When Funny Or Die announced a partnership with Mike Sacks to launch their new books division, those familiar with the author could have hardly been surprised. Sacks, who is currently on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair and has been published in publications as diverse as The New Yorker, Maxim, and MAD Magazine, has built a body of work that respects the art of humor writing.
In Sacks' first book, "And Here's the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Humor Writers About Their Craft," he took the role of a journalist, interviewing luminaries such as Buck Henry and Robert Smigel about their profession. Sacks then joined with like-minded writers from "Conan," "The Onion," and "The Daily Show" to write "Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk," a parody of too-earnest sex-ed manuals such as "The Joy of Sex."
His newest book, "Your Wildest Dreams (Within Reason)" is a collection of his essays that have been published throughout his career. The anthology includes a wide array of humor, from pointed satire (a modern-day publisher's rejection of "The Diary of Anne Frank" is a highlight) and more absurdist fare (an email chain from "Mike the Talking Horse" is beyond description). We talked to Sacks about his career in comedy writing, why he remains dedicated to print and his real feelings towards the publishing industry.
HuffPost Comedy: What drew you to humor writing as a profession?
Mike Sacks: I loved comedy but was shy, and would never have gotten up in front of an audience. Writing is the perfect occupation for me. I can say what I want, but I can do so privately. This is why nobody has ever seen my face. When I do go out in public, I wear a Mardi Gras mask. My nickname is "Mystery Too."
HPC: Which writers or pieces of writing inspired you, both when starting out and today?
MS: Early National Lampoon writers Doug Kenney and Michael O'Donoghue. A few MAD writers, including Don Martin and Al Jaffee. I think both are genius. Woody Allen, Albert Brooks, and Mark Leyner. Gary Larson and Charles Schulz. And I think David Sedaris is the best of the best. A true original. He's a beautiful writer, for any genre, not just humor. I love Jack Pendarvis, who writes for both Oxford American and Believer magazines. Lorrie Moore, Jerzy Kosinksi, and Richard Yates (not traditional "humor writers," but I think they're funny all the same). The Republicans are putting out hilarious books these days. I think they're supposed to be bad, though.
HPC: Many humor writers use essay writing as a launching pad to write for TV or film. Why have you chosen to remain dedicated to print?
MS: Well, truthfully, I wasn't too different. I thought writing for print was a great way to get called up to the "major leagues" of TV or film writing. But then I fell in love with writing for print. My few forays into TV and film have been very unhappy. There's not much money in print, but there is control and I do love the control. That is why I carry a whistle and a riding crop like the father for the Von Trapp family. What was his name? Joey? Butch?
HPC: Many young comic writers are told to sell themselves by putting out web videos, sketch comedy, and other performance-based vehicles for their writing. What do you think is the future of humor writing?
MS: I think that's great advice, actually. It's a lot easier now than it has been in the past. The difficulty is to be heard above the din. There's just so much out there to compete with. But I do think that if you keep at it, and write what you want, in the style that you want, you will ultimately find some sort of audience. At the very least, you'll be content with what you've written, which is very important.
HPC: When you first started writing the essays in "Your Wildest Dreams," did you envision that they would eventually be collected into a book?
MS: That was my dream from the beginning, but truthfully, I never thought anyone would read some of these pieces. I just thought they were too bizarre. Like "Rules for My Cuddle Party." I just wrote that for fun and for a few friends. And now the whole world is reading it. And by "the whole world," I mean about 2,000 people.
HPC: Do you remember the first piece you wrote for the book?
MS: I think it was "Shaft in the Suburbs," which I wrote in college. That's yet another piece that I didn't think anyone would ever read. And now the whole world is reading it. And by "the whole world," I mean... ah, forget it.
HPC: Did you leave anything out that you wish could have remained?
MS: Yes. Just one piece. And it was a first-person account of my fifteen years as a counselor at a horseback riding camp in the Adirondacks. Don't know why that was cut. True, it did run 200 pages, but the photos were not to be believed. No, everything I wanted in the book made it into the book. And I thank the publisher, Tin House, for that. They're fantastic. Just wonderful to deal with.
HPC: Who do you imagine is your target audience for the book?
MS: Prisoners, the mentally ill and students at Middlebury College. And just people who love to get buck-ass naked and read a funny book. Have you ever laughed while nude? It's fun!
HPC: Several of the pieces in your new book poke fun at the publishing industry and the profession of writing. Was that a conscious choice?
MS: Yes, absolutely. Both businesses are ridiculous, filled with a lot of mediocrity. I suppose I was taking out some anger at these industries with the book. There's a lot of bizarre practices that just don't make sense to me. One is that publishers don't like publishing books of collected pieces that aren't in some way connected--either by character or by theme. Just strange things I've witnessed over the years. And it's not just the business angle that I make fun of. I also make fun of mediocre writers who have a burning desire to "make it." Their talent seems to be self-marketing above all else. Then again, who am I to talk? I cringe when I re-read a lot of my early pieces. And I did bug a lot of writers for advice. Poor bastards.
HPC: What other comedy are you enjoying these days?
MS: I absolutely love "The Best Show on WFMU." I think Scharpling and Wurster are brilliant, and doing some of the best humor being produced. Check them out!
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