Rick Rosner (below) is a remarkable comedy writer, given he has an IQ of 199, the fourth highest on record. Women and men, with such high IQs, commonly focus on learnedness, plotted in a dark, dank and dusty room. A high IQ often jibs at mirth.
Rick Rosner is a remarkable comedy writer, given he has an IQ of 199, the fourth highest on record. Women and men, with such high IQs, commonly focus on learnedness, plotted in a dark, dank and dusty rooms. A high IQ often jibs at mirth.
Still, there are few high IQ jobs on the Rosner resume. He delivered strip-o-grams, one on the way to his high school prom; was a nude model, roller-skating waiter, bar bouncer and appeared naked on several cable television shows. Still, he writes comedy, a more cerebral task than many think, with the best.
A high IQ can have curious results. Rosner, 55, graduated high school, in 1978. He then outwitted school officials; they allowed him to repeat grade twelve, four times. “I didn’t enjoy grade twelve,” says Rosner, “but it allowed me to know why I was so miserable, all the time.”
As a contestant on the game show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” Rosner rolled along until he hit this question: “What capitol city is located at the highest altitude above sea level?” His choices were (a) Mexico City, Mexico; (b) Quito, Ecuador; (c) Bogata, Colombia and (d) Kathmandu, Nepal.
He was too smart. His answer was Katmandu. Rosner missed the question, according to show producers.
The producers claimed it was Quito, Ecuador. “I was sure I was right,” says Rosner. “The producers relied on bad research.” The fact-checker should have double-checked the researcher.
The answer, in fact, is a matter of definition. La Paz, Bolivia, is the highest administrative capitol above sea level. Quito, Ecuador, is the highest legal capitol city.
Rosner sued. He sent letters chocked full of reasons that he was right. The producers, of “Millionaire,” didn’t budge.
“Shortly after my lawsuit,” says Rosner, “‘Millionaire’ changed its rules.” Instead of asking contestants to find the correct answer among the choices, the show now wanted contestants to select the best answer. “I guess that ‘Millionaire’ is no longer contractually obligated to offer contestants correct answers.”
In the late 1980s, Rosner was a rehearsal contestant on the MTV game show, “Remote Control.” It was his first exposure to comedy writing. “I asked to intern, on the show,” says Rosner, “but I became a fact-checker and, later, a writer.”
Unlike most comedy writers, Rosner doesn’t yearn to do stand-up. “I try,” he says, “but I’m not good.” A high IQ often means easily distracted; a stand-up routine takes much focus and concentration.
Rosner is working on a memoir, “Dumbass Genius,” his Twitter name. Mostly, he says, the memoir is about his extra years in high school. He’s currently circulating a fifty-page proposal among book publishers.
As for Tweets, here is a typical one about testifying before the Benghazi Committee Hearing: “Worth it to testify just to be in a room w/ such fancy moulding & wainscoting & velvety drapes.”
In this interview, Rick Rosner talks of comedy writing and the burdens of having a high IQ. His philosophy of life slips through, too.
Grub Street (GS) You bill as the second highest IQ in the world.
Rick Rosener (RR) Yes, I have an intelligent quotient (IQ) of 199. Many people make similar claims. I have the scores to justify my claim, but IQ is ridiculous.
GS Ridiculous or not, your IQ is remarkable.
RR Thank you, I think I might as well put it to good use.
GS I agree. Lionel Trilling the middle twentieth-century literary critic used to bemoan how America hated smart people. Is promoting your IQ, as part of your brand, worth the potential grief?
RR There is no bad publicity. If people want to call me a schmuck because I have a certifiable high IQ, I welcome it. They are still talking about me. As a promotional tool, my IQ catches attention.
GS As long the cheque has your name spelt correctly.
RR Yes, as long as I am paid, I’m happy.
GS There is a test effect to IQ. The more times you take a test, the higher your score, usually. How many times have you tested?
RR My IQ tested twenty times, I guess.
GS I like the picture of your dog, in the tub with the duck on its head.
RR Are you on Twitter.
RR Twitter opened a service called Twitter Analytics. It used go only to their best clients. Now, it's open everybody.
I’ve been using Twitter Analytics for three months. I’ve learned that if you throw an image into your tweet, it gets a lot more action. Thus, the picture of my dog with a duck stuck on his head.
GS That’s more like Facebook.
RR Yes, that’s true.
GS What’s your favourite phrase or word?
RR My favourite words those worth many points on a"Words with Friends," the on-line game, such as za or qi.
GS What is your least favourite word?
RR My least favourite words are moist and panties, for the same reasons as I like these words.
GS You're a writer, mostly comedy for television. What’s your favourite television show?
RR I agree with most people, there are too many “reality” shows on television. Otherwise, I like any show involving Tina Fey, say, “30 Rock.” I usually like television shows that everyone likes, except what’s on HBO. I’m too cheap to buy HBO.
I’m tired of zombies, which is why I don’t care for “The Walking Dead.” I’m tired of vampires, too. We need new monsters.
GS Do you have any suggestions for new monsters?
RR All new, real monsters are in the future, when technology messes too much with life. We’re in a war, with the future, that we’re going to lose. We’re among the last generations of humans that don’t have the option for vast changes; plastic surgery extended to include organs.
In the future, bio-surgery implants that check vital signs and regularly inject nutrients will change most humans. Those not changed by plastic surgery and such will be the voluntary Amish. Most people will pick a degree of technological intervention, with which they are comfortable. There will be enclaves that avoid all technology.
A decade ago, Stephen King wrote of cell phones infected with a disease that turned users into zombies, needing to eat people. He created a new monster, a germ. Something along those lines is likely.
GS What is the funniest joke or comment you’ve heard?
RR I don’t know, I’m holding on to jokes, these days. I think the funniest joke I wrote was with a writing partner for “The World’s Funniest.” The show aired on Fox; it was a version of “American’s Funniest Home Videos.”
“The World’s Funniest” aired a clip of a fellow walking along a beach. He was picking up driftwood and such. When he picked an especially long, heavy piece of driftwood, he stumbled and the log hit him in the groin.
We wrote, “That’s the last wood that guy will ever get.” The producers didn’t care for the line, even though it’s hilarious. I guess it was too risqué for the time.
GS What turns you on?
RR Not much anymore, I am sorry to say.
GS What turns you off?
RR People too focused their smartphone or tablet all the time, as they walk down the street or drive.
GS Are you writing now for Jimmy Kimmel.
RR No, a few months ago, the show fired me.
GS They fired you.
RR Yes, I’d been there for twelve years so. It was a good run.
GS You're right, that’s not bad.
RR Now I’m writing on my own. I have a book proposal out to publishers.
GS You have your toes crossed, I see from the Skype video.
RR Yes, I do, but my feet are ridiculous.
GS Do you think comedy appeals mostly to older women and men. By older, I mean early thirties and older because they have a larger frame of reference than does a twenty-year-old, say.
RR Interesting, but I haven't thought about it much. It might be that comedy, in the larger sense, appeals to these older people, whereas irony appeals to younger people. Satire certainly calls for a larger frame of reference.
GS Interesting, I spent my life working with twenty-year-olds, which leads to me to agree with you on the appeal of irony, but less so satire.
RR My kid is among the first generation with the Internet their whole lives. He’s familiar with every possible form of everything. So, humour that acknowledges form, how things are, and, at the same time, subverts it a little bit, might not be hilarious, but might be kind of the sea where we’re swimming.
We're swimming in information. People bemoan how no one reads magazines or books for information. I go on a search engine and find the exact information I want, within a few seconds, a minute at most; there's no searching. Our thinking has become more superficial in some ways.
GS Our expectations are much greater I guess than they were even twenty years ago.
RR Yes, I think so.
GS I recently discovered New York State seals divorce proceedings for one hundred years. Yet, for $34.95, I can get a copy any divorce records that I want. It’s too much of a violation.
RR That’s what I mean.
GS What’s your favourite ice cream?
RR Another easy question, my favourite ice cream is chocolate raspberry truffle.
GS I wonder if we could talk a bit about monologue writing, even though you’re off Kimmel. By the way, Kimmel made the second funniest comment I have heard.
RR What is it?
GS He was at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, in 2012, I think. Kimmel was hosting. He said, “What happens if you piss off a queen and a prince?”
RR What do you get?
GS You get death in a tunnel. Nobody gets the satire. You get it, I get it, nobody else gets it. They didn’t get it in the room, but it is so funny, if morbid.
RR The White House Correspondents Dinner is a terrible job, a tough room.
GS Kimmel had another nicely veiled joke, at that dinner.
RR What was that?
GS "Mr. Gingrich, how can you be against gay marriage?" Kimmel said. "You are the child of a gay marriage of The Michelin Man and the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man?"
RR Right, what’s the first funniest comment or joke you’ve heard?
GS Oh it’s one of those generic jokes, applicable to any ethnic group. What do you call two Irishman, as I’m Irish, in new, three-piece suits?
RR I don’t know.
GS The accused; any ethnic group fits equally well.
RR That’s a good one.
GS The joke works, most of the time, because the audience does not expect the punchline.
RR The unexpected is usually a key to a good joke.
GS Someone I interviewed said a monologue joke must begin with a piece of truth. What do you think?
RR I agree. A good monologue joke begins with a newsworthy comment or a topic that’s in the air, say, the Kardashians. That’s truth of a sort.
Leno and Johnny Carson were notorious for starting with a newsworthy comment. They preferred the easy go-to subject. The punchline was most important.
GS Carson always had a “How hot is it?” joke.
RR Yes and I have a general theory of how jokes form. Variations come off the general idea. The result is a solid joke.
GS What is your theory?
RR The theory is we have finite processing capacity in our brains.
GS Yes, you're rather kind.
RR Our brains evolved not to die too young. Evolution ensures we live sufficient long to raise children. Then we can die.
RR We rely on our brains to decide how we think and act. These judgement calls root in innate capacity as well as how well we learn from experience. The more efficient our judgement calls, the fewer errors we make.
RR I think the brain prefers and prioritises simple, finite material. It's helpful to have life as simple as it can be. This is because, with finite processing capacity, the fewer the judgement calls you have to make and the less complicated the calls you must make, the smaller the chance there is of making an error.
RR When you look at a traffic light, you must decide on its colour. Based on the decision about colour, the decision, of how to act, simplifies. If the colour is red, the decision is premade to stop.
The goal is to get as many photons firing from seeing the traffic light as you can. If the colour is amber, the decision is more difficult. Go or stop, will the light change before you have time to get across the intersection and so forth.
RR I think laughing at a joke is a happy reaction to information simplified and compacted; information gained at a reduced price. You see someone eat berries and fall over dead. You’ve learned something at somebody else’s expense: don’t eat such berries.
Take a joke about the Kardashians. The set-up is easy; Kim Kardashians did this or that. The audience knows her lifestyle and can judge the truth of the set-up comment.
The punchline goes right back to go to set-up. She is greedy and dumb, whatever. The punchline resolves an intricate circumstance in a word or a few words.
A more complicated set-up involves saying, “A priest, two nuns and a penguin walk into a bar.”
RR In this case, the set-up is a joke. The comedian doesn’t have to care about it. Depending on the punchline, only one reason may be important.
George Saunders, the writer of short stories, has a same idea. In an essay, “The Brain Dead Megaphone,” the story premise is a fellow shows up at a party, with a megaphone. Automatically, Megaphone Guy has the loudest voice at the party.
Megaphone Guy doesn’t have much to say, but all that he does say is the loudest. He gets the most attention. Eventually, partygoers stop being guests and become passive reactors to what Megaphone Guy says.
The megaphone is a metaphor for the media; partygoers are the audience. The audience notices media content, most, because it’s loudest. A media reporter might say, “Malls are busier between Thanksgiving and Christmas”; it's a truism that passes as important information because it’s loudest.
GS It appears as if it is important information.
RR Mostly, it came from the loudest voice in the room.
GS Let’s see if I can come up with an example of your theory. A priest walks into a bar, with parrot on his shoulder. As the bartender serves them he says, “Where’d you get this one?” “There all over Rome,” says the parrot. Is the format you’re talking of?
RR Yes, but it’s a complicated set-up. I don’t have my theory fully formed, as an idea. Many jokes have a category error, but laughter comes from the shift in perspective.
The bartender misunderstands or so it seems. Kimmel and other comedians use material that involves his or her misunderstanding. For comedic purposes, misunderstanding can be good.
GS Right, but Leno didn’t premise many jokes on misunderstanding.
RR No, that’s true. Many Leno jokes were simple. That was what his audience, his demographic base, enjoyed. His audience didn’t want to work too hard, I don’t think.
GS That’s an interesting way of looking at his style.
RR Many Leo jokes weren’t even jokes. He gave facts in a jokey cadence. Did you hear about this?
GS What of the David Letterman style? *
RR Letterman’s interesting. He’s been on more than thirty years. He’s done many more episodes than has anyone in the history of late-night television talk or television, I guess. He’s not fighting for more viewers.
He doesn’t care, as much as he once did. He’s walks out to thunderous applause. He does a monologue that throws material away.
GS I agree, more and more he seems tired and going walking through the show, rather excited and passionate about what he’s doing.
RR His attitude, when he first came on in 1981, was to be sceptical of the entire enterprise. David Letterman made fun of what he was sceptical. I don’t know if it was disgruntlement or not.
GS I think Letterman remains sceptical, but cares much less, now.
RR Johnny Carson twinkled. He was charismatic. He implied some impish skepticism about everything.
GS David Letterman is doing foolishness, now.
RR Yes, I think so.
GS We talked about two of three late-night television talk show hosts. Can we put, Jimmy Kimmel in somewhere? How do you think Kimmel is positioning himself?
RR Well, Jimmy Kimmel is an ideally adapted person for late night, I think. He always wanted to be a late-night host. In high school, he had number plates that read “Late night.” He loves Letterman; he loves late-night television talk.
GS That’s interesting.
GS How old is Kimmel?
RR He’s forty-eight.
GS He has a long way to go.
RR Yes, I guess, but he loves doing late night. He’s good at it. He loves everything about late night.
He likes the opening comedy parts. He loves talking with people. Seriously, I can’t talk too much about the various people in late night because my arrangement, with the Kimmel show, is not entirely over.
GS I understand, but we’re talking positively good points.
RR Even so, but I think Leno was strong. He’d come out and rattle off thirty-five or so jokes in his monologue.
GS Yes, sometimes it was exhausting for the audience.
RR The monologue was his main love. He’s a stand-up comedian, at heart. His interviews were mostly straightforward.
GS Leno liked the production bits and the desk bits, too.
RR Yes. More than any other host, I think Kimmel likes the human part of late line. He enjoys talking with guests. He likes trying to see inside a guest.
GS That’s a good character. What of Fallon, as a late night host?
RR Enthusiasm for everything is the major strength of Jimmy Fallon. He is also tough. He’s hosting a sixty-year-old show, a tradition. NBC prizes the “The Tonight Show”; it’s a gold mine for the network. Lorne Michaels now produces it; he’s produced “Saturday Night Live” for forty-plus years and knows what he’s doing.
GS Doing shows in Canada for seven or eight years before that.
GS When you’re building a joke for a late-night monologue, must the joke be brief.
RR Well, briefer is better, within reason. The shorter the joke, the punchier it is, usually. The rule, if there any rules in joke writing, is to get the punch, whatever it is line or word, as close to the end of the joke as you can.
GS The shorter is the distance between set-up and punchline or word, the better.
RR Yes, the shorter is the distance, the greater the effect of the joke. If you need too many words to complete the idea, after the punch word, the laughing is going to come up over the rest of what you’re trying to say. Otherwise, the comedian may lose a great joke.
GS I noticed the late David Brenner, had a way of getting a first laugh, letting it fade, a bit, and then hitting the audience with a follow-up joke. I’ll give you an example, which you can YouTube, if you wish.
On “The Tonight Show,” Brenner says, “Do you remember when total recall meant you had a good memory? The other day, General Motors did a total recall of all its cars.” There’s a solid laugh from the audience. As the early laughter fades, he says, “The problem was the brakes. When you put your foot on the brake pedal, the car didn’t stop.” This gets huge laugh from audience.
The idea, I think, is he reinforced the first joke. If the first punch line or word didn’t work, in the first joke, he always had something to come back with immediately. Alternatively, he got two laughs, if both jokes worked. I don’t see any one else taking this insurance approach.
RR I watched the Amy Schumer standup special. She stacked punch lines three and four deep. She was crazy good.
Schumer had so many nested punch lines. She could just drop one and then another and then another, calling back a subject from ten minutes previously. Her show was skillful and remarkably funny.
GS Do you think she wrote the show?
RR I assume she writes, I don’t know, for sure. I assume she writes most, if not all, of her own material.
The modern style of comedy writing is to seek ideas from others. In a way, it’s the Judd Apatow style. I think it’s a good idea and effective.
There are movies, on Netflix, say, that are semi-successful. I know these movies could be much better. What the movies needed was a rewrite or two by different writers.
GS Yes, a writing room, perhaps.
RR Yes, Apatow takes a script into a writing room, with twenty funny women and men. Everyone takes the jokes apart and suggests variations. By the time the writing room is through with the script, it’s as funny as possible, as they found and took every chance to make it funnier.
For “Anchor Man 2,” the Will Ferrell movie, every scene shot in a zillion variations. A few months after its theatrical release, “Anchor Man 2” came out on DVD. It was the same movie, the same storyline, but the DVD had a different version of every scene in the movie.
GS That’s a clever idea. Probably a good idea to provide a third version to cable, where movies are re-run too often.
RR I agree.
GS What sound or noise do you love?
RR The ring made by computers in late 1990s.
GS What’s your favourite curse word?
RR My favourite curse word is motherfucker followed by cock weasel, dung bucket and so forth.
GS Have you done stand-up comedy?
RR A little, when I was twenty-one or so, back in Colorado, I did stand-up a few times. I knew I was going to suck. A good stand-up does her or his act a thousand times before it is good; I didn’t have that much time.
RR I figured I would develop a stand-up routine around a developmentally impaired character, retarded in plain language. Figuring my act was not good, to start, I put it in a context of, “I’m bad because I’m retarded.” It worked.
I did the routine four or five times. I stayed in character during my complete routine. Everybody at the club thought I was a retarded person.
Eventually, it became too weird. It was too weird even for me. I abandoned it.
I’ve done the stand-up routine a few times here, in Los Angeles. It's just such a tough haul to become good. I may try, again.
There’s a Ding-dong Show Mondays at the Comedy Story. Don Barris puts together the shows. He features comedians that, in fact, are clinical insane.
He runs this crew as a comedy show. These people come out; they do their jokes, but they’re insane and the jokes often don’t work. The heckling is brutal.
GS I can imagine.
RR Barris had the idea of advanced comedy for people who are sick of regular comedy. I think it goes beyond the fully acceptable; the shows make most audiences feel uncomfortable. It’s messed up comedians, with messed up material, that messes up the audience. In context, though, the Ding-dong Shows are hilarious.
I did stand-up knowing it would not go over. It didn’t. Then it was good enough for a time.
My brother does stand-up comedy. He’s been doing it for twenty years. He’s good.
He’s an orthodox Jewish lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves that does stand-up. That gives him an interesting perspective on things. You don’t expect a Marine lieutenant colonel to be a stand-up; you don’t expect an orthodox Jew to be a lieutenant colonel in the Marines.
GS Betcha his act is popular.
RR It is. My brother likes stand-up. He likes messing with people. He likes everything that goes with stand-up; he’s best at finding humour in how people get along or don’t.
GS What occupation, other than comedy writer or comedian, would you like to try?
RR Relativistic cosmologist always struck as the way to go.
GS What occupation would you not like to try?
RR That’s easy, septic tank repairperson.
GS Good comedians begin, at least, at the near edge of society; some, such as Sam Kinison, were almost over the edge. Bill Hicks is a good example, if we want to go back twenty-plus years. Dave Attell, today, maybe, stands at the edge and looks at the mainstream as a source of material, jokes.
RR I have a slightly different take on your question. I believe suitable levels of stress induce mental fluidity. It's jocks versus nerds throughout evolutionary history; a well-adapted organism isn't going to have to think as much as a gimpy organism.
GS Living at the edge charges a comedian with adrenaline and thus is stressful.
RR I think this is an evolved characteristic. I have no evidence, but put any living organism under stress and it might induce a semi-mental meltdown. If you're well adapted, you want your brain more hard-wired with proper responses, because it's working for you.
GS Some comedians have a stress-induced meltdown each night, three times on weekend nights.
RR If your brain or your body isn't working the result could be a deep mess. An original thought is risky. If hard-wired thought is not working, if you're a crappy organism in some ways, if you're hostile toward your environment, then the best bet is to start thinking.
Stress melts people down. An angry comedian is usually hostile to his or her environment. You know the stress has forced them to think, as they try to get over the anger.
Thinking is adaptation. The comedian adapts. She or he takes a stance hostile to the source of stress.
Some comedians acclimate to or are almost needing of conflict. His or her stance, anger or need for conflict, is the source of much of their comedy. Other comedians are less needy.
GS George Carlin was an example of what you say.
GS In a way, what you say is consistent with starting on the edge, angry at the centre, yet wanting to move into the centre. As the comedian moves toward the centre, his or her comedy grows more and more bland. Carlin and Hicks may be exceptions.
RR Yes, that’s what happened to Leno.
GS This is true.
RR Most everybody says Leno was one of the greats in the 1980s. Once he became part of “The Tonight Show,” his comedy became easier. I guess he moved toward the centre of society.
GS By easier, do you mean blander?
RR Well, I think, I mean more getable. Late-night television shows have roughly six million sleepy women and men laid out in front of the television. Most of them should be able to get the jokes, without much effort.
GS Do sleepy people have to work more or harder to get the humour of David Letterman than they do for Leno.
RR Yes, I think so anyway. Agitated is a good word for the humour of David Letterman. He always has a burr under his saddle.
GS David Letterman and Jay Leno do nightly monologues. We talked, briefly, of the needs of a monologue. I wonder if the material used by a stand-up comedian, working clubs, say, differs from a late-night monologue.
RR Yes, I think it does. Stand-ups are usually presenting a persona. Their jokes fit that persona; in a way, true or not, stand-ups are mimicking someone’s life story, maybe his or her own. That’s not a sustainable approach, if you're doing fifteen minutes a night to roughly the same late-night television audience.
The audience knows the story of Leno, David Letterman, too. For Leno, the audience knows about his cars, they know of Mavis, his wife. There’s not much for him to reveal, after twenty or so years on “The Tonight Show.”
GS David Letterman has held his private life more closely, at least until his son, Harry, came along.
RR That’s true. A monologist runs out of jokes from a private life, quickly, if she or he is working the same audience four or five nights a week. If the comedian is working here and there across the country, for two, three or four nights, at a time, the private life material lasts longer. As the number of clubs dries up, private-life jokes dry up for the club comedian, too, as she or he repeats at the same clubs more often.
Amy Schumer doesn't have a late night show. She has a sketch show and does specials on Comedy Central. She can talk about her life for an hour and she does. She talks of being slutty or a nasty girl. About her sexual attitudes, for example, the Schumer persona is more similar to a man than a woman.
Overall, you're probably right that stand-up must avoid too much topical material. In stand-up, the comedian plays on her or his own quirks. Late-night television monologists don’t have that luxury.
Sometimes the topical merges with the self. At some point, every late-night personality will talk about something happened at home that day. Overall, late night is not about personal revelation.
GS Fallon or Myers focus on the daily news in their late-night monologues, without revealing much, if anything, of themselves. In clubs, it seems all about self-revelation. Dave Attell talks of his balding; Louie Anderson, a large man, asks the audience if they can see him behind the small pole, which atop sits the microphone.
RR Yes, I think monologues and stand-up routines are different. Still, both serve to orient the audience to the world in which they find themselves. Women and men under thirty-five, for example, often report John Stewart or Stephen Colbert, , not a newspaper, say, as their primary news source. Thus, many men and women know of the world around them as filtered through comedy writers, not seasoned journalists, as it has been traditionally.
GS What inspires you?
RR The idea we can figure out universe and might do it one day.
GS What are you reading right now?
RR “Freedom’s Child” by Jax Miller, is a story of a woman that "risks everything to make amends for a past that haunts her still." .
GS Over the past thirty or so years, the number of comedy clubs has declined by ninety per cent from a peak in the 1970s.
RR The seventies, with the brick-wall comedy clubs, was, I think, marked a historical difference. I worked for twenty-five years checking identification at bars; that was where women and men went to hook up, a generation ago, bars. Today, hook-ups take place online.
In the 1980s, the bars I worked served “fourfers,” four drinks for the price of one. These drinks came out of a bar gun. Today, bartends hand mix drinks for $16 each.
The Internet effected comedy, too. Everybody posts jokes on Twitter or a stand-up routine from his or her bedroom on YouTube.
I follow around nine hundred Twitter pages; if I wanted, I could spend my days reading one thousand or more jokes, just on Twitter. In a way, using Twitter or any social medium is more convenient and less expensive than dragging my partner to a comedy club, paying a cover charge, with a two-drink minimum. I think online has done damage to the live comedy business and for good reasons.
Of course, there was less to do in the 1970s. The food was terrible; everybody was skinnier. Movies and television weren’t great; why stay home to watch second-rate content. There were no video games and no Internet, but the sex was great, I guess.
Today, there are so many diversionary alternatives. Movies and television are better, today, than forty years ago; there are videos games everywhere, too. There’s so much free-access pornography that even face-to-face sex has faded in worth.
To bring it back to stand-up, maybe because of those alternatives comedy is not as much fun, as it once was, if you compare it with everything else that is fun, right now. Stand-up is still fun. Seeing a great stand-up is a great experience, but there are many other fun distractions readily available.
GS A monologue, on late-night television, specifically, takes on greater importance as because it must change every day; monologues must be readily accessible. They're brief because audiences, overall, have short attention spans, shorter all the time.
RR Johnny Carson, on “The Tonight Show,” in the 1970s, say, when the US population was roughly two-thirds what it is now, averaged fifteen million viewers every night. I think the total audience, for all late-night talk shows, today, is fewer than fifteen million. These shows face much more competition from the Internet, video games and so forth.
Fallon, Kimmel and Colbert, for example, are not competing only with other late night shows. They’re competing with everything else their potential audience late at night. Years ago, if you weren't watching Johnny Carson you were, for some weird reason, you were watching Tom Snyder chain-smoked, as he conducted an interview or you were sleeping.
In the 1970s, there were fewer choices than there are today. Now, there are so many choices, the fraction of eyeballs watching network television continues to decline. If you add up all the eyeballs watching late night, today, it doesn’t come near the number that watched Carson, when there were fewer choices.
At first, Carson had a ninety-minute show, which shrunk to an hour around the time he moved from New York City to Los Angeles, in 1972. With a ninety-minute show, the guests would stick around. Carson could stack three or four guests, which added to the potential for humour and entertainment.
Ninety-minutes, with four or five guests stacked on the couches increased the excitement potential. The audience didn’t know what might happen. I think Burt Reynolds, then a huge movie star, at the time, removed his hairpiece one night; by comparison, television was otherwise not exciting.
At the same time, the quality of late night continues to improve. Looking at the Carson monologues, say, for the last ten years of his show, you find he descended to a straightforward style that didn’t differ much from Jay Leno. Fallon, Seth Myers and others have advanced the monologue.
GS Yes, I agree. Seth Myers recently started doing his monologue from behind his desk, which is akin to his “Weekend Update” set piece on “Saturday Night Live.” I think the only talk show anywhere keeps the guests on, for the full show, these days, is Graham Norton on BBC. Do you watch him?
RR No, I do not.
GS What is your favourite indulgence?
GS What’s your favourite piece of clothing?
RR It’s A Father’s Day gift, a tee shirt, with batman and superman on it.
GS Where does comedy go from 2015, into the future?
RR There’s much good competition for comedy. Food tastes great, today, because there’s a branch of science dedicated to making food taste better than it should. Movies are great, even if the story is not good; two hundred million dollars of special effects enthral the audience. Video games are awesome. There’s a lot to compete with sex, let alone comedy.
Audiences are growing smarter, too, I think. Everybody is growing smarter. Have you heard of the “Flynn Affect”?
GS No, I haven’t.
RR Flynn says we’re smarter, but it’s not true intelligence. Everyone that lived one hundred years ago was smart for his or her time, but not ours. Today, the media makes a much wider variety of ideas and actions familiar to more women and men than was ever possible.
Today, the media immerse us more deeply in the world to make us more familiar with the breadth, if not the depth, of what is happening. Media are not all good, we text as we drive or use a pedestrian crossing. Too hooked up is dangerously stupid and it happened in one generation or so, twenty years.
GS I see.
RR I used the Internet in 1995; finding information I needed was difficult. Today, it’s difficult not to find an answer to any question. Maybe, today, we think we know too much because what we need to know is a search engine entry away.
GS Knowing where to find information is a forerunner to knowledge.
RR Devices, such as smart phones and tablets, give us access to most human knowledge or can. I don’t know if devices and access make us any smarter. Still, as a circumstance, access to most human knowledge influences comedy.
Today, a new joke makes the rounds in a few hours or, maybe, minutes. One hundred years ago, it might take two weeks or six months for a new joke to get around; someone in a rural area might hear only one joke a week, if that. All we want is ready and waiting for us, all the time.
As I mentioned, Twitter provides as many as five hundred new or newish jokes a day. Two hundred years ago, most women and men knew two stories, the “Bible” and, maybe, “Pilgrims Progress.” Public knowledge was the ideas in those books.
GS Most likely, they don’t know the storyline of either book.
RR Today, most everybody has seen or heard ten thousand stories. Today, everybody knows everything she or he needs to know for a superficial awareness. Still, I would guess few women and men know of Ezekiel.
GS They can look him up in a nanosecond. To keep readers from searching for the answer to the question, “Who is Ezekiel,” he was a Hebrew prophet; he wrote the “Book of Ezekiel,” which is in the Old Testament.
RR Right, do we need to know of Noah and his Arc or Adam and Eve? I don’t know. Few know of “Pilgrims Progress,” but most everyone knows what happened on “Breaking Bad” or how “The Sopranos” ended with a blackout over “Don’t Stop Believin’, by ‘Journey.’”
New material is lacking, in comedy and entertainment, overall. Even if the format of what entertains us remains true to the “Poetics,” written almost twenty-five hundred years ago, by Aristotle, new spins, at least, are what we need. The future must focus on new, not reworked old; media has shown most everybody knows every spin of thought of so far: we need new, if not in whole than in part.
GS New material is harder and harder to devise.
RR Yes, but it makes for greatness. I think comedy is moving toward greater richness in entertainment. If you take Rap, as an example, it’s more information rich than any form of music, ever, at least as far as words go. Rap lyrics use more words than any other modern lyrical form.
Rap also uses more references per second than any music that came before. People want more and more information. We have more information at hand than any previous society; anyone with a smart phone has access to almost all information that ever existed.
GS Yes, I agree. How is that going to change us?
RR We’re going to become half robots. We’ll exchange information, with each other, in new ways. Mark Zuckerburg wants Facebook to be telepathic, eventually.
Instead of sending photographs of sunsets, cats or lunches, Facebook users will send how they felt, his or her emotions, when they saw the sunset, their cat or tasted lunch. Women and men, eventually, will share chunks of consciousness.
GS Will sharing chunks of consciousness put comedians out of work.
RR No, but their venues may change. Maybe jokes will travel on Twitter, with the same emotional effect of telling jokes from a stage to a seated audience. Future comedians may be telling jokes as chunks of inner emotional experience that audiences can sense.
In the future, I think comedy will get smarter and more intense. More knowledge may not be a good idea. It’s scary for comedians.
GS I agree. What is something you like to collect?
RR I collect fake identifications.
GS What item must you have with you always?
RR I take many vitamins.
GS You’re writing a book.
RR Yes, it’s a memoir. The book focuses on the ten years I spent going back to high school; that was the late 1970s and early 1980s. I think the title will be “Dumb Ass Genius.” The book hasn’t published, I contacting publishers, with a fifty-thousand-word proposal, right now.
My idea is the book opens on an anecdote about my girlfriend and me. I take her to the high school homecoming dance. On the way to the dance, I stop to deliver a stripping telegram.
GS You were a stripper.
GS I understand, I think.
GS What city could you lose yourself in for hours to explore?
RR London, England, every city has own qualities, but London is my favourite.
GS What is something about you that would surprise readers?
RR The cosmetic surgery I have had.
GS Is there a mistake you made, when you began comedy writer or working in and around comedy, which you now regret.
RR Sucking, I was terrible.
Comedy writing is a dog chasing its tail, seldom caught. Rarely does a comedy writer nail a line, as did Jill Franklin and Peter Mehlman, with “Yada Yada,” for an episode of “Seinfeld.” Rarely is a joke the equal, in effect, to the “Gangmaw Style” video. As sitcom and video, a great joke is evidence the stars aligned for the writer.
High-end comedy writing is rare. Many try it and few succeed. The writer must be informed, intelligent and observant, noticing the obvious, but previously unseen connections among facts. A surgically sharp mind is needed, not only a gimlet eye.
Rick Rosner is smart and perceptive. “Growing incidence of awww-tism among super-cute puppies,” he Tweets. In response to Dr Ben Carson asserting Nazis would have killed fewer Jews, if Jews had guns, Rosner Tweeted, “Thing is, for Jews w/ guns to know it was best to shoot Nazis, they would've had to know the future.”
Is Rosner a more effective comedy writer by virtue of his 199 IQ? Maybe, but re-testing helps increase any score; he claims to have re-tested twenty or more times. For this and several other reasons, IQ is a weak, gross and crude consumer scale, easily influenced, and no measure of any skill.
IQ helps the Rosner brand. Roughly, two-of-three women and men score between roughly 85 and 114, on IQ tests. A top four IQ is exceptional, noteworthy and newsworthy. This is good for Rosner.
What sets Rosner apart is the ability to use his intelligence. A great many women and men score in the genius level of IQ tests, that is, over 160, and do nothing with their gift. Rosner makes much of his gift.
Rosner sees the world, as it is, skewed, hypocritical and illogical. Watching the first 2015 debate of Democratic hopefuls for the presidency, Rosner Tweets, “How can candidates rebut in only 30 seconds? My proctologist says it'd take major surgery & weeks of recovery for my rebuttal.”
His Tweets are satirical, revealing or criticising much stupidity or vice. There are too many joke tellers. Insightful ironists, most notably the late George Carlin, are few. Satirists are the rarest humourists; Groucho was a satirist as was Bill Hicks; Lewis Black is perhaps a satirist.
Rick Rosner is definitely in the league of satirists. His Tweets attest to this conclusion: “Q. Would #BenghaziCommittee have been so pissy about #SidneyBlumenthal if his name were Christian Defender? A. No.” “delightful! TV: better than ever at temporarily distracting us from the inevitability of death.”
A comedy writer must be daring. Writing comedy is putting words in the mouth of a comedian or a monologist, such as Jimmy Fallon. Speechwriters do much the same for politicians.
Comedy writing is thus fraught with danger. No laughs and writers are out of work. The best comedy writers are thick-skinned, impervious to criticism.
All light falls on Rosner. He’s an intelligent, observant and fearless comedy writer. He can also build a brick wall or pour concrete with the best, too.
*Interview conducted before David Letterman retired from “The Late Show.”
** Original jokes by Rick Rosner
Interview edited and condensed for publication.
http://www.sciencedump.com/content/10-people-highest-iq-world-infographic Jax Miller (2015), "Freedom's Child," published by Random House.
dr george pollard is a Sociometrician and Social Psychologist at Carleton University, in Ottawa, where he currently conducts research and seminars on "Media and Truth," Social Psychology of Pop Culture and Entertainment as well as umbrella repair.
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