Mike Sacks' 'Poking a Dead Frog' is a Brilliant Peek Inside Comedy Writing

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Mike Sacks' Poking a Dead Frog

Like most creative industries, comedy writing has been drastically altered by the internet. Gone are the days when the editorial rooms of the Harvard Lampoon and the backstages of Chicago improv were the only outlets to a career in writing jokes.

"You know where all the talented people are? They are out there hoeing corn on the Internet. They are putting up great content that people are reading and responding to," writes literary agent Byrd Leavell. "More than anything, they are learning how to be funny." This thread dominates Mike Sack's brilliant Poking a Dead Frog, with all parties active in the comedy game praising the web as the best venue for budding writers to hone their craft.

Filled with enriching and entertaining Q+A's, young writers will need a pen on standby to take down the advice of Dead Frog. With the impeccable timing of a stand up artist, Sacks stacks his fourth book with a veteran's pacing, placing longform conversations next to short bits of Ultra Specific Comedic Knowledge.

Sacks focuses on the top tier of comedy writers in 2014, with highlights including Conan writer Todd Levin's "Writing a Submission Packet for Late-Night TV" and Will Tracy's "Choosing Headlines at The Onion." But, when Sacks dips out of the pool of internet and TV writers, some of Dead Frog's best work comes into focus. Interviews with Peg Lynch, creator of '40s radio show Ethel and Albert, and MacArthur "Genius" George Saunders help take the book outside the mainstream of contemporary comedy, revealing an untapped strain of comedic style.

Though the tips of Poking a Dead Frog can't (and don't claim to) make you a master in the misdirection and stunningly fresh finishes necessary for a career in comedy writing, its peeks into the craft of the successfully silly are close looks at what it takes to be great. More importantly, Sacks provides an answer to the comedic version of a classic parlor game: If you could invite any living writers to a dinner party, who would they be?

 


Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today's Top Comedy Writers

by Mike Sacks

Penguin Books | $18.00 | 453 pp


 

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