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Monday, November 07, 2011


I'm about halfway through SHOW ME THE FUNNY, by Peter Desberg and Jeffrey Davis. It's an intriguing concept for a book: take a nondescript sitcom premise ("recently divorced mom moves in with her ambitious daughter") and throw it to a slew of top comedy writers and see how they struggle with it on the spot. Then print the unedited interview.

They get interesting results. They get some of the solutions that make for awful, typical sitcom porridge ("throw in some funny neighbors"). Some latch onto a detail and try to build it into something. A few of them try to turn it into a feature. One of them, Dennis Klein, berates the writers for bringing him such a crap premise.


It's fun to see how all these writers bring something of themselves into the story. You get to see their process a bit, THE MYSTERY OF PICASSO-style. It could inspire you to take your own ideas in several different directions rather than just in the first direction that comes to mind. There are a few nuggets of fresh information here and there.

I can't help wishing it were a bit more compelling and interesting. I can't help thinking that if you brought such a bland premise to my peeps, you'd get more surprising results. I keep having a funny feeling about these interviews. These are top tv writers, and they are used to working successfully with network execs. They have learned not to say, "This is a crap premise," or "there is nothing here for me to work with." They are so used to being polite about bad ideas from producers or execs that they wind up hemmed in creatively, even here where there is no job available for them. After all, this will be published in a book. They don't want to get a reputation for being "difficult." Even Dennis Klein, who spends the entire interview ripping the authors a new one, calls back afterwards to say he was "doing schtick," when clearly, he was having an honest reaction.

Still, it is an interesting book, for showing you what twenty different "takes" might look like. Just think about that the next time an exec or producer asks you for your take on a piece of material.

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