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Showing posts from 2005

Fish gotta swim, writers gotta write

Over the years, I've met a lot of people who make a lot of erroneous assumptions about writing. Like assuming that if you write in one style or genre, you can't write in another. Or that if you have only have one type of writing experience, there's no way you can ever write about another. For example, if you write about horses, you'll never be able to write about race cars.

I remember I once met a guy who ran an advertising agency. He told me there was a big difference between newspaper writers and magazine writers and copywriters. "The styles are completely different," he said. "There are specialists for each one, but they just can't make the crossover." In other words, a magazine writer couldn't be a copywriter or a newspaper writer.

However, the guy admitted from the beginning that he wasn't a writer. ("I'm just a businessman who owns an ad agency," he said.) He only knew what he did because his magazine specialist told hi…

Apparently I'm NOT a dramaturg!

A few months ago, I posted a message announcing a new stage in my writing career as a dramaturg. It seems I misunderstood the invitation to the Indiana Theatre Works conference, and assumed I was a dramaturg because I wrote a play.

This misunderstanding was grounded in the fact that I'm a complete idiot when it comes to the theatre (pronounched "thea-tah"). But thanks to fellow radio theater playwright Henry Howard, the record has been set straight.

I am NOT a dramaturg. I am a playwright.

I'm still not clear on what a dramaturg is, although after reading the definition at, I'm almost convinced it's thea-tah talk for "the person in charge." It almost seems like a movie producer, but I could be wrong.

I am NOT a dramaturg. I am an idiot about the theatre.

That's why I had to rename my play too. Apparently "Into the Woods" was taken by this Stephen Sondheim fellow, whoever HE is! So I'm hopin…

The dangers of random photography

So I'm sitting in the lobby of the Airport Sheraton Hotel in Frankfurt, Germany, mostly minding my own business, when I was accosted by a plain-clothes police officer. It seems he was irritated at me about something to do with my camera.

I should back up for a minute.

I was meeting some friends to go to a Frankfurt Galaxy game (that's the NFL Europe -- hey, when in a foreign country, why not do something American?). I had just purchased a new pen from the Faber-Castell store in downtown Frankfurt, and was writing a column about the experience (click the link/arrow at the top of this entry to go to the column). I had spent all week trying to speak conversational German, and the purchase of the pen was the crowning point of the entire week, so I was feeling rather proud of myself. I was taking some pictures to include with the column, and was trying out the digital zoom on my digital camera to see what the range was.

As I was taking the pictures, three guys walk in. One is wearing …

I've always been partial to the theat-ah

Well, it's official. I'm now a professional playwright for radio AND STAGE! That's "the theat-ah" for those of us "in the biz." I just won a cash prize and a 12" granite obelisk for Best Comedy in the first ever Frank Basile Emerging Playwright Awards at the Indiana Theatre Works conference (organized by the Indiana Theatre Association) this past weekend. Believe it or not, I actually wanted that award more than I wanted Best Overall Play and the $1000 award.

I was just overwhelmed by the entire weekend. I met some amazing actors and playwrights, including Rita Kahn, who has had plays produced all over the world (I mean, if you had to name one of the hugest playwrights from Indiana, she's IT!) As I talked with the six other playwrights, I kept thinking "What the hell am I doing here? These are all bigshot playwrights. I'm just some radio hack who had to ask his wife about how to write stage directions." I mean, everyone else there …

It's in my raccoon wounds!!!

As a humor writer, I'm constantly looking for new material for a column EVERYWHERE. Any funny situation, story, or even just a phrase becomes fair game. I once created an entire column based on two words I heard, and created a 30 minute radio play just so I could create a joke around the line "Dee Butler did it."

However, last week, I was hard pressed to come up with something in spite of having the grossest day of my 8 years of fatherhood. I was holding my 2-year-old son because he was whining that "I growed up in my tummy." I had no idea what he was talking about, so I held him and patted his back.

Big mistake.

This caused him to burp, and then half a second later, to throw up his entire dinner and the 8 ounces of juice he had just drunk 20 minutes earlier. This wasn't just a little spit up. This was a stomach's-entire-contents-hey-when-did-I-have-corn? blowout.

My first thought was the line from the Family Guy episode where the Griffin family enters the …

How I do what I do

I was talking to someone about being a humor writer a few days ago, when they asked how long I have been doing this.

"Over 10 years."

"Wow! How do you come up with something new every week?"

I'm asked this question quite a bit, and I have a standard answer -- "current events," or "I steal from Dave Barry" -- but then I realized I had not thought about this in a l-o-o-o-ong time. I've published over 530 columns, and I only repeat old colums about six times a year because of sickness or vacation. Even then, I have to edit and tweak those things, so it's not like I have a free week.

So basically, I have no clue how I do it. I just come up with an idea -- hopefully more than 4 hours before my deadline -- and start sketching out some notes on a handy piece of paper. But I invariably forget to write them out, or I lose the notes, and then I'll be sitting in front of my computer at 9:30 on a Thursday nigh, trying desperately to reconstruct …

Two-time loser

Grrrr! Stupid National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

I submitted three of my best columns from 2004 for the NSNC Column Contest in the "Humor, for newspapers with circulation less than 100,000" category, and not only did I not win anything, I didn't even get an honorable mention?

What's going on?! I've honed my craft, tightened up my writing, and done everything I can to get better. And trust me, my stuff has been waaaay improved over what I did eight or nine years ago. Just this past year alone, I've seen huge improvements over what I wrote just last year. So how these short-sighted, narrow-minded -- wait a minute. That was the 2004 contest. I can't submit my 2005 columns until next year.

Never mind. At least my wife still thinks I'm funny.

Validation! I crave validation!

Writing is a psychologically dangerous profession. We writers tend to be insecure anyway, which is why we choose such an isolated activity. But we open ourselves up to criticism and rejection whenever we let other people read our stuff. We send it out to be evaluated, judged, and deemed “suitable for publication” by people who believe they’re qualified to do so. These people are called editors.

We writers have more. . . colorful names for them.

The problem comes because writers take rejection personally. It’s not just that our work wasn’t good enough or right for that publication. It’s that there’s something wrong with us as people. Our souls are stained. We’ve got some fundamental flaw in our psyches that the editors recognize but we don’t. And while we never admit it, this is what we believe deep down in the dark places we never talk about, but end up making it onto paper. Or our blogs.

“Don’t take it personally,” other writers tell us "Just resubmit it somewhere else." Write…

The dangers of blogging

It's hard being a humor writer. We find humor in everyday situations, whether it's work, school, or home. The problem is that most situations are only funny to us and the people around us, so they don't make good topics. The other danger is that a situation could be hilarious but you'd end up offending an awful lot of people. Maybe even your bosses.

That's why there are sooooo many warnings to bloggers not to write about work or your industry. It happened to Nadine Haobsh, fellow blogger here on She publishes Jolie in NYC, an insider's look at the beauty industry. She used to be anonymous, but was outed somehow, and was not only fired from her job, but had another job offer taken away.

Definitely a raw deal! Of course, she now has a book deal out, so I can only hope she makes more money than she would have at both jobs.

Jolie/Nadine's situation definitely served to educate me: don't blog about your work, I told myself. Then I realized I didn&…

New website coming

I've always enjoyed writing, and thought I was pretty good at web design, but I'm starting to hate the latter because it's keeping me away from the former. I've been trying to come up with a new web layout, and hope to launch Laughing Stalk 3.0 in the next few days. New photos, new look, same funny stuff. . . I hope.

The problem is that if a writer wants to become published, he or she needs to become a marketer. Most writers bemoan this fact and whine about how they're artists, not businesspeople. And this is true for many of the ones I've met. No business sense, no idea of how to market themselves, and no idea that their work has only begun once their article is written.

Basically, the rule of writing (or any artistic endeavor) is this: you're not just a writer anymore; you're a businessperson. You have a brand to build: it's [insert name here]. You need to market, sell, and promote yourself if you ever want to be seen as a writer. You have to learn …

My first post

Wow, my first blog post! I'm sure every new blogger has one of these. Don't worry. I'll delete it as soon as I discover it's a lame thing every blogger does.

I created this blog because of all the frustrations I've had as a humor writer. We're the bastard children of all writers, apparently. People think that if we make people laugh, we're clowns and therefore, not serious writers. But I can say this: more people remember writers like Dave Barry and Bruce Cameron than they do David Brooks or David Broder. They don't stand around the water cooler and say, "Hey, do you remember that column Broder did on Clinton's foreign policy on China? Man, I furrowed my brow over that one!"

They DO however, say, "Hey, did you ever read Bruce Cameron's '8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter? Man, I laughed my ass off!"

So this is going to be a glimpse in the life of a humor writer. I hope you enjoy it.