02/25/2013 05:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

6 Vital Lesson I Learned About Life While Writing Thousands of Jokes for TV



15 years ago, while writing jokes on Politically Incorrect, I decided to dress the same way every day: white t-shirt, baseball hat, jeans. And no, I was not on meth. There were several reasons:

• I was born without the gene for style. It's disease that affects all Jewish boys. If you don't count Isaac Mizrahi and Andy Cohen.

• Having a predetermined uniform protects me from looking stupid. Like showing up to a funeral in baggy MC Hammer pants. You know, unless I've been hired to do back up dancing.

• Finally, I realized that human decision making prowess is a lot like gas in your car, in that over the course of the day, our ability to make good decisions is depleted based on how many decisions we made previously. So, if I cut down on the early day decisions, I would have enough mental reserves (or gas) to make better decisions at the end of the day.

Clothes do not make you who you are. Your actions do. Unless you're on that RuPaul show, in which case, all bets are off.


Because writing for TV is not science, anyone who tells you anything about the quality or the potential for your written material's success -- no matter how confident they sound, successful they are or if they have J. Woww on speed dial -- is just taking a guess. Showbiz folk are just slightly more knowledgeable about the future than psychics. And "slightly" is generous. For example: TV networks commission about 100 scripts every year for new TV shows. Of those, they shoot pilots for about 30 shows. Of those 30 shows, about four or five make it to TV. Now, think about ALL the shows that get cancelled every year. Most TV shows don't succeed. But wait. There's more.

• Every network passed on Marc Cherry's series, Desperate Housewives before ABC decided to pick it up.

• CBS developed CSI, shot a pilot and decided to pass on it. Then, at the last minute, before they announced their new schedule, pulled a switch-eroo.

• The heads of the FOX movie studio passed on the screenplay for the movie Ted, even though they were already in business with Seth McFarlane on the TV side of their business.

•And most famously, a music executive who first met and heard a Beatles demo passed on the band because he didn't think Rock and Roll was going to be a real thing.

So, how does this relate to me? When I decided to make This vs That, everyone I know said things like "How will you pay for it?" "How can you make it as big as a "regular" TV show?" "Who will watch it?" "How will you distribute it?" and what if you called it "One Thing vs The Other Thing?"

The point is: if I had listened to them, I wouldn't have six one hours episodes of a TV series that looks as big as anything you've seen, that has already been sold into a dozen territories around the world, that has been featured on CNN, BBC, Yahoo, NBC and CBS News (among others) that people are calling "The Indie Rock of TV" and "A game changer in terms of content creation, ownership and distribution."

This vs That premieres in the US on March 1, 2013 @



Cats and dogs look at the world differently.

Don't think for a minute that a dog and a cat living under the same roof are friends. They are not. If Fido had his way, Trixie the Whore, that's what Fido calls her, Trixie the Whore, would get hit by a hearse and then over and over and over again by each successive car in the funeral procession. Conversely, if The Slobbering Sociopath, that's what Trixie calls Fido, if the Slobbering Sociopath were dead, she would be in reality what she believes she already is in fantasy: God.

The point is, neither The Whore or The Sociopath does anything to upset the fragile detente that exists in their family because without it, who would rub their bellies?

The same delicate detente exists in the world of TV writing. Writers get hired on shows, are paid different salaries and are given different responsibilities, with some writers getting more responsibility and some getting less. And how do bosses get workers who do the same job, that is, writing, how do they get the ones who are paid less and whose material is used less, how do they get them to keep showing up and contributing to the show? By telling them "we are family." The implication is that although some of the staff is treated differently -- favored -- we love everyone equally. After-all, that's really what writer's want. I once worked for a guy who said that on the last page of a script, the writer shouldn't write "the end," he should write "Love me." Because that's what writers want. To have their work loved... and by extension, they are loved. Show-biz prays on this desperate need writers have to be loved.

But, here's the truth: the colleagues at your office, your bosses, their bosses, YOU ARE NOT FAMILY. Although what you are engaged in -- writing and making TV -- seems like the most fun ever, if you don't count jumping up and down on beds, there's a reason why it's called "show business."

Writing is "show." The rest? All business. If your writing suddenly seems stale? You're fired. If the people running the show decide you are no longer a good fit. You're fired. If the stars of the show think you have a bad mojo, you're fired. If it's Friday, you're fired. You get the idea. You're fired.


No matter how many times anyone says to you "can I see what you're working on?" And they follow up with: "I just wanna see." or "It's not to judge you." or "I know it's still a work in progress." Know this: those people are liars. I want to repeat this: "THEY ARE FUCKING LIARS." No matter what you do for a living, don't show people your work until it's the best you can make it. Because as soon as someone sees something you did, they are going to critique it... and you. So, do not ever ever ever ever ever show people your work until you are prepared for it to be shat upon.

Here's an example of a joke in it's first stage of development: FOX News is accusing President Obama of showing favoritism for minorities as he appointments new cabinet secretaries. Even worse, he's created the new position of Secretary of Keepin' It Real for Jay Z.

And now, a more polished version: FOX says Obama appointed too many minorities to vacant cabinet posts. Even worse for FOX, Obama's taking Washington off the quarter and replacing him with Tupac and Biggie.

The first joke is long... not punchy or funny. The second joke conveys the same idea... and is better. OK, just incrementally better, mostly because "Tupac" has a "P" sound. And "P" is funny. Like in "pickle." The point: if someone were judging your joke writing skills, you'd want them to see joke #2 and not joke #1.



When you are a writer, you can't let someone else's opinion of your work determine how you feel about what you do, after-all, it's just one person, and there are many places where your jokes or a show might very well be viable. Which leads to having confidence.

When people ask me about the rejection writers (and producers) often feel when their work isn't made public, isn't told in the monologue, or isn't made into the series you created, I say the following: I'm a baker. I make great cake. Unfortunately, some days they're buying muffins. And your boss's, or the network's affection for muffins today, doesn't make your cake bad or unfunny, or unworthy of love. It just means today, they want muffins.

Although, as everyone rightly knows, muffins are awful. And the leading cause of cancer. As for cake, it is delicious. And cake cures cancer. Especially the kind of cake with fudge.


Don't believe anyone at your job who says: "I'm looking out for you." That person may not be actively lying to you... but what they're saying is absolutely a lie. In the TV business lots of people say they're looking out for you: your agent, your lawyer, your manager, the head writer of the show you work on, the producer of the show you work on, the people who sit at the desk next to you. But, they are not. Why? Because they are looking out only for themselves.

The point: when opportunity comes along, the next thing, the next big thing, fuck it, anything, when something else comes along that wants to pay you more -- grab it, even if it leaves your previous employers totally screwed.

Because what we do isn't science -- and some days people want cancer causing muffins instead of cancer curing cakes -- and if you're a guy who makes cake, don't stick around curing every ungrateful bastard's cancer and praying they'll suddenly thank you, go to where they love cake and hate cancer... and tell the muffin sellers you're leaving for more money... and looking out for your REAL family.

Jon Hotchkiss is the creator of This vs That, a new series. Like This vs That on Facebook. Please.

Jon's joke writing can be found on: Politically Incorrect, Penn & Teller: Bullshit, Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Truth About Sex, among others. Or on Facebook.