This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
Every writer – well, every comedy writer – has made this mistake. You're at work, and you're laughing with your colleagues, about something – usually what we call a "room run" – a joke that originates entirely in the writers' room, one that's usually so objectionable, so foul, so indefensibly cruel and wrong and ugly, that the entire room is paralyzed by laughter.
Evil, dirty laughter.
But it's funny. Hilarious, actually, to you. So when you get home to your wife or husband or boyfriend or girlfriend, you know, you want to share your day. Share the little moments of joy you experienced.
So you say, "Hey, we were all laughing pretty hard today. Somebody brought up Anne Frank, and then somebody else wondered how weird it would be if she..." insert awful, indefensible, and inexplicable joke here. Watch the color drain from the face of the listener. See the eyes narrow in baffled disappointment. The lip curl just slightly. The head pull back in revulsion. And then: "Is that what you guys do all day? Make fun of people who are heroes?"
"No, I just thought it was...you know, funny. Or whatever. Don't look at me like that. You asked me what happened today and I told you."
Big mistake. What happens in the room, stays in the room, is the right rule to follow. There's no way to provide the right context, the right subtle set up to explain to an ordinary decent person why, suddenly, a lot of well paid writers, who complain up and down about the hours they work, nevertheless took a two-hour break in the middle of a rewrite to riff on the physical appearance of the network's current programming executive, or what would happen if an elderly comedy writer somehow got confused and sent his new spec script to his doctor and his stool sample to his agent. "I think what you sent me was fecal matter," his agent says to him when he calls for a reaction to the script. And his doctor says, "That thing you sent me? It reminded me a lot of your earlier work."
So, you get the problem. Room runs don't travel.
On the other hand, my friends Bob Sand and Tom Leopold have written a book together called Milt & Marty: the Longest Lasting and Least Successful Comedy Writing Duo in Showbiz History which comes right out of the writers room: it's hilarious and profane and wonderfully chaotic, and it comes from Tom and Bob, two of the funniest, most inventively fearless writers and room-run-writers around. I've spent a lot of hours in writers' rooms with both of them, and I've heard them both together and individually invent and improvise a lot of the material that appears in Milt & Marty – some of it sweetly sentimental, most of it brilliantly objectionable, but all of it truly funny. I've also heard them both – and, honestly, joined in myself – in some material that I pray never sees the light of day, for legal and tax reasons. Watching them at their recent Barnes & Noble book signing was like being back in the writers room with them, but adjusted, slightly, for the civilian sensibility.
Milt & Marty is the closest thing to a room run most people will ever hear. In bookstores now. Buy it, and brace yourself.
That's it for this week. Next week, we reinvent ourselves. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.