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

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,642 ratings  ·  146 reviews
A fascinating, laugh-out-loud funny look at the mysterious art of comedy, as told by legendary humorists from Amy Poehler to Mel Brooks

What makes people laugh? How do you know if a joke will “click” with the audience? And how do you get a job as a comedy writer, anyway? In Poking a Dead Frog, top humor writers like Adam McKay (Step Brothers, Talladega Nights), Michael Sc
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Kindle Edition, 464 pages
Published June 24th 2014 by Penguin Books
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Rick Garvia
Jun 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
There is some very good advice for comedy writers in this book, most notably that one has to do the following:

*Go to Harvard. Every comedy writer, it seems, went to Harvard. If you haven't yet gone to Harvard, go to the Harvard bookstore, buy a sweatshirt and then tell people you went to Harvard. Nobody will ask questions.

*Stick with writing but do it because you love it not because you're going to make a ton, or even a few pounds, of money.

*Work on the Harvard Lampoon.

*Sleep with someone who wo
...more
Seymour Glass
Arrrgh, I have a lot of frustration about this one and I'm conflicted about how to rate/review it. On the one hand, it has some extremely valuable insights from some very accomplished writers; the actual verbatim packet of sketches that got someone hired on a late night show, Paul Feig's Bible from 'Freaks and Geeks', and real industry knowledge and tips. Also opens up the minds of a lot of cool people that not even extreme comedy nerds would know about - Peg Lynch, for example.
BUT. Like 'And He
...more
Sunil
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, 2018
The wonderful thing about birthday gifts is you end up reading books you never would have picked up on your own, so I am extremely grateful my friend, who knew that I loved both comedy and writing, guessed that I might enjoy a book of interviews with and advice from comedy writers. Though the title Poking a Dead Frog refers to a quote implying that attempting to dissect humor is an unwise endeavor, I found this book fascinating and inspiring.

Mike Sacks presents the words of dozens of comedy writ
...more
David Katzman
Feb 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
Eh. A lot of gossip and very little writerly advice. I became bored halfway through.
Kerry
Nov 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: my-books
Whilst comedy is something that we all enjoy (and if you don't, I'm afraid we'll never be Bosom Buddies - Golden Girls maybe - remember how missionary Dorothy was??) this book is really all about the background of the industry and what it takes to break into it.

Long story short - it sucks. You have to beg, grovel, sell your soul and your body (here's lookin at you Chris Farley - one word: Chippendales).

It warrants some merit for the insider stories, but basically it comes down to write, write,
...more
Anita
Jun 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. 'Make yourself laugh' and 'you have to love it' are repeated over and over by these writers. Inspiring and a must for comedy nerds.
Andrew Shaffer
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Want to write humor? Read this book.
Mike Kowis
Sep 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book for aspiring comedy writers as well as fans of classic comedy TV and movies! This book has great, in depth interviews with some of the greatest comedy writers of all times, such as Mel Brooks. It also contains interviews with writers that, quite frankly, I've never heard of, but their shows/movies are legendary, including writers for Monty Python, SNL, Cheers, Seinfeld, David Letterman, etc. It also includes valuable career advice from today's popular stand-up comedians/comedy ...more
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Apr 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Even if you aren't an aspiring comedy writer, you just might enjoy Poking a Dead Frog. There's a lot of material here, and you may not click with every interview, but at over 400 pages, there's plenty here for any comedy fan. The interviews are in three different formats, a traditional question and answer, Ultraspecific Comedy Knowledge, and pure hard-core advice. The interviews are longer and give the subject opportunity to reminisce and expound. The other two formats are short, only a page or ...more
Frederic Kerr
Dec 05, 2016 rated it it was ok
The title of this book refers to the old quotation about how analyzing humour is like dissecting a frog, in that the frog dies and nobody laughs. Unfortunately, the book lives up to that premise, in that is neither funny nor very insightful about comedy.

The chapters include interviews with various writers and performers, most of which are not that interesting on their own. The chapters labelled "pure, hardcore advice are mislabelled. The ones categorized as "ultra specific comedic knowledge" ar
...more
Anthony
Jan 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
I read Mike Sacks previous book, Now Here's The Kicker, on an airplane and it definitely entertained me. Reading about these figures in comedy, both in front and behind the camera, was an amazing insight into the industry and how some of my favorite shows are made.

So of course I picked this up.
To me it had just as great a selection of interviewees as the prior book, mixing stand-up with long time writers (of Articles, Websites, Radio, Television, Movies) both new and old.
It's a thick book to rea
...more
Jen
Aug 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Wow! If you are a writer or a fan of comedy (or both), you won't be able to put this down. Sacks interviews comedy legends like Mel Brooks or Cheers co-creator Glen Charles, or shares "Pure, Hard-Core Advice" from talents like Amy Poehler, or "Ultraspecific Comedic Knowledge: Writing for Monty Python" by Terry Jones. Paul Feig shares the "character bible" for Freaks and Geeks. SNL's Bill Hader suggests 200 movies every comedy writer should see. The scope of the project is incredible and he execu ...more
John G.
Jan 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: humorology
Absolutely the best book I've ever read on comedy writing and one of the best about comedy and humor in general. I've read his other book on comedy writing and was kinda meh, not so with this one. This is a warm, loving, kind hearted book with a wealth of knowledge about comedy history and each individual's take on comedy and their par there. I found this book very inspirational and enlightening. It has just a smattering of stand-up comics, which is my background, and it just has totally expande ...more
JZ
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook, 2019-read, comedy
So many good stories and tips in this compendium of interviews with everyone from Mel Brooks to the youngest writer on The Onion.

I like the approach of each interview dealing with different aspects of comedy writing. It's not a technical book, but it certainly takes aim at how to do things from a comedy pov. Several good quotes, all boiling down to:

Write what makes you laugh
Write more of that.
Share it around.
Write more stuff that makes you laugh, and give it away for free until someone wants to
...more
Jake
Jul 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is worth it just for the 20-page interview with Jim Downey. Everything else is gravy. Pretty good goddamn gravy.
Narek Margaryan
Nov 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Easily among the most essential books for comedy writers, no bullshit
Corbett Buchly
Jan 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Although this book is really just a series of anecdotes about writers' experiences in the business, I did enjoy it. I found the final interview with Mel Brooks brilliant fun.
Pixie
Nov 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
These are interesting interviews about comedy writing in various mediums. Some were living history, and the reader feels grateful that the author did the interviews before everyone from those eras died out. Before the longer interviews the author gives overviews of the writers' careers, and those stories are also interesting.
Many interviews were current at time of publication, 2014. The reader will be relieved to know that many of the writers and their shows are still familiar; some are still o
...more
Kirsti
YOU MUST READ the interview with Peg Lynch. She was so funny and accomplished and groundbreaking that I thought Mike Sacks made her up. But no, The New York Times tells me that she was a real person. Lynch wrote and starred in Ethel and Albert, a long-running radio drama that transitioned to television. Lynch basically invented the sitcom. ("In one episode, Ethel challenges Albert's assertion that he could go the entire day by just using his peripheral vision.")

Some useful advice:

"Find a way to
...more
Dave Allen
Nov 05, 2019 rated it liked it
I admit that I sort of skipped around and skimmed parts of this one. The "ultraspecific comedy knowledge" and "hardcore comedy advice" were often super deep dives, not really for a general audience, but there were a few that really stood out, especially the short, smart and personal bit from Megan Amram. There were also quite a few writers featured whose work I was not familiar with. My favorite parts were the Mel Brooks interview, which closes the book (the man is a treasure, one of our country ...more
Doug
May 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
There are some excellent gems in here, both from the most obvious comic legends (Mel Brooks, Adam McKay) and less well known geniuses like Peg Lynch. Perhaps my favorite take - because it felt the least typical - was the conversation with George Saunders. There are some sour notes and some flat notes, but they don't last for very long. As a few of these minds noted, reading about comedy won't get you any closer to doing comedy if you're not also doing it. By far the most common advice given: jus ...more
Teddy Desmarais
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I haven't quite finished this book yet, but I'm well over halfway through. What a delightful collection of honest advice for not only aspiring comedy writers but people generally interested in the particulars of the comedy industry and improving their comedic skill and charm. Will be following up with my favorite quotes. I especially liked the bit about the girl who submitted a script about a kid and a dad watching tv, that was very smartly funny. Will be lending this to friends.
Sharon Falduto
This book was an amusing collection of interviews with great comic writers. It is interesting how quickly some of it aged, as this book is from 2014. Reverence to Bill Cosby. Also it was too heavy on dude writers. Some women interviewed, but not enough. Definitely not an advice book for aspiring comic writers in spite of its intent; each writer seems to contradict the next.
Josh
May 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
Entertaining for much of the book, but I'm not sure that this is worth reading unless you're thinking about getting into comedy writing/performing. I enjoyed the little nuggets of information that Sacks was able to extract, but I'm not sure how skillful he is as an interviewer and the quality of his subjects was pretty hit or miss.
Eve Schaub
May 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Anyone who is curious about comedy will love this fascinating excursion into the minds of comedic writers of all stripes. Pretty much every piece of advice in here is contradicted at some point by someone else in the book, but in a way that's the point. One of the biggest take-aways? Only be a comedic writer if you absolutely, positively can not help it. But then? Never, ever give up.
Ty
Feb 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent read for comedic writers but also anyone that even touches writing. Mike Sacks clearly knows his subjects very well, his interviews ask a lot of abstract questions I wasn't really expecting. Comedy nerds will love this book.
Rds
Sep 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An unexpectedly enjoyable read if you'd like to spend some time trying to understand how writers approach their craft. The book has interviews and essays from many different eras of comedy writing. You can dip in and out of the collection.
JeneralDisarray
Dec 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My Want To Read list grew significantly after reading this book, and I feel more informed and inspired about comedy and some really, really cool people who create it. I can’t wait to read this again.
Nate Brown
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, comedy, 2017
Never has this good a book had this terrible a title.
Craig Spraggon
Jan 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
read it slowly over a few years. loved it.
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