When I first heard that Vanity Fair's Mike Sacks was coming out with a book full of interviews with comedy writers both legendary and should-be legendary, I overcame any initial sense of jealousy with a worry: Would this endeavor prove too insidery, and appeal only to the nerdiest of comedy nerds? No worries. "And Here's The Kicker" -- or at least the portions I've devoured from his online site for the book, only make me want to find a spot in the summer sun, kick back and read the whole thing. Sacks tracked down and got many greats to talk openly, not just about their own childhoods and writing careers, but also into areas where we see who influenced them and why. Along the way, of course, these conversations help turn up all sorts of other writers and performers who you'll certainly want to look up and find out more about.
In the few full interviews on the site, Sacks gets Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler talking about the Marx Brothers, Roald Dahl, Mr. Show, Stephen Leacock and more. Sacks also interviewed Buck Henry, Stephen Merchant, Todd Hanson, Merrill Markoe, Dick Cavett, Larry Wilmore, Paul Feig, Irving Brecher, Bob Odenkirk, Robert Smigel, Dan Mazer, Bruce Jay Friedman, Daniel Clowes, Marshall Brickman, David Sedaris, George Meyer, Al Jaffee, Allison Silverman, Harold Ramis, Larry Gelbart, Mitch Hurwitz, Jack Handey, Dave Barry, Daniel Handler and Roz Chast. Some of the excerpts are more of a tease than others -- the bit with Dan Mazer (who worked on the screenplays for Bruno and Borat) almost questions the whole enterprise by describing comedy writers as "complete disasters." Of course, that just makes you want to read the book more, doesn't it?
As you can see on my home page, I already highly recommend you buy and read Steve Martin's new memoir, "Born Standing Up," if you have any inclination at all in learning what it takes and what it means to be a stand-up comedian.
The back cover of my copy carries a blurb from Jerry Seinfeld calling Martin's memoir "one of the best books about comedy and being a comedian ever written." But the quote from November's issue of GQ continues if you read the Seinfeld interview, in which he compares Martin's book to his 2002 documentary Comedian -- which I also highly suggest for anyone looking to get an accurate picture of the mind of a stand-up comedian. Here's what Seinfeld continued to say about Martin: "The thing I have to write to him and tell him is, people always thought it was a triumph of silly? To me, it was a triumph of intelligence. There was tremendous intelligence in everything he did. It was only packaged in this silly veneer. But that's what was funny about it. Inside, it was very smart and thought-out. It's a wonderful document of this profession, which seems to be dying."
Whoa...what? The profession seems to be dying??? I wish I'd had the chance to ask Seinfeld about that last part. In the meantime, let's get back to Steve Martin and this rich portrait of the artist as a very young man.