Friday, April 7, 2017

Brooks on Books: Poking a Dead Frog by Mike Sacks

Like Sacks' previous "And Here's the Kicker," "Poking a Dead Frog" is a great read, a fun and illuminating collection of interviews, short essays, and lists featuring comedy writers. It's partly designed to provide practical advice to aspiring professionals, but it's entertaining for anyone. I'm no comedy writer, nor do I want to be one (though I won't object if someone chuckles every now and then at things on this blog), but I tore through the book anyway.

The breadth of names interviewed for this book is impressive. Some names are bigger than others, but there's a great variety of talents included. I am struck by the number of aspects of comedy that are represented. You hear from a cartoonist (Roz Chast), a short story writer (George Saunders), old time radio vet Peg Lynch, and current TV showrunner Michael Schur.

The book alternates long interviews with shorter pieces written in first person and titled "Ultraspecific Comedic Knowledge," in which you might get advice on being a script doctor. Also scattered throughout the text are short sections called "Pure Hard Core Advice" from names like Stephen Merchant.

One of the most unique and delightful chapters is a sample submission packet to a late night show, presented by Conan writer Todd Levin with retrospective commentary analyzing what works and what doesn't. It's the kind of thing you don't really see anywhere else outside "the biz" and offers a fascinating window into the process.

Lest ye think this book is a mere job seeker's manual, let me assure you these are great interviews with funny people, and Sacks get a lot of good stuff out of them. There are plenty of anecdotes about working in comedy as well as amusing stories about the backgrounds of the subjects. Poking a Dead Frog is nearly 450 pages but is easily burn-through-able (Maybe I should be a writer with vocabulary like that), and I give it my highest rating to anyone interested in the process of creating comedy.

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