Comedian Jon Friedman knows from rejection. He faced so many of them that he decided to turn them into something productive: The Rejection Show, a comedy show featuring all rejected or turned down materials, ranging from Saturday Night Live skits to game show audition tapes, failed customer service calls and more. The show allows writers and comedians to indulge all those bad jokes and
The show did so well that Friedman has turned the rejection oeuvre into a book, released today, Rejected: Tales of the Failed, Dumped and Canceled (Villard), which he will celebrate with a book party tonight at Bell House in Brooklyn. The book features everyone from cartoonist David Rees, author Mike Albo, actress Kristen Schaal, New York Post writer Mandy Stadtmiller, Joel Stein (with a failed Buddy Hackett Q&A for Time), and others, and offers an insider's look at the process of pitching Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update (by Time Out New York Comedy Editor Jane Borden) and publications such as The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine (including pieces that were accepted by one editor but ultimately rejected).
As for his own rejections, those are seemingly a thing of the past, with the book deal and a new full-time job as a comedy blogger for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Full disclosure: I've known Friedman since 2004, have performed at his show...and also got rejected from Rejected, which, if Friedman is to believed, is some sort of slightly backhanded compliment in his world. You be the judge.
How did The Rejection Show get started?
It is interesting to answer that question now as opposed to when I would answer it when the show first began in 2003. Now in my early 30's the motivations behind starting the show (not getting a job, a painful breakup) would effect me entirely differently today then they did back then. I can handle and move on from rejection much better these days and aside from chalking that up to getting older and (hopefully) wiser I'd like to give some credit to The Rejection Show for showing me that rejection does not have to be the worst thing in the world.
Because every aspiring writer and comedian surely wants to know, how did you go about getting your book deal?
I used the idea behind The Rejection Show to put together a pitch for what the book could look like. I waited for the show to gain momentum and a growing reputation before I officially pitched the idea to my agent, Kate Lee (two years after we met). Once I knew I was ready we worked together in assembling as complete a proposal as possible over the course of about six months. It went through a lot of tweaks and additions and I had to answer a ton of questions and make sample "chapters" and contributions but finally the good people at Villard stepped up and the book deal was completed. It was a very detailed proposal compiled over many months when I worked as a freight elevator operator in my uncle's building.
Was it a challenge to turn material culled largely from a live show into book form?
For the most part, this book is not material that has been seen on the live show. Writers and comedians often pitched ideas to me for the live show that I felt would not work well in a live comedic environment but knew could work in print or book form--which is where
the desire for wanting to do a book grew from. It was definitely a big challenge to assemble this kind of anthology. I wanted the book to have the same kind of variety filled flavor that makes the live show work. Within the live show we are able to jump to a lot of different formats (audio, video, storytelling, etc.) and the challenge early on (and throughout) was finding that formula for the book because obviously I was working with contributions that were in print only. It was an extensive search and I got a ton of great material and eventually it was narrowed down and shaped and tweaked to be what I hope one day will be referred to as Volume 1.
Your introduction to the book starts with "Dear Doug," which you go on to explain, and then include notes from your editor Julia Cheiffetz ("a little too Dr. Phil," "Cheesy! Predictable!"). Did you have to fight to keep the introduction in its original form?
I did not have to fight to keep the introduction in its original form although I did struggle with my introduction. They wanted me to write a funny introduction while still being informative about the book and the show. However, because I am so closely involved and have worked pretty intensely on each show I was having trouble "being funny" writing about it. A lot of my stand up and humor writing are more about stuff like Fred Flintstone's car or questions I have about I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, rather than my own life experiences. So I tried to just write about it without trying to be funny with the hopes of sending it on, getting some notes back and then add some laughs to it later. I knew it was cheesy and predictable and repetitive and somewhat boring and I read Julia's notes and I still just couldn't even begin to get it right. Which then clicked a light off in my head, thinking, this is exactly what the book is all about. Why not just leave the intro like this right here with her notes included as a perfect "introduction" to set up the rest of the book. I pitched the idea to Julia and to her credit she agreed right away.
How did you go about selecting the pieces for Rejected? By which I really mean--why didn't you include mine?
I am very grateful to have received a lot of great material for this book. It can only be a certain number of pages and I was trying to fill a somewhat specific variety filled formula of rejected material and rejection stories covering many different kinds of rejections in different lengths from writers and comedians. Because I had so much material, I used some basic guidelines for the first round of eliminations (ie. the ones that I anticipated being too difficult to get past the legal department) and then after that I had to balance out the different categories as it could not be too heavily a book all about romance or a book entirely about hate mail--and sadly, your contribution was one of the ones I difficultly had to remove from the manuscript. But what you (and other people that were rejected from Rejected) should understand is that I am still the guy that runs the Rejection Show. There is (hopefully) a curiosity of what I had to reject and why I rejected it, which is the original idea behind the show. So what I am saying is, there is a Rejected from Rejected showcase at Housing Works in March 25th. Do you want to be in it? Cool.
In all seriousness, how have people reacted to being rejected from Rejected?
For the most part they have all been really nice and remained enthusiastic about the book. There were one or two who were really upset but I told everyone that I do projects involving rejected material all the time and that their stuff was not actually rejected it was just not being used for this particular book right now, but ultimately (if they agree) it will not be rejected.
What makes for a "good" rejection in terms of your criteria for your show? Why do people most often get rejected from The Rejection Show?
The best rejections for The Rejection Show are the ones that are really great that were overlooked where we can't believe it was rejected and the ones that are so ridiculously bad that they are hilarious (in a laughing with, not laughing at way) but it is the ones that fall into the middle of those categories that are not right for the show. Those are usually pretty boring. People most often get rejected from the show if their material lands in that middle category or if it is clear that they have never met me or seen the show and I get an email saying "Yo, can I get a spot?" or if someone wants to just straight up read. I don't like for segments to be just someone reading something. I look for fully fleshed out segments that use storytelling and the combination of footage or "materials."
Has the process of having to reject people from your show and book changed how you see the topic?
Not really, although this may sound like a cop out--I don't always look at it as a flat out rejection, it is more like a "not yet." When it comes to rejected material there will usually be an appropriate forum for it somewhere (a book, the web, re-tweaked for a live show),
hopefully sooner than later.
Many of the pieces come from professional comedy writers talking about their fields, or are about TV, such as Wendy Spero's piece on scoring internships to Conan and Letterman, and taking them both. Is rejection more inherent to comedians and comedy writers than other professions? Do you think comedians are better equipped to deal with rejection, because they can turn it into jokes?
I would have to say that as people we are all equally subject to rejection no matter who we are or what we do. Rejection is everywhere. Every new accomplishment and level of life opens up new kinds of rejections and disappointments that we have to face. It is how we individually deal with and process these rejections that can make one stand out over another. I do not think that comedians are better equipped to deal with rejection than anyone else, some may say the exact opposite, and just because a comedian is making a joke about a painful subject, that does not mean the pain is wiped away. Making jokes is just one unique way that particular group of people deals with their hardships.
The book also features some rejections of the more personal variety, around the authors' love lives, including New York comedians Sara Schaefer and Katina Corrao, but there are more professional rejections featured. Do people find it easier to share their professional horror stories rather than their private ones?
I think that has a lot to do with it but also I think comedians and writers have a lot more accessible professionally rejected material on hand then they do the love related. A lot of people have told me "If I only had that letter I wrote to that girl I loved," but they don't because she has it.
What's been the biggest rejection you've ever faced, and how did you deal with it?
It is too hard to choose one particular rejection as the biggest one I ever faced. They are all not fun and depending on how close you are to them each one can feel like the biggest at the time. I'm sure there are plenty more to come. I do use the show as a quick fix each month for the rejections I've personally faced since the previous show. I open the show by sharing my own rejected material and or stories.
What was your most recent rejection?
All this rejection talk and putting my own rejections on display each month can't I please just focus on a few recent acceptances? I have a book coming out today (order now!) and I was recently hired to be blogger for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. All things I am very excited about --but of course, different kinds of rejections can and will arise from them.
Is there a part of you that relishes rejection now because it's good fodder?
Of course, of course, of course. I don't want anyone to get hurt. But of course. Of coooooooooouuuuuurse. Of course.
What public figure's rejection most fascinates you, and what advice would you have for them?
Britney Spears. I just want to wrap her up in a warm blanket and make her some soup. I have NO advice for her. I have no idea how to begin to give her advice. Maybe I'd tell her to tell her dad not to wear that Halloween mask around her kids ever again.
What can we expect at the Rejected book party tonight?
We can expect some really cool and funny "live performance versions" of stuff in the book from David Wain, David Rees, Mike Albo, Sara Schaefer, Katina Corrao, Dave Hill, Todd Levin, Tom McCaffrey, Odd Todd. Live music from The Defibulators and Adira Amram, a duet with Adira Amram and my dad, FREE cupcakes from my cousin Melissa from the blog Life in a Peanut Shell, and copies of the book that I will sign if you want me to.