Review of - And Here's the Kicker - Conversations with 21 top Humor Writers - by Mike Sacks
And here's the Kicker
And here's the Kicker - Review
This is a review of And Here's the Kicker by Mike Sacks. It's a compilation of interviews with twenty one top humour writers.
In it you'll learn :-
how many times the cops were called on Sacha Baron Cohen and Dan Mazer in the shooting of Borat
what David Sedaris thinks of his critics
how Todd Hanson and the staff of The Onion managed to face the aftermath of 9/11 with perfectly crafted humour
advice for the aspiring humour writer from George Meyer of The Simpsons
the inside story on writing for Groucho Marx from Irving Brecher
and Stephen Merchant's insights on Ricky Gervais and The Office
You will also learn a lot of tips for aspiring comedy writers from how to be published in The New Yorker, to getting hired as a sitcom writer.
It's not necessary to be an aspiring writer to enjoy this book, you only have to enjoy a good laugh.
So who's who? Mike Sacks interviews span the generations from Irving Brecher who wrote for the Marx Brothers in the 1930's through to George Meyer of the Simpsons.
Here is the full list of humor wtiters interviewed:-
Buck Henry (The Graduate, Catch-22)
Stephen Merchant (The Office, Extras)
Harold Ramis (National Lampoons, Groundhog Day)
Dan Mazer (Da Ali G Show, Borat, Bruno)
Merrill Markoe (Late Night with David Letterman)
Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks, Kick Me, Super Stud)
Irving Brecher (At the Circus, The Wizard of Oz, Go West, Meet Me in St Louis)
Bob Odenkirk (The Ben Stiller Show, Mr Show)
Todd Hanson (The Onion)
Marshall Brickman (The Tonight Show, Annie Hall, Manhattan, The Muppet Show)
Mitch Hurwitz (Arrested Development)
David Sedaris (Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day)
George Meyer (Army Man, The Simpsons)
Al Jaffe (Mad's fold-in, Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions)
Allison Silverman (The Daily Show, Late Night with Conan O'Brian, The Colbert Report)
Robert Smigel (Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Conan O'Brian, TV Funhouse)
Dave Barry (Dave Barry's Guide to Marriage and/or Sex)
Dick Cavett (The Tonight Show, The Dick Cavett Show)
Larry Wilmore (In Living Color, The Bernie Mac Show, The Daily Show, The Office)
Jack Handley (Saturday Night Live, The New Yorker)
Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H, Tootsie)
And Here's the Kicker - Full of inspiring stories for aspiring humor writers
I read this book as an aspiring humour writer anxious to soak up as much as possible about other comedy writers. I bought it because it had an interviews with David Sedaris and George Meyer, whose work I admire. But I was more than pleasantly surprised to read about all the other great writers, most of whom I had never heard of.
Nearly all the writers interviewed are American, with the exception of Stephen Merchant and Dan Mazer. But they represent a cross section of some of the greatest comedy writing of all time. You may well have seen theie shows but not realised who wrote them. Writers are often overlooked in favour of the stars. Many may think that the famous faces make up their own lines on the spot, but that is rarely true. For instance, Groucho Marx, the master of the off the cuff remark, his delivery looks improvised and ad-libbed but in reality it's all scripted and meticulously performed.
The highlight for me was the interview with Irving Brecher. I never knew he existed but to read about how he wrote for the Marx Brothers and was one of the first people to hear Judy Garland sing Over the Rainbow, was a complete revelation. He was ninety-four years old when interviewed and still as sharp as a tack. In wrapping up his interview Mike Sacks asked him if he had any advice for up and coming humour writers to which Irving replied, “If people's laughs seem genuine then keep writing and don't stop. Never stop. On the other hand, if nobody likes what you create, well... find another profession. Like interviewing.”
At the Circus - Marx Brothers - Written by Irvine Brecher
Interview with George Meyer
I'm a big fan of The Simpsons and so it was a treat to get the inside track from George Meyer who has been head writer pretty much from the show's inception. It's full of choice nuggets such as the number of rewrites for each scene (five or six), the time to produce an episode (six months), searching for the right secondary character to fit a joke (from a wall poster). There are some great insights of his writing process and what it's like to be in The Simpsons Writers Room - “There is just a dictionary, a thesaurus and some garbage from lunch”. George comes out with some great quotes, such as, on writing alone and being hard on yourself - “You can't keep bitch slapping your creativity, or it will run away and find a new pimp.” His final words of advice were, “Experience as much as you can and absorb a lot of reality. Otherwise your writing will have the force of a Whiffle ball.”
Sacks' interviewing style is well researched. He asks searching questions that draw out the memories, insights, lessons learned, humour and advice for others that keep the reading experience balanced between entertainment and information. Sacks never slacks and there is plenty of pace and interest, you are always left wanting to start the next interview, when really you know it's time to turn the light off because you have to be up at 6am to write before you go to your day job. So good job Mr Sacks.
Advice for aspiring humour writers
As well as the interviews the book is sprinkled with short pieces of advice for aspiring writers.
getting hired as a sitcom writer
getting humour published in magazines
getting your humour piece published in The New Yorker
acquiring an agent or manager for your script
getting a job as a writer for late night television
One interesting piece of advice on submitting humor articles to magazines was, "don't copyright your work, no one's going to steal it, it's just a sign of being an amateur." Little nuggets of wisdom from the pro's are just what you need as an 'amateur'. It's insider information for writers. The things you do without thinking or realizing that identify you as an outsider.
Another good piece of advice concerning looking for an agent or a manager was to send submissions by letter. Unsolicited email can be seen as spam (unless they tell you otherwise). The adage from the agent's perspective was that if it's not worth a first class stamp to you, it's not worth thirty seconds to me.
There are pages of good advice in the book and for me this was one of the most valuable practical aspects of the piece.
And Here's the Kicker on Amazon.com
And Here's the Kicker - summing up
And Here's the Kicker is finished off with a reading list of recommendations from the comedy writers interviewed in the book. There must be fifty titles that will keep you out of mischief for a year. With intriguing titles such as, “Brain Droppings; Napalm and Silly Putty; When will Jesus bring the Pork Chops? By George Carlin and “The Good Times are Killing Me” by Lynda Barry.
I can thoroughly recommend And Here's the Kicker for anyone who wants to write humour and for anyone who enjoys a good laugh. What impressed me was the way the writers came over as very normal people. They obviously have extraordinary talent but they let their writing do the talking. You don't get the idea that they have over inflated ego's (like the performers of their material). It gives me hope!
And Here's the Kicker by Mike Sacks
Published by – Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio www.writersdigest.com
ISBN – 13: 978-1-58297- 505-4
ISBN - 10: 1- 58297 – 505 – 1
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