Pure, Unadulterated, Hardcore Advice From The Funniest Woman In America, Amy Poehler

Producer’s Note: Mike Sacks interviewed Amy Poehler for his book, Poking A Dead Frog, which chronicles interviews he’s conducted with the industry’s funniest comedians and writers. It’s inspiring, insightful, and downright useful. If you want to get into the comedy, this is it!

This is an excerpt from Mike Sacks’ Poking A Dead Frog, in which Amy Poehler describes how to find success in writing comedy.
image - Flickr / Rubenstein
image – Flickr / Rubenstein

Read your stuff out loud. Sometimes the way it reads in your head sounds different when someone says it.

Be open to changing all the material you think is really brilliant. Even the most talented people don’t fight every day for every one of their jokes. There’s always some better way to do things when you’re working with good people. I find the most talented people tend to be the best collaborators.

Being flexible can mean people want to work with you. A lot of people say fight for what you believe in and don’t let them change it, but I want to say, fight less, and be open to the fact that other people might have a better idea.

I’m paraphrasing the great quote from [This American Life host] Ira Glass — basically the sentiment of, “Keep doing it, even though all your stuff is going to be pretty bad. But don’t be discouraged by its imperfections; embrace it if it’s half good. Fake it till you make it. Put things up. If they’re sloppy, keep trying.” I love his thought that nobody carves out this perfect jewel. Everybody struggles and does all these half attempts, and it’s really more about time than it is about perfection.

Just put in the time, and don’t be too precious about things. Work with your friends. And maybe, eventually, you’ll get paid. [Laughs] If you’re doing it for the money, then just forget it. When you sit at your computer and think, I’m going to write something really political and interesting, it’s like, Okay good luck with that!

People quit because it’s really hard. It’s hard not to have a house, hard not to have money, hard not to have insurance, hard not to be married, hard to have parents ask you every day what you’re going to do with your life. It’s hard to wait tables while you’re doing improv shows. It’s hard to get up onstage and bomb. It’s hard to lug your props around everywhere. It’s hard to submit things that get rejected.

It’s not easy! Good people make it look easy, and a lot of people want to do it because they think it looks easy. If you stick around, if you’re a good collaborator, if you’re open to new ideas and you keep trying, then you’ll find there’s a lot of different ways you can work as a writer. You can generate original material, or you can be a staff writer, or you can write about the comedy scene — all different things you might find you’re good at if you stick around long enough. TC mark

Want more? Read more humorous, insightful, and inspiring interviews here.

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