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.
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.
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.