I’ve been reading this collection of interviews with notable comedy writers piecemeal for the last few weeks, one or two interviews at a time. In truth, it was a bit of a struggle to finish, mostly because of the similarity between the writers, their experiences, their outlooks, and their advice for young writers. Mike Sacks has assembled an All-Star lineup of comedy talent, but somehow his interviews are rarely funny or all that interesting. Perhaps like with a specific joke, the best way to kill humor is to explain it.
Not all of Sacks’s interviews are boring, in fact, individually they’re all good reading for fans of the writers involved, it’s just that in total the book never amounts to anything more satisfying. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I’m not sure why this is even a book. As in, why is this between covers and why did it cost $14.00 on Amazon, and why did I pay that?
I also couldn’t help but wonder about the sameness of Sacks’s roster of interviewees. Of the 21 subjects, 18 were white men, with two women and one black man thrown in. I understand that comedy’s diversity problem is well-established, and I am not usually the first person to play the diversity police (I am, after all, a white male) but this seemed excessive and contributed to the exercise’s feeling of sameness.
Still, there are some heavy hitters here, and some lesser-known names that deserve a bigger audience. David Sedaris, Jack Handey, Larry Gelbart, Buck Henry, Dick Cavett, and Bob Odenkirk are all their usual interesting selves. George Meyer, a longtime writer for The Simpsons, is an appealingly odd duck, cantankerous and opinionated. Irving Brecher, who wrote for the Marx Brothers, has some interesting stories. A lot of these writers have a lot to say about the institutions of the comedy world. Opinions about SNL, for instance, are widely varied, even among those writers who got their first big break there.
Though there are some interesting stories brought forth, like the time a guest on Cavett’s talk show dropped dead during a taping and the near fist-fight between Bob Odenkirk and Al Franken, overall the format of the book means these topics are dropped shortly after they are raised. Sacks zooms along giving equal attention to the spectacular and the mundane, and as a result even the spectacular starts to seem mundane.