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Prof. Weinberg’s students take their first stab at stand-up comedy writing

By Brianna Cummings

Section: Arts

October 14, 2016

Some people dream of becoming comedy writers and work toward it their whole lives. For some lucky students in Prof. Marc Weinberg’s (ENG) Writing in Television course, this dream may soon become a reality. Comedians from the Boston area will perform jokes written by Brandeis students in Weinberg’s class next Tuesday, Oct. 18. These comedians include Brandeis alumnus Anthony Scibelli ’09, Wes Hazard, Suzi Berlin and Brett Johnson.

“Basically, the project challenges our class to write materials for stand-up comics as we would if we worked for a show like “Late Night with Seth Meyers” or “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” It’s really cool because we basically break down jokes into a formula, so it’s almost a science to comedy,” Danielle Balanov ’17 said.

The students learned how to write jokes from Weinberg and also learned about different comedians’ styles. Some will tell jokes, and others will tell funny stories. The students then viewed videos of the comedians, voted on which one they wanted to work with and were split into groups. Each group was given a head writer. After the group came up with their jokes, they met with their comedian and went over which jokes worked and how to mix all the jokes together into a monologue.

As a television writer, “You get hired and then you have to write to that comedian’s voice,” Weinberg explained.

A former screenwriter in Los Angeles, Weinberg has a lot of experience with television writing and screenwriting.

“My wife and I were both screenwriters. I wrote scripts for The Discovery Channels and she worked for Disney,” he said.

Weinberg’s envious career includes working as a story analyst for companies like 20th Century Fox, MGM and Interscope Communications. A graduate of UCLA’s prestigious M.F.A. in screenwriting program, Weinberg has worked on many projects, ranging from a supernatural thriller on USA Network to an A&E biopic about Harry Houdini. He has sold scripts to a variety of studios, from Citadel to Paramount. The professor knows more than anyone that television writing is not an easy business to break into.

“Television writing takes timing, luck and skill,” Weinberg said. “First, you need to know why you want to become a television writer. Is it for money? Because a lot of jobs pay well.”

In order to break into the business, television writers usually write speculative scripts and enter them into contests. Many comedy writers start as stand-up comedians. This being the 21st century, writers sometimes begin their careers on the Internet.

One of Weinberg’s former students, Josh Gondelman ’07, created the Twitter account Modern Seinfeld, which constructs contemporary “Seinfeld” episodes in 140 characters or fewer. He eventually joined the staff of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and recently won an Emmy for his screenwriting on the show.

Gondelman’s success is what inspired Weinberg to focus his class, which usually revolves around writing speculative scripts, on “late-night styled” comedy writing, including monologues. He hopes to see more of his students find success in their writing careers.

“Late night success is easier than prime time,” Weinberg said. “If it is a way students can break in, let’s try it.”

The class means a lot to many of the students because having a career in comedy is their dream.

“This is a really exciting opportunity for me to write for this show, as an amateur stand-up comedian myself. I know of several other students in the class who are also stand-up comedians,” said Ben Benson ’18, one of Weinberg’s students. “As someone working on my own skills as a comedian, getting to work with and learn from a working comic is really cool.”

The students respect and admire the comedians whom they are writing for and are excited about working with them.

“I was assigned to be the group leader to Suzi Berlin, who is extremely sweet and incredibly funny. It was incredibly inspiring, as a woman in comedy and the director of an improv group on campus, to meet another woman who loves to joke around as much as I do,” Balanov said. “I’m honestly so amazed Suzi can just go on stage and do such remarkable storytelling completely from memory.”

In addition to being fun, the event is a great way for the talent of these young writers to be discovered. The comedians will perform the students’ work on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. in Chum’s.

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