Another Example of Being Well-Read…

I'm going to write a post about sitcoms and how deceptively hard they are to do, etc., in the future, but for now, I just want to share a quick snippet of an interview with Michael Schur. Schur is the co-creator of Parks and Recreation (one of the best shows on television) and he was also an instrumental figure in the earlier seasons of The Office (you know, when it was good) - emphasis mine in his response:

On the subject of Andy's growth and what April realizes about his dreams, is part of the thinking behind having Andy pursue a career in law-enforcement that it would be an excuse to bring Louis CK back again? Or

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just a logical extension of the Burt Macklin fantasy?

More the "logical extension." Andy is on a kind of Horatio Alger-type life arc, starting jobless and living in a pit and slowly making his way up through legitimate society. We want him to keep striving for better things. Without getting any smarter or less funny.

There's a reason I bring this up, and not just because a different Parks and Recreation interview inspired this blog. It's again demonstrating the importance of being well-read. For one thing, Schur is a very good writer - especially comedically. But while all of us know what we find funny, writing it and creating comedy is completely different. One of the reasons a show works is because you are emotionally invested in the characters, and here he shows that the completely ridiculous and dumb character of Andy Dwyer actually has very deep roots. His journey on the show is working because of a subtle backstory that is based on the works of a 19th-century author who was known for writing juvenile characters that rise up from humble backgrounds.

That's literature, baby. A literary mind is powering the show, and that's why it does so well.

If you want to create, you have to be educated. You need to know what makes a creation "good". It's like art - the classic line is "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like". That means I know that I want this picture on my wall, but I have no idea how to create a picture that looks good on somebody else's wall.

Just because you know what you like about art doesn't mean you can be an artist. You have to work at it. Study it. Try it. Fail. Try again. And so on.

I'm not getting into Mike Schur's career history at this point, but it's worth pondering that, while he writes an often-broad and silly comedy on network television, he knows his literature very well, and that influences his decision-making when creating new stuff. Remember that in your own work.