Book note on Spoiled Brats: Write lots of jokes

I finished reading Spoiled Brats by Simon Rich. (A couple weeks ago I finished The Last Girlfriend on Earth.) All of this was after listening to his appearance on The James Altucher show. James mentioned that he rarely laughs out loud while reading and Simon’s books got him laughing.

I laughed multiple times while reading The Last Girlfriend on Earth and the same thing happened reading Spoiled Brats. Each of the best stories from the books are available online at The New Yorker:

  • Unprotected: This is written from the perspective of a condom

  • Sell Out: A pickle-factory worker is brined in 1912 and pulled out a century later, where he gets to meet his great-great-great grandson.

The Last Girlfriend on Earth is about love and relationships. Spoiled Brats is mostly about destroying millennials. The stories are absurd and completely relatable. It’s an amazing combination that I imagine is difficult to pull off as a writer.

One of my favorite parts of Spoiled Brats was the interview at the end. (That interview happens to be online also.) He’s worked at a very very high level in professional comedy writing: SNL, Pixar, a weekly TV show, and of course these these short stories published in The New Yorker. It’s encouraging to see Simon say that what he does can be learned.

Even the most experimental abstract expressionists have to stretch a canvas, right? I mean, there’s a lot of technical busywork that goes into the construction of any creative medium. But it’s learnable. It’s not that hard. I’ve got about five or ten rules of thumb that I keep in my brain as I’m writing.

It’s encouraging because comedy is a field that people probably thinks comes naturally. Everyone has a few funny friends in mind and it just seems natural to them. But writing it down and working it over and over to make sure it’s funny to a wider audience is hard. You have to work at it:

I occasionally will suddenly have an idea out of nowhere—in the stereotypical Hollywood way, inspiration will strike—but that probably accounts for 5 or 10 percent of all my published work. The rest is the result of brute force.

He writes every day and generates a lot of material that doesn’t make it to the final piece:

How many pages do you think you wrote that didn’t end up in the final piece?

Oh, hundreds. But that’s typical for me. I throw out most of what I write. But percentage-wise, what I kept for “Sell Out” was definitely the lowest.

Like many other crafts, you create and create and most of it gets tossed until you’re left with something good.

I’m writing 100 posts in 100 days—I don’t expect any to be good yet. A few feel okay. And that’s fine, as long as I’m improving. Compared to when I started, I’m more disciplined and actually finish posts before starting new ones. I learned how important this was to make sure I don’t get buried in unfinished drafts.