BACK   BACK to the Columnist INDEX ARCHIVE
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.

Vist Dan's site,!
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


Hollywood Carousel

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 disappear.

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 way.

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. HOME Back to the Top