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.

***

Happy Birthday, Dear J.J.

Today my cousin is turning 30! This is a thing that I recently did. That’s how it’s been our whole lives — growing up as the six-weeks-apart youngest grandchildren in a small, close family (just us and each of our older brothers), we shared many life milestones in close proximity (all the while looking quite stylish. See below. There were also some sweet overalls and plaid shirts in later years; not pictured).

Christmas

Jennifer happened to write the most lovely blog about me on my birthday. I wanted to return the favor. Writing is what I do after all; only seems fair. So I decided to do a little tribute to her 30th year, through the TV shows we’ve shared in different stages of our lives.

(Me? Write about TV?! I know. It’ll be a stretch. Let’s see if I can get through it.)

Saved By The Bell

This show was maybe the first non-Lisa Frank related thing we were obsessed about together.

For pre-teen girls of the 90s like us, SBTB had it all: fashion, zany antics, cute boys, rated-G romance, and high school. Our pre-student-council selves wanted to be a part of that world (see: Little Mermaid), which seemed so grown up and fun. Plus it was on TV (in a world without hulu) at a time when we were likely to be hanging out — Saturday mornings.

Random fact: The original-cast run ended in 1993 (gulp).

High-school-themed program honorable mention: USA High 

American Idol, Season 2

Ah, college. The year was 20-0-2. We were freshmen at Drury. Though our college experiences were different (me in the dorms, Jennifer getting married and stuff), we did share many fond memories. Like that 8:00 a.m. drawing class when we drew the same naked lady in the art building basement. Special times in higher learning.

The spring and summer of 2003, we watched Clay and Reuben battle it out on American Idol. This period birthed a shared love of mix CDs, along with my misguided, and somewhat prophetic, love for Clay Aiken. We ended up watching the finale together with her (future) husband and my (future) ex-boyfriend.

Reality show honorable mention: Singled Out

The Office

What can I even say about this show. (I geeked out about Jim & Pam’s wedding on my old blog in 2009. Those feelings still apply.) We loved The Office because it was so, so funny. But it also gave us an excuse to hang out in those post-college years. I looked forward to the Thursday ritual of gathering at Jennifer & Matt’s house for snacks and Scranton, as much or more than I looked forward to the actual show… which was a lot.

We were figuring out for ourselves what it was like to grow up into the world of work, with its party planning committees and sometimes-awkward bosses. Like Pam, we were trying to balance the urgent to-dos of life with the desire to do creative work. Like Jim, I was just looking for someone to love. (Shoots a wide-eyed look at the camera.)

When the finale aired this spring, I laughed and cried through the episode and the hourlong retrospective special. (I mean, there were some ugly-cry moments. I’m not afraid to admit that to you.) And it wasn’t so much, “boo hoo, my show is ending.” It was, “wow, look at this thing that these people made!” mixed with “wow, look how much this thing informed my life for the last 9 seasons.” Nine seasons — can you believe it was that long?

(That’s what she said. BOOM.)

Post-college honorable mention: GLEE, season 1

New Girl

Our current favorite shared show, New Girl is sort of the TV soundtrack to our late-20s. Even though some things are still very different about our lives, and neither of us has three dudes as roommates, we share some very similar feelings. Married-with-kids or single-with-cat, there’s some restlessness and reservations we can’t help but have in common. And also some hopes.

Let’s just be real: Like Jess, we might sometimes be described as cute and/or quirky. We have been known to randomly burst into song. We like to make things (or sometimes at least, the idea of making things. Pinterest!!). We wouldn’t mind to own an entire closet full of Anthropologie dresses.

We both sometimes find ourselves in the “wait, but what am I really doing with life right now?” place. Which is maybe a thing we’ll never fully outgrow. But at least we’re in it together! (Like Jess, I am sometimes overly sentimental.)

So what?

So… all that to say: Happy Birthday, dear Jennifer, cuz of mine! I love that we have some much shared history — and shared TV. Television is one of my love languages, really, so I hope that you feel this blog post bursting with love. You are one of the most talented, inspiring, funny, stylish, creative, generous people I know.

Here’s to the new decade, and the adventures (onscreen and off) that it will bring. It’s fun to imagine what we’ll be like when we’re living our Golden Girls

Many, many, many decades from now.

oh for crying out loud

“EIGHT WEEKS?! Dear god!” is what I just said to myself, after doing the math on how long it’s been since January 1. Since I last wrote anything on this “blog” that I “write.” The irony is not lost on me that I write for a living but can’t, for the life of me, write for fun. But I’ve been thinking about it, I swear.

If I had a nickel for all the times I’ve almost-blogged the last few months… (Have you enjoyed reading my almost-blogging? Been real fun, right?) That nagging voice of inner Resistance will find any good excuse to keep you from writing, even the sneaky-sneaky Thinking About Writing: the seductive almost-but-not-quite euphemism for not writing at all.

You feel me, fellow creative-procrastinators out there? Forgive me muses, for I have sinned. I have royally fallen off the blogging wagon. But more like I fell off the wagon…and then a Native American tribe came along and took me in, like what happened to the lady in Dances With Wolves, and then I’m not seen again until years later, when I teach a handsome stranger how to say “buffalo” — and also how to love.

That kind of wagon-falling. Severe.

One disgruntled reader’s affectionate scolding has been bouncing around in my brain (since he told me this…on Christmas Eve):

You owe it to yourself to carve out time for writing every week.

Owe it to myself. That phrase has teeth. And they’ve been gnawing on the nails of my conscience…

Another loyal reader called me out a few weeks ago, saying a simple paragraph would at least be something for her to read. This was a slight revelation: maybe I don’t have to spend as much time perfecting posts, if time is what keeps me from writing. It’s a perfectionist’s paradox: If I take some pressure off myself, care a little less, I actually accomplish much more — and much betterly, too — than when I push myself to the edge of insanity with anxiety and unreachable expectations.

(Hullo therapy bills, you are now paying dividends.)

So. Here we go. An attempt at trying to TRY a little less. Try less in order to DO more. (Hullo Yoda.)

Most of my almost-written blog posts stem from random snippets of inspiration that I collect — mostly in a series of docs on my desktop, curated by month. I’ve been performing this ritual, a lovely mix of hyper-organization and typical-me haphazardness, for years. It amounts to a digital scrapbook of articles I read, funny things coworkers did, things I learned, encouragement from friends, ideas for screenplays…all the things that bounce around in my brain. (Some of the All The Things.)

So maybe that’s the twenty-thirteen 2.0 of whatsarahisreading: instead of a few posts and a self-imposed pressure to Say Something Important, maybe many shorter posts that just try to Say Something.

(If nothing else, I know this will keep one of you happy: looking at you, HKB.)

So. Here’s one Frequently Snippeted Topic: Television. One of the realities of a post-30 Rock world for me, besides the genuine sense of loss I felt that next Friday morning, was an immersion into the world of online entertainment writing. I found comfort in Emily Nussbaum’s New Yorker analysis and Vulture’s top 10 lists alike, both serving as that welcome reminder during any time of grief: you are not alone.

Maybe that’s what we have to look forward to in the new blog year. Thinking about little slices of life (a lot of them TV-based, let’s just be real) and looking for small reasons to remember you are not alone. Along with the usual self-criticism and idiosyncratic liberties with syntax. That all seems like a good enough reason to hop back on the wagon.