Ask A Genius 341 – A Time to Stand, A Time to Bounce
December 8, 2017
[Beginning of recorded material]
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, what was your trajectory as a writer? What were the most difficult parts and how can you use that analysis to help others in their own writing?
Rick Rosner: In general, you could argue that I’ve been blocked as a writer for most of my life. Talking about Writer’s block is an excuse. It’s a complicated thing. It’s like some disease that may or may not exist and possibly because of laziness or perfectionism.
I haven’t written that much long form stuff, but I’ve found ways to do it. If you google around you can find about a million words that I have written or helped to write available to read on the internet.
A million words is ten or twelve pretty thick books with most of that output coming in the last three years via work with you and also twenty-six thousand tweets. Before that, I wrote about a hundred and ten thousand jokes and related bits of ephemera for T.V.
Thousands of those jokes made it to broadcast, but what’s happening with all of it. The commonality of most of this writing is that it’s twenty words at a time and I’m comfortable that I could pump out twenty words that I’m okay with.
Longer forms tend to take me much longer. I can’t dash stuff; I don’t often dash stuff off. The stuff you and I create is often you ask me a question or set up a hypothetical or we come up with a topic, then I talk and you transcribe.
Then it goes up and much of this material I don’t look at because that if I looked at it I will see its flaws. It would make me all crazy. So, I let it go. There’s a fight against imperfection that has certainly knocked down the levels of longer form stuff that I have written.
Working with you, I have sat down and written hundreds of thousands of words of longer form prose on a variety of topics, but I’m most comfortable with twenty words at a time. The spoken material that gets turned into written material or that gets turned into text; I can tip-toe away from without freaking out.
I still have a book that I’m pursuing and have managed to write one sixty-page proposal. That’s working with a co-author. I’m quite comfortable with collaboration. There are alpha males who are strong leaders. There are beta males who are followers. I’m kinda like an alpha minus male.
I can lead if I have to or if the situation is amenable to my leading. Like, I was a head bouncer at a huge bar in the 80s. This was a five-acre, two hundred thousand square foot beer garden in Boulder, Colorado.
I became the lead with a door staff of up to twenty bouncers at any one time. Twenty bouncers for when we had ten thousand customers on football Saturdays because it was down the hill from C.U., the University Colorado football stadium.
After the game, ten thousand people would spill into the gardens and that took staff of twenty or more bouncers to attempt to keep order. I could be the leader of the bouncers, even though I’m not a huge guy and even though my fighting skills are close too non-existent because I love catching fake IDs in the context of keeping underaged people out.
That was something that nobody else cared about. So, I was able to run around and make sure that we had a tight perimeter, which we did because it’s hard to control that much space. That many entrances.
Six or eight entrances plus a bunch of ways too. There was a creek you could cross through and hike up a hill. It was a mess, but I would also be able to cruise through the crowd and pick out underaged people who made it in one way or another.
One way to find the underaged people was to look for lame-o clumps of lame guys. Guys who I saw at the place week after week never picking up a woman, always there for that purpose. Like, there was the guy with the Robin Hood shirt, a shirt that had laces across the top.
That guy never scored, but if he was part of a cluster of similarly lame guys, I knew that if I looked at the center of that cluster I’d often find an underaged girl who hadn’t yet learned how to fend off lame guys.
So, I’d pluck her out of the cluster. I’d ask her to see ID. She wouldn’t have an ID. I’d kick her out. So, I had a love for this detective work: catching a fake ID. It’s the twenty-second mystery.
You’ve got ten or fifteen seconds at the most before you start pissing people off to determine whether an ID is real or fake. It’s like being Colombo fifteen seconds of the time and my love for that allowed me to be a good supervisor of the staff.
But it was only because I had a super eccentric interest in the fake IDs. The guys who were much more qualified. Bouncers are generally not interested in leadership. I worked with a bunch of guys.
Larry, who had gotten two Bronze Stars from Vietnam and who still had shrapnel coming out of his legs twelve Years after the war. Larry was there to hang out, maybe meet girls. There was no brawl that he could solve by walking into the middle of it.
Pushing people out of the way, Larry wasn’t interested in being head of that group. None of these tough guys were interested in being the head bouncer. The only reason that I became head bouncer is that catching a fake ID required some level of organization and administration.
So, it wasn’t that I have this leadership that would inevitably surface in any given situation. Writing for late night, I worked. The crew of late night writers are all men and women: tough. It takes a level of toughness to crank out hundreds of jokes a day under the gun.
With most of these jokes going unused because you only use the best jokes of all the jokes that are generated and also in an environment where, in a funny way, everybody makes fun of everybody else. Everybody’s freaking funny. A lot of funny people are best with other people.
It’s ‘give and take.’ It a little like junior high, but it is awesome. However, my skills don’t go into it because I’m not an alpha male and a lot of these people at my job are alpha males and alpha females. I
I found myself towards the bottom of the pecking order and my skill does not extend to giving other people a bunch of jocular shit. But what I liked about the job and what I liked about a lot of the writing, in general, is the opportunity for collaboration; which is a true non-alpha male characteristic.
You and I have been working together for more than three years now. I’m happy with more than one point of view. More than one person generating ideas. I’ve learned to love collaboration. Let’s see what else. I imagine a bunch of stories that I will never write that could be good.
Now, I have to come up with some of them. Oh, like a screenplay, this could be an awesome screenplay of. I have a zillion ideas; none of them will come to fruition because I won’t write them, but say the story of somebody’s life told only in the crashes they’ve been in.
You don’t know much about the person but like, when I was four years old, I was in the back seat with my mom. 1964, my aunt who was a terrible driver caused a six-car chain reaction. Rear-ended somebody, super hard, my mom and I bounced off the front dash and back into the back seat.
So, you show that crash maybe minutes leading up to it the minutes afterward. I had double vision. I yelled out, “I can’t see. I can’t see you.” They rushed me to the hospital. If I’d been more articulate at four years old, they wouldn’t have had to fucking x-ray of my head.
So, I’m sad that I couldn’t express myself better and thus got my head x-rayed. The crashes I’ve had. I had a crash in high school at a ski resort where I was trying to be a cool guy. I borrowed the babysitter’s car to go skiing with my cool friends. Didn’t know how to drive on ice, went off the road, crashed into a tree.
Anyway, you can tell somebody a story, not all of it, but a lot of details about the person’s life in twenty crashes. Each of which is three to eight minutes long. It starts in 1964, which was the first crash.
Then it moves through now. Th n it moves into the future with some in 2032 with the guy now old, but not because in 2032 he is seventy-two, because seventy-two is the new forty-eight. The guy is in a crash of a self-driving car or in the crash of a dirigible.
Anyways, it would be a fun story. It’s nothing but crashes. The guy is saying on the phone leading up to the crash and what he says in talking to the people that participate, the other drivers after the crash. You get little snippets of the guy’s life over time. Everything goes around.
Anyway, I have a gazillion things like that. But because I lack writing discipline, most of those things won’t get written. Somebody comes to me. They know that I’m a decent writer.
Somebody who urged me to wrote a screenplay call Wing Dog. This thing that was written probably ten or eleven years ago. A casual guy who uses his dog as his wing man to help him meet women. The dog is a genius.
It turns out that the stray dog escaped from a secret government program. So, the dog is a genius. Anyway, it was a nice screenplay, but it would have been written if I hadn’t been recruited to collaborate.
The same guy recruited me to write a treatment, a pilot episode and a Bible, for a project called Growing Up X, which is about this kid. It’s like Boogie Nights told from the point of view of a kid in high school whose parents are in the porn industry.
Jacobsen: [Laughing] I got one minute.
Rosner: Okay. So, again, it was a good project. We came up with it. Most things don’t get made, but this thing got made except not with my participation. The guy sold it. It was made into a reality web series.
He found a porn family and he spent months with them showing their lives. So, that thing got made anyway. But anyway, my writing style is collaborative. The end.
[End of recorded material]
American Television Writer
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Editor-in-Chief, In-Sight Publishing
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