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DAN FRENCH has an M.A. in Rhetoric, and a Ph.D. in Media Studies, but don't let that fool you. And he still hasn't mailed us an 8 X 10.

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Dan French


The original "What Works"

"Inside the Box, Pt. II"
TV Development

"Whose Line is it Anyway?"
French's gag in a Quote-A-Crostic!

"Inside the Box, Pt. I"
TV Programming

"Your Showcase Set"
How to craft an L.A.-ready set

"The Clogged Drain of Comedy"
Who belongs on the stage? Comedy in L.A.

Why move to L.A.?

"Good Side/Bad Side"
What does comedy mean to a culture, post-911?

What should a manager do?

"Standup on TV"
What does TV want?

"Cash for Words"
Writing for dollars

"Stoking the Joke Machine"
Writing for a living

"Screenwriting for Standup Comics"
Just what it says

"Random Realizations"
Wisdom born of experience

Casting Season in L.A.

"Ladies & Gentlemen: A Job"
Working at Best Damn Sports Show Period

"LA Freefall for All"
It happens to everyone: Freefall!

"Hollywood or Bust"
How to change to succeed in L.A.

"How Edgy"
Column #2

"How Hip"
Column #3

"Who Writes Your Stuff?"
Why don't comics ask for help?

"The Art of Standup"
What would we gain by "turning up the art"

"Christmas Wish List"
Holiday column

"Getting Exercised"
A writing exercise

"High Octane"
Road vs. L.A., Monologist vs. Performer

"Inside the Box, Pt. I"
Television Programmers

"Inside the Box, Pt. II"
Television Production and Development

"Castle Breached"
Working at Late Late Show, Network television gig!

"I Like LA"
The third of five columns on writing comedy for money

"Hollywod Carousel"
Between BDSSP and Late Late Show, what I learned

"How Do I Get Your Job?"
Career Guidance


Job 3?

Hello once again to what has become my twice-a-year column on Sheckymag. Not so long ago I columnized for SM once a month, but that was before I actually had a job and deadlines and two kids and so many more believable but still completely lame excuses. But as the Hollywood Gods would have it (and they have it in so many odd and predictably despicable ways), I recently changed jobs again, and since change always seems to send me back to my roots, I'm returning to Sheckyville to file my semi-annual report on the state of one standup skulking his way through the catacombs of LA.

So let's get to it.

* * *

For those who follow, in February, 2000, I moved to LA from Austin, TX, with the idea of getting off the standup train and parking my carcass as a comedy writer. My first comedy writing job in Hollywood (well, if you don't count the week I was flown to Branson, Missouri, to write for Yakov Smirnov, and you shouldn't) began in November, 2002, when I slogged through a year as a semi-staff writer on The Best Damn Sports Show Period. Not a great job, but a start.

In late October, 2003, I landed a staff job on The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn. Kilborn was everything that Best Damn was not-- fun, profitable, interesting, a viable comedy writer job. So with all of that going for it, one thing was certain-- somebody had to screw it up. And that somebody was Craig Kilborn


As everyone in the comedy universe knows, in late August, 2004, Kilborn quit one of the five late night jobs that every comic in the world wants to do (or at least thinks he/she wants to do). The first question people ask me about all of the upheaval at LLS is "Why did he do it?" The first answer I give is that he's crazy. I could leave it at that, and still be fairly accurate, but the truth is that almost all talent in Hollywood is crazy. They'll gladly admit to it, in fact. Kilborn's craziness is no more extreme than any other, although his brand of aloofness mixed with a deep contempt for humanity mixed with some truly sparkling ability mixed with a desire to be a media darling, all sort of imploded at the time of his contract renewal, and in his mind I think he wanted to see if he could achieve something more impressive outside than inside his late night bubble. In a bizarre way I almost admire the blended hubris and narcissism that forces someone to quit a viable perch on the north slope to see if they can find another path higher up the mountain. In a less bizarre way, I, and everyone else on the show, couldn't help but wonder if this was a case of a guy seeing he wasn't going to be the MVP, and taking his ball and going home. Only time will tell if Kilborn will be able to tap into some hidden talent and sizzle in another venue, or fade into the Hollywood night sky.

But enough about blondie. What's more interesting to you, I would hope, is the effect all of this has on job-ness. When the host quits, what, pray tell, happens to the nine comedy writers who made their living putting jokes into that guy's mouth?

In our case, something odd. The host was gone, but the show was still here. A headless body still strutting along unaware that it should be dead. Worldwide Pants owns the rights to program the slot after Letterman, and so it still had a show on the air, but no host. We were told that people would be brought in over a six-week period to guest host the show. Some of those people were being considered for the permanent spot. Some were just here to have fun for a night. Some were here to torture us for sins we had committed in some past comedy lives.

All told, there were 27 people who guest-hosted LLS after Kilborn quit (although as I write this there are perhaps as many as 10 more who will be filling in even more spots as the "search" for the new person winds up). I wrote sketches, skits, songs, jokes, rants, props, dances and god knows what else for a range of Hollywood-ites from Jason Alexander to Tom Arnold to Rosie Perez to people you've probably never even heard of but who had some connection to Letterman or Rob Burnett or CBS. Every day was new, every host was different, every show was a teeter-totter between moments of complete disaster and moments of refreshing late night alternatives.

But through it all, there was one constant-- everyone on staff pretty much knew we were toast after a new host was picked. It's just instinct for most people who want to host a comedy show that they will want to handpick their writing staff to make sure they have their same voice. And, as Adam Corolla put it during his final monologue when he hosted, we all had the "stench of Kilborn" on us. Because of the guillotine over our heads, during the guest hosting there was a certain gall over the writer's room at LLS. While it was still a hornet's nest of jokes, zingers, and call-backs, there was a clear turn toward gallows humor as each of us came up to our renewal week (on a network show you're guaranteed 13-weeks of pay-- called a "cycle"-- but can also be let go instead of being renewed every 13 weeks). It made for an oddly desperate camaraderie, and it also made me get off my butt and change my plans for the year 2005. I had intended to coast for a little while, write daily jokes and work on screenplays, then start looking for a manager in spring '05, an agent, and then try to transition into sitcoms in '06. Now, coasting was no longer an option. I had to find an agent, a manager, and a new job.

As luck would have it, I found the job first. Not long after Kilborn announced he was bailing, a job came open on a staff where I knew a few people-- Dennis Miller, on CNBC. I sent in some Miller-sounding samples, and after about six weeks of twists and turns and contract wrangling (I had to be allowed out of my contract by Worldwide Pants, and had to find someone to negotiate my contract with NBC), I was hired at the Miller show, where I've been happily ensconced for three weeks now. While the whole world knows that Dennis has undergone a radicalization of politics that has landed him in the far less funny right wing, I can tell you flat out he's also one of the dead-on funniest people I've ever met, dazzling in his ability to roll his own perfectly formed and edited pieces out of his mouth during rehearsal. It's bizarre, after working with Tom Arnold and Kilborn, to now be working with a comic's comic, one who can both judge and create jokes adroitly.

And so here I am, in a new place, surrounded by new writers, new producers, and a new stream of endless PA's. Thus I say goodbye to the previous chapter in my saga of Hollywood comedy writer jobs. The Late, Late Show was a great place to get my feet set in comedy world, and while I'm sad to see my time there end, it's cool to live in a city where there are always other shows percolating, and there is at least the possibility of finding other jobs. So I guess that's all for now, until the ground under my feet shifts again, and I write to you about my new job writing joke balloons for Animal Planet. HOME Back to the Top