“Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama” Quotes

I recently read “Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama” by Bob Odenkirk. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. If you like them, buy the book here.

“I tried just as hard at the stuff that didn’t work as I did at the stuff that worked.” (xiv)

“Now I find myself in “drama,” of all things – comedy’s enemy. In the past decade or so, I have been called upon not to mock but to empathize with humanity, to discover dignity in every character, even when the character’s most notable quality is his lack of dignity. It’s a new kind of challenge, approaching humanity’s foibles from a sympathetic stance, my work is turned inside out. For the first thirty years of my career, I did nothing but compromise my character’s dignity.” (xv)

“Janet Coleman told me, “You know what Del did that was truly amazing? He didn’t commit suicide. He figured out other things to do.”” (13)

“My mom is also very funny, but she doesn’t know it. She was always a big fan of not thinking too highly of yourself, or anyone else for that matter. This is a base component for good comedy thinking and writing – a lack of respect for the world and one’s place in it.” (16)

“Monty Python was comedy with a kick. It never winked or suggested that ‘We’re all in on it.’ Instead it maintained its point of view and said, ‘We’re in, and whoever doesn’t get it is out.’ It felt great to find my people.” (19)

“To me, the best comedy has an anger in it, and I still don’t like comedy that lacks a touch of that anger. It’s like “smooth jazz” – a waste of jazz.” (19)

“You are a pro the second you take that crumpled, sweaty, possibly counterfeit twenty.” (34)

“Besides writing good stuff and presenting it well, you have to give some thought to how the audience comes to it, and what they signed up for. They’re good people, that ol’ audience, but if they paid for a greasy hamburger, then a deftly seared steak will only bum them out.” (37)

“This was another thing that separated me from “real” stand-ups: their brazen disregard for being liked. The hardcore stand-ups I know all have proud stories of “walking the room,” performing their act to an unappreciative or hostile audience and digging in on it until they all disperse.” (41)

“There was no obvious route to fame, or even a “career” … Every day was just Write something funny today, then see what happens.” (42)

“On Monday of my third week at SNL, I took out a legal pad and wrote:
Use the Host!
Write for the Ladies!
Something topical! Read the news!

One Set! No films!
Loud and/or Recurring Characters!!” 

I figured out that if I could incorporate two of these strictures into a sketch, it would greatly improve my chance of getting something on the show. Sound like no fun? It was! Reverse-engineering comedy is an inspiration killer, but it’s a good list if you ever get hired there, so tear this page out and stuff it in your pocket.” (58)

“I was trying too hard, but the more I failed, the more I tried. It’s a sick cycle afflicts many a fresh SNL writer.” (59)

“It’s wonderful that the audience is there, but you mustn’t listen to them; they don’t know what’s good.” (61)

“You don’t want to put your good stuff out there (at the Monday meeting) because you want a fresh energy to greet your golden idea when it’s read at Wednesday read-through.” (61)

“I revered writing, but performing completed the journey. It was the payoff for the pain of writing!” (68)

“Adam Sandler was having a good time. The intimidation factor of SNL, of the big time, of more experienced people around him, did not faze Adam. He would happily pitch the thinnest of notions, and he had a blast doing it, and his good energy was infectious. I needed some of that. It was the opposite of this brainy math-problem pursuit of the “craft” of sketch writing, and a great reminder that, especially in comedy, performance matters more than writing or ideas. Loony behavior trumps clever constructions… Of course, if you have both, well, then you got something truly great.” (79)

“From the start, I had wanted to be part of a team that made the show its own. But that show is bigger than any team. It’s justifiably a juggernaut, and it’s hard to wrangle it into any writer’s personal voice. Only Michael O’Donoghue and Adam McKay seemed to me to have done some version of this: been a “star writer” whose work is distinctive and takes the show in a unique direction. Basically, I had to realize that I wanted what every comedy writer wants: my own damn show.” (80)

“Animation seemed like a lot of work – no time to focus on my own material. I was right about that – animation allows for numerous rounds of rethinking and rewriting and the Simpsons writers I knew put in long days with no time for doing their own projects on the side. My whole life is side projects!” (83)

“The best thing about Fox at the time was they had no idea what they were doing. Awkward beginnings are when good things can still happen. Once a network knows what works, well… chances are no longer taken. Something beautiful dies with success: the freedom to flail. But for now, and for the next few years, Fox would flail, and I would benefit. I’ve learned that, just like Del, “I belong in struggling organizations.” (85)

“After a while you just can’t keep not being genuine; you run out of gas.” (87)

“David Cross described “alternative comedy” simply as “comedy without the cadence.”” (93)

“There was one more lesson, one I’d been learning my whole career: get your stuff in front of the right audience.” (98)

“The agency doesn’t matter – the agent matters.” (109)

“Garry Shandling was maniacally focused, utterly consumed in the pursuit of perfection. But is there such a thing as perfection in what we do? There is not. Everyone has to come to their own terms with that conundrum; Garry never quit wanting to achieve total mastery.” (11)

David Cross said, “I resented how hard and long you were expecting me, the guy who liked to start drinking at four and going to see bands and ‘living life man!,’ to work. But you expected that from everyone you worked with, because that’s how you worked, because that’s how much work was needed to be done to get it right. And of course you were right.”

“We put each show up only one time. If you were network exec/agent/heat seeker, you HAD to attend the show when we did it. We never repeated material, so you would have missed it completely.” (122)

“Every two months or so for the next year and a half, we would do a live show, with filmed pieces interconnecting with the live performance stuff, showing everyone exactly what we wanted to do on the TV.” (122)

“We made our way forward employing THE THREE STEPS TO SUCESS IN SHOWBIZ:
1. Persistence

2. Begging
3. Waiting – then start again at the top.” (123)

“Chris Albrecht said, “Whatever you do, make it something you would never see on regular TV… It doesn’t matter if people actually watch the show, just so long as they think they should watch it.” … he was saying, “Fuck the ratings – make something worth talking about…” (125)

“There was a lot of luck alongside the years of preparation and intense focus that made Mr. Show happen, but meeting Troy miller was probably the biggest piece of luck in the luck bag.” (128)

“I ran the writers’ room in an opposite manner to every room I’d been in before this one. Instead of beating ideas up, especially weak ones, this gang would build them up – especially weak ones. You’d pitch a bad idea, or bring in a weak first draft, it would lie there, and I would ask, “It’s kind funny – what was the funniest moment in there for you?” and we could find that funny moment and build it out.” (133)

“Our writing process, “make it work,” transformed many a half-assed notion into hard laughs. But, even better, writers didn’t pitch crap that they didn’t want to talk about, only stuff they had a genuine good feeling about.” (133)

“Unlike Chris Farley, Jack Black had more confidence in his talents and himself – good for him. Demons wilt at genuine self-confidence.” (152)

“The script we produced has more funny lines than the Fast and the Furious films have automobiles, but funny lines won’t save yer film.” (157)

“Just as in every filming experience ever, every scene was turning out better than it seemed on the page; an experienced filmmaker knows that this tells you nothing at all.” (158)

“If I’m going to fail, at least let me do it by my own hand.” (160)

“Karma is a bitch! Be nice to people! You can be right without being a dick about it!” (161)

“Bernie Brillstein was in my corner, encouraging me, and he was always the last to let go. In fact, I would be the one talking him down when the network said no. “Bernie, it’s okay; they’re right, it wasn’t panning out. We did our best. Here, I got a new thing…” I always had a new thing, and I think Bernie loved that about me.” (169)

“Bernie had had a long career and a front-row seat to so many fringe ideas that blew up big (SNL, the Muppets), so he knew that the fringe is where truly big stuff is invented.” (169)

“One more failure I have to alert you to before we get into worldwide success and golden days. Because, you fool, failure is where it’s at! It tells you more about anyone’s talent and drive and self than anything that works. Pay attention – it all works out in the end.” (170)

“The moving sidewalk in LAX Terminal 4 goes on forever in the perfect opening sequence of The Graduate, and that can be how the biz feels. Like you are moving but getting nowhere. You’re getting compliments from your peers, and execs and heat seekers tell you, “you’re really special,” “We want ot work with you,” “Bring us whatever you got” … but then, nothing. I know the feeling.” (176)

“Life is a “tale told by an idiot” – int this case, two idiots – and that can be a meaningful thing to share when you’re feeling disconnected or down.” (182)

“I enjoyed directing too much and wanted another film too badly to do the simple, first, job of a director – pick a story you really, really love.” (190)

“The writers were busy with bigger projects, so there was no time for the reworking, something all films demand.” (192)

“I didn’t fall in love (like) with acting until years later; it was always secondary to digging thoughts out of my head and putting them on paper to get a laugh – real man’s work.” (197)

“But even more than the specific character, the way the show wa smade – improvised form a script – was the big attraction. The looseness of this shooting style is the most pure fun you can have as an actor.” (198)

“One trick for surviving Hollywood’s beatdown is to keep making new things in spite of every “no.”” (198)

“Blue is the color of the third rewrite, or fourth – I can never keep track, but it’s pretty final. You should definitely memorize the blue pages, young actor.” (205)

“On most comedies, it’s considered good to know most of your lines, pretty much in the right order, and you are encouraged to “have fun,” as in: MAKE IT FUNNIER, please.” (206)

“Lesson: WRITERS, ESPECIALLY COMEDY WRITERS, SHOULD ALWAYS BE PUTTING THEIR WORK IN FRONT OF PEOPLE. Get those laughs. Or call up them crickets. When you write comedy, you need to have an audience in mind, sitting right there, eager to laugh, or scowl and grunt disapprovingly. Doing brief live tours had become a lifeline in my lost wandering through these Hollywood development years.” (218)

“‘What the hell?’ you ask. ‘Don’t you want to be a star?! Isn’t that why you got into show business?’

Well… NO. Haven’t you been reading this goddamn book for hours now?! I don’t give a shit about that stuff. I am in this to entertainmyself. Here’s how much fame I need: ‘just enough’ and no more.” (220)

“The biggest reason tos ay yes to this offer was what I’d learned from the Del Close School of Trying Crazy Shit. Do something hard, something tha tyou will probably fail at, something that tests you adn excites you and takes you places you didn’t know you would ever go to. Buy the little brown bottle with the label worn off and wallow it (metaphorically speaking).” (221)

“Somewhere in the first season (of Better Call Saul), I wrote a little note to myself: “Every line is emotional.” Which is not entirely true, let’s say it’s mostly true – or at least it’s a good guide to finding the purpose of all of Saul’s chatter. I am always looking for the emotional underpinnings of any line or moment in a scene – so I’m nto just memorizing lines, I’m memorizing feelings, which stick inside you deeper. But you need to know the lines, too – they just tend to come easier if you’re following the emotional journey.” (227)

“Whose side are we on? We are on no one’s side… We aim to tease everyone, equally.
“All comedy is critical” – John Cleese.
It is. There isn’t a good joke alive that can’t be found insulting or insensitive by someone.” (237)

“In Fargo, the blinkered Bill Oswalt eventually shows a glimmer of self-awareness, and it surprise and makes him a person worth caring about. Self-awareness makes characters much richer. Everyone has at least an inkling of their worst character traits, no matter how well hidden they are in public. When you show this self-awareness peeking through, people recognize it.” (244)

“It’s a numbers game, if you haven’t figured that out from this book, but it’s also not. Every single project I work on is one I believe in and that I believe the world needs to gaze upon. Sadly, most will stumble and collapse far short of their mark.” (264)

“I settled on the truth: “You can’t. You can’t make your own break.” She was not happy to hear it. Sorry, kid. But if you care about doing the work, if it rewards you, just to do it, you will probably be all right.” (266)

Like the quotes? Buy the book here.

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