“And Here’s The Kicker” Quotes (Part 1)

here's the kickerI recently finished a great comedy book, “And Here’s The Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers On Their Craft” by Mike Sacks. I got a ton of useful quotes from it, so this will be a rather long series of posts. I recommend buying the whole book, as there is a lot of insight inside. Since the book is interview style based, I’ve put the writer’s name above all of the quotes that are attributed to him.

BUCK HENRY

“I think all writers should have a voyeur nature. You have to look and listen. That’s why some writers might run out of material; they’re not looking, they’re not listening.” (6)

“If you ride in limos for too long, you tend to forget what cabs, buses, and subways are like. You lose contact. I think it’s important to stay in contact with the outside world.” (6)

“All the great filmmakers from the past knew something about real life.” (13)

“One of the characters says, “You’re not anybody in America unless you’re on TV.” That’s an American disease. And it’ sonly become truer now than it was when the movie came out.” (13)

“When you’ve been in improvisational theater, you get used to capturing the characteristics of people who are really out there in the world. And if you’re up on stage every night for a year, or two years, or three years, with the audience yelling suggestions at you like “Do Chekhov, but do it with Chinese characters,” you get used to an immediate commitment to lunatic ideas. You gain a confidence. Most of the SNL cast members came from that background.” (16)

“In one of the samurai sketches, John hit me in the forehead with a samurai sword. He put a real gash in it, and I needed a bandage. And by the end of the show, when the cast members were saying good-bye, all of them had bandages on their heads.” (17)

“Timing is when a movie comes out. Timing is what the country’s political disposition is when a movie is released. It’s what people are thinking about – what they want to see. You really can’t control that as a writer. But if you’re talented, it’ll all work out in the end. I mean, not all the talented writers will make it, of course… but for the most part, if you’re talented, I think somebody will find you.” (17)

STEPHEN MERCHANT

“In a documentary, there’s no real narrative. Usually in a documentary, a narrative I just created unofficially.” (20)

“There’s nothing wrong with a huge audience. But in reaching for that huge audience, you could possibly compromise your material or maybe try to second-guess what an audience wants. We genuinely thought that The Office was funny and that it was truthful, and maybe there would be a million and a half like-minded people who thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen. And if that happened, then we’d think, oh, well, we had fun and that was good. And that would be that.” (21)

“When we first showed The Office to test audiences in Britain, we received one of the lowest scores ever – the only show that beat ours was one that featured women’s lawn bowling. That’s why you can’t judge these focus groups.” (22)

“The best sitcoms are about creating an environment in which you want to return and poke around for another half-hour.” (22)

“The most important things in life are to find a job you like, to make a difference, and to find someone you love.” (25)

“Initially we started off trying to improvise, and then we typed the dialogue, but that was a very slow way of working. Ultimately, we bought a Dictaphone tape recorder. We would improvise into it and sort of refine the dialogue a little, and then we would edit it down later so that it could be typed up. It just seemed the only way to create that ebb and flow of real dialogue, where people stop and start and they don’t use proper grammar. Speech patterns are very different from what you would get if you were to just write dialogue.” (25)

“I think we kind of liked that the audience was not entirely sure how they should feel.” (29)

“We never sit down and think about what subjects we are going – or are not going – to tackle. We just do what feels right. Audiences see certain topics, and their immediate reaction is anxiety. You can’t talk about this, you can’t joke about that. Our feeling is that the more we accept people who may be different, the more we should be able to joke about our own discomfort. If I have friends who are disabled, I can make jokes about their disability, just like they can make jokes about my height or Ricky being overweight. Of course, if you’re meeting someone in the street for the first time, you don’t start making those cracks, because it’s inappropriate. But to us it’s that fascinating stew of discomfort and ignorance that becomes a great recipe for laughter. We’re not laughing at the disabled; we’re laughing at people’s discomfort with disability.” (30)

“We want our shows to be aimed at a sort of reasoning, smart, intelligent audience that can steer its way through ambiguities.” (31)

“There’s always a danger that we as comedy fans are writing comedy for other comedy fans. Whereas the average viewer – and I don’t mean this in a disparaging way – but the average viewer doesn’t sit around thinking about how jokes work. Its just not something that’s important to them. They just want the joke to be funny. So you can’t be too clever. You can’t assume reference points and sophistication that are not there.” (31)

“Sometimes you can get too up your own ass.” (31)

JUDD APATOW

“Whenever we got stuck, Garry Shandling always said, “What is the truth here? What would someone actually do?” He pushed his writers to go deeper to the core.” (33)

KEN LEVINE

“Before anything else, you have to learn how to write. And you learn writing by teaching yourself.” (34)

“One way to stand out is to write a holiday-themed script.” (35)

“Just make it “Jessica enters.” That’s all you need. Describe the action quickly, and get on with it. But you can sprinkle the scripts with inside jokes, such as: “Character orders a three-pound lobster (therefore breaking the show’s budget.) Small jokes that will reward the reader.” (35)

“When I go on staff, I want the producers and everyone else to think, Man, we cannot do the show without this guy.” (35)

HAROLD RAMIS

“An audience member told me, “When I go to the movies, I don’t want to think.” I said to myself: Why wouldn’t you want o think? What does that mean? Why not just shoot yourself in the fucking head?” (37)

“The other end of the spectrum isn’t funny: “I get so much respect.” No one will laugh at how great things are for somebody.” (38)

“I was more intrigued by the alternative comedy posture. The characters I enjoyed creating were the dropouts and the rebels. They voluntarily opted out of the mainstream. It wasn’t because they couldn’t join it. It was because it wasn’t worth doing. Or there was some serious hypocrisy going on. Or it wasn’t cool.” (38)

“I worked in a mental institution in St. Louis, which prepared me well for when I went out to Hollywood to work with actors.” (39)

“Michael Shamberg said, “Comedy works in two ways. Either you have a normal person in an extraordinary situation or an extraordinary person in a normal situation.” And A Confederacy of Dunces was about an extraordinary person in a series of extraordinary situations.” (42)

“I’m always more offended by dishonesty and hypocrisy than by an honest portrayal of the real world.” (45)

“Often, Rodney Dangerfield thought he was bombing on the set, because no one was laughing. He just didn’t know from that world. He really knew nothing about the process of filmmaking.” (47)

“It’s the editing room that saves your ass. If you took all the improv from Caddyshack and did it onstage, you’d bomb half the time. One thing I learned to do was shoot enough improv so I could actually shape it in the editing room.” (47)

“If you’re cutting away on a joke, you’re probably doing it because you can’t top that joke. If the scene is still building and is still rich, you keep going.” (47-48)

“In any genre, viewers want to feel something. They want to have an experience. There are more well-made movies than good movies. That’s sort of my new mantra. Plenty of people can shoot beautiful films. There are a lot of great edits, a lot of great designers. But where is the content? Who are the characters? Is it moving? You want the audience to feel something, and if it’s comedy, you want them to laugh hard, even if it’s at the expense of a better shot or a better edit. There are many times when the editor will say to me, “Well, that’s not a real good cut.” And I’ll say, “Yeah, but it’s funny. Let’s just do it.” (48)

“I always tell students to identify the most talented person in the room, and if it isn’t you, go stand next to him.” (48)

“It’s like that great saying, “You ride the horse in the direction it’s going.” Billy goes his own way. But he’ll go my way if he thinks it’s a good way. So my job is not to force the actor to do anything; it’s to convince them. Billy was smart enough to know a good thing when he heard it. If I said, “Try this” or “try that,” and it was really funny, he’d do it.” (49)

Q: Do you have a target audience in mind when you write?
“No, I write for everybody. Or, really, for anyone who can read and is not hopelessly fucked in the head.” (50)

“I just did what I wanted to do and what interested me. As I tell writing students, the only thing you have that is unique is yourself.” (51)

“The other approach is to skip the pitch and just write it. You don’t want to waste a lot of time waiting for an editor to evaluate the pitch. Just write it – either the editor will laugh or not.” (53)

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