different time, when creativity and originality were still largely embraces, and there was far less corporation influence and interference - it would've been so much easier for me to get by.

Stephani said...

In my experience working with teens and twenty-somethings, YouTube and TikTok is where it’s at. Thanks to the recommendations of Gen Z and the Millennials, Gen X is getting pulled in by their kids to be an active audience. I now follow some hilarious Midwestern comics on YouTube. Three to five minutes of honest good fun and hilarity leads to millions of views in days. As a young content creator, I think it would be hard not to hear the siren’s call. In some ways, it is the democratization of content, and may the best comedy win.

Xmastime said...

Anything other than self-publishing on Amazon just seems like an impossible dream. Im about to finish my second novel, which I hope is funnier than my first. Then I'll start another one...

Mike McCann said...

@Joseph Scarbrough said...

>> even if I were able to bring any of my shows to the airwaves, they wouldn't even be my shows, because it would end up being the networks who own the shows, not me...>>

There's an interesting point worth noting as we look back on the 1970s heyday of sitcoms. Almost none were owned by the networks -- because the FCC forced the networks to give up their production arms.
Norman Lear, MTM, 20th Century Fox and Paramount were independent producers. They contracted with the big three to air their programs, but the studios maintained control.

Was the 1990s regulatory change allowing the network operators to buy back their studios such a wise move? Or did it stifle creativity?

David B said...

26 year old aspiring comedy writer checking in.

My present day objectives are to get a staff writing job on a late night show. I am very good at writing monologues and topical two-liners. The occasional social-bit can also be turned into a sketch but sketch writing is still a weaker part of my toolbox.

I've also heard a lot of comedies writers, yourself included, Ken, that says you need to write a lot. 200 episodes a year feels like a good sandbox to really strengthen my craft.

Now for what inspires me, I will say first off, I was raised by parents that are close to your age Ken. Mom and Dad are 63. I was raised on DVDs of Dick Van Dyke, Andy Griffith, and Sid Caesar. Watched reruns of MASH, Green acres, and Frasier. But as a 26 year old, the outlets for comedy are more diverse, but also less refined. Podcasts are good, but I often listen to ones that are similar to this blog: advise and memoir-esque. It's hard to find a true comedy podcast that is actually funny and isn't just funny because of inside jokes and reoccurring bits.
TV is a hard inspiration because there aren't a whole lot of comedy first television right now. Like, I'm sure Netflix has already bought an 8 part miniseries about Nicki Minaj's cousin's friend's testicles, and it will somehow be a murder mystery.

The online sources like the Onion feel very distant and archaic. They all feel like Twitter but with more steps.

So based on all the advice I've been given and the landscape as I see it. My current plan is to keep writing a ton, I publish a weekly newsletter with topical jokes for friends and colleagues, and start posting jokes on Twitter and TikTok in an attempt to be less precious about my material and hopefully get seen.

Mike Rowe said...

Mike Rowe mikeroweshow@gmail.com

My 20 year old twin sons are both interested in getting into the comedy production business. One has been doing stand up and has been writing comedy with a partner. The other is more interested in production. He just had his first PA job on the "Sex And The City" reboot. My sons were influenced by a lot of the cool shows, Simpsons, Friends, they like Ted Lasso and Wes Anderson movies. They are, I guess, an exception to the rule because they got to live a lot of their youth in the TV world. I've been a writer/producer on a ton of shows so, since they were little kids they got to go to table reads for The Simpsons and Futurama. They got to watch their dad make pilots and they got to hang out with my comedian friends, Ray Romano, Larry David and the like. I didn't tell them to go after a showbiz career. It's been their path so far and I hope they're not doing it just because I did. This is a business where you get your ass kicked a lot. I warn them often, I'm still not sure they know what they're getting into.

I hope that answers the question.

Don Kemp said...

And then there were the under 30 brothers of a colleague of mine who somehow easily secured writing a show for Nick At Nite. They were paid an insane amount of money and scored quite a lot of marijuana. Nick At Nite wanted more scripts but they found it hard to keep up because writing interfered with their smoking dope. They ended up being booted off the show because they failed to turn in scripts on time. They just kept smoking out. The money ran out, so they got a job with something like the Sci Fi network writing for a show. Same thing happened. They no longer write because they felt it was ultimately too much pressure.

They got their start doing spec scripts at their own pace that were just about accepted from the get go. Submitted to nowhere but cable shows. Their downfall was they thought they could work whenever the mood struck them.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Mike McCann I would say both for the parties involved: it was a wise move for the networks so that they could pretty much seize up as much they could get out the shows, whether creatively or financially, since especially in this day and age, profits and revenue matter more than quality; but it stifles creativity for the producers and creators because, again, it's not their vision that they went in with, it's the networks' revision of their vision.

Supposedly, this was why so many producers and showrunners bega turning to streaming networks, since they apparently were giving said producers and showrunners more of their own creative freedom to do what they wanted (i.e. Kevin Spacey with HOUSE OF CARDS, for example) . . . but it seems like even now, in more recent years, the streaming services are going the network route of calling all the shots and not letting the creators, producers, showrunners, whoever have a say in what their shows should be. Heck, Netflix rejected Danny Antonucci, the creator of ED, EDD N EDDY -which was one of Cartoon Network's biggest hits- because they wanted him to change the dynamic of the two main characters of a pilot he pitched, but he wouldn't agree to it.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Artists attract audiences, who pay money, which attracts bean counters, who are afraid of losses so they control the artists, who escape to new fields, where they attract audiences...

Good luck, David B. Twitter and TikTok can be a powerful combination.


YEKIMI said...

Old geezer here. Thought I was done writing jokes and stuff but during last year being stuck at home because of the you-know-what. So I was up in the morning sometimes and listening to a morning show [sometimes on the radio when it was dark enough and on Facebook when the signal faded.] duo/sometimes trio. They broadcast OTA/streaming and on Facebook. So I randomly started throwing out jokes on stuff they were talking about. That led to them asking for me to write jokes for them. I didn't really want to make a commitment to them because when they're on in the morning, that's usually my middle of the night. I basically said if I'm up and listening I'll send them stuff and they could use it or not, didn't even care if I got paid. Eventually, with all things coronavirus related, they abandoned the studio and started broadcasting from their homes so I more or less quit sending them stuff because they were just doing streaming/OTA and sorta let their Facebook page go dormant. It was fun while it lasted.

Sakei said...

So yeaaa... I'm gonna take the over on the # of early 20 somethings that frequent a site famed primarily for sitcoms written well before they were born...

Jeff said...

Thanks for mentioning the National Lampoon. Highly influential.

Tyler Pounds said...

I loved the energy that I felt seeing The McCarthys, Mom, and even Mulaney brought to the audience.

I really wanna work in multicam.

Phil said...

Hi Ken, this ia a FRIDAY QUESTION (although it's still only Thursday as I type this...)

I just saw the sad news that Jay Sandrich has died. His name was a constant on multi-camera sitcoms from the '70s onwards. Here in the UK, I first remember seeing his name on SOAP, and then on BENSON, GOLDEN GIRLS, WKRP and COSBY (but probably not in that order).

I don't think I've seen you mention him before, so I got to wondering whether you ever crossed paths, and whether his directing style made any impact on your own approach to directing.


L. Johnson said...

I fit the exact audience of your question and I have to say... I have a huge load of comedy influences, and therefore, a huge amount variety of aspirations in the comedic field. I do think the 20th century had- I don't want to say more talent, but more stars, more influential people. Right now, it is HARD to be funny. With social media, everyone's funny, and everyone is either too sensitive, or has no sensitivity at all.

My main two heroes are Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig from the 2005-2013 cast of SNL. They were part of an amazing group that included Andy Samberg and Jason Sudekis (who both star in hit comedy shows now) and both were incredible in The Skeleton Twins (a dark, non SNL-like movie) and far underrated actors in general. So, they are hilarious, make even the crappiest skit in a hard job worth watching, and are actual actors, AND, write their own material (see Bridesmaids, Barry...) My dream used to be to be on SNL like them, and then break into acting. It still is, but it seems more and more unrealistic the more I think about it.

That being said, aside from them, most of my comedy heroes are old sitcom actors like Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Penny Marshall, Michael McKean, David Hyde Pierce, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett, Vicki Lawrence, Lucille Ball, Robin Williams to name a few. I'm usually the most impressed and identify with the ones who can write and act, because that is what I aspire to do. Penny Marshall is a hilarious actress, but also an amazing director. Michael McKean is a hilarious actor, but also writes really funny songs he works into SO MANY of his projects (all of Christopher Guest's movies, including ones he isn't even in) and a talented writer. A recent comedy idol of mine however is more recent, Simon Pegg, from across the pond. He writes amazing movies with Edgar Wright, and his unique directing style and Simon's complete "relatabilty" and British charm are the perfect team. He wrote a really funny book about how he went to drama school ( in Britain) that made me question my life choices.

As for your ACTUAL question, I consider frequently if I should go to film school, then decide against it if I ever want to change my career. Instead I consider studying film at a normal university, but that is more concept instead of execution. More filmmaking (which I am interested in) than acting (which I am slightly more interested in). It's too hard nowadays to figure out what will actually work in an ever-changing environment. Will moving to a place like California or NYC really help, especially now that you can make a name for yourself without even leaving your couch?

Zisson said...

I'm new to the business, but not young. I am surrounded by 20 somethings that want work, but don't have the option of choosing. Comedy is like Minor League baseball now. Stand-up goes from Beer league open mics to working for a living (AAA.) There are managers, scouts and coaches. 5 tool players write, sing, produce, and perform improve and stand-up. Writing scripts is like playing winter baseball. Spec scripts are the best way to submit cold. Have an original pilot,in case anyone asks on the paddleball court. The road to success right now is producing your own. Comedy shows, YouTube or Tiktok. If you can get noticed by a scout or collect enough followers an agent notices, you might get an offer to submit your book, maybe.