Blog Archives

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!


00314925What 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?

But seriously…

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.


Click here to read to the entire interview.

Harpo Marx’s Birthday

To celebrate Harpo Marx’s birthday, enjoy this excerpt from David Misch’s Funny: The Book.

The Marxes grew up in a Jewish tenement on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and began performing as young kids – first as a music act, gradually becoming comedians, with each boy doing one of the ethnic parodies popular at the time; Chico’s ludicrous Italian accent was a remnant of those days. (In The Coconuts, Chico spots a disreputable old associate with a new identity and says, skeptically, “How did you get to be Roscoe W. Chandler?”; the guy answers, “How did you get to be Italian?”)

Marx Brothers stage shows were legendary for their energy, goofiness and ad-libs, some of which later appeared in their movies. In the middle of a performance, Groucho suddenly turned to the audience and said urgently, “Is there a doctor in the house?” A man stood up: “I’m a doctor.” Groucho: “Howya like the show, doc?”

During another performance, Groucho was doing a scene when Harpo tried to rattle his brother by chasing a chorus girl across the stage, honking his horn. Not missing a beat, Groucho said, “First time I ever saw a taxi hail a passenger.”

One night a Marx writer, George S. Kaufman, was talking to a friend at the back of the theater, when he stopped, listened, then said, “Sorry – I thought I heard one of the original lines.”

By the time Paramount signed them for pictures, the Marxes were all around forty years old and would be movie stars for less than ten years.

Their first films were essentially photographed stage plays. Coconuts was made in 1929, the year sound came to movies, and was shot in Astoria, Queens, during the day while the Marxes performed on Broadway at night in Animal Crackers. (At one point in Coconuts, Groucho gets his name confused with his character in Animal Crackers.)

Later, their movies were written directly for the screen by the best comedy writers around, like Kaufman, S.J. Perelman, and Ben Hecht, probably the top screenwriter in American history.

The Marx pictures of the early ’30s – Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, and Duck Soup – mark their purely anarchic period. From beginning to end, these films are constantly crazy and practically plotless, their supposed settings (college, ship, mythical kingdom) the thinnest excuses for sketches and songs.

Funny: The Book

Funny: The Book is an entertaining look at the art of comedy, from its historical roots to the latest scientific findings, with diversions into the worlds of movies (Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers), television (The Office), prose (Woody Allen, Robert Benchley), theater (The Front Page), jokes and stand-up comedy (Richard Pryor, Steve Martin), as well as personal reminiscences from the author’s experiences on such TV programs as Mork and Mindy.

With allusions to the not-always-funny Carl Jung, George Orwell, and Arthur Koestler, Funny: The Book explores the evolution, theories, principles, and practice of comedy, as well as the psychological, philosophical, and even theological underpinnings of humor, coming to the conclusion that (Spoiler Alert!) Comedy is God.

Heard Any Good Jokes?

misch

David Misch at Book Expo America 2012

The following is an excerpt of Funny: The Book by David Misch (Applause Books).

In 2002, Richard Wiseman, intriguingly named, of the University of Hertfordshire, set up a website called LaughLab, where people from all over the world could submit and rate jokes, the idea being to find the one that worked for the most people in the most countries. He received forty thousand entries (of which two-thirds were too racist, violent, or dirty to print).

The winner—later discovered to be based on a 1951 sketch written by Spike Milligan for the famed British radio series The Goon Show—was submitted by a psychiatrist named Gurpal Gosall, whose name may be funnier than the joke.

Two guys are hunting in the woods when one suddenly falls to the ground, and it looks like he’s not breathing. The other guy takes out his cell and calls 911: “My friend is dead. What should I do?”

Operator: “Okay, I can help. First we have to make sure he’s dead . . .”

There’s silence, a gunshot, then the guy comes back on the line: “Okay, now what?”

In second place was this:

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go camping. They pitch their tent under the stars and go to sleep. In the middle of the night, Holmes wakes his friend and says: “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

Watson: “I see millions and millions of stars.”

Holmes: “And what do you deduce from that?”

Watson: “Well, if there are millions of stars, and if even a few of those stars have planets, then it’s quite likely there are planets like Earth out there. And if there are planets like Earth, there could also be life.”

Holmes: “No, you idiot, it means someone stole our tent.”

Both of these demonstrate the importance of “precise ambiguity.” Take the hunters: It looks like he’s not breathing—kinda vague, right? But it has to be; the punchline depends on our not knowing if the guy’s dead. You have to say it looks like he’s not breathing because it’s what’s not said that sets up the punchline.

Holmes and Watson also rely on an equivocal phrase: Look up at the sky and tell me what you see. For the joke to work, the listener has to either have forgotten the beginning, which had Holmes and Watson pitching their tent under the stars; or when Watson says I see millions of stars, the listener thinks instantly, subconsciously, “Wait, aren’t they in a tent? Oh, David probably just said it wrong, not important, wait, David’s still talking, I better listen . . .”

Funny: The Book is an entertaining look at the art of comedy, from its historical roots to the latest scientific findings, with diversions into the worlds of movies (Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers), television (The Office), prose (Woody Allen, Robert Benchley), theater (The Front Page), jokes and stand-up comedy (Richard Pryor, Steve Martin), as well as personal reminiscences from the author’s experiences on such TV programs as Mork and Mindy.

Hal Leonard at BEA

Thank you to everyone who stopped by the Hal Leonard booth at Book Expo America this week. We love meeting with old friends and making new ones. We had great authors come by and talk with librarians, book sellers, and teachers about their books and do book signings. We gave away a copy of Treasures of the Who (congrats to Keaton Babb!). And we even hosted a panel discussion with Actors’ Equity at the Downtown Stage. What a week!

David Misch, author of FUNNY: THE BOOK, handed out rubber-nose-and-glasses to everyone who walked by on Tuesday.

Sirius Radio talked with many of our authors. Here, Dave Thompson talks about his book HEARTS OF DARKNESS.

Estelle Parsons, Robert Simonson, David Henry Hwang, Andre DeShields, and Nick Wyman discuss the forthcoming PERFORMANCE OF THE CENTURY on the Downtown Author Stage

Our drawing for Treasures of the Who, available this fall

The Hal Leonard booth is a popular place to be!

Click here for more photos of Hal Leonard at BEA.

Funny: The Keatons

David Misch is the author of Funny: The Book.

“FUNNY: THE KEATONS”

— One of the most amazing, dangerous, and copied stunts in comedy history: 3 inches clearance on each side.  The camera operator was sure Keaton would be killed and left the set; Keaton turned on the camera himself.

— Jackie Chan does it with paper.

— “Weird Al” Yankovic does it Amish-style.

— Johnny Knoxville does it off-key.

— “The Simpsons” do it together.

Funny: The Book

Funny: The Book is an entertaining look at the art of comedy, from its historical roots to the latest scientific findings, with diversions into the worlds of movies (Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers), television (The Office), prose (Woody Allen, Robert Benchley), theater (The Front Page), jokes and stand-up comedy (Richard Pryor, Steve Martin), as well as personal reminiscences from the author’s experiences on such TV programs as Mork and Mindy.

Funny: The Sitcoms

David Misch is the author of Funny: The Book.

“FUNNY: THE SITCOMS”

 — Art Carney takes his time; Jackie Gleason is not amused.

— Dick Van Dyke searches for a hidden birthday gift and gets back in time for chicken.

— Archie Bunker’s foreign policy.

— Hawkeye Pierce’s gun control.

— Mary Tyler Moore’s Chuckles control.

— Micheal Scott’s bladder control.

Funny: The Book

Funny: The Book is an entertaining look at the art of comedy, from its historical roots to the latest scientific findings, with diversions into the worlds of movies (Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers), television (The Office), prose (Woody Allen, Robert Benchley), theater (The Front Page), jokes and stand-up comedy (Richard Pryor, Steve Martin), as well as personal reminiscences from the author’s experiences on such TV programs as Mork and Mindy.

Funny: The Talkers

David Misch is the author of Funny: The Book.

“FUNNY: THE TALKERS”

— Groucho: The inspiration for everyone from Woody Allen to Bugs Bunny.

— Danny Kaye: chalice/palace, flagon/dragon, vessel/pessel from The Court Jester.

— Sid Caesar could speak any language without speaking the language.

— Vince Vaughn is not entirely sure about dating.

— Steve Carrell newscasting in tongues.

Funny: The Book

Funny: The Book is an entertaining look at the art of comedy, from its historical roots to the latest scientific findings, with diversions into the worlds of movies (Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers), television (The Office), prose (Woody Allen, Robert Benchley), theater (The Front Page), jokes and stand-up comedy (Richard Pryor, Steve Martin), as well as personal reminiscences from the author’s experiences on such TV programs as Mork and Mindy.

Funny: The Body 3

David Misch is the author of Funny:The Book.

FUNNY: THE BODY 3”

— Steve Martin vs. Steve Martin.

— Buster exits horizontally.

— Jerry Lewis: Arms and the Man.

— People pestered Cleese to do it for decades, until a hip replacement gave him an out.

— Will Ferrell is willing to do nudity, but only if it’s not tasteful.

Funny: The Book

Funny: The Book is an entertaining look at the art of comedy, from its historical roots to the latest scientific findings, with diversions into the worlds of movies (Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers), television (The Office), prose (Woody Allen, Robert Benchley), theater (The Front Page), jokes and stand-up comedy (Richard Pryor, Steve Martin), as well as personal reminiscences from the author’s experiences on such TV programs as Mork and Mindy.

Funny: The Body 1

Guest Blogger: David Misch is author of Funny: The Book.

— The world’s noisiest campfire was outrageous at the time; it still is.

— Mr. Creosote’s digestive issues also shocked audiences.

— A slumdog has a really crappy day.

— Bridesmaids, please: Avoid the hair.

Funny: The Book

Funny: The Book is an entertaining look at the art of comedy, from its historical roots to the latest scientific findings, with diversions into the worlds of movies (Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers), television (The Office), prose (Woody Allen, Robert Benchley), theater (The Front Page), jokes and stand-up comedy (Richard Pryor, Steve Martin), as well as personal reminiscences from the author’s experiences on such TV programs as Mork and Mindy.

Funny: The Standups

Funny: The Book is by David Misch

                                                      “FUNNY: THE STANDUPS”

— Richard, from the greatest standup performance ever filmed.

— Lenny is maybe more provocative today than ever before.

— Perhaps if it had been carefully explained that “Who” was the man’s actual name, all that confusion could have been avoided.

— Steve Martin brings existentialism to standup.

— Woody was probably the smartest comic in history; this joke made Carson collapse.

— Mel and Carl’s improvised routines made literal and figurative history.

Funny: The Book

Funny: The Book is an entertaining look at the art of comedy, from its historical roots to the latest scientific findings, with diversions into the worlds of movies (Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers), television (The Office), prose (Woody Allen, Robert Benchley), theater (The Front Page), jokes and stand-up comedy (Richard Pryor, Steve Martin), as well as personal reminiscences from the author’s experiences on such TV programs as Mork and Mindy.