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

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

Mike Sacks

Language: English

Pages: 480

ISBN: 0143123785

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Amy Poehler, Mel Brooks, Adam McKay, George Saunders, Bill Hader, Patton Oswalt, and many more take us deep inside the mysterious world of comedy in this fascinating, laugh-out-loud-funny book. Packed with behind-the-scenes stories—from a day in the writers’ room at The Onion to why a sketch does or doesn’t make it onto Saturday Night Live to how the BBC nearly erased the entire first season of Monty Python’s Flying Circus—Poking a Dead Frog is a must-read for comedy buffs, writers and pop culture junkies alike.

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before the Internet. So I went to the New York Public Library and looked up big-city phone books for Swartzwelders, figuring that there couldn’t be that many. I found his mother’s number in Seattle. She said, “Yes, that’s my son, John. He’s at an ad agency in Chicago.” I got in touch with John and set up a meeting with him and Letterman, and it was one of the most spectacularly awful interviews in history. What happened? Swartzwelder shows up just as we finished taping for the day. Chris

Harmon, and the reason I wanted to work for him, is that he always puts the work first. He’s there, day in and day out, trying to write the best possible twenty-two minutes he can. He’s not concerned with reviews, or with how the show will do in the ratings, or how hard he has to push himself to achieve the results he wants. The only thing he cares about is quality. And I think that translates on-screen. Community is also nice because I get to mix emotions. I like comedy that has moments of

translation of hundreds of phrases, including “You have shit for brains.” That would be Stercus pro cerebro habes. That’s right, as well as the Latin phrases for “You are a total asshole” [Podex perfectus es] and “Screw you and the horse you rode in on” [Futue te ipsum et caballum in quo vectus est]. So, for that alone, maybe all those years of boarding school were worth it. Were you allowed a television at boarding school in the late 1950s and early 1960s? No, we weren’t even allowed a radio.

on the project. Why not? I had never seen Lenny Bruce, but I knew of his legend. I really wasn’t interested in that type of work, actually. I just didn’t know enough about him to be a fan or to not be a fan. I once heard of a woman at one of Bruce’s performances who stood up in the middle of the act and started screaming, “Dirty mouth! Dirty mouth!” I wanted that to be the title of the film—Dirty Mouth!, but I didn’t realize back then that I, as a screenwriter, was nothing more than a busboy.

eight-month-long program in which they write original material and spec scripts. The writer comes out the other side with a stamp of approval from those studios. Warner Brothers is definitively the most successful of them. After you graduate, the heads of those programs will call agencies and say, “We’ve got a live one here. This guy or woman just came through and they’re exceptional and you should think about hiring them.” There are incentives then in place for these studios to hire the writers

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