In my last entry for Sheckling magazine I wrote about my
first job in Hollywood, a staff comedy writer position at
The Best Damn Sports Show Period. Like all things Hollywood,
jobs in this town are come and go, and after six months, my first
job "went." Cíest la vie. Quel dommage. And whatever
other French phrases apply when you are unemployed.
But it was a good starter job, and I learned a lot. And since
I am now once again in the ranks of those searching for
cash-acquiring activities in LA, I have free time to lay out
some of what I learned so maybe it will help others out there
who are searching for their first job.
* * *
The first thing I learned is that Hollywood is an unstable
entity, always fluid, never really predictable or settled for long.
Which is good because there are always opportunities bubbling up,
and bad because opportunities youíve procured suddenly
In my particular circumstance, what happened is that just after
I got the job at the show, FoxSports.Net underwent a regime change.
Certain high level executives were expunged, others brought in.
When this happens, new execs want to bandy their new power and set
a tone that they are not to be trifled with, and that they will turn
a profit. So Best Damn-- the flagship show for FoxSports.Net-- was
forced to show new execs it could make money. Budgets shrank,
workloads went up, morale plummeted, and jobs from every department
were cut. The writing staff lost two positions. It went from
six spots to four (even though one spot had been vacant forever),
and since I was the last hired, I lived the clichť of being
first fired. Ah, well, thatís the game weíve chosen. We must deal,
sons and daughters of comedy.
Second, and more importantly, I learned that I like writing
television. Television has a nice energy to it. Itís got a lot
of frustration and biting your tongue built into it as well,
but overall I really liked the activity of writing comedy that
suddenly appears before your very eyes on television. I liked
getting to drive on onto a studio lot every day. I liked working
in professional environment flavored by an air of comedy. And I
especially liked writing on a staff with a range of other comics
and comic writers. Itís fun to get to know other comic minds,
learn from them, get to joke around with them, and create
relationships that go beyond just the job at hand.
Third, I learned I can write television. I wrote jokes,
sketches, props, photo docs, monologues, off-the-cuff remarks,
and all that stuff got laughs. As a standup on the outside of TV
you think you can write stuff that will work on the tiny screen,
but youíre never sure. You think you know humor, but you donít
know if maybe the guys inside the industry are just so talented
that theyíll blow you out of the water once you get in the room
with them. Well, I can attest that if youíre a good standup,
your sense of humor will stand the test of television writing.
No one knows humor better than standups. No one is as cutting edge,
no one understands the audience, no one knows the microscopic
nuances and structures that make humor work as well as standups
know it. End of mystery.
Fourth, and most importantly of all, I learned that even though
I know humor, I had/have a ton to learn about how humor works
on television. There is so much going on behind the scenes,
from producing to management to budgeting to acting to editing
to legal to script changes to direction to things you could
never even think of that somehow become absolutely essential
to making your idea work. And you truly need some knowledge
of all of it so you can shepherd your stuff from idea into
televised reality without it getting fatally altered along
The basic lesson is that you need to learn television just like
you learned how to do cruddy one-nighters and A-rooms. And
the only way to learn television is the same way to learn standup:
you have to get direct experience. If you want to be a writer
in Hollywood, you have to somehow get on a television show
and soak stuff up like an alcoholic sponge. If that means
taking an unpaid internship, fine. If it means working cheap
as an assistant, fine. I was lucky in that my first job was
as a writer. But if I canít find another writer position soon
Iíll be more than willing to take a different job on a
show-- assistant, accountant, whatever I can weasel into.
Itís impossible to learn too much in television, and the only way
to learn it is to be there, up close, day after day, doing it.
No matter what level you start at, youíll move up if youíre
there learning and doing good work.
Fifth, and finally, I learned that although TV looks simple
when youíre out there watching it, believe me, itís incredibly
complicated putting it together. There are politics to negotiate,
people to please, people to keep away. There are ideas flying
at you from every angle. There are incompetent people
and incredibly talented people, all mixed together. You have
to carve out your own style and your own space, or youíll
get swallowed alive. And there are two hundred people waiting
to take your place if you do get swallowed, and hardly anyone
is willing or able to take the time to slow down and hold your
hand while you get your feet wet, so get ready to hit the ground
running, my friend.
So all in all I guess I would summarize my first job by
saying if youíre thinking about writing for television,
itís not impossible. Itís even fun. But itís hard work,
itís unstable work, and it can be maddening work.
And now I have to go look for more of it.