Honestly, I’ve got to be the first person who’s ever moved to Juneau, Alaska, to become a professional comedy writer.
Now, admittedly, I’m no Conan O’Brien. Although I did recently complete a book project about the prophesied 2012 apocalypse a member of the Conan writing staff originally pitched but then proved too busy to execute. Yet another reason I’m happy he went back on the air.
Of course, Jon Stewart’s table also provided me scraps. Scraps of scraps, actually. My old writing partner used to write for “The Daily Show.” He’d kick down whatever opportunities the others were too busy for, mostly because Jon Stewart had them working on his outside projects (like “America: The Book” and the Academy Awards, for instance).
In exchange for jokes — some of them very stupid — I’ve received checks from Comedy Central, The Huffington Post, the Chicago Tribune and some shlocky cable network no one watches called WGN America. I’ve worked up material for Whoopi Goldberg (that she didn’t use) and Michael “The Noises Guy from Police Academy” Winslow (that he did use — clips available on my website). I once got a “Weekend Update” bit into the “Saturday Night Live” shooting script, but they cut it for time.
Truthfully, I don’t make my entire living cracking wise on topics like the Armageddon that may or may not be waiting for us next year by way of asteroid impact, solar flares, global war, mega-tsunami, supervolcano, geomagnetic pole reversal, alien invasion, biblical prophecy, microscopic self-replicating robots that consume all matter on earth and/or WGN America’s ‘80s movie night with your host, Michael Winslow.
Believe it or not, I write “straight” material too. But even that has some flavor. For instance, I recently helped my dad prepare a presentation for a national physician’s conference about a disease called fibromyalgia. I convinced him to open with, “Fibromyalgia? No, no, no — fibro-your-algia.” It killed. Killed.
My point is, until I came to Juneau — from New York City mind you — I’d barely worked as a professional writer at all. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The “Weekend Update” thing happened back in NYC, to my old writing partner and me. We only know we got one in; we don’t know whose it was, sort of like an episode of “My Two Dads,” with my partner as Paul Reiser and me as a stouter, balder version of the other dad. The actor’s name escapes me for the moment. Hm. I’ll think of it.
The point of my previous point is that when I moved to Juneau way back in September of ought-six, I was a professional nothing. I’d published short fiction in a few literary journals, taught several college composition classes. The freelance work that suddenly materialized right before I got here vanished just as suddenly about a month after my wife and I decided to stay. And I mean stay — we bought a house and found out we were having a baby literally within an hour of each other. Big day. Lots to process.
By the following September, workwise, I had little going, unless you count applying a second coat of deck stain. Seriously, I was considering taking a job unpacking pallets at the then in-progress Home Depot, not that there’s any shame in that, but you know your writing career’s in jeopardy when you’re unpacking pallets at Home Depot. That’s not writing. That’s unpacking pallets at Home Depot.
Needless to say, when an acquaintance called one morning asking if I wanted to join him on some third-party acquaintance’s parents’ boat, I said yes — anything to put off turning in that Home Depot application.
Slow fishing that day, third-party acquaintance’s mother and I got to talking. Turns out she served as treasurer of Juneau Douglas Little Theatre. JDLT was putting on something called the 24-Hour Miracle, in which four teams of local writers, directors and actors were given one day to produce their own original short plays. Was I interested in writing for one of the teams?
The end result, two weeks (and 24 hours later): A 15-minute comedy, “Intelligent Design,” in which two archangels pitch the “boss” on his Day Six “product” during creation week. It was fun and it was funny, and I finished it in 12 hours, several drafts. Prior to that night, I was the kind of writer who agonized over every phrase. Example: a 20-page story I once wrote about a woman who seeks revenge on her cheating husband by secretly stuffing sushi into his curtain rods took me a year and a half.
Like that, I felt re-invigorated. Okay, a sweet table scrap that came my way a few weeks after that (and proceeded to last all the way to our second baby) played a role. But had it not been for the 24-Hour Miracle, I wouldn’t have held out until that opportunity broke. In this way, community theater — specifically Juneau community theater — saved my pro career. No diggety.
Such gratitude did I feel toward that in 2008, I took over as the 24-Hour Miracle’s producer. Since then, I’ve run and written for three Miracles, the most recent last weekend. I have to say, it was the best one yet. I just wanted to acknowledge the 30-plus writers, directors, actors, assistants, runners and sound board operators who made it possible, and offer my thanks to Juneau in general for being so nurturing of a place for creativity.
Oh! Greg Evigan. That’s the other dad from “My Two Dads.” Greg Evigan as Joey Harris. Told you I’d get it.