NYTVF- Long Day's Journey Into Late Night
Jason Sudeikis is no stranger to being on stage. The Saturday Night Live writer/actor is about to embark on his sixth season in Studio 8-H as a full time cast member, after a long improv career that’s even vaulted him toward leading man status in Hollywood. After hosting the MTV Movie Awards earlier this year, the New York Television Festival tapped the Kansas-bred funnyman to join some of his late night writing peers on a more intimate stage- at the 92Y Tribeca- for a panel discussion and interactive Q&A session about the rigors of writing comedy in time-sensitive, high pressure settings. Dubbed “A Long Day’s Journey Into Late Night,” the over one hour long discussion was rife with raucous laughs and gave the packed audience the opportunity to get inside the minds of some of the more creative comedic talents behind the men who seem to get all of the credit.
The Thursday evening panel was made up of the head writers and producers of the biggest live comedy shows shot right here in Manhattan: A.D. Miles (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), Eric and Justin Stangel (The Late Show with David Letterman), Steve Bodow (The Daily Show), Barry Julien(The Colbert Report), and the aforementioned Sudeikis, representing SNL. While playing host and emcee to the evening, Sudeikis managed to keep the conversation flowing, while interjecting bit pieces and anecdotes from his own experiences and also improvising on the fly. A particularly funny moment occurred as an audience member kicked over an empty beer bottle (Stella Artois was a sponsor), at which point Sudeikis exclaimed “Okay, now spin it and when it stops, F**ck!” which the crowd simply ate up.
Each panelist discussed in detail a broad range of topics from their daily schedules to their first forays into writing comedy. Not surprisingly, each had a theater, open mic, or stand-up background from their earliest days. When an audience posed question asked them to reflect on their biggest influences, David Letterman was an obvious choice for all of them- a generational depiction of comedy’s gold standard to people in their 30′s and 40′s as Johnny Carson was to their predecessors.
Other informational nuggets gleaned from this discussion included the fact that while Julien had submitted writing packets for years to the Letterman show, SNL, and The Daily Show, before getting a staff spot on The Colbert Report and working his way up, A.D. Miles, a former stand-up and actor (Role Models) simply interviewed for the head writing job on Jimmy Fallon’s show and landed it. This caused a bitter rift that would continue through the remainder of the show- but was all in good fun. Also, Justin Stangel told an anecdote about fighting Letterman to get a piece on the air that he’d thought would kill, while Dave himself was skeptical. When he persisted, Letterman challenged him to a $1000 bet that it would be met with crickets. Standing behind his work he persevered, and when the bit failed, Letterman was more eager to revel in the fact that he had “come into some new found money,” than he was disappointed by the apathetic crowd reaction. Stories like these dominated the evening, but really gave the crowd a sense of what goes on behind the scenes in creating a live show organically.
Though this year’s iteration of the New York Television Festival is close to reaching its conclusion, there is still time to catch some fun events this weekend at minimal cost. If you were fortunate enough to be in the building last night, you were treated to a cornucopia of war stories from a panel of talented comedy writers, and got a deeper insight into the fundamentals of the unglamorous side of the business, while really gaining an understanding for the true passion that each writer/performer seems to revel in. You’ll find no bigger fans of Jason Sudeikis than at our outlet, but our newly found appreciation for the unheralded work contributed by the head writers of the shows that make their figurehead host look both comfortable and clever on television, truly came to light on this night.
- Jane Van Arsdale