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Comic Advice

Directly opposing ideas from two successful people, Ricky Gervais (The Office) and Scott Adams (Dilbert), about how to be successful:

Scott Adams
: "Other people are not like you. If you create cartoons that you like, you’re probably only appealing to other cartoonists. I made that mistake early on in my career when I did a lot of comics that focused on clever puns. If you want to preserve your artistic integrity and vision, that’s fine, but don’t expect to make money doing it."

Ricky Gervais: "We’re making comedy for us and people who are like-minded. We want to do the best we can and if that means leaving behind some people who prefer broad comedy then so be it, because I really don’t care."

Scott Adams: "Your readers care about themselves, not you. Readers will perceive as funny anything that "hits home" even if it isn’t all that clever by any objective standard. Unfortunately the only person you know well enough to "hit home" with on a regular basis is yourself. Write about the situations that you have in common with other people. The common situations can be analogous, not exact. For example, you might have a weird hobby that thrills you but makes others roll their eyes. It doesn’t matter if readers share your hobby, only that they might indulge in something that is also disdained by others. It’s the feeling of disdain that should hit home, not the hobby."

Ricky Gervais
: (About Spinal Tap)  "…Finally I thought that a film had been made for me and nobody else. When I got the chance, I didn’t want to make 10 million people’s fifth-favorite comedy for 10 months, I wanted to make some people’s favorite comedy ever."

When I first read Scott Adams’s advice, I thought he was kidding. It sounds like he doesn’t like his own comic and thinks less of people who do.  Still, I had to stick it in this blog. Creative inspiration from a cynical desire to connect with other people for money is still inspiration.

Of course, I don’t really think Dilbert is funny. And Ricky Gervais has enough money that he never needs to work again.

I guess they’re describing how to create a fad versus how to create something lasting. Any thoughts?

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2 responses

  1. probably it’s more telling that gervais, while successful, is much more of a “niche” comedian than adams–certainly you don’t find ricky gervais bits tacked up in most people’s cubicles (unless you’re in mine). i dislike the stereotype, too, that of course the american writer would be willing to pander more broadly just to make money, but it’s a truism on a lot of fronts; also seems like perhaps quirkiness is more valued overseas, whereas here it’s only within the last five years become something broadly accepted or considered ‘interesting’ (napoleon dynamite, geek chic, etc.)

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  2. You are probably right.
    Still, to take so much pleasure in dismissing the taste of the people that consume what you make takes a certain kind of person. A kind of person I don’t like.
    To use another cartoonist as an example, I don’t see that kind of attitude from Charles Schulz. And Peanuts, especially for its first 20 years, was incredibly quirky and strange. Schulz seemed amazed that people liked what he did and it was only in later years that he changed his cartoon to pander.
    I also think Bill Watterson produced quirky material that went over big.
    There was another exchange in the article which was also revealing about Guest and Gervais:
    Guest: Oh, I forgot to tell you: a guy came up to me after the screening of the film yesterday and said [Cockney Accent]:”Oh,Great. Really good, really good… What’s it like working with Ricky?””Great, really great.””I’m just like David Brent.”
    Gervais:[Disbelieving] Oh.
    Guest: So I just said,”That’s good. Congratulations. [Under his breath] Congratulations you fucking moron…”

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