Category Archives: More Misadventures!
My misadventures in the world of comedy.
Next week will be the first time in about two years that I’ll be back in Michigan. I miss it a lot. I miss my friends. I miss my family.
I’m incredibly grateful Go Comedy is letting me have a show there on Thursday the 8th. Time is incredibly limited this trip because we’re coming back to wedding plan. This show is a good opportunity to get to see a bunch of friends all at once! So, if you’re going to the show, it will be over with by 9:00, we can all go down the street to a bar afterwards and hang out. What’s that? You didn’t know about this show? Well click HERE for more info. And if you still need tickets to the show, just click HERE.
Now that my shameless self-promotion is out of the way, let’s get to what this post is really about. In addition to the obvious friends and family, there are a lot of unexpected things I miss about Michigan. Here’s my list of my top ten.
10. Fresh Air. The only reason that everything in Hollywood smells like poop and pee is because everything is coated in poop and pee. On the bright side, when Allyson and I go for walks we play a game called “Identify the Turd” where we try to figure out if a pile on the sidewalk came from animal or human.
9. Drive Thru Starbucks. I haven’t been to Starbucks in ages because I’d have no idea where to park if I found one. The upside is, going without Starbucks has let me save the fortune that it costs to live here.
8. Space.It’s not just the parking spaces. It’s space in general. Our apartment in Canton was twice the size of our apartment in Hollywood. I had my own bathroom in Canton! Do you ever feel like you’d shop at Trader Joes more if the parking lot wasn’t so cramped? That’s how everything in Los Angeles is. The entire city is breathing on the back of your neck with poop breath.
7. Meijer. It’s so nice to be able to grocery shop at midnight because the lines are shorter and the people watching is better. Meijer is a magical wonderland.
6. Zucchini and Yellow Squash. I miss the Ron Jeremy sized produce of Michigan. California Zucchini looks like it just got out of a cold swimming pool.
5. Bottle Returns. Every time I took back bottles it felt like winning a scratch off lottery ticket. You would think California would be the king of the bottle returns. Nope. I’m sure there’s a place to return them somewhere, but it’s not like Michigan. There must be a value to them because there are certainly people pushing overflowing and precariously stacked bags of bottles and cans in shopping carts down the middle of the street…which wouldn’t be the end of the world if there were just a little bit more of that aforementioned space!
4. Pop. On the subject of bottles and cans, I refuse to say “soda”. I feel like if I do, I’d be surrendering like Donald Sutherland gave up at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I won’t do that to my fellow Michiganders. I will not be assimilated!
3. Coney Island. Yes, there are a lot of great restaurants in Los Angeles, but many of them either too far to walk and parking stinks or they’re close by, but filled with the worst uppity pretentious people. Also, nothing kills an appetite quicker than losing a game of Identify the Turd because you mistakenly stepped in round two. Also, I can live happily if I never hear this sentence again:
“You’ve never had the Fred Armisen Indie Tacos before? Oh my God, I am soooo jealous that you get to experience it for the first time.”
2. Better Drivers and Road Signs. Yeah, Michigan drivers get slammed by people not native to Michigan as being aggressive. I like to think of us as efficient. I’ve performed in 4 countries, 26 states and Alabama. California drivers are the worst! I don’t blame them entirely. The roads and signs feel like they were designed by MC Escher.
1. Fall and Cider Mills. They tried to have a pumpkin patch here. They really did. It was in three parking spaces on the side of the road. You could play Identify the Turd around the perimeter. I don’t miss Winter at all. But I really do miss Fall colors and smells and going to Cider Mills.
Here’s what’s going on…all in one convenient place!
Tonight! Super fun show. I was there last month with DJ dangler when he was in town. Plus look at this line up! A whole lot of funny!
Tomorrow! It’s insane that I’m on this show. Joshy Fadem is bizarre and wonderful. I’m really honored to be part of it.
My buddy Casey Moran let me put together the line up for this show. A bunch of my favorite people all in one place. It’ll be material that’s not on any of my albums or on Youtube.
And then you can find me almost every Sunday at the Comedy Store in the Belly Room with my West Coast comedy family at Candy!
I write best with a partner. I’ve tried a few different ones over the years before finding one who I really click with. And I found him completely by accident.
The hardest thing I found about writing with a partner is that one person is always going to be more motivated than the other. Some days you may be the motivated one, while other days it may be them. No relationship is truly 50/50 all the time.
Whenever I write something, I send it out to a bunch of people to get feedback. Very few people actually ever get back to me. DJ Dangler always does. And when he does, he’s thorough. The first thing I remember critiquing was a spec script I wrote for Bob’s Burgers. We went through it line by line picking apart dialogue that didn’t feel true to characters and moments that didn’t feel like the show. It was incredibly helpful.
The thing that he and I just pitched was originally written as a live action show. As it developed, it became clear that changing it to an animated show would open up a universe of opportunities.
DJ is a few years younger than I am, and those few years make a big difference. I went through most of teen years without a cartoon aimed for my age group. The Simpsons were just bumpers during the Tracey Ullman Show for most of the time I was in high school. And the Beavis and Butt-Head “Frog Baseball” short didn’t even debut until after I graduated. In order for me to get into an animated show, I really have to get over the fact that it’s animated first. DJ is different. He’s always had cartoons in his life.
Having someone with experiences and strengths different than yours is great to have in a creative partner. DJ’s brain works in ways mine simply doesn’t. We’re both pretty opposite ends of the spectrum. I’m more of a classical story teller, tuned into the mechanics of script writing, while DJ’s brain works without restraint. We pull each other to the center.
I romanticize things and thought that he and I never say “no” to each other and that we always went down paths together until we hit a mutually agreed upon dead end. He pointed out that I’m definitely seeing our relationship through rose tinted glasses and we argue a lot! And he’s right. I can remember a few nights where I was shooting down every idea he had and then we agreed that we got about as much work done that day as we were going to do. Because we lived within walking distance of each other, I’d sometimes walk him half way home and we’d decompress. My memory is that we never ended a writing session angry with one another. Frustrated, definitely.
Writing with a partner is about compromise. I’m stubborn and spoiled. My parents not only gave me everything I ever needed, but they gave me everything I ever wanted. I get crabby if I don’t get my way. I’m a child. When DJ and I would work on a script, it was very hard for me to accept the fact that DJ has his own timeline. That’s my biggest hurdle with writing. I wrote a screenplay with a single mom in Michigan and was constantly grouchy about the fact that she had other responsibilities beyond our story. It’s easy for me to take ownership of my issue while I’m not currently collaborating with anyone.
There are a lot of advantages in writing with someone. Dialogue is going to sound more natural when you have a person to actually speak it to out loud. You’re going to be able to catch spelling and grammatical errors quicker because you’re proof reading one another. With this article, I’m going to have to wait until Kent Tucker texts me. And I’m going to be so mad at myself if I transposed to and too again. You’re going to generate content you couldn’t have come up with on your own. DJ and I wrote a screenplay and in it there’s a joke that DJ wrote. I don’t completely get the joke. I understand it enough from context, but I didn’t know the reference. I like that. It makes the story feel more “real” for me because there’s plenty in the world that I don’t know. Your characters will also have distinctive voices because a lot of times you’ll find you and your partner start taking ownership of certain characters.
My favorite thing about writing with someone is that you have a teammate who can pick you up while you’re down. Living in LA is brutal. Everything is so expensive. Nothing moves quickly enough. The traffic is a great metaphor for show business. Nothing is moving and there’s no explanation why. Once you get to the end of a jam, things go smooth, until they stop again without rhyme or reason. Hollywood is dirty and smells like urine. The soundscape is a constant barrage of sirens, helicopters and car horns. There were so many times where I thought this was all hopeless until DJ would say or do something that made it better. And I hope I did the same for him.
My advice to other writers is try writing with a partner and see how it goes. If you have someone who gives you good feedback on your solo stuff, then maybe that means they like what you do enough to want to team up. Steer clear of people who don’t give you feedback. If they can’t find the time to do that, then they’re probably going to struggle to find the time to write too. Find someone who brings out the best in you, who you like spending time with. You can’t have DJ though. He’s mine!
I’ve been fortunate over the past year to shadow an established television writer as he works on various pitches for his own shows. He works predominately in procedurals and political dramas, while I’m mainly a comedy guy. But I knew the fundamentals I was learning were universal.
He always starts with a brief, but catchy biography about himself and why that makes him the best person to write what he’s pitching. His origin story has become like folklore. He was a Washington DC speech writer, but some of the details change a little bit here and there. Most importantly, the drama amps up in a way that always hooks you right out of the gate.
From there he goes into the teaser for his show. If you don’t know, that’s basically the thing you see before the first commercial that, if done right, keeps you from changing the channel for the next thirty or sixty minutes. My mentor is great a teasers. Political drama and procedurals are pretty much at the bottom of the list of things I like to watch, but more often than not, his teasers grab me.
Then he talks about the pilot episode while giving pertinent information about all of the key characters. He gives you enough of their backstories to get you to really know who they are as people. Sometimes if the teaser doesn’t grab me, his ability to create interesting characters does. His characters are always flawed. They feel real. Most importantly, they’re interesting. We always know what their needs are and why they need it.
After he gives a pretty detailed beat by beat run down of the pilot episode, he goes over story beats for the entire first season of his show up to the cliffhanger ending. He wraps up by touching on the themes of further seasons so that whoever he’s pitching to knows he’s thought through this entire world.
Off the top of my head, I’ve sat through seven very detailed pitches in the past year from him. He’s a work horse. In addition to learning how to pitch, I learned how to manage time and projects. I’ll write more about that in the future.
So that brings me to our pitch.
Along with comedian DJ Dangler and artist Axel Ortiz, I created an animated show. My friend Joe Apel has been working in animation for the past ten years and directed me to someone at a network who might be looking for something maybe along the lines of what we created. I sent an email and a meeting was set up pretty quickly.
DJ spends most of his time on the road making his living off of stand up, while I’m currently choosing to take a little break from the road and focus my attention on California right now. When the meeting was set, DJ decided to fly back to not only be there for the meeting, but to make sure we were prepared.
Axel is just as much of a work horse as the aforementioned television writer. He’s a veteran of the pitch meeting, but pointed out earlier that if we had a star attached to our show, that would give us an advantage. Over the past six months, I’ve been working on getting the biggest name I know attached to it. The week before our pitch, we got him. He looked at what we were going in with and said that he was happy to be part of it and if it lands, we can hammer out the details then.
I researched the person we were pitching to. She was a guest on a comedy podcast and spent an entire hour talking about the pitching process. In that interview, I also found out that she, like DJ, is from Indiana and her wife, like me, is from Michigan. She and I both nerd out over character actors too. So I knew we had a conversation opener and I wasn’t going to have to overly explain things like if I said, “Oh this character is a little bit like Miller from the movie Repo Man, played by Tracey Walter”, she was going to know who Tracey Walter is. For the record, many of the scripts I’ve written have characters that I imagine Tracey Walter playing. I know why Jonathan Demme puts him in every movie, because Tracey Walter is a national treasure! I once told DJ that I would be more excited about meeting Tracey Walter than I would be about meeting George Lucas or Harrison Ford. I think Tracey Walter lives within a mile of me too. And if you think every time my girlfriend and I walk around the neighborhood, I’m not on a constant look out for Tracey Walter watering his plants, then you’re wrong!
Axel went in to pitch on another show three weeks prior to our meeting and told us what the executive asked from them. DJ and I wanted to make sure we were over prepared. We had a pilot script. We had ideas for story beats for our first season and I knew what I wanted to happen in the final episode of the entire series. But DJ and I detailed out episode by episode the entire first season of our show. We knew the story beats and what themes each episode would explore. A friend of mine who works in printing made us a really nice pitch packet too.
The idea of writing stories with an overall point of view or theme is something that I would accidentally sometimes hit, but other times missed completely. DJ and I have a mutual friend in comedian turned television writer Nick Anthony who really hammered into us the idea that we sometimes missed that. So when DJ and I started the conversation about each episode of our show, we started with what was the theme for that episode. It really helped us figure out where the other characters were going to be in their individual arcs.
The night before our pitch, DJ and I walked home around five miles from West Hollywood to the far eastern side of Hollywood really exploring every character we created. We knew their strengths, their weaknesses, their desires, their backgrounds, and their secrets.
So going into our pitch I knew we created something cool, timely, we have a big name attached and we were prepared.
The meeting was great. I told her that I enjoyed the podcast she was on and we found out her dad and sister both went to Purdue, same as DJ. Her wife and my girlfriend are from the same small suburb of Detroit. She asked how DJ, Axel and I knew each other. DJ and I have a fun origin story where we both showed up early at Nick Anthony’s home to go do a show in San Diego. Nick wasn’t there yet. I was parked on the street waiting. A guy pulled up on the other side of the street, got out of his car, put a large pizza on the roof and just ate the entire thing in front of me. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. He was so full of unadulterated and gluttonous joy. From that moment I wish I could be that guy’s friend. That guy turned out to be DJ. We hit it off that night and have been friends ever since. Axel and I met at San Diego Comic Con last year and our origin story gave me a chance to really talk about how much I love his work and why he was the perfect person to design our show.
Then she wanted to know about our characters. DJ and I were able to speak passionately and deeply about each of them. I like writing female characters. This show features two really strong female characters. The main character is, in some ways, man boy with arrested development not completely unlike DJ or myself. One of the women in the show is his daughter, the other is basically his boss. Both are strong. Neither of them are bitchy. Both of them are just as cool and quick as he is. They’re strong women, but they’re perfect. They’re deep and rich characters. I can see how it would be an easy trap for a guy writing a woman to over compensate by trying to make her too perfect. Ours aren’t at all. They both have real human foibles. Also, I’m hoping I just used the word “foibles” correctly.
At the end of our meeting she asked us what our roles would be if the show were picked up. I explained that when Garth Ennis created the comic book Preacher he gave artist Steve Dillon co-creator credit because he felt the look of it was just as important as the story. I believe in that. When I asked Axel to draw the characters, I told him very little. And aside from changing the hair color on one of them, I didn’t have any changed. I love his art. DJ and I are great at writing jokes and character, but we still struggle with story and conflict. An analogy a script reader gave us of a screenplay that we wrote was that there’s “a lot of icing, but not much cake”. That’s fair. So I said DJ and I care a lot about our characters, but if the show were picked up, it would probably be best if we were teamed with a producer who was better at breaking stories. So I think that showed that we were flexible and going to be easy to work with.
There’s another show, which I can’t name, where the creators were fired because they were way too difficult and had very unrealistic expectations of what they were entitled to. Hollywood is a city built on collaborative art. Nothing here is a single vision. You have to be willing to trust others to help you create the best product possible.
According to the podcast our executive was on, because she sees so many people, her pitch meetings rarely go more than thirty minutes. Ours went 45. She laughed a lot and seemed engaged. There’s nothing I would have done differently about our meeting. We gave her our book with the character art and descriptions as well as additional information about the show. We’ll know more in a couple weeks.
Yes, at this stage a hundred things would have to happen for this to be a show any of us would ever get to see. We’re going to move forward and continue pitching to other places too. But on the flipside of this meeting, I thought it would be nice to share some of the tips that I learned.
- Know as much about the person you’re pitching as you can. As they say, “knowledge is power”.
- Be prepared to explain why what you’re pitching is important to you personally and why you’re the best person to write it.
- Television is a medium based on characters. Make sure you have interesting ones and you can talk about them.
- As with any speech writing, pepper in a joke or two if it suits the mood. I don’t think I’d try to make anyone laugh if I were pitching Schindler’s List: The Series.
- Keep it pithy, punk. Metallica songs are like three hours long and feel like they include every idea that everyone in the band had. In the time it takes to listen to two Metallica songs, you could listen to seventeen Ramones songs. Be a Ramone. Leave them wanting more.
- Don’t just talk. Listen. We were prepared to talk nonstop for 15-20 minutes, but were totally able to let our exec lead the pitch in a much more conversational and informal manner.
- Television is a flexible art. We didn’t get any notes in this first meeting, but my mentor has. He digests them all and if he has complaints, he does it later to his manager, not in the room.
- Know what you’re talking about inside and out. DJ and I know every in and out of our show where it stands right now. And if you had a question for us that we didn’t know the answer to, we’d make something up. We have an alien character who is the last of his kind. What planet is he from? Zaphodbrock. He’s a Zaphoid from the planet Zaphodbrock. I just made that up. It’s one part Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and one part late singer of Gwar. If you wanted me to talk about Zaphodbrock, I could. And DJ could jump in and we’d piggy back on each other’s ideas. Executives want to feel safe. The words, “I don’t know”, has never instilled security in anyone.
- If you can’t come up with ten items, don’t just make stuff up to fill time or space. See #5.
So there you go. I’m far from an expert, but I know a week or two ago I’d love to have this information compiled in one place. I hope this helps or at least makes for some interesting reading.
Inspired by an article on Hip in Detroit about how to be a good music fan, I decided to write about what it takes to be a good comedy audience.
1. Research the comedian you’re going to see. There are a crazy number of a varieties of comedy. It’s like ice cream. Baskin Robbins sells 31 flavors because not everybody likes chocolate or vanilla. Some people love Superman…and if you’re one of those people, you’re wrong! Comedy is the same way. Maybe you like the nimble wordplay of a Myq Kaplan or the introspection of a Marc Maron or maybe you just like an angry hippy to smash a watermelon on stage. Those are just three examples of the many, many kinds of comedy out there. All are valid. Comedy clubs generally only serve one kind of ice cream each week. I love Moose Tracks. I’d hate to go to a comedy club expecting Moose Tracks and find out that week they were only serving Raspberry Sherbet. I hate Rasperries! So research your entertainment options. Most comedy clubs have a website where they list the performers. And most performers have clips of their act available online. I wouldn’t walk into a movie house and just plan on seeing “movie”. No, I’d know exactly what movie I wanted to see because I researched the product first. I should have stuck with the ice cream analogy. I’m hungry. Read the rest of this entry
Maybe it’s nerves or the adrenaline rush of doing what we’ve waited all day long to do, but many comedians tend to talk a bit too fast on stage. Comedian and owner of the Komedy Korner, Leo DuFour once suggested when I got off stage that I slow down and enjoy my time like I would a delicious meal. Maybe that was a health tip and I’m forgetting that I was scarfing down a Poutine platter at the time….it was Canada after all. Let me find another example.
One of my best friends asked me after a show why I don’t speak on stage like I speak normally off stage. He was right. I didn’t believe in my material at the time so on stage I would yell and ram my jokes down the throats of the audience as quickly as I could.
Last week I was at one of my favorite clubs, The Comedy Club on State in Madison, Wisconsin. I absolutely love this place. Gus and Mary who own it are two of the nicest people I’ve ever had the good fortune of meeting. Their daughters Eve and Anna are beautiful inside and out. Joe, the room manager runs are super tight ship and is an hell of a guy too. The waitstaff is stunning. The bartenders all handsome. Both on the surface and beneath it, everything about this place is fantastic.
Originally I was supposed to be doing this week as a split week where I would headline Thursday and then Eddie Brill who used to book Letterman would come in on Friday and Saturday. Eddie got into a little trouble earlier this year for being misquoted or having his words taken out of context about female comics. So he canceled the gig. Instead I was working with Ian Edwards. Read the rest of this entry
This past weekend I was at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase with my friend Nate Fridson. I’ve only seen Nate once since he moved to New York about a year or so ago. He churned out a ton of new material. It was really nice watching him. I was nervous going into the weekend since it had been a good month since I did more than 15 minutes of time in one set. Maybe stand up is like riding a bike. I haven’t ridden a bike in years and I’m worried how my first attempt would be.
The shows ended up going pretty well. With the exception of about four or five minutes on being an uncle, I’m not doing any material from my CD that I released just about a year ago. I have a pretty good track record at the Showcase so I took advantage of that trust to try out some new pieces. Most of them worked.
This week marks the start of two months of road work. The boredom I feel from doing the same jokes over and over again tends to go away when I’m in new cities. I know everything will be brand new to them. This week I’ll be at the Skyline Comedy Cafe in Appleton, Wisconsin. It’s a great club and I’m really looking forward to it.
Earlier in the week I did a live episode of WTF with Marc Maron. That was pretty awesome. I know Marc has his reputation, but he’s been super cool to me. I was nervous for the interview, but it went fairly well. We dug a little more into my personal life than I would have wanted, but that’s the nature of the show. After that I went over to the UCB Theatre and did a set on Comedy Bang Bang. Zach Galifianakis closed that show. Backstage he seemed like a genuinely good guy. That made me happy. Eric Andre was there too. He was just super nice and charming. It really does seem like the only dicks you encounter in this business are the people at the bottom who are bitter being stuck there. The higher up you go, the nicer people seem to be.
I closed out my LA trip with a set on The Meltdown and Meltdown Comics. That show was simply amazing. It’s a small room, packed full of comedy super fans. The line up is always great. I was so honored that my Jonah Ray let me be part of it. Through my years I’ve met a lot of people who I don’t get to see nearly as much as I’d like. Jonah is one of those guys. He’s another guy who in addition to being a really good comedian, is also a hell of a nice person.
Sean Patton from New Orleans closed the Meltdown show and was simply amazing. I worked with Sean here in Michigan and thought he was great. Earlier this week though, that greatness was on a whole new level. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, another super awesome person too. Hopefully Sean and I will be able to do some shows together in 2013. He’s going to be on Maron’s television show for IFC next year. I have a feeling that’s about the time that he’s going to blow up and become a household name at least with comedy nerds.
From start to finish, last week was a blast! Enjoy some clips from Nate, Jonah and Sean.
When Lesley and I initially started writing our script, we were writing it with the intent to find a local production company to shoot it for us with us in the leads. Once we changed our minds on that, we dream cast it so that we’d both be writing towards the same vision.
I know a lot of writers say they don’t do this, but it helped me a lot. Like with writing jokes, most of it happens for me while I’m lying in bed at night unable to sleep. I’ll just lay there with ideas racing through my head until I have to jump up and find a notebook. Sometimes ideas hit me first thing in the morning, which honestly, beating the alarm to jump out of bed with some creative inspiration is a great way to start the day!
Writing with someone in mind helped me find the character’s voice fairly easily. Final Draft has a profile on Facebook where every day they have some sort of writing tip or question. Recently they posed a question asking if you were to block out the names of the characters in your script, would you still be able to tell who they are?
Once we hammered out our first draft, we assigned each other characters and we went through the script focusing on each piece of those lines trying to make sure there was a flow. One thing that came from this that I liked was I had one of the characters often times refer to another by a nickname. I think this was a nice little touch to show that they had some sort of history. The unfortunately short lived television show The Middle Man did this too. The lead was named Wendy Watson. Her partner called her Dub Dub. A little touch like that was nice because it not only showed a little bit of familiarity, but it was so out of character for the straight laced Middle Man to use a nickname that it really humanized him. It gave his character a little more depth.
Another thing Lesley and I did that helped was we had our friends over to read through the script assigning them different roles. Some lines didn’t flow as smoothly out of other mouths, so as we did the readthru I took notes on how the actor initially wanted to read a line.
I tend to flip sentences. Not like Yoda, but a little bit like that. Right now, I’m totally blanking on an example. Hmm. I guess that was an example in itself. Where a lot of people may have said “I’m totally blanking on an example right now.” I lead with the “right now”. I think I’m better at that now. A long time ago a friend asked me where I originally hail from because he found my sentence structure so foreign.
So there you go. That’s a little insight in our process in trying to give our characters unique voices. Does anyone else have any tips?
I mentioned before that Final Draft is the most important tool and screenwriter can use. Another, almost as important, tool is this great book called Writing Movies for Fun and Profit.
I’ve read a lot…a few…books on writing scripts. This one by far is my favorite. It’s written by Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon who are most visibly known for Reno 911. What you may not know is that they’ve also written pretty much ever third comedy made since 2000. They don’t write giant award winning masterpieces, but they do write extremely marketable and successful comedies like the Night at the Museum movies and Herbie Fully Loaded. They’ve also done a literal shit ton of punch ups on movies they’re not credited for.
In their book, Ben and Thomas take you through every step of the career as a screenwriter. They go in depth about the different kinds of writing jobs you can get and really dive into the business side of writing. It’s also a really practical writing guide too. They cover everything form pitching your script to dealing with the Hollywood powers that be once it’s in development.
It’s a really quick and light read that’s full of humor and really great information. I can’t recommend this book enough. In fact, if you’re a screen writer and you don’t own this….then you’re probably and asshole.
I’m in LA right now as you’re reading this. Unless of course you’re reading this sometime other than August 2012. Chapter 22 will tell me what I need to know now that I’m here. Okay, I’m not supposed to write in public because everyone will assume I’m a douchebag. Okay, there’s a list of all the In-N-Out Burger locations as well as a guide to their secret menu. I’m going to grab a bite to eat and go write in private.
I’m in Vegas right now. Even though I’m writing this on Sunday, the 12th, I can assure you I’m not having a good time. I’ve only had a good time once in Vegas and that was when I was trying not to cry in the hotel room of a man I met earlier that month.
During the day I work part-time doing marketing for an entertainment company. I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say, so I’ll leave it at that. Every year we have our conference in Vegas. I don’t generally enjoy it. Yeah, the conference itself is fine. It does what it’s supposed to. It gets you pumped up for the coming busy season. It’s also great to see in person the people who also work for the company across the country. There are a handful that I have a lot in common with so it’s nice to see them outside of Facebook. I don’t gamble, so Vegas holds no appeal for me there. I generally don’t party either. Although last year a ton of little things piled on top of each other and just caused me so much stress and anger that I ended up drinking way too much Scotch, much to the dismay of the guy with whom I was sharing a room. I coated the bathroom from both ends.
I’ve been to Vegas to perform at Trooperfest, the first Star Wars convention specifically for the 501st. I got to hang out with all sorts of nice and wonderful people. Every time something cool happened, I felt like I was verbally and emotionally punched in the face when I wanted to share that with the person I was closest to at the time. It was years ago, but my overall memory that festival wasn’t a happy one.
Last year I was in Vegas for the World Series of Comedy. Again, trouble in my personal life kept me from enjoying this potentially awesome networking opportunity. My head wasn’t in the game and I was out in the first round. I remember getting ready to go out on stage and just deciding to wing it and riff with the crowd even though everyone in that situation should know that the last thing a judge wants to see is how well you do crowd work. Yeah? Well, my crowd work is right up there with the masters like Pardo and Iott. Mike…you idiot! I got off stage and Eric Yoder from Funny Business just gave me a look like, “What the hell was that?” Technically, I was doing my Bear Calendar joke, which isn’t really crowd work. It’s my magic trick. It’s a slight of hand. It looks like crowd work, but it’s mostly scripted….or at the very least flow charted.
So, I was in Vegas after having crapped out in the first round of The World Series of Comedy and I still had a couple nights left until my return flight. Earlier that month I worked with Carl LaBove in Grand Rapids at Dr. Grin’s. Words can not explain how great I think Carl is. He’s like Yoda and the Dude from Big Lebowski rolled up into one. He’s wise and care free. He’s a master story teller…and what’s great about his stories is that after you’ve enjoyed them and you’ve had time to reflect, you see that his story that he picked to tell you at that moment was serving a point.
Early the second morning of the World Series of Comedy, I was sitting in the hotel lobby trying to decide if I wanted to walk to the casino where Carl and I were to meet for lunch or if I wanted to take a cab. I was trying to use Google map on my phone, but Vegas is deceptively large. Comedian Brad Tassell stopped in and we started talking. We worked together years and years ago and his comedy group Hoosier Daddy was kind of the inspiration for me forming the Desperate Houseguys. Brad had a rental car and offered to drive me to the Riviera for my lunch appointment.
I called Carl when I got there to let him know I was downstairs. Minutes later he burst out of the elevator as upbeat and cheerful as ever. We took off for lunch, and without giving any details in where or how he did it, Carl managed to scam both of us free meals.
If you’re not a huge comedy nerd, then you may not know that along with Sam Kinison, was one of the founding members of the Outlaws of Comedy. Carl was Sam’s best friend and they worked together through Sam’s entire, albeit short lived, career. Carl has seen it all. He was there in Los Angeles during the comedy boom. This morning, the wild man who partied with rock stars and porn legends was working a grift to get us breaded fish and mac & cheese! For dessert, stolen ice cream!
During lunch I brought Carl up to speed on where I was personally. It always seems like when things are going well professionally, they’re hurting personally. When they’re going well personally, professionally they’re suffering. This was one of those times where both personally and professionally things weren’t going well at all. I was down and I needed my happy sage to pick me up.
We went back up to his hotel room before his show and he opened his iTunes. He started playing me song after song and telling me the story of how he found the song and what it meant to him. Those songs spoke to me at that moment and speak to me now as the best memory of have of Las Vegas. Here are a couple of them.
I sat there listening to the lyrics of about a half a dozen songs and felt like they were written just for me. I knew I was experiencing a profound and beautiful moment that would last with me for the rest of my life and I had the foresight to know and appreciate that. It was a perfect moment. I tried to fight back the tears. Carl took a break from getting ready for his show and sat down next to me smiling and seemingly pleased that this moment he orchestrated didn’t fall on deaf ears.
We jumped on Youtube and he showed me a couple things he was working on. We talked about great guitar players and shared our love of music. He shared with me some of his guitar playing. This is a song he wrote about his life. I love it a lot. I hope he records it…or someone helps me lift the audio from this so I can put it on my iPod. Even through the turbulent moments of this song, I feel a peaceful and soothing rhythm. The song has momentum and makes me feel like things are going to move forward no matter what you do about it. Check out Carl’s playing.
I’m in Vegas now. I’m not having any profound moments, but things are moving forward no matter what I do about it. And that’s okay.
The first few things I wrote years ago were done with a regular old word processor. It was a pain in the ass. Every time I went to do a new draft, I’d have to manual go in and change the “continued” and all that stuff. Setting the tabs was awful. Making sure everything was formatted correctly caused me so much panic.
I was never able to full jump into just the creative part of screenwriting because the mechanics were always in the back of my mind. Well, truthfully, they were front and center.
A year or so ago I got Final Draft. It’s the industry standard for screenwriting and I totally see why. It’s basically a word processor program specifically designed to write scripts. I don’t have to think about anything other than the story when I use it. When you hit Enter to go on to a next section, it asks you if you want this to start with a character, dialogue, scene header, whatever. With a click, you can be back on track. It becomes second nature and it makes the whole process so much quicker and easier.
Here’s something else I just found out about Final Draft. Okay, I mentioned before that Lesley and I are going to start on a spec script to show that we can write television as well. I Googled Modern Family scripts and found a link to a template that plugs right into Final Draft! There are plug ins for pretty much every popular show out there. And if you’re writing a spec script, the best idea is to do it for a popular show. As much as I loved The Middleman, writing a script for that would make little to no sense!
Yes, the software is a little expensive, but if you’re serious about writing, I can not recommend it enough. Here’s a link if you want more information.
In our last episode, after a few attempts at screenwriting, I found a great writing partner in Lesley Braden.
Lesley’s idea (and the script is already registered with the WGA so just try and steal it, buster) was about a woman in her mid to late 30s who was tired of people either harassing her or taking advantage of her time because she was single. She creates a fake guy on Facebook and puts herself in a relationship with said guy. It’s Bridesmaids meets The Social Network. Both movies just came out. Both movies were successful. Kristen Wiig changed Hollywood overnight and showed the women can open a comedy and make a ton of money. Lesley’s idea was original, fun and hugely marketable. I was hooked!
Initially we started writing it with the two of us in mind to play the lead character and her slacker roommate. I have friends who have production companies in Michigan, so it seemed like something we could potentially try to raise money and make. As it went on, we realized how this script would be a really great calling card for us if we wanted to try to get writing jobs. So we stopped limiting ourselves with set pieces that we could possibly pull off if we were to raise enough money through a Kickstarter campaign of whatever and we decided to shoot for the stars.
When we cracked the story, we didn’t do a traditional outline. We knew key comedy moments that we wanted to happen and then from there we figured out how to get there. Using a basic three act structure, we knew too when certain beats had to happen. As we fleshed out the secondary characters more, our secondary story lines and conflicts started to become clearer too. We were both on the same page that we didn’t want this to necessarily be a joke based comedy. We wanted the humor to come from the characters. We both do comedy though, so naturally the jokes found their way into it.
The crazy thing was that every idea either of us had, the other either found a way to build on it or tweak it into something different. We never pitched a story element to have the other one say, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard”. I think that’s the key to a strong writing partnership. You can’t shoot down someone else’s idea without anything of your own to add. I’m sure it helps that from the beginning we were both really on the same page.
Okay, I’m going to jump ahead in time to the present day. We’re going to start working on a spec script for a television show. It’s an idea that I had rattling in my brain for awhile. I bounced it off of Lesley the other night and instead of shooting down my idea, she said, “That’s great, we could do that or maybe make it this slightly different thing too.” Okay, that’s not technically a quote, but you know what I mean. While her idea was slightly different than mine, it also opened itself up for a neat spin on the ideas I already had. I think the most exciting part of writing a story is not knowing what’s going to happen next. Changing a small detail, or even a large one, can definitely do that! I’m looking forward to cracking another story with her.
I’m at a pivotal point in the screenwriting process. I thought for my own piece of mind I’d share the journey it took to get here. I don’t know where this story will end. I certainly hope it has a happy ending. Let’s start from the beginning.
I’ve written a lot of screenplays. Most of them were through my twenties. I burned all my bridges in radio and television, moved back to Michigan and had the first “real” job of my life working in a Toys R Us. Over the next few years I went through my Kevin Smith phase. I first wrote my “Clerks” about a guy who was working in a big box toy store cleverly called We B Toys.
Next when I was in an unhappy relationship and feeling like I was hundreds of miles from where I wanted to be, I wrote my “Dogma” about a couple in an unhappy relationship who die and get stuck in Purgatory…which happens to be a small town in the middle of nowhere.
After that, the unhappy relationship ended so I wrote my “Chasing Amy” about a guy who ends his unhappy relationship and starts a non-romantic relationship. I guess it was also my “When Harry Met Sally”. The main character in that one was a struggling stand up comedian. At the time, I hadn’t stepped foot on the comedy stage yet, so it was just a way for me to get out the material I wrote without having to actually perform it. Coincidentally, the arc of that character kind of mirrored what I ended up doing creatively in real life years later.
So, after those first few attempts at screenwriting I started doing stand up and seemed to have a knack for it. Most of my creative juices flowed into that outlet. Friends asked me if I wanted to partner up with them on scripts, but for one reason or another it never really worked out.
Last year a fellow performer named Lesley Braden and I met with some other performers about starting a sketch comedy group. That didn’t work out, but Lesley and I found that we worked really well together. She pitched me her idea for the story we ended up writing and I loved it. It’s like what they say about love. You find it when you’re not looking for it. I wasn’t looking for the perfect screenwriting partner, I just happened upon her!
Next time, I’ll talk about the story.