“Professor At Large” Quotes

I recently read “Professor At Large: The Cornell Years” by John Cleese. Here’s the quotes I found most interesting.

“The first question to ask is, when does this decision need to be made? And that’s when you take the decision. Don’t take it until then, as new information, unexpected development, and – perish the thought – better ideas may occur.” (2)

“In the west today, hurrying has become a sort of mind–set; we do it automatically. Yet after decades of inventing time saving devices, we have less time than ever to do the things we want. So doing everything faster is not necessarily the answer. Nor, paradoxically, is it necessarily very efficient. Remember the old IBM maxim: don’t confuse activity with achievement.” (3)

As Thoreau pointed out, technology is simply an improved means to an unimproved end.“ (4)

He found that it wasn’t IQ, or any other kind of intelligence; it wasn’t how hard they worked. The only difference was that the most creative architects knew how to play with a problem. So when they needed a creative solution, they could switch their minds into a playful mode, where they would just fool around with the problem, chew it over, explore it out of pure curiosity, for its own sake, because they got really interested.” (13)

“So when we need to innovate, to create, we need to access our tortoise mind. And that involves nothing more complicated than giving ourselves permission to stop trying so hard. To forget for the moment what kind of answer we think we want and just let our brains go soft and chew over a problem in a slightly contemplative, open-minded way, to let the mind wander freely, explore associations and hunches, try things out – without worrying where it’s all going.” (13)

Pressure – whether it’s a shortage of time, constant interruptions, fear of not producing a result, or worry about the opinion of our superiors or colleagues – it’s pressure that stops us accessing our tortoise minds. Any kind of pressure forces the brain to focus more narrowly on finding a quick, articulate, and preferably clever-sounding solution. And the greater the pressure, the tighter the focus, the more narrow the tunnel vision, the more conventional the thoughts. So if we are to use our tortoise mind, we must, for the time being, avoid pressure.” (14)

“The creativity research I mentioned earlier shows that more creative people are better at tolerating the anxiety and discomfort of not resolving an issue straightaway. So just stick at it and try to get interested in the problem for its own sake. (15)

“It’s really as simple as that: when people feel free from pressure, free to say the first thing that comes in to their heads, free to play games, make jokes – when they drop their defenses so they’re quite thoroughly unselfconscious-they start being creative.” (17)

“If you want to write about ideas, it’s unlikely that you’re going to have much luck in the movies.” (38)

“It’s very strange to me that a lot of the very best people always have this feeling, “I got away with it.“ And I think the reason is this: if you are creative, you’re always, every single time, you’re going into unknown territory and you cannot guarantee that it’s going to work. Do you wanna guarantee it’s going to work? Then just use the formula. Just do something derivative, same as you did last time. It won’t be a disaster and, of course, it won’t be very interesting. But if you’re really trying to do something new each time, trying to stretch yourself, you never know when it’s going to be a disaster, so you always feel, I don’t really know what I’m doing. And if it comes off, you just feel you’re lucky.” (44)

“When you’re young and you haven’t written so much, you tend to really love what you’ve written. And when you kind of get old and tired and disillusioned and you’re about to die, like Bill and me, then it’s much, much easier to throw stuff away because you know you can easily write something else.” (47)

“I was trying to keep three threads of the story going at the same time and I put it on the page, cutting: ABC, ABC, ABC. Charlie Crichton said to me, “you can’t do that.“ And I said, “I can’t do ABC, ABC?“ He said, “no, no. You’ve got to go ABC, BC, AC. But you can’t go ABC, ABC, ABC.” (53)

“One of the problems with a lot of comedy that is written is that people write stories that could be dramas and then try and put jokes into them. So be very, very painstaking when you’re constructing comedies. Create funny situations, which will take much, much longer. But your reward is that the dialogue comes so easily because the situation’s funny.” (60)

“One of the greatest forms of dirt is negative emotions and habitual indulgence in them. The greatest filth in a man is negative emotion.” (88)

Somerset Maugham, the writer, said, “by the time you get to 50, you’ve either met everyone or they look like someone you’ve met.”” (94)

“Police were no better than any of us at telling whether people are lying because they think everyone is lying. And the reason they think everyone’s lying is that anyone being questioned by a policeman tends to be anxious, and they send out anxious signals and the police make the unjustified jump of assuming they’re anxious because they are lying.” (113)

“People at lower levels of mental health are very uncomfortable with ambiguity and paradox and leaving anything unresolved, any element of doubt. They like certainty and, with it, they like authority.” (151)

“at the bottom level, Christ’s teachings are seen as extremely important rules which must be kept precisely because focusing on the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of the law, is characteristic of behavior at lower levels of mental health. At the middle level of mental health, people pay more attention to the spirit then they do to the letter of the law… At the top level we can read these and understand better how our minds work and what we need to do to make our minds work differently if we are ever to be transformed or reborn. We’re helped to “repent” in it’s real meaning of “rethink.”” (157)

“Robin Skynner felt that, unless there is something greater than you that you subscribe to, you are always going to stay at a lower, narrower, more selfish level and be less happy as a result.” (160

“Do you know that during the doctors’ strike in New York a few years ago, the death rate went down? …When cardiologist leave the hospital and go to conferences, the death rates at the hospital drop.” (206)

“33% of the American population believe that they are going to be billionaires within the next five years.” (208)

William Goldman:
“That fear of having it be over permeates everything in the entertainment business.” (23)

“When you write… You have the power to publish what you want. It’s your baby. In a movie, it’s everybody’s. So essentially, no matter who you are, you have no control.” (25)

So “kill all your darlings“ means once you’ve figured out what your story is, you must protect it to the death.” (27)

I then try and write very briefly 25 or 30 words, which I’ll put on my wall, which is the spine of the piece, which is the story. In other words, the King movie opens with Jimmy Caan finishing a novel, getting in his car in Colorado, driving, getting caught in a storm, having an accident. So I wrote, “blizzard.“ That’s the first five or eight minutes of the movie. Then I wrote, “rescue.“ That’s when Kathy Bates comes. And then I work down and, once I have that thing on the wall – I tape it to the wall, literally –that’s the movie. The rest of it then becomes a matter of rote work. The hard part is reading and rereading or researching and trying to figure out what is the story we’re trying to tell in this case.” (31)

“Movies are not about snappy dialogue. It helps if the people are supposed to be intelligent, but that’s not what movies are about. Movies are about making the story work on camera-making it be as surprising and interesting as you can for the audience who has come for the night.” (32)

“If you can make the last minutes of a movie a crescendo-I don’t mean a bloodbath, I mean a crescendo-you’ll have a hit.” (33)

I think we were all strange, you know, nerdy. And I think, suddenly when people tell you you’re wonderful, you want to believe that so badly and, in Hollywood, you do and your careers are over.” (45)

“if you don’t need to know that, get rid of it. Movie writing is about connectives: this scene connects with that scene connects with the next, and there’s a kind of inexorable thing that happens as it rides you along toward the climax of the movie. That’s hard to get right. Anything that stands in the way, you’ve got to get rid of. Sometimes your best writing is what stands in the way of it.” (46)

“There’s a book I always talk about that is the most simple piece of storytelling, the little engine that could. Somehow, in that little children’s book, we all want the toys to get across the mountain. That’s all we have to do: get people involved with wanting.” (51)

“I think if you don’t have the audience caring, wanting the story, it doesn’t matter how wonderful or what else it is.” (52)

No screenwriter has ever had control. If you want to become a writer-producer or a writer-director, it would be different.” (52)

All I ever worry about when I’m offered something is, “can I make it play? Can I figure out a way to tell the story? Would I want to see this movie? Would I be excited or pleased or whatever it is by it?“ If those answers are yes, then I’ll say, “yes, I’ll try and write the movie for you.“ (54)

“Movies don’t require brilliant dialogue. It just has to be solid and tell the story. Movies are not about dialogue. It’s one of the great myths. Screenwriting is not about dialogue.” (60)

“I tend to write for dead actors… It gives you a fix on the character your writing.” (63)

If you write a good line at the end of a scene and the secondary performer has that good line, don’t do that! Rewrite the scene so the star has that good line.” (69)

A great producer told me, “add 1/3 for the shit.“ That’s a line about stars. If you’re going to have a star, he’s going to cost you.” (71)

“Remember this: stars have no flaws. I’ve written this and written this. They are perfect. A star will not play flawed. They will not play flawed.” (71)

Stephen Ceci:
“Pretty much every public figure, people rate them as being more attractive after they’ve seen them a lot than they did the first time they saw them.” (108)

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“Sitcom Writers Talk Shop” Quotes

I recently read “Sitcom Writers Talk Shop: Behind The Scenes with Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, and Other Geniuses of TV Comedy” by Paula Finn. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. (Since many people are quoted in this book, the person’s name who said it appears directly before their quotes.)

Leonard Stern:

“They told me of a memo they received from the network which said, “please change the dialogue on page 14. A Martian wouldn’t have said that.“ (23)

“Herbie Baker sent me a note he’d received on the Fred Astaire specials he did which said, “too much dancing.“ (23)

“Until I was satisfied with the story, I didn’t think it advantageous for us to get involved in a script. Once you start to put dialogue down, the story is more difficult to change.” (25)

“The most important factor in my success was a belief in myself. And that was important because it taught me to reject rejection.” (27)

Norman Lear:
“Imagine 50 people in a room, and somebody yells, “fire!“ And there’s one small door, and when everybody rushes to the door, everybody’s not going to get out. Some of them are are going to be burned. And you think of your ideas that way. It doesn’t matter in what order those people get out; you sort them out afterwards if you wish to. Just get them out. It’s the same thing with your ideas. Good, bad, indifferent, they fit, they don’t fit – you’ll sort that out after they’re out the door.” (33)

“When you had an audience caring about something, they laughed harder. The more they cared, when something funny occurred, the harder they laughed.” (34)

“The most proud thing that I’ve done in my life is, stayed sane.” (41)

I’ve always liked a Talmudic story that says a man should have a jacket with two pockets. In the first pocket, a piece of paper, on which is written, “I am but just in ashes.” In the second pocket, a piece of paper, and which is written, “for me, the world was created.” (42)

Elliot Shoenman:
“I always call it “make the boy a dog“ –meaning we love it, we love it, but why does it have to be a boy?” (39)

Irma Kalish:
Hal Kantor once introduced me by saying, “Irma is a writer, her husband is a writer, her son is a writer –and her daughter is happy.“ (54)

James L. Brooks:
“The purpose of popular culture is to let people know they’re not alone.” (69)

Treva Silverman:
They had nine months lead time, and Jim and Alan have often said that having this long lead time helped them enormously because it gave them a chance to really know what they were doing and think about the show.” (75)

Ken Estin:
“If you can’t think of four scenes, you don’t have enough to tell in 22 minutes. If you have to tell it in 8 to 10 scenes, you won’t be able to do it because that’s too many.” (86)

I remember spending hours trying to find one joke for the end of a scene. Sometimes we’d get tricky; if we couldn’t find one big enough, we’d steal one from earlier in the scene and find a way to rewrite it so that the joke came up at the end.” (96)

I tell people that, if the show has heart, if it has a soul, if it has those human elements that are so precious to us – it’ll be a better episode. I always thought about finding a really human moment, a really touching moment. But you can’t do it all the time because then people start predicting it. It starts getting old if someone does something sweet in every episode.” (102)

Matt Williams:
“With movies, you go into outer space or the center of the earth or to the wild west, right? With television, the viewers get to be a part of their characters’ lives; they invite you into their house. So in creating the Roseanne opening, I said I want the family around the table and I want the camera to rotate around the table and, on an unconscious level, just kind of invite the audience to pull up a chair and join the family.” (108)

“I think sarcasm and yelling and insults can be funny unless it becomes painful. I think it was Molliere or another of the giants in theater who said for Comedy you have to ridicule without pain. So you can tease, you can be sarcastic-but the second you inflict pain, it stops being funny.” (110)

“When a program knows exactly what it wants to be and what it’s trying to say about the human condition-people respond, relate, and become more emotionally involved.” (118)

“In the shows that failed, it was usually because you’re too distracted or you’re too busy juggling too many projects to put in the time to figure out what are you trying to say about the human condition.” (119)

Larry Charles:
When we were told things that were status quo in our lives, many times we would just go, “why?“ And you would find out there really is no “why.“ That this is all a big front, these rules and these regulations, and all these kinds of things. If you just question them, suddenly the whole thing collapses.” (142)

“Larry and Jerry both sort of led the way in terms of, “we’ll just do this, we’ll do it exactly the way we want it – and whatever happens, happens.“ Once you have that attitude, it’s liberating.” (143)

David Lee:
“We didn’t want to be different just to be different; we all agreed that that’s a path a lot of people take, and I think it’s a false path. But to re-examine every convention in the sitcom and if it’s something that serves you and you can do it well, then you can hold onto it. But if the answer to why you’re doing any particular convention is, “that’s the way it’s always been done,“ then you really need to think about getting rid of it.” (163)

Phil Rosenthal:

The most important thing was having good food because the army travels on its stomach, and the only way to show love for your staff and your crew and everyone that works on the show-other than being nice and paying them a reasonable wage-was food. Because I’ve worked on a lot of shows where the food was crap, and nobody really cared.” (176)

“When you write very specifically, you have the best chance of being universal.” (177)

“the laughs come from character, and story comes from character.” (181)

Steve Skrovan:
Because in comedy, when you have somebody who’s got a skewed view of life, it’s only funny when they’re absolutely certain that’s the right way to go.” (179)

We also had the fun boards. One of them was dedicated to memorable things said in the room or inside jokes that made us all laugh out loud at once.” (179)

Mike Reiss:
The key thing on the Simpsons is you’ve always got to have some heart in there – but not too much. I think, for a lot of us, our instinct would have been “don’t have any of that stuff at all-and here’s our edgy show.“ But they told us, “if you throw in 25 seconds of emotion right at the end-if Homer can be a goof the whole show and then suddenly realize he’s been bad-that will be very powerful to people.“” (191)

Jay Kogen
“I think your job is just to please the show runner, to think of things that they’d like and will agree with. If you pitch something that’s super funny but you know the show runner will hate, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.” (210)

“Most show runners could and would write the shows themselves if they had the time, effort, and energy. And for the most part, what they really need is a bunch of brains working together to solve a problem, and hopefully the ideas they get are all or mostly within the range of stuff they like and might even think of themselves. Every now and then, and idea will strike a show runner’s fancy that they could never possibly think of, so occasionally you may get stuff in like that. But primarily, your job is to read the room, read the show, read the show runner – and pitch towards what they do – not try to change the show.” (210)

“You can’t go above the audiences head. With all the great shows I’ve worked on, we never worried about talking down to an audience, ever. The Simpsons, Malcolm in the middle, Frasier-they were shows where we assumed our audience was just smart as we were, had the same reference base as we did, if they didn’t get the joke specifically because they didn’t know the reference, they’d figure it out.” (211)

David Isaacs:
“Stabbing the frog“ means someone pitched a joke, everyone laughed, and then someone tried to improve it, and then someone tried to improve the improvement-and by the time you’re down to the third or fourth generation of improving, no one is laughing anymore.” (220)

Carl Kleinschmitt:
“If you feel like an outsider, you start observing. And when you observe, you see things from different angles than the obvious. And everyone I know who was a successful comedy writer always had a way of looking at things from the outside rather than inside out.” (227)

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(Giving Mirth was originally titled New Parent Smell but has since been rebranded.)

Book Press:

NJ Stage

Rise Up and Write

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Humor That Works Interview

BOAST: Best Of Astoria

Comedy Network Live

No Disrespect Podcast #150

In Hot Water #565

Love Gurus Podcast

Drew Wanna Know Podcast #17

“Actor For Life” Quotes

I recently read Actor for Life: How To Have An Amazing Career Without All The Drama by Connie de Veer and Jan Elfline. Here’s the quotes I found most interesting:

“For one week, start your days with two minutes of power. Stand in one or the other of the power poses (“Superman” pose – feet shoulder width apart and your hands on your hips, and the second pose, stand with your arms stretched out above you and to the sides, so your body forms a four pointed star – like athletes crossing the finish line), or mix the two. Spend two whole minutes. That’s a fourteen minute investment, total. Give it a try.” (57)

“Imagine yourself walking into the audition room with beliefs like this: “I love what I do.” “I get an opportunity to share my gifts with others, right now in this audition.” “I’m well-prepared for this.” “I’ve done enough.” “I’m ready.” “Aren’t they nice people/” “We’re equal partners, those interesting people over there and me.” “I’m so grateful I get to be here doing this.” “Whatever comes of this audition, it’s all good. I will have met inspiring people, shown them what I can do, and gained experience. Most of all, I will have used my time to prepare for and then do the thing I love.”” (63)

“You want a belief to move you forward, not away from something. “More peace” is toward. “Less worry” is away from. “Feeling motivated” is toward.” “Not procrastinating” is away from.” (64)

“Concern yourself with being good first, and how to move through your career second. Have the product, have the goods, have the chops, and then worry about where it’s going to take you.” (89)

“Fortune brings in some boats that are not steer’d.” -Cymbeline, Act 4, scene 3 (106)

“The brain’s neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of well-being increases more in the person who gives a gift than it does in the recipient.” (124)

“I increase the sum total of human happiness.” If we all used that as a guide, what kind of world would we create?” (130)

“Come in with your own interpretation. Because that interpretation might open a door and shine a new light on the character, and provide something the writers, director, and casting director haven’t thought of.” (143)

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“I Must Say” Quotes

I recently read I Must Say: My Life As A Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short. Here’s the quotes I found most interesting:

“What I discovered, through Ed, was that I simply needed to commit: to not worry about jokes. The reaction seemed to get the biggest lagush, not the action. I didn’t need to be a stand-up comedian delivering punch lines. If I just sincerely devoted myself to Ed’s panic with every fiber of my being, the audience would commit to him.” (5)

“Something terrible can happen to you, and yet, the day after this something terrible, the sun still rises, and life goes on. And therefore, so must you.” (49)

“What we all learned at Second City was to trust the concept that our comedy wasn’t about jokes. Rather, it was about situations and characters – the peculiar moments that we encounter in life, the peculiar people that we meet, and how we (and they) react to these moments and meetings.” (142)

“Don’t telegraph, don’t oversell – that was how you created an absurd yet three-dimensional character.” (143)

“The working pace at SCTV was so civilized. We’d take six weeks to write and then six weeks to shoot, followed by another cycle of six weeks writing and six weeks shooting. The writing breaks were crucial, for they allowed inchoate ideas to develop, mature, ripen, and, on occasion, ferment into total, utter originality, all without the SNL-style pressure of “Whaddaya got for this week/” (159)

“I wasn’t above poking fun at Jerry Lewis, but I brought affection and a sense of tribute to my Lewis bits too… Yes, you had to show the warts, but you also had to prove why the subject was worthy of your attention.” (163)

“The way I see it, you spend the first fifteen years of your life as a sponge, soaking up influences and experiences, and the remainder of your life recycling, regurgitating, and reprocessing those first fifteen years.” (163)

“After each take, we’d all crowd around the monitor and watch the playback, and everyone would discuss how to recalibrate the scene for the next take: “Okay, maybe a little less from John, a little more form Andrea, and a lot less from Marty.” (174)

“Manic energy, I learned as the season went on, was the key to success on SNL, and a big differentiator from SCTV: the need for insane, unexpected, can’t look away energy.” (179)

“You can be incredibly talented comedically, but on the unforgiving stage of Saturday Night Live, if you don’t bring that immediate energy, you just won’t connect with the audience.” (179)

“In Hollywood, you’re hottest at the point when you’re all about anticipation: when everyone in the business knows you have product pending, but none of it is out yet. You’re busy, in demand, hectically jumping from one job to the next, energized by a sustained industry murmur.” (193)

“I have this philosophy around people I don’t know but am excited to meet that I call “immediate intimacy”: I do an impersonation of someone who is relaxed, loose, and not at all intimidated, in the hope that this impersonation will ultimately become reality.” (196)

“Critical favor, talent, and tenacity are only part of the formula for a hit. You also need luck and good timing.” (206)

“Damage’s creators, Daniel Zelman and the brothers Todd and Glenn Kessler, liked using comic actors in serious roles, trusting them to be looser and more inventive with dialogue.” (284)

“When you start your career, you worry about how you’re going to pay the rent. But when that’s covered, you feel an even greater pressure: How do you stay interested? For me, the answer has always lain in the theater. Live performance – in its potential for danger, fun, and anarchy – is what sustains me.” (311)

“A sermon by Oxford theologian Henry Scott Holland has evolved over time into a funeral prayer:
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Everything remains as it was.
The old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no sorrow in your tone. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.” (316)

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