Monday, August 25, 2008


No, this is not a treatise on buglary tips. It is about the number one question of all writers: how do I get my material to the decision makers, or, hey, ANYBODY.

Of course glib answer #1 is, get an agent. But that’s about as difficult as getting a meeting with Quentin Tarantino or David E. Kelly and pitching your stuff.

So while knocking on the front door, be mindful of the backdoor. That backdoor isn’t easy either. And by the way, there’s nothing easy about anything. Ask Michael Phelps.

But the backdoor. What the heck is the backdoor anyway? Of course it is the gateway of least resistance to the road leading to where you want to get to. That may be ironically lousy writing, but it’s sort of funny so I’m leaving it the way it is.

Backdoor routes are “entry level jobs”, such as production assistant, writers assistant (you’ve got to learn how to use the computer word processing programs for this!), a page, a receptionist. This literally gets you in A door, where you are apt to meet those moves and shakers you seek.

And meanwhile, of course, you are writing, right? Writing your spec script, honing your skills, keeping your eyes and ears open as you are on the job, reading the scripts of others, and all that... so that when the opportunity arises, i.e., to present your script, you are ready.

There are other backdoors, such as writing for a theatre group – or indeed enrolling in a theatre group, such as The Groundlings – and scanning Dramalogue, Craigs List and other sources of jobs that may provide you with some writing experience, and have your material performed.

And then there’s the Internet. You can certainly network on comedy sites, get a video camera and shoot your own work on video, and get exposure in that fashion. Exposure is the key word here.

And meanwhile, you might just stumble upon an agent, or Quentin at a coffee shop (I don’t exactly recommend it) or some other function, and get your material exposed in that way.

But if the front door is locked, or nobody is answering, look for a back door. Or an open window It’s sort of like buglary.

Friday, August 15, 2008


You read a headline like this, and the joke is already written for you. And if you don’t know who Julia Child was, look her up via Google or Wikipedia. She passed away a few years ago, at I think age 90 or so. In fact, she would have been 96 today, August 15th. For years she was on PBS as “The French Chef”, a high pitched matronly woman who loved to use a lot of butter and salt in her dishes. I don’t think she was French at all, but now, with the news that she was a spy during World War II, that adds to her mystique.

Of course for starters she was about as far from James Bond as one can get, so that perhaps made her perfect as a spy... who the heck would give her any thought at a border crossing, for example. (Now that I think about it, she would have been perfect “mule” material, too!). And no doubt she could get any information out of any nefarious character because she was so un-assuming Miss Marple like... probably even when she was in her 30’s in the 1940’s, when she did her espionage work. I didn’t read the whole story (which should be in a Bobby’s Tip Jar entry – read everything!). I also imagine her giving codes out while preparing her esoteric dishes on the TV. If she touches the Herb de Provence twice, that means the “neutralization” is on.

Before her secret spy life was revealed, Dan Aykroyd did the quintessential Julia Child send up probably 30 years ago on SNL – remember the bit (again, if you were born after 1978, LOOK IT UP… maybe it’s on YouTube now) wherein Julia cut herself, and just spewed “blood” all over the set. It just got funnier and funnier as he went on and on with the preparation.

Listen to the Funny is Money radio program, nightly at 7 PM (Pacific) on This week’s guest: Bob “Super Dave” Einstein, talking about the early days as head writer of the Smothers Brothers Show (wherein he also appeared as “Officer Judy”), and his other adventures before Super Dave made him really famous.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

BOBBY'S TIP JAR for August 6, 2008

THE RULE OF 3 and other Factors

Since this is Hiroshima Day, I figured it's a good day to discuss how to prevent COMEDY BOMBS. As with 1945 dropping of Big Boy (although it's debatable, but not amongst Hiroshima residents at the time) the term "bomb" in comedy is not a good thing.

As with everything in life, comedy has certain rules. People talk about breaking "rules of comedy", whether it be Norman Lear or James L. Brooks, or Gary Marshall, but some rules even they never broke. Norman worked completely out of the box, adding flat out tear jerking drama to his sit coms, such as All in the Family. But then he'd add a treacle cutter. That of course is a joke or look or some other laugh provoking gambit to relieve us of the drama.

Speaking of the term treacle cutter, in professional comedy writing there's key terminology that is pretty well circulated amongst writers which describe these "rules" for better comedy writing and story advancement. Here are a few more:

The Ax Sometimes a sequence of dialogue is necessary to the story, but it's way to dry or flat to just have two people talking, so sometimes we will say, "this scene needs an ax". That means, something else, often a bit amusing, going on that doesn't distract from the dialogue, but at least makes the scene interesting. i.e., you put the people in a steambath instead of a living room, so at least the folks are sitting in towels, mopping their brows and so forth. On Silver Spoons, we put the dad, Edward (Joel Higgins), in a suit of armor while having an otherwise innocuous story-advancing bit of dialogue with either Ricky (Ricky Schroder) or Kate (Erin Grey). I'm not sure where the term "ax" came from, but probably using an ax was the first "ax".

The Bend On the same principle as the "ax", the "bend" is utilized to prevent stultifying dialogue from boring audiences. If the dialogue is too flat (i.e., boring), then we will say "this line needs a bend". Sometimes it's adjusting the line or bit of dialgoue to say it funnier. It might be as simple as changing grandma's line from "he was driving a blue Olds" to "he was driving a bomb-ass blue Olds". You get the same info out, but with a character "bend" - and a laugh. This is not to say every single line has to be a joke, or require an ax, or both (like putting everybody in a clwon suit) - then that would be tinseling, i.e., going overboard as one might add to much decoration to a Christmas tree.

The Rule of Three
This is one of the fundamentals of joke structure. The Honeymooners original 39 episodes is a comedy clinic for almost all comedy rules, valid some 53 years later.

(pointing to his wallet) I got it all right here!

(touching her butt) You got it here, (touching her sides) you got it here
(holding her arms out in front of her as if she has a big belly) and you got it here!"

Big laugh. If she had gone on to a fourth bit, it wouldn't have been funny. She would have gone past the joke. That's another comedy writing phrase, a "don't rule". Here is another classic example, from Some Like it Hot (on the must-see list!)


Joe E. Brown is driving. Jack Lemmon, in drag, sits next to him. Brown has proposed to Lemmon, thinking he's a woman, and Lemmon is trying to get out of it.

I smoke!

I don't mind.

I can never have children.

We can adopt some.

(taking off his wig) Ah, Osgood. I'm a man!

Well, nobody's perfect.

Lemmon reacts.

Why does the "rule of 3" always work? Why not the "rule of 5", or the "rule of 2"? Who knows comedy is all about TIMING. Here is a good illustration of the rule of 3 and comedy timing... Note: the term beat in the example below means a PAUSE.

Guy #1
This girl, is she cute?

She has a great job!

Guy #1
Yeah, but is she cute?

Guy #2
She drives a brand new BMW.

Guy #1
Is she cute?

There is a beat.
Guy #2
Did I mention the BMW?
See what I did? I have more than three e-mail addresses, but listing any more wouldn't be funny.

Friday, August 1, 2008


On any given day at Von’s, which happens to be the supermarket nearest me, I will see 10 characters, 5 scenes and 1 sitcom.

I was in the frozen food aisle when a woman came walking up, standing very close to me, and started asking question such as “what flavor do you think... chocolate? Rocky Road” I don’t recall if she was necessarily attractive to me, but, while taken a bit aback by any stranger coming up to me at any time asking my opinion, I started to respond. But before I could, she went on again, looking past me, saying “really? I’m not sure Doug would like that.” And that was when I realized she was on a Blue Tooth.

That got me thinking about Blue Tooths (or is it Blue Teeth) and how they are getting so unobtrusive, it appears people are either talking to you – if in the vicinity – or simply talking to themselves, as if schizophrenic. And that got me to thinking about schizophrenics, such as those folks otherwise known as “homeless”, or, less P.C., “bums” who of course call Santa Monica home. They will ask for money, often in a passive way, sometimes more pleading... less often they will be quite aggressive. That’s one thing. But when they are ranting, and/or otherwise responding a mile a minute to conversants within their skull is when they are more off-putting (thank you Governor Ronald Reagan). So it occurred to me that perhaps schizophrenia (which is my all-purpose reference to people talking out loud to themselves) might have less onus on them of they were to be fitted with Blue Tooths. Then we can merely assume they are “on the phone” – annoying but not crazy.

There’s a whole realm of annoying cell phone bits that everyone must encounter, or even have lived themselves. I have often left my home, on a walk to a grocery store errand, and gotten a cell call... and been on the call all the way through the check out stand. I am oblivious to how annoying I might be to other customers or the checkout clerk... I like to think at least during the transaction I pay attention to the clerk, and respect others around me. But of course we have seen otherwise – whether walker or driver who cannot multitask when one of the tasks is a cell phone conversation. I have nearly been run over several times in my suburban neighborhood by the mother (literally) of all cell phone abusers, and perhaps the raison d’etre of the “hands free” law now in effect in California: a solitary woman, jabbering animatedly on her cell phone, while maneuvering a gigantic SUV – rolling thru a stop sign or a no look turn on the red light.

I have been on a “first date” where the female was welded to her Palm Pilot – sending and retrieving text messages, e-mails, phone calls while supposedly there to meet me! (We never saw each other again).

No doubt a multitude of cell phone abuse or otherwise comes to mind, if you pay attention – and great fodder for scenes, sub-scenes or even characters. Look at my damn profile photo! On a cellphone!

It’s all good stuff. Excuse, my agent is vibrating.