Thursday, June 25, 2009

An IMteresting Conversation With: Mike Sacks, Author

And you thought my freakishly small group of friends revolted and refused to put up with my stupid questions any more! Ha!

This week's IMteresting Conversation is about bringing the funny, writing the funny, and two inch cocks. Oh, and vast Jew-led conspiracies. Sorta kinda.

EA Hanks: Firstly, what is your name and what do you do?

Mike Sacks: My name is Mike Sacks, but you can call me "Da Count." That was my doo-wop nickname, when I grew up on the streets of Virginia and Maryland. I work on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair magazine and I freelance for various other publications, such as Esquire, GQ, Radar, The New Yorker, McSweeneys, and Inches.

EA: Ok, well there's no need to brag.

MS: I have an ego as large as my 2-inch cock.

EA: You and everyone else who works on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair. You have a book coming out -- tell me about it.

MS: The book is called "And Here's the Kicker," and it contains interviews with 21 famous humor writers, such as Buck Henry, Stephen Merchant, Bob Odenkirk, Mitch Hurwitz, David Sedaris and that fat guy who writes gags for the Oscars. Actually, not him.

EA: Good call.

MS: Right. For his "crazy" T-shirts alone, he should be banished from the continent.

EA: That's quite a list. How did you get them all to agree to talk to you? Charm?

MS: I don't know why they offered to give me from five to ten hours of their time, quite frankly, I really don't. None knew me. But, I do have to say, that quite a few said that they weren't interested. Mostly women, for some reason. I asked about 15 top women writers if I could interview them, and all either didn't get back to me or didn't want to do it. Maybe it's a lack of ego thing, I don't know.

EA: Ah! The ol' "I'm not sexist!" disclaimer! And there goes the crux of all my further questions. What is it about comedy that interests you -- other than the chuckles?

MS: Just the bizarre process that it takes to write humor. It seems to remain as mysterious to those who have been in it for five decades as to whose who are just starting.

EA: Would you say that's something than runs throughout all the interviews? Are there are things you found that kept popping up?

MS: Yes. It's a strange thing. Writing humor is not like being a plumber or a doctor or an electrician. With those professions, the more you work, the more you know, and the easier it gets. Not so with writing humor. Larry Gelbart, who's been writing for over five decades, still expresses frustration with the process. As far as other similarities, the common one was, not surprisingly, depression. More surprising was O.C.D. I only asked them if they suffered from O.C.D. because I, too, suffer from it. I'd say that 70% of the authors have it.

EA: It's hard to talk about what makes someone funny, or what makes a good bit funny -- it's usually the easiest way to make something instantly a drag -- Did that carry over into talking about writing the funny?

MS: I never asked them that, really. But it usually came out in their answers, anyway. One thing I did ask a few writers was what makes them NOT laugh. What are their humor pet peeves.

EA: Any stand outs?

MS: Merrill Markoe, who was the first head writer for Late Night with David Letterman, had a long list, but my favorite was that she hated political-satire songs, in the Capitol Steps and Mark Russell vein.

EA: Oh yeah. Fuck those political-satire songs.

MS: The worst. I come from the D.C. area and grew up with that shit. It's the devil's work.

EA: What do you think is funny?

MS: I loved Chris Elliott when he was on Letterman in the 80s. Brilliant.

These days, I like Scharpling and Wurster, who have a show here in New York. I think they're flat-out amazing. Really smart, long-form radio comedy, which you don't hear anymore.

EA: Is there a comedian who in your minds, is the be all, end all? Everyone else is just a rip off of them?

MS: Truthfully, I'm not a huge fan of stand-up. I think George Carlin was brilliant. Today, I like Brian Regan a lot. I think he's one of the best. I don't tend to like some of the "alterna comics," quite frankly. Although Zach Galafanakis is great, especially when he's on Tim and Eric.

EA: There's a difference between people who do stand-up, or perform and people who write the material. And some times the dynamics between a team of writers and the performers can be... "interesting." By which I mean, a lot of times they want to kill each other. How much of comedy do you think comes from these sort of tensions? Writers vs. Performers. Writers vs. Depression. Writers vs... Everyone who isn't a writer.

MS: Sometimes it helps the comedy, but I think it often hurts it. When a performer doesn't understand a piece, or wants to "tweak" it, the piece usually doesn't come out as good as it could have. With that said, I think the tension between writers and depression is an interesting one. It's certainly been looked into before, but there's a definite connection. Whether comedy causes depression, or whether one deals with depression with comedy is the million-dollar question. But I've rarely known a comedy writer who smiled when he or she wrote. Or when told a joke.

EA: Only civilians laugh at a good bit. A comedian nods and says, "Good bit." (ed. note: I'm so close to deleting this because it's one of the most obnoxious things I've ever said, but I'm leaving it in because I think it's good for reminding me not to be so obnoxious.)

MS: Right. It's like when a porno star makes love to his wife. Do porno stars "make love," by the way?

EA: TUNE IN TO THE NEXT IMteresting CONVERSATION TO FIND OUT. When did you start writing?

MS: High school, but only by accident. I had no desire, but I had to switch out of biology in the 11th grade (yes, I was a year behind) and the only classes available were gym and creative writing. I love sports but hated gym, mostly the idiotic PE teachers. Anyway, I took creative writing and was forced to write creatively for the first time. But I really began in earnest just after college, when I began to contribute to some magazines. I was working in a record store in New Orleans and had nothing else to do with my time, quite frankly, besides gain weight from Popeye's fried chicken and biscuits.

EA: I think that's how Joyce started too. BTW, have you ever read his dirty letters to his wife?

MS: Not sure about Joyce, but I do know that after Robert Frost won his Pulitzer, he stopped at Libby's for a chicken-fried steak and a basket of curly fries. I have, yes. Dirty, dirty, dirty Joyce, how I love him.

EA: When and why did you move to New York?

MS: My then girlfriend, now wife moved up here for a job. At the time, I was working at the Washington Post and didn't want to come right up. So I waited a year and then applied for various jobs. Vanity Fair accepted me, most likely due to my dig ol' bick.

EA: Do you lay awake at night thinking about the death of magazines, books, the things we've spent our lives trying to be good at/loving?

MS: No, not really. Something will come and take its place, and I hope to be involved. And, quite frankly, I wouldn't mind a few of these obnoxious behemoths brought to their bony, arthritic knees.

EA: Zing!How did you prepare for your interviews with all these people? I would fuck it up by trying to be funny myself (ed. note: see above.)

MS: A tremendous amount of research. Up to 20 to 30 hours per person. I wouldn't feel comfortable otherwise. And I edited out all the parts where I tried to be humorous. No need for that, now . . .

EA: Was there someone you were shit-your-pants-nervous to meet and talk with?

MS: I shit my pants but it had nothing to do with nerves. (I'm lactose intolerant.)

No, not really. I used to be incredibly shy, but I seemed to have burned that out of my system with a daily cocktail of meds.

EA: So you live in New York. You work at Vanity Fair. You've written a book about a bunch of comedians (JEWS). Do you feel like a tried and true member of the liberal media elite (JEWS)?

MS: Yes, and I have to say that it feel really good. When I pass a Jew on the streets, or in a hallway, we'll just look at each other and wink. We know what that means. We're members of the same tribe, and we both love gefilte fish.

EA: And horseradish! This is your first book, yes?

MS: First book I've written alone. I've contributed to a few other books, for Esquire and McSweeneys.

EA: Book tour? Hotels? Idiot interviews? Are you feeling properly fetted?

MS: No. Haven't you heard that I'm extremely reclusive? I ain't leaving the apartment. Except to cheer up the homeless down at the bus depot. I put together a little magic act.

EA: I've heard it's nearly impossible to get you to leave the den, yes. What's next for you, Mr Sacks?

MS: I'm going to self-publish (Kindle only?) a collection of previously published humor pieces that no major publisher wants because some of them are "offensive." Maybe it's the story about the wild-child who makes a BM on the floor of a high school. Also, I think (figers crossed) that I am close to selling a book about a secret topic that begins with S and ends with X.

EA: Do you own a Kindle?

MS: No.

EA: Do you know anyone who owns a kindle?

MS: No.

EA: My dad has one. He's obsessed with it. So, you've got a reader locked.

MS: Good. Your dad is Dave Coulier from Full House, right?

EA: You cut. It. Out.

MS: Sorry. How may I make it up to you? A flower? A hug? A clock in the shape of a hot dog?

EA: Anything else to say to my tens of readers?

MS: The book is available now on Amazon and other sites. It will become available in stores on July 8th. I love you all. And I'll see you at our favorite hangout, the bar with "Piano Man" on the juke.

EA: Play him off, Keyboard Cat.

(Make sure to read this interview Mike conducted with the Colbert Report's Allison Silverman, excerpted on Vanity!)