comedy

Interview: Jonathan Green and Gabe Miller of "What We're Not Writing" by Rob Baedeker

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Jonathan Green and Gabe Miller are Emmy-nominated writers whose credits include CBS’s “Late Show With David Letterman,” Comedy Central’s “The Showbiz Show With David Spade,” and MTV’s “The Andy Dick Show.” When the Writers Guild went on strike in November, they launched a new website, “What We’re Not Writing." Rob Baedeker interviewed the pair this week.

Describe your site, “What We’re Not Writing,” and tell me how it got started.

GM: Every day we’ve been posting a description of the show or movie we’re not working on because we’re on strike. The idea was to bring the studios to their knees by letting them know the brilliance they’re missing out on.

JG: We know there are important issues at stake, but we felt like a lot of writers were starting to take themselves too seriously, as far as the contribution they’re making to society with “One Tree Hill” or whatever. So we decided to make fun of that a little.

These unwritten scripts are jokes, but have you come up with any that actually seem viable? For example, I would watch "Small Plates, Big Problems", a feature screenplay about a petty thief on the run from the mob who hides out by opening a tapas bar.

GM: Really? Do you want to buy it? 35 bucks.

JG: Most of the time, we try to play on some recognizable genre or premise or character, but we try to make the idea a little bit worse in some way. But it’s a fine line. We don’t want to get too wacky. We’d rather err on the side of “I could imagine them making that.”

GM: Sometimes we come up with the title first, usually a bad pun, and then figure out what the show or movie would be.

JG: In general, we’ve realized that it’s a lot easier to come up with ideas not to write than ideas to write.

Do you each have personal-favorite entries?

JG: Asking us to choose between these horrible ideas is like asking us to choose between our children. In that having children was also a horrible idea.

GM: I like anything where the story is set in motion by someone getting struck by lightning. So that’s been a recurring theme.

JG: But we do have a place on the site where other writers can post what they’re not writing, and some of those have been really funny. Like “Keepin’ It Zipped!”, a teen sex comedy about a bunch of guys trying not to lose their virginity.

GM: And I also liked the one-stop TV drama called “Detective Law, M.D.”

What’s the worst idea you’ve actually pitched (as non-striking writers)?

GM: We pitched a movie called “Mathletes,” which played all the conventions of a sports movie in the world of high school math. But we were told that for some reason audiences wouldn’t want to watch kids do math for an hour and a half.

JG: And we once put together a pitch for an idea a production company had, which was basically that a kid wakes up to find he has an alien penis. That was before we realized we were allowed to say no to things.

Is that true?

GM: Yes, unfortunately. The idea was something about how when you go through puberty, you feel like you’re an alien, and making that literal. But it pretty much boiled down to “alien penis.”

Has it been cathartic to step out of the industry and parody it?

JG: A lot of the writing we’ve done, especially on late-night shows, even though it’s done within the industry, has sort of a critical point of view, making fun of all the crap that’s out there. So it’s not new to us, but it’s definitely fun.

GM: Also, since back on The Andy Dick Show, we’ve loved writing characters who are overly confident idiots, and in a way, we get to be those guys on the blog.

JG: So, yes, it’s been nice to “step out of the industry” for a while, but we can’t wait to step in it again. We want to step in it so good that we can’t wipe it off, and it starts stinking up the place, and you try to take an old toothbrush to it, but at some point you realize you’re just going to have to throw out the shoes. Wait, what are we talking about?

There are rumors that the strike may be ending soon. Are you going to continue to do the blog? Has it been fun enough to keep it going, or was it just a way to kill time? Have you been getting a lot of good response to it?

JG: We’d like to keep some kind of Miller & Green website going. We don’t know exactly what it’ll be, but this has been fun to do, and a good way to make sure we write at least one joke every day. And it seems to be getting a good response, and even some press. Which is fun, too.

GM: I guess the first thing we’ll do on the blog is take a lot of credit for ending the strike. It took over 60 unwritten projects, but it worked. You’re welcome, America.

You can find What We're Not Writing online here. Rob Baedeker is a member of the comedy group Kasper Hauser and freelance writer.

Podcast: Merlin Mann Live in San Francisco

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Show: 
Bullseye

The first in our series of podcasts from our January live show at SF Sketchfest.

Merlin Mann is an internet guru. He's best known for his wildly popular lifehacking site 43folders, which offers simple solutions to make work and home life less complicated and stressful. He's also a new media personality, with his own series (That Phone Guy, The Merlin Show) and a regular co-host slot on the Mac Break Weekly podcast.

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You might also enjoy these past interview programs:
Comedian and Wired Science host Chris Hardwick
Analog and Digital with John Vanderslice and Mark Frauenfelder and Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing.net
Chris Elliott

"Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop"

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I was lucky enough to have actor and writer Danny Hoch on my live show in San Francisco. It won't be podcast until tommorow, but it's in the top ten of all-time TSOYA interviews, at least for me. His newest show, "Takin' Over," deals with gentrification in Brooklyn, and is currently running at Berkeley Rep in the long-since gentrified Berkeley, California.

There's precious little of the new show available online, but his last major one man show, "Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop" was made into a film. The movie was financed by Rawkus Records, who were planning to use the film as promotion for an accompanying soundtrack album. Unfortunately, the label folded before the album could be released, and the film was thrown into limbo.

Eventually Danny and his associates managed to get the movie into DVD release, and thank goodness they did. Like Luis Valdez' "Zoot Suit," the film lives in the liminalities between staged performance and real life. Each character monologue is seen performed live in a theater, in public, in a prison and in the fictional world of the piece. The technique balances the needs of the show with the needs of the piece's inherent theatricality beautifully. It's one of my favorite films of all time. I cry several times every time I watch it. And laugh a lot, too.

Above, I've pasted a scene from the film, in which Hoch portrays a street vendor and hip-hop afficionado in Cuba. Unlike pretty much any other hip-hop art concerning Cuba I've ever seen, it's insightful, balanced and humane, not just Castroist agitprop. Of course, those qualities are typical of Hoch's work. Indeed, perhaps the most sympathetic character in "Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop" is a prison guard, the frontline soldier of the prison industrial complex.

Anyway, enjoy the above, check out the interview tommorow, make plans to see Danny's show if you're in the Yay Area, and cop that disc if you're elsewhere.

Podcast: Bucky Sinister Live in San Francisco

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Show: 
Bullseye

The second in our series of podcasts from our January live show at SF Sketchfest.

Bucky Sinister is a San Francisco poet and comedian. He's been a leader in the Bay Area's performance poetry scene since moving to the Mission district of the City in the 1980s. He performed a poem from his book, "All Blacked Out and Nowhere to Go." He also recently released a spoken word CD, on Talent Moat records, titled "What Happens in Narnia, Stays in Narnia."

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Also from our Live in San Francisco show:
Merlin Mann

California Gaming Propositions

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Maybe this won't mean anything to folks outside of California, where a bizarre variety of confusing Indian gaming propositions are on the ballot, and a similarly bizarre variety of television ads are promoting them... but it's probably funny anyway.

This from the new UCBComedy.com, starring the wonderful James Adomian.

Wet Hot American Summer the Musical? IT COULD HAPPEN.

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In response to published reports that there "has been talk of" David Wain & Co creating a musical version of the brilliant film Wet Hot America Summer, we put our reporter hats on and went straight to the source: David Wain himself.

Here's what he told us: "the quote is both accurate and complete, I'm afraid. "There's been talk" and that's about it, so far."

He also told us: "tell your listeners to check out The Ten on DVD!"

Check out The Ten on DVD. It's great.

Above: a stirring performance of "Day Bidet" from the musical Godspell, as performed by the campers of Wet Hot American Summer.
Previously: David Wain on TSOYA Live in NYC

There's a new Match Game in the works...

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There's a new version of the TV game show classic Match Game in the works. The producers, FreeMantle Media, are only now putting together the team who will run the show, and haven't yet begun casting.

As you may know, I'm a huge fan of comedian Jimmy Pardo. One of the reasons is his amazing live version of the Match Game, which has been runnning the past couple of years at the UCB Theater in Los Angeles. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say it's the funniest live event I've ever attended. Theresa and I go every month.

Jimmy is a truly gifted host. Most comics are standups first, and hosts second, but Jimmy is quite the opposite. He's at his funniest when he's making other people funnier, and he is an expert at keeping the show moving at just the right pace. I think Jimmy is the perfect host for the sort of silly controlled mayhem that makes the format so wonderful. No one else could do what he does.

More and more, recently, these games have gone with celebrities (Drew Carey) rather than hosts. Jimmy certainly has the credentials as a host (he hosted "National Lampoon's Funny Money" and "Movies at our House" on AMC), but I'd hate for him to be looked over in favor of some second-string castmember of Becker.

Some fans of the live Match Game have already signed an online petition to ask that the producers consider Jimmy for the slot. I urge you to do as I did and sign it.

Photo by Megan Berru

Improv Everywhere: Frozen Grand Central

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Not only is this a wonderful Improv Everywhere mission, it's also their best video yet. Kudos to the gang.

Podcast: Jordan, Jesse GO! Ep 50: Making Friends with Nick Adams

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This week on the show Jesse and Jordan are joined by comedian and author Nick Adams. They discuss The Wire, Mad Men and a real live Secret Sex Party.


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Interview: Comedian Chelsea Peretti, by Aaron Matthews

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Chelsea Peretti is a NY-based comedian, writer, and member of the 4-woman sketch group, the Variety Shac. She is the co-creator of the New York City Rejection Line at (212) 479-7990 and of the web satire blackpeopleloveus.com. She is also the creator of two original series for online humour site SuperDeluxe: "All My Exes" & "Making Friends with Chelsea Peretti". Variety Shac recently released their first DVD collecting their short videos and sketches and they are currently working on a pilot for Adult Swim. I spoke to Chelsea over IM about her influences, her writing career and her inspiration for her internet series, "All My Exes."

AM: Who were your favourite comedians growing up?

CP: I liked all kinds of stuff. My dad loved Jonathan Winters so he introduced me to him.

I saw Martin Lawrence perform when I was in Jr. High. I loved Gilda Radner, I Love Lucy, The Wonder Years, Cosby Show, Monty Python, and Steve Martin movies like The Jerk and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. I had a birthday party where we watched Top Secret. I liked Married with Children lots and Roseanne. I can't really remember as much with standup. I know I watched [Eddie Murphy’s] Raw with my grandmother. That was lame watching it with her. And Def Comedy Jam when I was in Jr. High was big, and In Living Color.

AM: How did Variety Shac end up coming together?

CP: Well, Andrea [Rosen] and Heather [Lawless] and I did standup and knew each other from that.

AM: Had you, Heather, and Andrea collaborated at all at this point, beyond performing at the same shows?

CP: No, just all guesting on other peoples shows. We all wanted to make short films and decided we would premiere a new short at every show (our show is monthly.) It was a really fun homey feeling and a great place to try new bits. It was my first experience with shooting and editing and basically telling a story or making jokes on film. I learned so much.

AM: What is your writing process like for the media you mostly work with?

CP: For standup, the best jokes seem like they come up in conversation or in the shower or travelling. But also lately finding more stuff onstage. Sketch I don't do much anymore. But Bobby [Tisdale] and I used to sort of talk through ideas and improvise them, then get onstage and do them.
The Shac shorts are largely improvised but we try to discuss the overall concept and shape. And each of us will usually bring something a line or a bit or a character we want to involve.

All My Exes I scripted. I have a flow outlined and some good lines ready - but then had the exes improvise responses to my questions.

AM: Where did the idea for All My Exes come from?

CP: I can't remember. I went in to talk to Mark and Daniel Weidenfeld [of Super Deluxe] about it. There were various ideas and that one we all got into and tossed around ideas. It just was the one that got us all excited. One thing I've always thought would be if you could put all the people you've dated into a room or photo. Just how funny the photo would be, just lots of different types of people, like a circus.

And I've also always thought the idea of journalists being objective was funny. So the idea of putting something so subjective (matters of the heart) and so clearly personal into this journalistic interview format was funny to me.

AM: You have a lot of online projects, including your blog, the Super Deluxe series and your web projects with "The New York City Rejection Line" & "Black People Love Us". Do you think the internet has opened a new venue for comedians who might not otherwise get much exposure outside of their local scenes?

CP: I think the internet is so saturated now that you're not really guaranteed "exposure" just because you upload a clip. Maybe your friends will see it but I still think you need to be talented and/or aggressive/strategic to have any kind of high impact project online. Or be a freak show that people will laugh at or have a heckler attack you during your set, etc. The kind of things internet people will flock to.

AM: What else are you working on?

CP: I am going to LA at the end of the month to do some shows with Fred Armisen. I just opened for him in Tallahassee at FSU. Doing lots of standup. Oh, and Shac - we are working on our pilot for Adult Swim.

AM: Are the four of you still in the process of writing it?

CP: Yeah, getting closer. It's really cool so far.

AM: Is it all new material or is it like the Human Giant MTV series where some of the older stuff is revamped with newer stuff?

CP: Well, there's a very new feel to it in lots of secret ways!


To read a longer version of this interview, visit Aaron’s blog here.

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