Sunday, July 06, 2014

Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today's Top Comedy Writers

Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today's Top Comedy Writers by Mike Sacks
Paperback: 453 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books (June 24, 2014)

Platforms such as Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube,  and the Golden Age of Television have given rise to comedy writers like never before.  One doesn't need to be working in New York or LA to make people laugh, they could just type something on the keys of their laptop or even their phones.

Still, it's a long way to the top and there are those that will find a way to make it one day.  Maybe there will be one day in a future generation in that something they wrote will be remembered as what helped inspire somebody else to get into the comedy business.  It could be a movie, radio show, television show, book, improv show, or even a stand-up comedy act on stage.  For me, it was reading Bob Hope's memoir, Don't Shoot: It's Only Me, in the summer of 2003 following his passing and just a few short weeks later, I saw the Second City National Touring Company on campus at Bradley University featuring the likes of Frank Caeti and Matthew Craig, to name a few.

This isn't Sacks' first go-around with interviewing comedy writers.  And Here's the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft was released in the summer of 2009.  This book is just as great with that one and Sacks talks to even more comedy writers.

Sacks speaks with writers that have been around anywhere from 60 years ago to only recently in the last five-ten years.  He looks at their influence and creative process, the hard times and breakthroughs.  Most importantly, Sacks seeks to know how they were managed to succeed in one of the toughest fields in the industry.

Where it's the writer's room for The Onion or The Colbert Report, no page goes unturned.  Want to know why a sketch didn't make it to air on Saturday Night Live even though it killed during the read-through?  That question gets answered.

Terry Jones lets readers in on a secret.  Monty Python almost never came to the United States because the BBC was going to tape over the masters.  They found out and saved the tapes.  The rest, of course, is history.

Sacks interviews comedy icons like Mel Brooks, Terry Jones, Adam McKay, Mike Schur, and Paul Feig, to name a few.  Comedy writing in all mediums are covered: television, movies, radio, cartoons, books, and Twitter.  There are essays scattered throughout from the likes of Amy Poehler, Patton Oswalt, Diablo Cody, Kay Cannon, Marc Maron, etc. as well as questions geared towards something ultra-specific in comedy like the writers' bible or hiring an agent, etc.  Bill Hader offers a list of 200 movies that every comedy writer needs to see in their life.

To say that this book is a bible for aspiring comedy writers and comedy buffs is an understatement.  It's an essential read for anybody that wants to break into the business.  Just like his first book, this one is very much a must-own like Sacks' prior book if you want my opinion.

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