And Here's the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft

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9781582975054: And Here's the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft

"Did you hear the one about..."

Every great joke has a punch line, and every great humor writer has an arsenal of experiences, anecdotes, and obsessions that were the inspiration for that humor. In fact, those who make a career out of entertaining strangers with words are a notoriously intelligent and quirky lot. And boy, do they have some stories.

In this entertaining and inspirational book, you'll hear from 21 top humor writers as they discuss the comedy-writing process, their influences, their likes and dislikes, and their experiences in the industry. You'll also learn some less useful but equally amusing things, such as:

  • How screenwriter Buck Henry came up with the famous "plastics" line for "The Graduate."
  • How many times the cops were called on co-writers Sacha Baron Cohen and Dan Mazer during the shooting of "Borat."
  • What David Sedaris thinks of his critics.
  • What creator Paul Feig thinks would have happened to the "Freaks and Geeks" crew if the show had had another season.
  • What Jack Handey considers his favorite "Deep Thoughts."
  • How Todd Hanson and the staff of The Onion managed to face the aftermath of 9/11 with the perfect dose of humor.
  • How Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais created the original version of "The Office."
  • What it's really like in the writers' room at SNL.
Funny and informative, And Here's the Kicker is a must-have resource—whether you're an aspiring humor writer, a fan of the genre, or someone who just likes to laugh.

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About the Author:

Mike Sacks has written for such publications as The Believer, Esquire, GQ, Maxim, McSweeney's, The New Yorker, Premiere, Radar, Salon, Time, Time Out New York, Vanity Fair, Vice and Women's Health. He has worked at The Washington Post, and is currently on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair.

From The Washington Post:

From The Washington Post's Book World/ Reviewed by Jeff Nussbaum When Al Gore was vice president and saw on his schedule that he would have to speak at an event that required humor, he would announce, with mock solemnity, that it was time to assemble the humor cabinet. This proclamation might well have been delivered by shofar, given that in practice it served as a call for most of the Jews on the staff. Perhaps the circumstances of my birth did qualify me to write jokes, although I think the vice president was more taken with the fact that my dad's family had actually run a hotel in the Catskills -- the real, live Borscht Belt. Either way, I ended up writing jokes for the vice president and others. I've found myself in the awkward situation of telling a former senator that the word "feces" is funnier than any of the synonyms he's considering. Or that a roomful of male septuagenarians will get the punch line "If it lasts longer than four hours, consult a physician." But when asked why, I always wished I had a better answer than "Because it's funny." Someone, I thought, should assemble a compendium of insights and techniques from actual humor writers. That's exactly what Mike Sacks did in putting together "And Here's The Kicker." Even if you weren't looking for a comedy desk reference, it's worth picking up the book just to find out which "Deep Thought" Jack Handey is most proud of writing. But "And Here's the Kicker" qualifies as a book only because the interviews have been put on paper and bound between two covers. What the reader experiences is a series of interviews conducted by a sort of hybrid between James Lipton and Dick Cavett: The questions are so hyper-informed that they're fawning, but they're just loose enough to be funny. Sacks, a humor writer himself, begins each chapter with a short biography of the interview subject, followed by an edited transcript of their conversation. The last question in these interviews is often about advice the humorist might have for aspiring writers. Aspiring writers, I'm guessing, will find this advice pretty depressing, given that it runs the gamut from "There are already too many comedy writers" (Marshall Brickman, co-writer, "Annie Hall") to "When you're 'in the zone,' a joke will just land on you like a butterfly" (George Meyer, writer and executive producer, "The Simpsons") to "Take a few beatings in the hallways of your high school or go through some sort of childhood trauma" (Judd Apatow, writer, director, producer of 95 percent of the movies made in the past five years). Slightly more helpful, but probably still depressing for the aspiring writer, are the how-tos that can be found throughout: how to get an agent, how to get a humor piece published, how to get a job writing jokes for late-night television, how to get your piece published in the New Yorker, etc. Sacks, who is on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair, scored some great interviews, finding writers who could comment on -- and in many cases created -- virtually every comedic touchstone we reference today, including the Marx Brothers, "The Colbert Report," Woody Allen's movies, Mad magazine, "The Simpsons," "Saturday Night Live" and late-night talk shows. The real fun in this book comes less when the writers talk about their craft and more when they talk about their careers, experiences, disappointments and favorite jokes. That's when you feel like you've been ushered into an exclusive fraternity (and it really is a fraternity -- only two women are interviewed) and exposed to the admiration and competition inherent in any club. Irving Brecher, supreme gag-writer for the Marx Brothers, grumbles that today's young writers are overpaid and lazy. Merrill Markoe, who has written for David Letterman, "Newhart" and "Sex in the City," provides an extended and acerbic list of what isn't funny: "I hate anyone who is wise beyond their years. I don't mind precocious children if they come as a side order with W.C. Fields." We're also let in on some great comedic revelations, such as the news that the feces in the bag Sacha Baron Cohen presented to the dinner party guests in "Borat" were real and that the person on the set who provided them was acknowledged in the credits. Brickman tells us that in the original premise of Woody Allen's "Sleeper," the only remaining piece of the president wasn't his nose. You can guess the rest. When these writers share with us what didn't succeed, we realize that humor isn't easy, that comedy is a craft and that even the greats had to work hard at it. Perhaps the best description of humor comes from Dave Barry, who as a newspaper columnist is almost an outsider compared with the rest of these interview subjects: "A sense of humor is a measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost totally devoid of reason. Laughter is how we express the anxiety we feel at this knowledge." By that measure, we're living in funny times indeed.
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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