Denny Schnulo began his writing career at age eleven with the release of his first collection of poems to the kids on the school playground. Believing that first hand reports are always best, he spent his early adult years living and working throughout the world. His writing today is informed by people he met and things they did together. Follow Denny on Twitter: @DennySchnulo
Script caught up with David Misch to talk about his new book that comes out today, A Beginner’s Guide to Corruption: When Life Gives You Lemons, Steal Lemonade, his gargantuan amount of experience in comedy, and to cop a few belly laughs. He didn’t disappoint.
Among David Misch’s TV and movie credits are the Emmy–winning Mork and Mindy, the Emmy–losing Duckman, the Emmy–besotted Saturday Night Live, and the Emmy–ineligible The Muppets Take Manhattan. He’s also a playwright, songwriter, blogger, teacher, and recovered stand–up comic.
Script: You have a book, out July 21st, A Beginner’s Guide to Corruption, what motivated you to write it?
DM: Money. Lucre. Black gold. Texas Tea. (Sorry, those last two are from the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies, a TV show as funny today as it was in the Sixties; i.e., not very.)
Okay, really? I find corruption – not only political and financial but romantic – utterly fascinating, especially when the corrupt attempt to fool us, and themselves, by pretending to be noble. When Chief Bill Clinton Impeacher Newt Gingrich was discovered having an affair during the impeachment, he explained “There’s no question that, partially driven by how passionately I feel about this country, things happened in my life that were not appropriate.” (English translation: “I fucked my assistant because I love America.”) Mocking such idiocies is incredibly easy, which is another reason I like doing it.
Script: With corruption so ubiquitous are you worried targeting beginners in the title will limit sales? (Rim shot here)
DM: Absolutely not. It’s shocking how in this day and age so many people, especially among The Young, are not only honest but have no interest in lying, cheating and stealing. Not all of them, certainly, but enough that it poses a real threat to our political and corporate institutions.
That’s why it’s critical for everyone to buy multiple copies, so you can hand them out to youngsters at playgrounds, birthday parties and donkey rides. (Mule rides are also acceptable.)
Script: Is promoting the book taking up your time or are you still able to work on other projects?
A typical day breaks down roughly as… 8–10 AM: Moaning & Whining; 10–12 noon: Bitching & Blaming; 12–1: Light lunch; 1–3: Recriminations & Regret; 3–5: Drugs & Masturbation; 5–7: Nap; 7–9: Dinner (crabs); 9–11: Binge–watch “Fuller House”; wash, rinse, repeat.
Script: Typically how many projects do you work on simultaneously?
DM: Relatively serious now. There’s always lots going on but when I’m hot for something, I want to spend all my time on it. After I’ve done my best, I take a break so I can come back to it fresh. Which usually results in horror at all the ways I screwed up, which results in another long stretch of writing. (And whining.)
Script: Your portfolio spans several decades and types of comedy from sit com, sketch and feature film, to animation. How has comedy writing evolved over the years and is it more profound in one area than the others?
DM: I think most people believe that the last ten or so years have seen comedy get faster, broader and dirtier. But I’m pretty sure every era thinks the same thing. All comedy’s not for everyone and the comedy we see in the top TV shows and movies doesn’t represent everything that’s going on. Though even there, I’d argue, there’s a huge range, from the bathroom humor of Adam Sandler to the machine–gun dialogue of “Veep”, from the physical humor of Will Ferrell to the scathing political satire of Samantha Bee.
As to profound, I think the sharpest comedy writing now is on TV.
Script: What is the biggest difference between writing an animated comedy versus live action?
DM: Easier to work with the actors. Which is a cheap joke, because in fact there are actors, but their role is smaller. Since they’re recorded and there’s no live–action to contend with, it’s a lot easier to shape the dialogue in post.
Many people think that animation frees the writer’s imagination and while to some degree that’s true, just like live–action so does animation have limitations on number of characters (designing them costs money and time), “sets” (likewise each location), and even action (as in live–action, a character talking is easier/faster/cheaper to “shoot” than a fight scene).
Script: How does writing stand up material, particularly to self–perform, differ from scripted comedy?
DM: It’s more personal. Of course, all good writers bring themselves to their material but performing usually comes from the stand–up’s personality. Though it’s really a persona; all comics present a fictionalized – though carefully wrought – version of themselves.
Script: You lecture about comedy at venues such as the Smithsonian, AFI, Yale, Oxford, the Actors Studio, Austin Film Festival and the University of Sydney. Is it a challenge to explain the same concepts to such diverse audiences?
DM: Nah. I’m really good.
Although you could say it’s less due to that (you’d be wrong) than the fact that most comedy is universal; fat guys falling have been getting laughs from Plautus to Paul Blart.
The basic principles of comedy – pattern recognition, misdirection, tension–and–resolution and surprise – never change. And, interestingly, they’re also the basic principles of drama. To learn more, pay me.
Script: How close is the Aussie sense of humor to Americans?
DM: I didn’t spend enough time to really say. (Though that doesn’t usually stop me.) But we can get a sense from their movies that it’s not so different from ours.
One thing I can say is what a great time I had there. Although I’m clearly one of the finest and most perceptive analysts of comedy the world has ever known, I suspect it was my being fame–adjacent (I have met Kermit the Frog) which caused an exultant, near–ecstatic welcome, with my every whimsical phrase resulting in tumultuous laughter and thrown panties (or wallabies, or whatever they call them there).
So yeah. Australia.
Script: You’ve also written some plays. What’s the biggest difference between writing comedy for the theatre versus a sit com, sketch or film scene?
DM: My first play had 30 scenes and 9 characters. My second play has 9 scenes and 4 characters. My third play will be a 90–minute monologue which takes place during a blackout. In other words, it’s all about the words. (Or, to put it another way, it’s all about not spending money.) Theater doesn’t usually rely on changes of scene and multiple characters to put a story across.
Another obvious (though not to me) thing I learned was that theater is theatrical; you need to be aware the audience is right there with the actors. That means actively engaging them without the camera tricks and often–facile memes of TV and movie comedy.
Script: With a number of songwriting credits to your name is there any chance we could see an album someday?
DM: The popular clamor for my work would need to reach volume somewhat louder than it is currently. Incidentally, of all my musical accomplishments (of which there are one), maybe my proudest is a song title for the adult animated series Duckman, starring Jason Alexander: The Road to Dendron (Love Theme from The Road To Dendron). I had to send the chyron back three times to get the apostrophes right.
Script: How does it feel to have worked on a classic like Mork and Mindy which essentially launched the career of one of the great performers of our time?
DM: I feel proud every time those residual checks roll in; some of them now exceed $5.00!
It was great – my first screenwriting job, and a hit. But although Robin did not ad–lib everything (a subject for another time), there’s no question our success was all due to him – we (and the studio audience) knew a star was born the instant he hit the stage. It was amazing and wonderful to have such a brilliant performer to write for.
Script: Do you have a personal favorite of all your scripts?
DM: I love all my children. But maybe by a scoche, Doug & Cindy, a sitcom set in 17th–century France which revisits Cinderella and Prince Charming twenty years later. If you give a shit, and there’s no reason you should, you can read it here.
And while you’re at my website, anyone who knows the obscure (but fondly remembered) Police Squad!, which later became the Naked Gun movie series, can check out the script for the quasi–legendary 7th episode (we were cancelled after 6), which I wrote and was going to direct.
Script: Is there a script of yours you want a do–over on?
DM: God yes. But there are so many shows I want do–overs on. There was one that drove me so nuts, I actually re–cut it at home after it aired. Seriously.
Script: Of all your scripts which one inspired the most confidence in you or taught you the most about the craft?
DM: It was fascinating working with Frank Oz on the production script for The Muppets Take Manhattan, learning about how to craft what we wanted for what we could get.
Script: Is there an idea or a concept you’ve been hanging on to for years but just haven’t had the chance to develop?
DM: Too many to count. But the main one – which I’ve had for 40 years – I’m hoping to make my next play. And since it’s an epic, it’ll be interesting to see how I condense a story with dozens of characters that takes place over two decades on three continents into a one–person monologue during a blackout.
Script: How often do you work off someone else’s concept versus your own idea?
DM: Now, in my dotage, it’s mostly my own. But I’m still very much open to others’ ideas and my rates are reasonable. Also, I do bar mitzvahs.
Check out Dave’s new book, A Beginner’s Guide to Corruption: When Life Gives You Lemons, Steal Lemonade – A satirical look at politics, finance and romance which shows how CORRUPTION as a route to wealth and happiness is fast, easy and effective, other than when it takes years, requires enormous effort and doesn’t work.