Education, writing

Happy Birthday, Sol Saks, Funny Business is the Best Writing Book Ever!


According to my sources, today is Sol Saks’ hundredth birthday. Saks is best known as the creator of Bewitched and for this reason he’s been interviewed as an ‘Emmy TV legend’. But I know him as the author of Funny Business, the best how-to-write book in the world.

It’s technically a guide to writing comedy but there’s plenty of great general writing advice, delivered without the DIY earnestness that makes me zone out within five seconds.

The cover of Sol Saks' Funny business.
Best writing book ever. Here's an Amazon link because if you put in 'funny business' it won't come up right away, and %$@! WordPress won't let me embed the hot link: http://www.amazon.com/Funny-Business-Comedy-Writing-Second/dp/0943728452/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1292251839&sr=8-1

Apart from his own highly entertaining style, Saks’ disregard for being a suffering artist made me decide he was a genius. He advocates writing to make money, and he’s ahead of his time when it comes to the creative ‘workflow’:

The most energetic of us have at best three or four hours of good, creative productivity in a day. Find what time of day or night those hours are. Work those hours, only those hours, and those same hours every day.

The idea that you should write regularly is found in many guides, but I’d never heard anyone else admit that stopping is just as important as starting. Yet he’s sympathetic to those who aren’t professional writers, advising parents or nine-to-fivers:

Within the available time, pick your best hours…As closely as possible, the same hours at the same time. Make a schedule you can live with and stick to it. Make that time sacred. And make everyone around you hold it equally sacred. You will be surprised at how quickly both you and they will accept its sanctity.

Damn straight.

I originally bought the book while researching humor theory, and it wouldn’t be right to end without giving Saks his props for observing the same things as Freud, Aristotle, and other ‘deep’ thinkers had — and stating them with actual wit. Saks rubbed shoulders with Norman Lear, Larry Gelbart, and a whole generation of jokewriters who took their craft seriously. If anyone wants an introduction to humor theory or a guide to jokewriting, I tell them to read Funny Business.

I’m quite happy to admit that Saks is one of the authors who influenced my writing; in fact, I think I might have internalized some lessons too deeply:

Comedy, written with graceful ease, is always readable, usually simple, and most always honest…Humor hasn’t the time to be hypocritical, it hasn’t the patience to be polite, it hasn’t the tolerance to be timid.

Amen to that, but putting it into practice there was no way to keep up the academic facade. Oh, well.

So today I’m thinking happy birthday thoughts for Sol Saks, and I highly recommend his book. If you’d like to see the man in person, the full interview follows, but you have to put up with some messy editing for the first minute or so. You can find the same footage on Archive of American Television page along with some other info.

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfRttky09DY&feature=player_embedded#!”]

8 Comments

  • Yes, he’s right about finding which hours are best for writing in and then keeping them for your writing/creative productivity…and nothing else!

  • I haven’t read Saks’ stuff because I have all but given up on trying to be a funny writer. Don’t get me wrong. I’m pee in your pants funny — in person; it just doesn’t seem to transfer into my writing. Now it’s on my list of books to read. I mean, if this book influenced the Worst Prof… hell, it’s got to be good. ;-)

  • I may have to try reading that, if only because it sounds like his sense of humor will make it entertaining (and if I pick up one or two positive ideas about “writing” then all the better.)

    Unfortunately, my “most creative time” is “when you should be sleeping, stupid” as in– midnight to 3-4 am. Ugh.

  • It’s really a great book, and actually very encouraging. And maybe if you can find a job on the third shift?? I had a friend who did IRS work from 3-11, so she could have her time. I worked nights at a hotel reception desk, and that was good quiet time for the most part.

  • There’s a big difference between being funny and writing funny, and I found this book invaluable when my collaborator and I were just starting out as jokewriters. (Yeah, it was Aristophanes, but the translation had to be funny, darn it!) And it’s really freaking hard, too — I mean, The Daily Show etc. have teams of twelve writers to come up with that much good material. But you really shouldn’t give up! Seriously, give the book a shot, or partner up with another writer.

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