The Art and Craft Of Writing Comedy by Jeffrey Davis and Peter Desberg [FULL INTERVIEW]

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Peter Desberg, co-author of Now That’s Funny: Should we be choreographing our leg thing here?

Jeffrey Davis, co-author of Now That’s Funny: Well, I like to do this.

Film Courage: Well, you know…you are each your own person…even though you share sort of one mind for the writing, you are each your own person.

Peter: We do?

Jeffrey: Who says we share the same mind?

Peter: Whose mind are we sharing?

Jeffrey: Neither of ours.

Peter: If I were sharing his mind, you’d see the perforations.

Film Courage: Well, you are your own people for the sake of this interview so you can each do whatever you want. We’ll start with you then Jeffrey. How did you break into television?

Jeffrey: Well…let’s see…a lot of this is going to get cut, right?

Peter: Edited.

Jeffrey: Edited?

Film Courage: Um…I think as long as there are no names that are implicated, I think everything will be okay.

Jeffrey: Oh, okay. Well the way I broke into TV is that my father, my uncle, my first stepmother, my stepfather were all in the industry. So I grew up around it and that meant I knew pretty much knew everybody and not a single one of them gave me a job (at first). Peter laughs at my jokes [Jeffrey nudges Peter].

My first job was delivering call sheets at Paramount, which of course we don’t do anymore because everything is sent by email. Then one of my dad’s writing partners was a guy named Al Levitt (his real name was Al Levitt) he was blacklisted (he and his wife were blacklisted) and they wrote under the name of Tom and Helen August.

And many years later when the blacklist was over and my dad was greylisted which meant you were associated with…yeah I don’t think I’ve told this story before…if you were greylisted you were at some point going to be called before The Committee. But his friends (The Levitt’s) after the blacklist was over, they were working on an (boy this is a long story) they were working on an Aaron Spelling show. It was the period when Love Boat was on (which I later worked on) and Fantasy Island and they wanted to do a show called…I think Aaron had sold a show called Paradise Hotel. And in those days they would give you the pilot script and 6 episodes and then they would decide if they were going to shoot it. They didn’t always shoot the pilot.

So they gave me a script. I had never written television before. I think I tried to write a screenplay in college (not grad school) because I was going to be the Great American Novelist. And I got paid for it, I got in the Writer’s Guild and then ABC decided not to make the show. And that was my first job.

And then I met my writing partner (my long-term writing partner) who I had a lot in common with because her great uncles and her grandfather were The Fleischer Brothers. So Popeye, Betty Boop, Out of the Inkwell and we worked together 12 years and that’s the partnership that Hollywood likes the best is male-female partners. Next they like partners because they are getting two minds for the price of one.


“I remember taking a stand-up class and the first day the instructor got up and said “Comedy is a really aggressive art form. And if you can’t take it, get out!”


Film Courage: And so are we today.

Jeffrey: So that’s sort of my background, but I was around it all my life…and boy that was long-winded even by my standards. You can cut around it I’m sure.

Film Courage: Peter for you…joke writer…when did you begin? Or maybe that wasn’t the first thing you did?

Jeffrey: Yesterday.

Peter: Well, surprisingly I came in from the academic side and started studying the psychology of humor and started doing research in it and then I took some courses in comedy writing, stand up and got more and more immersed. And next thing you know, I was writing joke books. We wrote a few kid joke books, they sold pretty well. And then started writing adult joke books (fun stuff)…not as long or as good as Jeffrey’s story.

Jeffrey: Certainly not as long.

Film Courage: You also balance your career moonlighting as a therapist or a psychologist?

Peter: Well, I started out as a research psychologist, later switched over to (or added) clinical psychology to where…actually here’s another in a series of boring stories since Jeffrey started the tradition. I developed a course called Instructional Humor which was a course for public speakers for how to get their point across and in doing that I watched how nervous students would get when they had to get up and deliver anything is how I got interested in stage fright.

Film Courage: Okay interesting. Is there room for jokes when you are doing clinical research amongst the colleagues? Or that’s where you got your material from?

Peter: Interestingly, stories help people remember things. When I was a professor anything I wanted students to remember I had to come up with a clever or funny example or a clever or funny story to get them to  remember the concept. Otherwise…[imitates a bird flying away]. It’s a survival skill. The way the mind works, it remembers stories better than facts…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).









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How does a screenwriter break into the business? Is it all about who you know? How much networking, hustle, and craft does it take? Once you break in, how do you survive and sustain a career? In this 2 hour speaker series(that will include Q&A), screenwriter Mark Sanderson (aka @scriptcat) will take us through his journey of graduating from UCLA and how he balanced various odd jobs with his writing for years until he reached the point where screenwriting became his career. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t easy. His story shows us it’s possible and in this talk Mark is going to share the particulars of how he did it.