The Rules of Joke Court

Our not-so-tame Saskatchewanian, Anil, has spent his entire L.A. lifetime in the local comedy club scene. Time now for a short report on  what he’s learned:

by Anil

To save aspiring comedians and comedy writers a lifetime of awkward silence from their sensitive comedy brethren, TVWriter.Com presents the simple rules for navigating the minefield of Joke Court. Take these rules to work-out rooms, smokey patios and dive restaurants full of funny people assured justice will always be served.

The Rules of Joke Court

  1. Make sure you’re in court. Even if it seems like a fellow comedian is asking for help, s/he may not be. Sure, s/he just said, “I really need help fixing this joke” out loud, but the subtext was “I’m dying on stage and the universal panic move of all comedians is to narrate their own act. I know I’m in the toilet, but I’m thinking out loud. Don’t interrupt me.” Always ask if you can make a suggestion, and only when the performer seems ready and receptive.
  2. Listen. Nothing helps less than notes on material no one heard but you.
  3. Don’t confuse style with mechanics. Sometimes a joke falls flat because it doesn’t fit a comedian’s POV, or has meandered structure. Don’t offer your version of the joke. Focus on the mechanics, and help shape their version of the joke. It will help your writing immensely.
  4. All records are sealed. A spitballing session can quickly turn into a heated, explicit debate about politics, sexual deviancy, criminal behaviour or religious beliefs. Don’t get offended. Don’t judge. Don’t take the transcript out in public. Some of the best material comes in the worst mess, but you’ll never find it without a safe place to do the digging.
  5. Everything is on the record. If you want to use something funny that came up in conversation, ask. Let it be known you’re interested in developing the gag. If there’s a dispute over who’s ‘brilliant idea’ it is, drop it. There’s no shortage of funny in the world. Something else will come along.
  6. Don’t hold grudges. The people who give you the best notes are the ones who genuinely want you to be your funniest. Consider all options.
  7. The judge’s ruling is final. Even if the jury hates it, the comedian who wrote the bit passes the final sentence. If s/he wants to stick with it, don’t push prosecution after the gavel’s been dropped.

Anil

EDITED BY TVWriter™ TO ADD THE FOLLOWING 2nd THOUGHT: Okay, so you might not want to use these rules in this particular workout room/club:

LB: ROUTE 66 and NAKED CITY, Si. Bert Leonard? Nah

by Larry Brody

By the time I managed to locate Bert Leonard, all that was left of him fit into a small unit in a self-storage facility in Los Angeles that was hemmed in by concertina wire and a row of spindly palm trees.

– Susan Orlean

All that was left of him was not a storage unit.  That wasn’t all that was left of his life.  He had all of his children around him, and he got to understand that he was leaving us behind.  He didn’t die alone.

– Gina Leonard

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In the late ’50s, Herbert Leonard, known to all as Bert, was a force to be reckoned with. He had a ton of series on the air, including two dramas that could be considered the best series of that decade: ROUTE 66 and NAKED CITY.

For me, they’re way up there. Only thing that keeps ’em from being at the top of my list is all the great live drama anthology series of that same era. You know, little things like PLAYHOUSE 90, STUDIO ONE, GE THEATER.

Today, on one of my favorite sites, The Classic TV History Blog, I learned two interesting things.

  1. The complete ROUTE 66 is out on DVD
  2. Bert Leonard is dead

I love blogster Stephen Bowie’s love for all things that have to do with that period in TV, and usually I agree with everything he says. This time around, though, I’m not sure of what he’s saying. By which I mean that he presents quite the balanced view of a man who’s been described not only as a brilliant visionary but also as an obnoxious con man. And much as I love the concept of balanced news, I feel obligated to stick my 2 cents in on this matter.

In either ’86 or ’88 – one of those years the WGA went on strike – my then partner and I were hired as Executive Producers of a version of RIN TIN TIN (one of my favorite shows when I was kid, and produced/owned by Bert Leonard) to be called KATTS AND DOG in Canada, where it was being made, and RIN TIN TIN: K-9 COP in the U.S. Bert was totally out of it then, as far as the business was concerned. But I was, you know, a fan.

My partner and I were action/drama writers, and Bert said that’s what he wanted this show to be. When we asked for more details, he gave us a short synopsis. Characters, setting, potential stories, you know the drill. He brought us to Toronto to meet everyone involved (where I met a terrific guy named Sam Manners, the legendary production manager who’d kept ROUTE 66 going on the road back in the day), then sent us back to L.A. to write what would be the second script. (Another writer, whose name I don’t recall, was already working on Episode One.)

When we were halfway through the script, Bert called to apologize for what he said was a “slight hold-up” in the deal. “I can’t give you screen credit as Executive Producers because you’re not Canadian. That’s got to go to someone here in Toronto. But you can still do all the work. Meanwhile, start packing. I’ve found a great place for you to live while we shoot.”

A couple of days later, we finished the first draft, messengered it to him, and started packing ourselves and a couple of kids.

And a few days after that I came home from an evening out to find a message on my answering machine in which Bert said. “Hey, read your script. I was wrong about drama. This show should be a sitcom. You’re fired.”

Never heard from him again.

Neither did my agent. Or business manager.

No matter how many times we called.

And, no, never got paid.

I did hear from Sam Manners, though, who called to apologize for his old friend. And to say he was quitting the show.

Bottom line: I don’t know what Bert was really up to during that Chinese Fire Drill. I do know that he didn’t seem to care about anything but sex with his current lady love, who, according to Stephen Bowie, he later married…twice. If he’d ever been a visionary, he sure wasn’t now. It was all con man, all the time.

Still, though, after all these years. I find myself hoping that Gina Leonard’s comments, above, are at least as true as those of Susan Orlean. And maybe even a tad more.

And wondering if I’m responding to him as a visionary legend, a typical flawed human being…or as a con man who even in death just worked his magic on me again.

If What’s New is Old & What’s Old is Obsolete, Then What Does That Make the New?

by Larry Brody

If I get it right, Shane Smith is telling us that a big problem with New Media is that it is spending all its resources imitating Old Media. Web TV, he says as the keynote speaker at something called IWNY HQ 2012. Same kind of programming. Same kind of publicity. Same kind of business practices. Same kind of sales tactics.

I say, “If I get it right,” because Shane Smith, the founder of a New Media company called Vice, which recently made a deal to produce a show on Old Media’s HBO and tells us about it in a way that reveals a man incredibly proud of being ashamed of not being original and is described in the “New York Times” as “a robust storyteller, the type who wears a few extra pounds as if they’re a trophy from good living,” but I found his presentation, including the clips from his new show, so dull that I couldn’t watch more than the first five minutes.

To be fair, “The Times” also calls this crazy, zany, “Falstaffian” figure both “a voice of a generation of too-cool D.J.’s and artists who wear rolled selvedge jeans and chunky glasses…[and]also a conduit for corporate America to reach that elusive audience.” So they see that he’s not exactly totally devoted to art, youth, or, for that matter greed.

To be still fairer, I have to say that from what I saw, if Falstaff had had the dynamism, intelligence, guts, and good humor of Shane Smith, HENRY IV would not be a play routinely produced at important venues and forced upon English lit students to this day.

Why am I ranting?

Disappointment, pure and simple. Like Shane Smith (who does have a cool name and kinda looks like my hero, Louis C.K.), I too have been disappointed in and by that particular aspect of New Media called internet TV. I agree with him that it has become so derivative in so many ways that those involved should be embarrassed, so when a friend sent me the video above and I read the “Times” article I was looking forward to finding a media messiah I could prostrate myself for.

But Shane Smith has made Brodyworld’s one inexcusable error: He has forgotten that the reason we strive to be new, to find new ways of communicating, new ideas, and new financing to support the communication of the ideas is to capture our audience’s attention and, at the same time, release its soul. Creative people/Old and New Media moguls/content creators/content suppliers (sadly not the same, often, as the creators) should be lighting me on fire, inspiring me to take to the streets and give everything I have to remake Broadway/Rockefeller Plaza/the Grey Lady/the Marvel Universe/the porn universe, et al into a tomorrow I can’t even envision – which is the whole point of tomorrows; it’s what makes them exciting.

Instead, he ignored the remote in his Old Media audience’s hands and the mouse at the end of New Media fanatics, and he gave me the same old, same old in the same old, same old way and I got so bored I had to write this just to try and wake up.

And now, to bed.

LB: What’s the Connection between the Silver Surfer and My Favorite Failed Web Site?

by Larry Brody

TVWriter.Com has been a very successful website for a very long time. But that hasn’t kept me from thinking about ways to make our little home away from home a bit more than it’s been.

Got to thinking about a website Dan Davison and I put together about five years ago. The object behind PeerProducer.Com was to – for free – teach newbies how to make the best video they could. We never really got it flying for all the reasons most people don’t get things flying.

But today I ran across this promo video I made with another Dan, Dan Reynolds, President of TV station KTO 8 in the garden spot (I mean this) of Harrison, AR. And, dammit, I don’t care if it only got 187 views. I like it.

And now I’m getting the itch to make more.

LB: I still don’t know Ken Levine…

…but he sure knows what it’s like to write for TV. Here’s what Memorial Day means to writers:

Memorial Day then staff work begins!

Happy Memorial Day. This is the time of the year when writing staffs go back to work. If you’re an aspiring TV scribe, I hope someday that’ll be you. Here’s what you can sort of expect…at least on the comedy side.

The first week will just be sharing vacation stories, home remodeling nightmares, debating the Dan Harmon firing,  trashing WHITNEY. You’ll go out for long lunches, bitch about how much other writers make, compare Prius prices, recommend apps for your iPad and iPhone, and discuss the upcoming summer movie slate. My blog might come up. Half will like it, half will think it’s a piece of shit.

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