Maura and I have had the pleasure of knowing Dan Gurewitch for many years so we’re excited to have him featured here on STET from the very beginning. (Fact: Maura and Dan went to the same high school! Shout-out to Suffern High School, y’all.) By day, Dan is a writer and actor at CollegeHumor where he’s written hundreds of incredible sketches. You gotta look up “Stage Names,” which is one of our personal favorites. By night Dan keeps on writing, endlessly working on his own TV and film projects. The world of comedy writing is a fascinating and vastly experimental one—in addition to straight-forward prose there’s stand-up, sketch, live action, and even the practice of writing Twitter jokes. Any master crafter of the funny business will tell you that seeing how your jokes appear on paper is a huge part of the process. Here, Dan answers our One Question and then offers our readers a free download of a script. —JL
What one piece of writing has changed the way you think about your own work?
I think that George Saunders’ short stories have changed the way I approach writing. “Pastoralia” is my favorite collection of his work, and “Sea Oak” is probably my favorite story from that collection. A good short story is capable of creating an emotional and visceral impact in a matter of a few short pages, which makes them the closest literary equivalent to a comedy sketch or short film (and that’s probably why I’m attracted to them).
“Sea Oak” is representative of what Saunders does incredibly well — he uses humor, heightened reality and elements of magical realism to make biting satirical points, but manages to do so with an amazing amount of warmth and humanity. Comedy writers are always tempted to write comedy with cold ironic detachment, so as I work on longer projects like pilots and screenplays, I try to remember and be inspired by his ability to be hilarious, biting, and deeply human at the same time. It’s a tough trick to pull off, but to me, when it works, it’s the most rewarding and effective kind of writing.
“Charge (with Rhys Darby)”
I wrote a script with my friend and then-CollegeHumor coworker David that was produced as a sketch starring Rhys Darby from “Flight of the Conchords.” It wasn’t a hit at all, but I have a soft spot for hyper-realistic awkwardness in absurdly heightened situations, and Rhys is very funny in it. It’s also a mainly verbal script so I think it reads funnier than a sketch with lots of visual jokes. —DG