What Are You Working On?
Amateur Answer: I am constantly working on a blog called "The Oscars Are Always Wrong" in which I go through the Academy Awards year by year and find out whether their Best Picture winners support my contention that they are always wrong. After about two years of sporadic work, I'm about to tackle 1960. Currently, I'm winning 23 to 8.
I was recommended to the editors by a friend who works there and had seen my show. Basically, it fell in my lap, the way things just happen to characters in Murakami novels. I'm used to writing comedy articles for friends to read, but I'd never written a polished column on a regular deadline. It's always been a dream of mine, though, having grown up being a fan of Robert Benchley, James Thurber, and so forth. That makes it sound like I grew up in the 1920's, but I didn't. I just love written humor, because it allows you to deal with abstract concepts and impossible images and ideas, as well as the technical structuring necessary to pace jokes properly when you can't totally control the speed of the reader. It's a fun little struggle between me and the audience, only I have to predict the audience's moves ahead of time.
It's been hard keeping myself concise, as you can tell from my answers. I'm naturally pretty prolix, but I'm stuck in a 500-word limit, meaning I have to fine-tune everything to make it fit the available space, which sometimes takes longer than the original writing. Even more than that, though, despite working at "The Daily Show" I wasn't used to writing only topical material. I'm stronger at nonsense-based humor, so I try to use the news as a very basic launching pad for jokes that are really more about crazy situations than topical satire. This means, though, that finding ideas for articles isn't a natural instinct for me. Usually my solution is to read a number of different news stories, then allow them to sit in the back of my mind for a few days. Then, whenever I'm too busy to write something down, an idea will come to me, followed by jokes supporting that idea throughout the rest of the day, which I then write out in full. I haven't yet gone through more than two drafts per article, and even that is rare. So there are many moments of inspiration, but less of the "Ah-ha!" variety and more of the "Yes, that's another good joke" variety.
By far the most rewarding aspect of this has been having almost total creative control of my stuff, but still reaching a fairly wide audience (including, once, an international audience). My "Daily Show" and Oscar work has reached far more people, but it's done somewhat anonymously and filtered through other people's sensibilities. The other most rewardingest thing is the immediate reaction. In theory, I can ride the subway to work the day a column comes out and see people reading it and laughing at it. This hasn't actually happened yet, but in theory, it could.
This current column has to be finished by Wednesday night, which is my deadline. The job itself, though, hopefully won't end anytime soon. This is a pretty new project for me, and I'd like to take it wherever it could possibly go. The newspaper column profession is about the hardest one to make a living/name in, though, maybe one step above cartoon voice-acting, so who knows. So my prospects are not yet in sight, but on the other hand, the future is as wide and open as the western plains, and also, coincidentally enough, full of roaming buffalo. I'm completely ready and excited to take on new projects and shill for more attention.
The one man show is a live stage show that involves me performing/improvising a monologue on something going on in my life, interviewing a guest, and performing different comedy bits/sketches with my writing partner Brock and also with the producer of the show, a guy named Erik Marcisak. So it's not totally a one-man show. It evolved from a show I did last year, "The Midnight Kalan," which was an unwritten discussion show in which I would basically make up most show as I went along, which meant it was wildly uneven in quality and also could vary in length from one hour to an hour and 40 minutes, depending on whether I worked well with the guest or not. The "Midnight" show was more than anything else an exploration of my own personality and my problems with women. Now that I have a girlfriend I've lost a lot of my material.
Watch the "gay cowboy" montage seen on the 2006 Oscar telecast
Elliott posts links to his Metro columns and his "Oscars Are Always Wrong" posts on his blog.
See more What Are You Working On? interviews.
published 9 Mar 06, updated 16 Mar 06 on Too Beautiful. email copyright 2006 Mark Pritchard, Bernal Heights, San Francisco