For a period of my life—during my 30s, essentially—I found myself periodically doing parodies of television news and radio talk shows for outlets such as PBS and HBO, as well as comic videos for many corporate clients. For much of it, I had the good fortune of collaborating with Merrill Markoe and then Harry Prichett, who later, along with Rob Battles, co-wrote Bad Cat, Bad Dog, Bad Baby, and Bad President with me.
That I could perform comedy came as a surprise to me in my early 30s; to that point, I was a journalist with a humorous bent. That my fledgling comedy efforts earned me job offers from “Late Night with David Letterman” (didn’t take it) and “Saturday Night Live” (took it) both flattered and rattled me, exposing me to an entertainment industry that I had never seriously aspired to join, and in which I felt self-consciously out of place.
Diligently avoiding “show business personalities” and, for the most part, Los Angeles, I sought refuge in little corners of the business where I could practice the kind of satire I felt comfortable with. Around this time, it turned out that I had a knack for crafting clever but casual-sounding material for TV show “presenters.” The highlight of this period was writing some on-camera material for one of my heroes, the then-retired Walter Cronkite, who called me into his dressing room to make some changes, after which he said with a Cronkitean twinkle, “Have you ever thought of writing for a career?” I was 40.
Soon after, when two very nice Hollywood TV producers told me I could make a very nice living there writing awards shows, I knew I had hit my West Coast wall. I was already publishing mysteries, had no desire to move to LA, and so I rejected the road to relative riches as a ghostwriter for the Emmys, the Golden Globes, maybe even some day the Oscars, and renewed my Manhattan vows. Now a father, I spent the next six years at CBS News in New York, writing and producing humorous network television segments for the likes of Connie Chung, Bill Geist, and Kermit the Frog.
My parting shot as a comic performer was a series of radio segments for NPR’s “All Things Considered” that I co-wrote and co-performed with Harry Prichett. To the right, you’ll find some samples of those efforts and also a few faded video excerpts from my maiden voyage into the land of funny, “The Generic News” (PBS, 1983).