Spunky Bean's EJ Feddes talks about the best things on TV right now

Today EJ Feddes, a writer for the pop culture website, Spunky Bean, stopped by to talk about writing, pop culture, and what to watch this season.

TL: Tell me more about the site http://www.spunkybean.comEJF: Spunkybean.com used to be described as “a zesty pop-culture stew”, but I think we’ve sort of dropped that. Years ago, I was writing analyses of LOST episodes and sending them to my friends every week. One of them sent it to a co-worker who sent it to her cousin who sent it to his college roommate, and I ended up making friends with some other TV-obsessed bloggers and we ended up launching a site together. It went live in late 2007, just as the Writers’ Strike started. Let the record show that this is the worst possible time to launch a website covering television.

Six years later, we’re still chugging along. We still focus mostly on TV, but we get into other fields too. We’ve got recaps, analysis, comedy pieces, basically celebration of things we like. I’ve been working on a book idea that’s an autobiography of a fictitious TV producer, and I’m going to be serializing that on the site, probably starting next year. The site lets me do a lot of different kinds of writing, and it’s been a lot of fun.

TL: What's the best advice you've ever received about writing?EJF: My buddy Larry Young (He's a writer that I had been a fan of for years, and then I ended up becoming real-life friends with him through spunkybean and the power of LOST), always says "Write the thing that only you can write". Whenever I don't follow this dictum, I always feel a little bit guilty.

TL: What TV shows are you excited about this season and why?EJF: Since I spend most of my available time talking about TV shows that excite me, I’ll just limit my choices to things that are currently in season rather than doing a wide-ranging look at everything I’ve seen this year. And I'll stick to three because otherwise we'll be here all day.

Parks and Recreation is, I think, the best comedy on TV. It is a legitimate delight, and what really impresses me now is that it’s reached the point when most great sitcoms start to fall apart. This is Season Six, and it’s rare for a network comedy to keep up a level of quality for that long. Even Parks’ spiritual predecessor, The Office, had started to lose its way by Season Five. It’s still the show I look most forward to every week.

Sons of Anarchy is not for everybody. If somebody doesn’t watch Mad Men or Breaking Bad, I think it’s OK to tell them that they’re wrong. If they don’t watch Sons of Anarchy, that’s a valid life choice. It can be overwrought and sometimes shocking for the sake of being shocking. But every year I’m in awe of how Kurt Sutter structures a season. This year there was a character that had been built up to be the major threat for the season and he had these long-running schemes. Four episodes in, he gets killed and it doesn’t seem like there’s any way for all these disparate plot threats to come together. And then you hit the two-thirds mark of the season and suddenly you can see the road map and it makes perfect sense, but you never would have thought of it yourself. There’s this moment every season when you see it coming together, and it’s really exciting.

Then there’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, which is a fake talk show (spun off from the podcast of the same name) on IFC. The thing I love about it is the way it seems to come from a place where there are no bad ideas. I’m in an Improv group, and the first thing you learn is “Yes, and…”, and it feels like CBB is built entirely on that principle. There are bits that are wonderful, and it seems like the only way they come to fruition is if somebody in the writers’ room says “What if Scott talks to a ladder” and then they try to make that idea work instead of dismissing it as silly. It makes for a very weird show, but it’s so much fun to watch.

Spunkybean is on Facebook and Twitter @spunkybean, and Ej can be found @ejfeddes. 

EJ Feddes Guest Post: 3 Books Everyone Should Read

EJ Feddes, a comedian and writer for the pop culture website Spunky Bean, lists the top 3 books that everyone should read.

"3 books that everyone should read" by EJ Feddes 

John Knowles’ A Separate Peace
This only applies to young people, but John Knowles’ A Separate Peace. If you've made it through high school without reading it, there's not much point. But for a young person interesting in writing, it's perfect because it has this really obvious symbolism and foreshadowing that are just ideal for illustrating what those concepts are. You don't feel dumb for not noticing the metaphors because you can't miss them. You won't take much away from the actual substance of the book, but I think it makes you a better reader.

Philip Roth's American Pastoral
I am a huge Roth fan, and I'd recommend almost anything of his. Granted, if you pick a book at random, there's like a 20% chance that it's about him being upset over getting too old to have sex, but most of those books are fairly engaging at least. But Pastoral is Roth using Nathan Zuckerman, his frequent stand-in, to extrapolate the life of a former classmate. It's this great, wide-ranging look at the major events of the 20th Century all the way through Watergate, with the added idea that the narrator is recreating the life of his boyhood hero. It's Philip Roth at the top of his game and it's amazing.

David Simon's Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets
Simon is the guy who created The Wire, and the TV show that was directly based on this book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. As a crime reporter, he spent a year with the Baltimore Homicide Department, and this book just chronicles what he saw. (If you ever watched Homicide, you'll recognize where those characters came from when you read this.) It's the only true crime book you'll ever need to read, and Simon does such a great job of finding the heroism in flawed people without having to do any airbrushing. (A skill be put to good use in his TV work.) I re-read it every couple of years, and there are passages that still chill me.

Dateline NBC Correspondent Josh Mankiewicz lists 4 Books Every Journalist Should Read

Dateline NBC Correspondent Josh Mankiewicz returns to the T.Lo Club for our continuing series of book recommendations from respected writers. Today, he gives us his list of books that every journalist should read and why.

"4 Books Every Journalist Should Read" by Josh Mankiewicz   

**Josh Mankiewicz is a Dateline correspondent based in Los Angeles. He began reporting for Dateline in February 1995, and since then, he has contributed a mix of breaking news stories, news analysis, investigative reports and clever features to the broadcast. (Bio courtesy of NBC) To connect with Josh, you can find him on Twitter.     

Experience and Observation, the Keys to Writing Comedy: An Interview with @jeffbaldinger

Today, my fellow Jayhawk, Jeffrey Baldinger, stopped by the blog to chat about his career as a comedian in Los Angeles. He has been performing for almost four years, and for the past year, he has produced a show at the Hollywood Improv called Flyover Comedy, which showcases big names in comedy with a Midwest connection. His credits also include performances at the Hollywood Improv, The Comedy Store. UCB, The Hayworth Theatre, Hyperion Theatre, Laugh Factory, and The Ice House.

TL: Thanks for stopping by. I think it's amazing that you are living your dream of being a comic. For those who would also like to be a professional comedian one day, can you tell us what your typical day is like?
JB: I usually wake up around 9am, write for a few hours, or go hiking, meet some friends for lunch… if I don’t go hiking or have plans to meet someone for lunch, I don’t really eat during the day. It’s how I maintain my figure. But at around 5pm, I start going out to do open mics around the city, and I’ll typically be out doing comedy for the rest of the night (booked shows and/or open mics) and I’ll get back between 2am-4am.

TL: How did you get started writing comedy? 
JB: I started writing stand-up after seeing Jim Gaffigan’s “Beyond The Pale” special; he really inspired me to put my thoughts down on paper.

TL: What was your first big break as a comic, and how did it happen? 
Past poster from Flyover Comedy
JB: My first big break as a comic was when I got the Playboy Comedy Tour. A friend of mine was dating a playboy model…yeah, fuck him…but he brought her to a show I was on, she really liked what I did, and told me that she helped book the Playboy tour and wanted me on the show. That was a big deal because it was my first actual credit. And I finally got to perform with comedy legend Carrot Topless. So that was fun.

TL: What’s your process for writing jokes? 
JB: I mostly write from experience and observations. I have a lot of stories that I draw from, goofy things I’ve done or like to do, and then if something strikes me as odd or weird, I’ll talk about that too. I’ll write the concept or premise in my notebook or phone, and then flush it out on stage. For the joke to work, it has to come from a real place. My philosophy is that the joke doesn’t necessarily need to be true, but it has to be honest.

TL: You mentioned that your material draws from a lot of your personal experiences or observations on life. So I'm curious, what did you do before you were a comedian? 
Jeff performing in Los Angeles.
JB: I’ve had a lot of jobs… I was a life guard, factory worker, Development intern at Sony Pictures Television, Production Assistant and Editor at a Christian Movie Company, Editor’s Assistant for the Real Housewives of New York…that was only for a day though. And I also gave drum lessons and am currently a Hebrew schoolteacher. 

TL: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to break into the comedy scene in LA? 
JB: Advice for people wanting to break into the scene…that’s a very loaded question; its hard, hard work and determination. There are no shortcuts and there is a lot of rejection. Hell, I’m still trying to break into the scene. You have to be unique and have a specific point of view, because the market is so saturated with amazingly talented people that you can very easily be lost. What makes you stand out? You can’t be afraid to take risks, and you need to commit yourself to what you truly want. If you’re not putting forth the effort, the results won’t happen. I know that’s a lot of motivational rhetoric, which is very easy to just say, but it is very hard to put in to action. You have to be undeniable. And until you are, you will be denied. A LOT. But, if you’re asking how someone might want to start doing stand-up in general…go to an open mic. Watch people go up and do their thing. Then you have to actually do an open mic. Open mics are low risk, high reward. They are amazing and awful. Doing open mics will let you know if you actually want to be a comedian. Jeff Garlin once said to me, “You wanna be a director? Direct. Don’t try to be a director. Be a fucking director.” It’s a good philosophy on life in general, and it’s something I always think about. Bill Burr once said, “keep your head down, don’t be a dick” He didn’t say that to me, but he said it to Pete Holmes who said it on a web video for his new talk show recently, and I think that’s pretty cool.

If you'd like to connect with Jeff, you can find him on Twitter: @jeffbaldinger

3 Books Every Aspiring Comic Should Read

Comic Jeffrey Baldinger has been doing stand up comedy all around Los Angeles for 4 years, and he has produced the show Flyover Comedy at the Hollywood Improv for one year. He took time out of his busy schedule to write this guest post for anyone who was interested in breaking into comedy.

"3 Books Every Aspiring Comic Should Read" by Jeff Baldinger

It's Not Easy Bein' Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs by Rodney Dangerfield

The reason you should read Rodney's book is because he was the epitome of what a comic was and should be. Reading his book legitimately motivated me to do my first show. He lead such an amazing life, and struggled for the majority of it, and when he finally "made it", he actively gave breaks and shots to the younger comics like Sam Kinison, Jim Carey, and Roseanne, three people that when they were trying to do their thing, nobody else was giving them a chance. Rodney did, and changed their lives. Jim Carey and Roseanne Barr do the Foreword and Afterward. I can't say enough how amazing the book is, and how important Rodney was.

The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts by Tom Farley Jr

You should read The Chris Farley show, not so much from a stand-up perspective, but for an amazing look into the life of one of the biggest comedic performers of our time. It's written in an interview format with people from his life, and it just lets you see the darker side of someone who thought the only thing he could offer people was to make them laugh AT him. It's an important read, and I think anyone who wants to be in this industry should read it.

I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy's Golden Era by William Knoedelseder

I'm Dying Up Here is a book, like Rodney's book, that every comic should read multiple times. I'd go to say that everyone should read this whether they're a comic or not, so that people can understand what our profession went through and is still going through to this day.

To connect with Jeff, you can find him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeffbaldinger

"3 Books Everyone Should Read" by Brianna Soloski

Girl Seeks Place book blogger Brianna Soloski shares her list of 3 books everyone should read. If you'd like to connect with her, you can find her on Facebook or Twitter:

3 books everyone should read by Brianna Soloski
The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak – it’s narrated by Death and is such a moving perspective on life during WW2 that isn’t centered on the Holocaust.
Night  by Elie Weisel – the best first person account of a concentration camp I’ve ever read.
The Great Gatsby  by F. Scott Fitzgerald – because, hello, the 1920s. After you read it, watch Baz Luhrman’s film version. It’s utterly bold and brilliant and brings the book to life.

Just Shut Up and Write, an interview with comic Nicholas Anthony

Breaking into the comedy world isn't easy, and it takes dedication to writing and performing to truly perfect the craft. For anyone aspiring to become a comedy writer or stand up comedian, professional comedian, Nicholas Anthony, was nice enough to share his process and writing tips.

Nick has headlined shows all over the country, and in Los Angeles, he has performed at legendary venues such as The Improv, The Comedy Store, UCB, Ha Ha Cafe, Jon Lovitz, Flapper's and The Icehouse in Pasadena. He also produces The Secret Show at The Blind Barber. For tickets, please email: BarberSecretShow@Gmail.com

TL: Thanks so much for the interview. I think it's awesome that you make a living doing standup. What was your first big break as a comic, and how did it happen?
NA: I won the Las Vegas Comedy Festival when I was 22. That was a pretty big deal for me, and it was all based an opportunity that I gave myself by driving 7 hours from Minnesota to Chicago for a 5 minute audition. I took a chance and it paid off.

Nicholas Anthony
TL: Since you're an artist, you don't have a 9 to 5 kind of day. What is your typical day like?
NA: I try to get up early and work out. The key word is try. After that my biggest obstacle is getting into a rhythm. If I can get finished with all my e-mails and other errands then it's time to write. If I can get 4-5 hours of writing in it's a good day. My goals are changing a lot recently though. I hope to start allocating more time for my writing.

TL: What's your process for writing jokes?
NA: I gather material and then I sit in my room by myself and try to organize it as best as I can. The next step is to take it on stage. I record everything on my iPhone and then back to my room for my critique. I repeat that process over and over until I have a polished bit. Lately, I've also been writing out jokes in long form on my computer, that seems to be helping with specific wording.

TL: You’ve written produced scripts. What advice do you have for aspiring screenwriters?
NA: Write. Write. Write. My biggest problem is that I just don't write enough. The more I write the better I feel. For me expressing myself creatively is the only thing that truly makes me feel alive. So just shut-up and write.

TL: Thanks so much for stopping by. To end our interview, can you tell me 3 books that you think every aspiring comedian should read?
NA: Comic Insights: The Art of Stand-Up Comedy by Franklyn Ajaye, Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin, and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

Dateline NBC's Josh Mankiewicz lists 4 Books Everyone Should Read

Continuing with T.Lo Club's series of book recommendations from respected writers, Dateline NBC Correspondent Josh Mankiewicz provides his list of 4 books everyone should read.

"4 Books Everyone Should Read" by Josh Mankiewicz 
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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
"Great novel about America, our fears, our laws, and our worst impulses."

1984 by George Orwell
"He was a little off on the year but otherwise remarkably prescient."  

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
"Truly wonderful writing that stands up across the years."

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
"A children's book that first got me interested in words."

To connect with Josh, find him on Twitter.

**Josh Mankiewicz is a Dateline correspondent based in Los Angeles. He began reporting for Dateline in February 1995, and since then, he has contributed a mix of breaking news stories, news analysis, investigative reports and clever features to the broadcast. (Bio courtesy of NBC.)