Ten Minute Interview with David Misch
Author of Funny: The Book, David Misch, was interviewed on Ten Minute Interviews, a unique platform for authors, musicians and other creative individuals to speak about themselves, their lives and their work. David has lent his voice to sitcoms including Mork & Mindy, Police Squad! and Duckman, he has also released a new book titled A Beginners Guide to Corruption. Learn more about David in the interview below!
What was your childhood like, and how did it shape who you are today?
I was born in a humble log cabin in 1946, then again in a split-level thatched roof cottage in 1950. Growing a remarkable twelve inches a day (though, unfortunately, entirely in my shins), I was recruited by both the Chicago Bulls and AAA Ceiling Repair before my fourth birthday, but opted instead for a career as a professional snitch.
After ratting out literally dozen of ne’er-do-wells to the FIB, I realized I should have been dealing with the FBI, not Fellas In Basements, a special-interest group devoted to the study of La-Z-Boy armchairs. I then retired to an underwater colony of scuba gear scavengers who, unable to find scuba gear, drowned. I will be missed.
Growing up, who were your biggest comedic and creative influences?
When, as a kid, I discovered James Thurber, I then quickly went through the renowned wits of my day (and earlier days) – S.J. Perelman, Robert Benchley, P.G. Wodehouse – while on TV I saw great comics like Jackie Gleason and Dick Van Dyke, and film comedies from the ’20s through the ’50s.
But my seminal experience came from the Marx Brothers on the big screen. In my 20s, I lived in Cambridge, Mass. It was the ’70s and someone had the idea of playing old movies in theaters (what we now call “art houses”). The Marxes were pretty much forgotten, but one night a theater had a double-bill of Duck Soup and A Night At The Opera and the sold-out audience laughed so loudly you could barely hear the dialogue. I was hooked, with the lifelong goal to make audiences emit that loud barking noise at regular intervals.
How did the opportunity to work on Mork & Mindy come about?
I moved from Boston to New York City, where I became a stand-up and was spotted by Woody Allen’s manager, who signed me as a writer (which says volumes about my skill as a stand-up). Soon I was on a plane to L.A. to write for what I thought would be a lame sitcom about a Martian. But my manager also handled Robin Williams who, he said, “is actually pretty good.”
Despite airing only six episodes, Police Squad! is one of the most revered TV series of all time. What was it like to work on that show, and did you realize at the time that you were creating something special?
In every interview with someone who worked on something great, they say “I had no idea.” I can now confirm that’s true. With the caveat that we all knew it was damn funny.
Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker (“ZAZ”) had just made the hit movie Airplane!, which I loved. When their next movie idea – a parody of cop shows – didn’t sell, they decided to do it as a TV series.
Although I’d had a great time on Mork, most of the writers were older; ZAZ and the rest of the Police Squad! staff were my age and more my sensibility, so it was tremendous fun.
One thing I learned was sticking up for what you believe. The former dramatic leading man Leslie Nielsen was a supporting player in Airplane!, one of the first times he’d done comedy. The guys wanted him for Police Squad! but the network called to say no, he was too old.
The guys said “Okay, we understand,” hung up the phone, left the office, got in their cars, and drove off the studio lot. “We’re millionaires,” they said. “We don’t care.” A few hours later, Leslie Nielsen was our lead.
Another favorite memory from that show was landing at LAX in jacket and business shoes, getting picked up by a limo and driven to the beach in Santa Monica, where I was told I’d be judging a bikini contest with ZAZ. I remember walking across the hot sand, shedding my ludicrous outfit, thinking, “This is gonna be fun.” It was.
What was your role on The Muppets Take Manhattan?
The movie had been written and was going into production in a few weeks when they decided they needed someone to write for the constantly-changing list of celebrities who were going to do cameos in the movie. As I started doing that, director Frank Oz started making other changes too and before I knew it, I was rewriting the movie.
I was on set during shooting; one day in Central Park, I watched as Frank as Miss Piggy and Jim Henson as Kermit acted and improvised (with lots of obscenities) while a crowd gathered and stared not at the two six-foot-plus men, but at the two pieces of felt at the end of their arms.
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