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.
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.