show me the fever, into the fire, taking it higher and higher

Apropos of nothing, here’s a short essay I wrote about David Wain. Just in case the internet wants to know more about my thoughts on comedy. (Which, you might? Stranger things have happened.) I wrote this for my entry into the NBC Writers Workshop this year, to answer the question “Whose comedy do you think is underrated?”, but the sentiment could apply to any network. Hypothetically. 

If I could only experience one subset of the comedy family tree for the rest of my life (which, you know, is like choosing just one color out of a rainbow. Cheesy, but true), it would probably be David Wain.

david_wain_435x290

(right, though?)

It feels odd to say that a comedian and filmmaker with 20+ directing credits, a cult-hit Netflix series and a hilarious sketch show in each of the last three decades is “underrated.” He isn’t underrated to me or to other comedy fans and pop-culture nerds, but somehow David Wain still isn’t a household name. I’m afraid he’d fail the does-my-mother-know-him test. Which is such a shame, because his work cozies up so nicely to my sense of humor. The first time I watched Wet Hot American Summer, I was just starting work as a camp counselor for gifted high school students and lusting after a coworker who was as sweet and unassuming as Coop. We had instant inside jokes for the rest of the summer. It was perfect. Then I found Stella when I was in my mid-20s and starting to form my comedy sensibilities, and the paradox that something could be so smart and so, so stupid felt just right to me.

That’s what I find brilliant in all of his work—it’s absurd and subversive and broad and subtle all at the same time. The over-the-top misdirection that turns a tired joke cliché on its head. The slapsticky physical gags that in no way serve the story. The entirely silly but still somehow sweet love stories. Plus the cameos. Oh, the cameos!

I love that a core group of writers and performers he works with have been together since their days at NYU. As a girl who gets to spend many a weekend making up funny things with her friends, I am envious beyond words when I see groups of funny people who get to do that for real (i.e. for a living). That’s the dream, right? Working together to make something original that makes people laugh.

He’s not as well known as some of the actors in his movies—Jon Hamm! Kristen Wiig! Paul Rudd! Amy Poehler!—but I think he deserves to be. (Cheesy, but true.) When he was on You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes recently, Pete asked, “What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned about creating comedy?” David gives a long insightful answer, but the takeaway for me was: It’s not just about being funny. It’s about doing the work.

That’s the dream.

Image source here.

Revisions

I have 118 saved drafts on my blog. This may sound startling, but it doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve earned a black belt in not-finishing-what-I-start. I’m an Eagle Scout of procrastination. The Miss America of over-commitment… You get the idea.

So tonight, eager to blog but anxious over starting anything new, I dove (dived? duve?) into a few of those drafts. Sidebar: The difference between “anxious” and “eager” was drilled into my brain by a journalism professor in college. For example, “I’m anxious to go on vacation” means you’re scared to travel, not excited, though a majority of writers/talkers get that wrong. I couldn’t tell you with confidence what I wore to work a week ago, but I remember this little nugget of syntax correctness. Brains are weird.

Back to the drafts. (Backdraft.) It’s like opening a time capsule, reading these things I started but never shared with anyone else. Seeing where I didn’t quite finish my thoughts or polish them to my liking. (I am, after all, a gold medal winner in the perfectionism decathlon.)

The unedited, untitled draft below made me very happy. It’s a cryptic little nonsense poem, but I deciphered that I wrote this after watching the Oscar-nominated animated shorts at the Moxie in 2014:

An inspiration sandwich with a side of delight

A city full of anthropomorphized inanimate objects conspiring to help a blue umbrella find love

A squirrel looking for his lost scarf encountering modern philosophy

An OCD French robot in a mechanized future learns to expand his life for the sake of a lost dog

Got in my car, smiling wide, “That was so effing magical!”

(Feb 19, 2014)

The_Blue_Umbrella_(2013_film)_posterRead without context, it feels like fever dream ramblings. But I like it; maybe it’s a story I’d like to know more about. If I weren’t me.

This happy accident of reading down the rabbit trail of discarded effort led me to rewatching the short below. The one about the lovestruck umbrella. One of the lovelier of all Pixar shorts, which I’d completely forgotten existed. (And chances are you’ve never seen, since it screened before Monsters University.) Oh! And it wasn’t even nominated. It was on the shortlist of honorable mentions.

They didn’t win, but they did finish. So maybe none of it was ever wasted time. And now my drafts count reads 117.

 

2015: 13 books, 140 characters

It’s 2016. Let’s live our truth: I finish fewer books and I write fewer blog posts per year than I used to. Blame the busyness of life, the ease of sharing ideas online in smaller quick bites, the existence of the internet in general.

But also, I think, my twentysomething self (who started blogging in earnest in 2007) was a more obsessively introspective, self-discovering and self-centered type of self. (As she should have been! That’s what 20s are for! You go on and find yourself, baby SJ!) Whereas now, I’m a little more grounded in who I am, and feeling better about it (thanks, therapy!), and enjoying the things I like without the need to justify, explore or explain. This is all good.

Wasn’t expecting that nugget of self-discovery. Just occurred to me while writing. Funny how that works.

2015 was good to me. I still read 13 books, not too shabby considering that roughly 20% of adults read NO BOOKS at all. Oh my, internet, say it ain’t so!

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So here we go. Keeping with tradition (2009, 20102011, 2014), here’s my tweet-length year of reading in review:

On Writing | Stephen King
My very first S.K. book, and it’s not even a “Stephen King book.” Practical and poetic guide to the writing process—from somebody who knows.

Lizz Free or Die: Essays | Lizz Winstead
Memoir by Daily Show co-creator and feminist icon…I didn’t love it. But that’s okay. Not all comedy is for me. (Lookin’ at you, Master of None. I SAID IT.)

Man Seeking Woman | Simon Rich
Hilarious, bizarre series on FXX is based on a book by former SNL writer. So, duh. Inventive, of-the-moment romance chronicles, rated NSFM (Not Safe For Mom).

Syllabus | Lynda Barry
Part nonlinear graphic novel, part handwritten creative journal, part offbeat instruction manual. All fun to read and digest.

Attachments | Rainbow Rowell
Delightful YA novel recommended by my writing group. Set in 1999, the pre-Facebook story feels retro, as romance unfolds (or does it?) via intercepted emails.

Better Than Perfect | Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo
Perfectionism survival guide. 6 of 9 “Does this sound familiar?” intro statements sounded just like me. Scrawled inside cover: “So, wait, everybody’s self-worth isn’t determined by how well they live up to their own harsh, improbable standards?” (Not really joking.)

Harebrained | Meg Myers Morgan
Written by a college classmate and available at an amazon near you! I wrote a longer blog post singing its praises already. Go read that.

Theatrical Husbandry | Susan Mann
Not on shelves yet, but will be. Have gotten to watch the process as my writing group friend worked her way through revisions. Now she’s moving toward publication. How cool is that?

Funny on Purpose: The Definitive Guide to an Unpredictable Career in Comedy | Joe Randazzo
This book gets me. Funny, practical primer on all things comedy. He had me on page 15, with this horrifyingly, comfortingly accurate list:

FOP

Hey look! That’s me!

Writing Television Sitcoms | Evan S. Smith
Somebody wrote a whole book about this! Can you believe it?! (Exciting to only a small sliver of the population, but I’m one of them.)

The life-changing magic of tidying up | Marie Kondo
The title doesn’t lie. KonMari has changed my life for the better, and I’m still in process. Some of her philosophies seem foo-foo, but they also work. (Magic.)

“If we acknowledge our attachment to the past and our fears for the future by honestly looking at our possessions, we will be able to see what is really important to us.”

Mr. Puffball Stunt Cat to the Stars | Constance Lombardo
Happenstance while roaming kids section at Barnes & Noble. Almost didn’t buy it (see above, buying less), but very glad I did. Delightful and clever for film-buffs, cat-buffs and tiny-silly-joke buffs.

Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers | by Mike Sacks
447 pages of pure inspiration. Creators of Parks & Recreation, Cheers, National Lampoon. Writers for The Onion, New Yorker, Tonight Show. All in one book! And you can buy it!