Recently I read a book that dealt with a writer—a famous writer that I won’t name. He (I use the masculine pronoun, but the author might be a female. I just want to keep you guessing) wrote a book that was a smash hit. It sold more copies more quickly than most books do. It earned the author a lifetime income. Throughout the book, the writer talked about having no goal except to write. Enjoying so much success with the first novel proved the author indeed had something to offer.
The second book this author wrote was published 58 years later. For someone who expressly stated his only interest was in writing, not much writing got done.
As you may or may not know, I wrote a book once called Write Your Book Now! (You know now that I wrote that book.) The book was a step-by-step procedure for starting and finishing the writing of a book—non-fiction, novel, memoir, whatever. At most of my speaking engagements and classes that I held, I would meet someone who would say, “I’m working on a book now.” I’d say, “How’s it going?” They’d reply saying something like, “I’ve finished the first three chapters.” “That’s wonderful,” I’d say. “How long have you been working on it?” They’d say, “About ten years.”
That’s really not working on it.
Comedian Steven Wright had a wonderful line on this topic. He said, “I’m writing a book. I’ve got the pages numbers done.”
One reason we started ROUND TABLE many years ago was to offer aspiring writers a place to participate. We feature exercises. They require participation. We sponsor contests. Participation is encouraged. We invite our subscribers to submit jokes to our Humor Files page. This is not only an opportunity to participate, but also to have the experience of submitting jokes for sale, and perhaps making a few bucks in the process. We offer books through our pages that promote writing activity—books such as The New Comedy Writing Workbook and Comedy Writing Self-Taught Workbook. (They and others are listed on the shop page of ROUND TABLE.) These volumes all promote participation.
Participation, though, is a totally self-motivated activity. Our pages can’t force you to try the exercises. They can’t demand that you submit material to our contests. They can’t compel you to enter some of your better one-liners to our contests. We can only offer the opportunity. There are others who offer openings for you to participate in whatever endeavor you are pursuing. You must take advantage of those. Our hope is that you will and that you’ll have fun in the process.
Gene Remembers Tim Conway
[Editor’s Note: Gene had the privilege of working with Tim Conway for many years on The Carol Burnett Show and on Tim’s Variety Hour.]
One quality that is often overlooked in comedy performers is “uniqueness.” Many people can be funny, only the outstanding can be hilarious, yet different from those comics that went before them. Tim Conway epitomized that creativity. Often it seemed on The Carol Burnett Show that Tim Conway’s goal in life was to force Harvey Korman to laugh. That’s partly true. Tim’s goal in life was to make everyone laugh.
There were times when that included Tim Conway himself. Once on the Burnett show, Tim was doing a sketch with Steve Lawrence and Harvey Korman. The basic premise of the playlet was that the central character was being pursued by two potential clients. It was cleverly written so that it seemed like a wife was leaving her husband for another man. It was funny writing. Tim, though, was determined to make it funnier.
As he sat in a restaurant booth with the two other performers, he had secretly had a piece of spinach (or something that looked like spinach) stuck between his front teeth. He thought that when he opened his mouth, the other two actors would break out in uncontrollable laughter. They didn’t. But when Tim noticed that his joke didn’t work, he broke into uncontrollable laughter—so much so, that we had to postpone that sketch and reshoot it later.
We had another sketch in which Harvey Korman had no lines and Tim had only one line which set the premise for the bit. The rest of the routine was done in pantomime. That was the plan, but not when Conway got hold of it.
He spoke his opening line, then continued on for almost another 10 minutes of hilarious, improvisational dialogue (actually a monologue because Harvey never said a word). No one except those in the studio at the time ever saw the sketch because Tim’s side-splitting speech was cut due to time limitations. Instead, the sketch as originally written was aired.
Tim Conway brought a “uniqueness” to any script he was given. He read over the lines, absorbed them, and then always brought something a tad different to each character he played. Burnett fans will remember Tim’s “Old Man.” The shuffling walk and slow movements were Conway’s innovations. In one scene, he tripped at the top of the stairs, and brilliantly managed to fall down the stairs in slow motion. In the “Eunice” sketches, which later became the sitcom, Mama’s Family, Conway played Harvey’s assistant at the hardware store. It was his idea to add a fake hearing aid and talk to Mama as if she were stone deaf. It brought lots of added laughs to the sketches. The poorly fitting toupee and the unidentifiable accent were innovations he concocted for his infamous “Mr. Tudball” sketches.
Tim added something different, unusual, and ingeniously funny to all of his characters. This didn’t just happen. It took dedication, thought and creativity to invent these comedy gimmicks and have them work.
That was the brilliance that Tim Conway brought to any show he was on. He was dedicated to laughter and he worked hard to create comedy. He will be missed, but fondly remembered so long as people enjoy comedy.
Gene’s New Master Course – Start & Finish the Book You’ve Always Wanted to Write
Gene’s New Book: How To Do What You Want To Do If Want You Want To Do Ain’t What You’re Doing
If you are thinking about changing careers, this is the book for you. In these pages, Gene provides a “practical guide to beginning a new career” that he used to go from electrical engineer to comedy writer to producer to speaker to author.
Master Course in
A 12-week email class that covers the basics of comedy writing. Features lessons and feedback.
Master Course in
A 9-step program that takes the writer through the process of developing a monologue. You will work on a topic of your own choosing.