Rejected Writing: Brother Steve’s Trump-Day School

I haven’t blogged in 896 days. November 12, 2016. My longest blog-dry-spell since I started this thing in January 2009.

What happened, one might wonder, in November 2016 that could zap my creativity and drain the energy and optimism it takes to be funny online? Dunno. Hard to put my finger on it.

Fast forward 895 days: Yesterday I got rejected by McSweeney’s. AGAIN. This is only 5 times over a year and a half. I really could/should try more often, and eventually something will stick. Still, it’s hard not to get discouraged, even though I know comedy and writing are both lifelong commitments to rejection and self-doubt. (I know, I knoooooooow.)

Sidebar: It was super delightful to discover that some of my coworkers had never heard of McSweeney’s. These are not dumb people, just people who aren’t English-major-comedy-dweebs and choose to do other things with their time online. Refreshing. I’m fine without it. Just fine.

I have also been rejected by bigger fish—it’s true! In the last 3 years or so, I’ve racked up quite the Claim to Shame:

  • NBC Late Night Writers Workshop
  • The Onion / ClickHole
  • Late Show with Stephen Colbert
  • Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!

All these aspiration-inducing entities took a look at my stuff (if I’m lucky, I should say, somebody took a look) and said: Nah. What a privilege it is to be rejected by the best! That’s mostly not sarcasm!

The thing is: With every packet I’ve written, I’ve truly, thoroughly enjoyed the process. Even though it’s taking my passion and turning it into high-stakes homework. I enjoy doing it, and I always feel good about what I turn in. That has to count for something.

To that end, I think I’ve found a way to revive the old blog. At least for a while. My creative joie de vivre may be wrung-out by life in a post-Nov-2016 world, and my priorities and free time look different than they did 10 years ago, but I do have quite the stockpile of funny stuff taking up space in my Google Docs.

Since the big guys (so far) don’t want it, I can share it with you.

This piece is from my Colbert packet, June 2016. (Oh how innocent and hopeful we were then!) Here’s the assignment for a Topical News Segment, which I feel fine sharing since it’s already online elsewhere:

In our topical news segments, we dig a little more into the news. Whether it be a deeper look at a story, or framing a news item in a larger context. Because these are often at the desk, we can include a lot more elements, such as over-the-shoulder graphics (OTSs), more elaborate props, or even characters that emerge from beneath Stephen’s desk.

Overall, rather than merely dissecting a story, we like to have some game or destination to help illuminate it. For example, if somebody in the news says something ridiculous (we’re looking at you Kanye), Stephen will embody those traits and heighten them to an outrageous level. Or we might conclude with a fake ad, or a call for the audience at home to do something, a song, or a huge string of sandwich puns. The script should feel like it builds to something that encapsulates what you’ve just told. Think of it as taking the news apart and using the parts to build something even crazier.

Ahem… here we go…

Brother Steve's Trump-Day School

ONE TOPICAL NEWS SEGMENT: Brother Steve’s Trump-Day School

(Stephen)
Donald Trump’s relationship with the Religious Right—much like his relationship with any group of any type of people—has been at times a rocky one.

It seems he may have rolled away the stone on a brand new beginning with evangelical Christian leaders, and the Man Upstairs Himself.

But not too far upstairs, even god can’t afford that Trump Tower penthouse.

According to an exclusive interview with the religious blog Godfactor.com, conservative leader Dr. James Dobson has welcomed Trump as the newest recruit in the Salvation’ed Army.

Yes, Focus on the Family founder—and kindly stock photo optometrist—James Dobson…
[TAKE: OTS: James Dobson headshot]
…has confirmed Trump’s recent salvation:

[TAKE: SOT: James Dobson interview, Audio with text onscreen –
(1:48) “He did accept a personal relationship with Christ. I know the person who led him to Christ, and that’s fairly recent. (FLASH 2:07) I believe he really made a commitment, but he is a baby Christian. We all need to be praying for him.”]

Yes, Donald Trump is a newborn Christian.
And like any baby, he speaks mostly in gibberish, is obsessed with breasts, and has trouble grasping things with his tiny, itty-bitty, stunted…emotional intelligence.

Throughout his campaign, Trump has evaded questions about his religious beliefs, presumably because that’s a topic off-limits in polite conversation.

[TAKE: SOT: Donald Trump, 8/26/15 interview: “I wouldn’t want to get into it. Because to me, it’s very personal. […] The bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics.”]

He doesn’t want to talk specifics—much like your coworker who
(Act out with air quotes)
“loves Game of Thrones” but can never articulate why.
(Act out)
I guess… the part… with dragons?

Yes, I’m afraid little Donny’s Goo-Goo Gaa-God is showing. And I, for one, don’t want to leave a baby on his own, flailing his tiny hands about in search of object permanence.

So come on in, boys and girls. It’s time for:

Brother Steve’s Trump-Day School

[TAKE: FF: MOCKUP: Trump-Day School logo: Title letters made out of felt, like an elementary school craft project.]

Welcome to Trump-Day School. I’m Brother Steve, and today we’re going to have some fun learning what it means to be a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N.

First, let’s start with the good book itself. Did you know the bible is made up of 66
books? That’s way too many for one person to read! So we should focus on:

  • Close to your heart, of course, Two Corinthians.
  • I think you’d also enjoy Numbers and “Job,”
    (Pronounce incorrectly, then whisper) It’s actually Jōb.
  • And finally, Judges. Seems like it could be helpful to see what the good lord has to say about that.

[TAKE: SOUND EFFECT: Friendly chime]
Oh! That means it’s time for us to sing a song!

(Stephen begins singing classic Sunday School tunes, then thinks better of each one.)

  • He’s got the whole world in his hands …should probably stay away from that one.
  • Father Abraham had many sons …but technically he was an immigrant.
    Let’s just stick with a classic:
  • Jesus Loves Me …that’s right, you are very big with The Deities!

(Sings, to the tune of Jesus Loves Me)

Jesus loves you, yes it’s true,
Cuz the voters want him to.
Other dummies must be wrong,
They are weak but you are strong.
Yes, Jesus loves you! James Dobson told me so.

[TAKE: SOUND EFFECT: Friendly chime]
Oh! That means it’s time for snack.

(Stephen is handed a grape juice box and small plate of animal crackers from under the desk.)

(Sing-song, hands together in prayer)
Lord we thank you for this snack. Brought to us by our Super PAC.
Please bless this food to make us wise, and not go straight onto our thighs. Amen.

(He quickly throws back some crackers, and drains the juice box, tossing it behind him.)

Now it’s memory verse time!

(Stephen pulls a giant, gold-trimmed bible from beneath the desk.)

Today we’ll learn Matthew chapter 19, verse 21:

Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

(Stephen looks up)
We’ll have to work on that one. Baby steps for baby Christians!

[TAKE: SOUND EFFECT: Friendly chime]
Oh! I’m afraid that means it’s time for us to go.

I’ll see you next week, when we’ll learn all about how Joshua made the walls come tumbling down using just his trumpet. A cautionary tale.

***