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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"
"Tom Kenney"

"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


Ladies & Gentlemen: A Job

I said a while back that I would write about television once I had worked in television. At the time that seemed an unlikely happening, since the barriers around TV jobs are so tall and onyx-like for first-time writers. But then there's the rub about LA: You can't ever say you're a total failure, because success is always hanging tauntingly around some streetcorner in this ephemeral maze of a city, and it's just waiting for you to turn the right angle and bump into it with your best "Pardon me, ma'am. What's that? Sure, I'd like to be a movie star."

All of which to say is that while I'm not exactly a raging success just yet, I now have a TV writing job. I am a staff writer on The Best Damn Sports Show Period. I've been doing this job for about four months now-- concurrent with my no longer doing much writing for beloved Sheckymag, you may well note.

But this week our show is "dark" (that's Hollywood lingo, my friends), meaning the show doesn't tape, and we aren't working (though many of us are here acting like we're working so we don't use up vacation days). Which means I have the time and brain wherewithal to write more than sports jokes for a few days. So I thought I would step back into the SHECKY fray and maybe yield some light upon something industry-ish that could possibly help standups who believe that they, too, want to break through the barricades and storm the emperor's throne of television.

Since I'm working on a talk show, I guess it would be most logical to write about... working on a talk show.

* * *

The Best Damn Sports Show Period airs for two hours a night, 11 - 1 a.m., Mon- Fri. (Or 8 and 11 on the West Coast, and sometimes again the next morning.) It is on FoxSports, a subsidiary of FOX, which is a subsidiary of the News Corporation, owned by multi-billionaire Rupert Murdoch.

The show, if you haven't seen it (and so many haven't), is five guys (Chris Rose, Tom Arnold, John Salley, Michael Irvin, and the now departed John Kruk) sitting around and talking sports. There are all sorts of sports "updates" (a la Sportscenter) done by the newswoman, Lisa Guerrero. There are celebrity guests from sports, music, film, TV. And there are comedy bits: sketches, top lists, jokes, etc. It's where sports meets comedy, we're told. Like a hooker and a john.

To do my work on this show, every day I drive an hour or so through the beast of LA traffic, leaving out of Glendale, cutting through back neighborhoods to Mulholland, snaking my way to Coldwater Canyon, then down down down into Beverly Hills, where I drive onto the Fox Studio Lot off Pico and Motor. I flash my ID badge, the guards smile, and here I am: A Hollywood writer.

I work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., give or take, and we're dark probably five or six weeks a year. So guess what? It's a job. Just like any other corporate schtick. In fact, amazingly like any other corporate schtick. People here are overworked, pushed, underappreciated, seething, striving, and always looking to get out to something better while hoping they don't get fired from what they currently have. Modern life. Everyone at your job is an open wound, and all bosses are made of salt.

My day consists of some fairly predictable grooves. From 8 to 9 a.m., the show's producers have a morning meeting where they set out what they want to do that day, including the comedy bits they plan to incorporate into the normal talk format: a sketch, a cold open, a few top lists, off-the-cuff jokes for Tom Arnold, props, whatever. We get there at 9, and talk these things over, sometimes lay out the exact sketch, sometimes just assign writers to do the sketch, and then we head to our cubicles to write. We write scripts, get feedback, get shot down, write again, write again, write again. After a whole lot of other jazz I'm not going to get into here, sketches are finally set, a feature producer tapes the sketch, edits it, and then we all wait to see if it gets approved by the producers so it can go on air.

The show is taped in a building near us from 3 to 5, and our comedy accounts for maybe three minutes of airtime on a two-hour show. Seems like so little product for a lot of effort, but that's the nature of the game. Everything you see on television, no matter how small, carries a buttload of work behind it. Especially something that has been produced, uses actors, has to be edited, etc.

Our staff consists of five guys: Myself and Bob Oschack are standups; Josh David and Brian Kahn were writing assistants on sitcoms; the head writer, Jerry Perzigian, is a sitcom veteran hanging out here because sitcom jobs have dried up like raisins in the microwave. Probably the best part of the job, other than getting a paycheck for typing jokes, is being on a staff of other comics and writers. Especially this staff. Whereas on a sitcom writers seem to chew on each other as they compete to get things produced so they can get attention and move up, our show isn't that political. We don't compete with each other for attention. Everyone gets jokes on, everyone does sketches. It's supportive, friendly, and we even get to throw footballs in the walkways.

On the other hand, writing on staff is unnatural to anyone who has learned comedy via standup. The first couple of months it killed me to have other people "alter" or approve my stuff. Our head writer comes from sitcoms, where things are written verbally, where people "pitch" ideas and story beats and jokes, and the group stays together until something "good" emerges. It seems slow and tortured to me, especially since I work fast and I have always written alone, at my computer. But over time I have learned to work verbally, I've learned to pitch and not be too pissed off when my stuff isn't chosen or gets altered, and I've learned to develop ideas and work through them with a group. I still prefer to write alone, then go to the group for input when I need it, but I'm able now to move back and forth between group and solitary process without it making my skin crawl. And believe me, for a standup accustomed to being the lord and master of his own comedic domain, that isn't easy.

Okay, all well and good. You get some idea of the job. It's writing whatever the producers want, some of which you like, much of which you don't, and it's hanging out on staff in a corporate environment not unlike IBM. Fine. But I know what you really want to know. You want to know how you can get my job. Or any job, really.

Well, I'm not going to tell you. Okay, I'll tell you some, but there's too much to get into all the details right now. But I'll tease you with two things that are absolutely essential if you want to get hired as a small-time Hollywood writer.

First, have friends who already work in Hollywood. Four of the five people on our staff (including me) were hired here because they had friends who told them about this job and brought their stuff to the person who was doing the hiring. Friends are why you work in Hollywood. If you don't have friends you need an agent or manager to get in and find work for you, and those bastards only want to work for people who are already making money.

Second, be qualified to get a job when a job opens. And I don't mean that you are funny, or that you can potentially be funny on a staff. I mean that you have already written monologue jokes five days a week for a year (which I had done for a radio prep service prior to landing this job). I mean that you have already written a hundred top lists (again, something I had done). And that you already have fifty television sketches written. And you have already written ten spec sitcoms, and really learned the form. And that, once you have written all these things, you have them perfectly organized, copied and ready to be submitted as samples. Let's put it this way: If you have to write a sample the week you hear about a job, you're screwed. Making things good takes time. Believe me. If you're submitting a week of jokes, but I'm submitting the best of what I wrote for fifty-two weeks, you're at a massive disadvantage.

So if you want a job, make friends and start creating your samples now. That's how you get most Hollywood jobs. Someone lets you in the door, and when you get there you have great stuff that makes people want to hire you.

That was my preaching. Now, before I finish, let me draw a few big conclusions to all this.

Hollywood is a different place when you have a job than when you don't have a job. When you don't have a job all you can think about is how you are quickly sinking into bankruptcy and what schemes are available for keeping your kids in health insurance. Hollywood is hell when you're not working.

When you are working, though, Hollywood seems almost benign. Possible even a nice place to be. You know people. They know you. You can actually see yourself fitting into the landscape of it all.

This holds true even on a low-level job such as mine. I say "low-level" because I work for cable, not the networks. Which means I don't get the monster salary and residuals of a network show. But I do get to pay my bills, I have more status than those who have never worked (people actually talk to me at the Improv now), and my failing, creative ego is somewhat shored up by the proof that I can write this stuff, it goes on air, it gets laughs, and someone pays me.

The main thing this job offers, however, is that it demythicizes Hollywood. For the first time I am allowed onto a studio lot, and I can see firsthand the real and actual process, people, and psychoses that is the Hollywood infrastructure. And once you know what's going on, you can actually plot your way through it, instead of blindly groping and hoping.

Okay, that's all I got for you right now. Maybe I'll talk more about it whenever we're dark again, which I think is in about three months. Right now, while I have the free time, I have to get to work on my latest sitcom spec so I can, like everyone else in this town, be always ready to jump to the next, much shinier and higher paying wheel in the hamster cage known as Hollywood. HOME Back to the Top