I met Fraser Young at the St. Clair Centre for the Arts after he did a stand-up comedy show with Jerry Dee. He opened up for Jerry, and I tell you, he did a FINE job! He did what he had to do – got my belly laughing so much it hurt! I found him after the show and snapped the photo you see above…and, found enough balls in my pocket, to connect with him via Twitter…and then found some more balls and asked him if he was interested in answering some questions as a Guest Writer on my blog. Well golly, the man said yes!!
Not only is Fraser a fine stand-up comedian, he’s also a comedy writer. As he’s the first comedy writer I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on my blog, I made sure to ask him what exactly a comedy writer does! I asked him other loaded questions too.
Let’s get to them and his answers, shall we?
1) So comedy writing – can give us a definition of what it means to be a comedy writer?
I’ve never even really thought about the definition. I guess I’d say you’re a comedy writer if you’re being paid to write material that an audience will find humorous.
2) Where do you work? Who do you work for? How’d you get the gig? How long have you worked here?
Right now, I’m looking for work. I just finished up my 3rd season working for George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, and I’m not sure if I’d sign up for a contract that long right away. Freelance projects + standup can pay the bills for now.
3) Based on the above definition – describe a day-in-the-life of comedy writer Fraser Young – from getting up to the job at ‘work’ to going home…(the reason I ask about your mornings and after-works is because I assume that what happens outside of work very much affects/trickles into the funny stuff you write about)…
Every day is different. This month has featured a lot of week-long engagements at comedy clubs. Today, I don’t have a club show, but I am going to be taping a panel show that will air on Superchannel next year. So I woke up around 9:00, checked my email, saw that the questions for the show had been sent. Then, I wrote down a few ideas for responses to the questions. Now I’m doing this. I will probably head to the studio around 6pm, tape the show & come home. Tomorrow, I will wake up, go to the train station and head to Ottawa, where I have shows from Wednesday to Monday.
3) What I know of comedy writing is what I see on tv or read in books. for example, on ‘Thirty Rock’, there are many scenes in the ‘writing’ room with the writers of the show – they are a group of very different people sitting around a table talking, making jokes or abusing each other (!) – is this an accurate representation of the job? I’ve also read about what it’s like to write for sketch show like Saturday Night Live – fiercely competitive and very deadline driven – is this at all what it’s like?
Overall, I guess it’s fairly accurate. I’ve been in a few writers rooms and there is definitely a lot of jokes and barbs that get thrown around when you are all meeting. I haven’t been in too many where there are VERY different people, though. I would say that most shows usually have an idea of what the tone of the show will be and then hire writers they think can successfully convey that tone. Sometimes can result in having most of the room having very similar demographics.
In terms of competition, I’ve worked in some rooms that feature it and others that don’t. It all depends on the dynamics of the room. Are ideas tossed out before being completely formed so people can riff, or are we looking for ideas that are already set in stone & don’t you dare touch it!
4) How does your comedy writing (day job?) inform or affect your stand up comedy?
I would say not very much. I write scripts based on characters and jokes based on news stories for my day jobs. My standup is mostly personal anecdotes. I’ve had a couple of fringe news story joke ideas that I’ve pitched and were rejected find a life in my act, but it’s very rare.
5) When/why did you start doing stand-up?
My first ever set was the summer after I graduated high school. I had a bunch of ideas that I thought were funny and wanted to try them out. I’d had success in speech competitions in school and wanted to take the next step.
6) Is it difficult to be ‘funny’? I find your comedy ‘cerebral’ for lack of a better word – and that’s a compliment. What I mean by this is that you find the ‘funny’ in things we should be thinking about, like insurance and health benefits…you’re a man who pays attention and thinks about what’s happening around him/to him and your comedy sheds light on areas of things we all experience (heatlhcare/jobs/etc.)…but in a ‘smart’ way, if that makes sense…I guess my question is – how do you do this? Find or make this comedic from ‘every day’ things?
Most of my material is accidental. I don’t usually sit down to write standup. Something happens to me that I find funny, and I will just recap the events in my head over and over again. If it can be turned into a story, I will try it out onstage. Sometimes it works immediately, sometimes it needs a little fine-tuning, sometimes I’m just not able to make the audience find comedy in the same idea I do.
7) Because you write comedy (for both work and your stand-up), do you read? They say writers read, and technically a comedy writer is still a writer…how much does reading affect/inform your comedy writing?
Ever since I got a smart phone (2008), I have been unable to read books. I think I’ve probably read about five books in the last six years and two of them were books on writing. I feel great shame, but I fear no solution is in sight. I read a lot of articles, and every now and then I’ll see something that gives me an idea of something to talk about on stage, but in terms of script writing I think it’s more subtle. There aren’t as many things that I think of and say “I’ll put THAT into a script!”
8) What books inspired you to become a writer/comedian?
It wasn’t books. It was watching tv. When I was in high school, there was a ton of standup on tv, and that was what I wanted to try. My success in standup got me a job punching up tv scripts, which led to me learning about how tv shows are put together, and then I was given the opportunity to write scripts of my own. It’s great!
9) Describe your dream writing gig/comedy gig? Who would you love to share the stage with? Why?
In terms of writing gig, I’d love to be able to have my own show where I could write in my own voice, and be able to convince a network to run the show as is. I don’t necessarily mean playing myself on tv, just being the person who gets to make the final decision on what goes in and what we don’t need would be great.
In terms of sharing the stage, I don’t know. I’m a standup, so “sharing” the stage isn’t really what would work best for my act. In terms of being on the same show as someone else, it’s more just about watching their set. I’ve gotten to watch, or even work with, pretty much every comedy hero I have, so I hope to see and work with all of them again.
10) What is something that everyone asks you when you tell them you’re a comedy writer/comedian? How do you feel about this question(s)?
Comedy writer, they’ll ask “what show?” Then I will name whatever show I’m working on. Then they will furrow their brow and mention that they’re not sure if they’ve heard of it. Then I will tell them when it’s on and what channel and they say they will check it out. I say “cool.” I’m fine with everything that happens in the above scenario.
Comedian, often they will ask me to tell a joke. I will politely decline. Then I will try to steer the conversation away from standup comedy as soon as possible. If they insist on hearing a joke, things will get awkward for a minute or so, then they will give up. Then the two of us will probably avoid chatting the rest of the night. I don’t enjoy this scenario as much, which is why I almost never introduce myself as a comedian.
11) What makes you laugh?
Tons of stuff. I like slapstick, I like dark comedy, I like satire. If what you’re doing catches me by surprise and I don’t know where the joke is going to come, I will enjoy it.
12) Who makes you laugh?
Much like the “what”s, the “who”s are numerous. My favourite comedian right now is probably Paul F. Tompkins. If you’re not familiar with his work, look him up! I think he’s great, maybe you share the same perspective as I do!
13) How much does making money fit into your ‘dream’ job? I mean is it art before money?
If I was able to maintain my current lifestyle doing what I wanted, that would be a dream. I could probably drop a bit from here and still be very happy. If there was a bad job that paid very well, I could see myself taking it for a very short time. Besides making a bunch of money, there are always lessons to be learned even from working on bad shows. It’s just that if it starts making you unhappy, you need to get out.
Find Fraser on Twitter @Young_Fraser!