‘SNL’ writer Alan Zweibel making virtual Dayton appearance on Saturday

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Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Emmy and Tony Award-winning scribe Alan Zweibel, one of the original writers of “Saturday Night Live,” will discuss his engaging career and recent heartwarming memoir “Laugh Lines: My Life Helping Funny People Be Funnier” Saturday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. via Zoom as part of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Dayton’s Cultural Arts and Book Series.

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In addition to co-creating and producing “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and collaborating with Billy Crystal (who provides a tender foreword) on the Tony-winning play “700 Sundays,” Zweibel’s insightful journey covers comedy from the legendary Catskills through contemporary comedy clubs with reflections on his own stories and interviews with his friends such as Larry David, Judd Apatow, Dave Barry, and Rob Reiner. He’s also notably written six off-Broadway plays including “Bunny Bunny — Gilda Radner: A Sort of Romantic Comedy,” which he adapted from his bestselling book, won the Thurber Prize for American Humor for his novel “The Other Shulman,” and was presented with a lifetime achievement award from the Writers Guild of America.

In advance of his virtual appearance, Zweibel, 70, shared his views on comedy past and present as well as his special partnerships and future projects.

Q: In your book, you mention “The Dick Van Dyke Show” fueled your interest in comedy as a kid. Why did the show strike a chord?

A: There was just something about it. Mary Tyler Moore was real pretty. The house was in New Rochelle. Rob was always cracking jokes with Buddy and Sally. I looked at my parents and said “I want to do that!” My wife and I have five grandchildren. When our grandchildren visit us, we don’t let them use their iPhones or IPads. It’s quality time, so to speak. We’ve introduced them to TV shows from a simpler time like “Leave It to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best.” When we watched “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” I was curious as to whether or not kids from today who are so used to fast-moving TV would like it, but they loved it. There’s just something about that show. Who wouldn’t want to live that life? If you speak to a lot of guys around my age give and take a few years and they tell you why they went into comedy a lot of them will say “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

“Laugh Lines -- My Life Helping Funny People Be Funnier” by Alan Zweibel (Abrams Press, 251 pages, $27).
“Laugh Lines -- My Life Helping Funny People Be Funnier” by Alan Zweibel (Abrams Press, 251 pages, $27).

Q: You turned down a job writing questions and bluff answers for Paul Lynde on “Hollywood Squares” which led to you ultimately joining the writing team of “Saturday Night Live.” While at “SNL,” you wrote material for John Belushi, but particularly co-created the characters of Emily Litella and Roseanne Roseannadanna with Gilda Radner. Can you describe your collaboration with Gilda and her legacy?

A: Working with Gilda, the godmother of my three children, was intangible. It’s tough to put into words. She transcended the quality of what she did, (even in) her impersonations. She just reached through the screen and grabbed you. From the moment we met it was magical. We just made each other laugh and were drawn to each other. We had a synergy with each other. I felt the same synergy with Garry Shandling as well as Billy Crystal and Martin Short, but Gilda was the first.

Q: Having been a part of television history at “Saturday Night Live,” why do you feel the show is still a cultural landmark after 45 years?

A: The constant is Lorne Michaels, who drew from more improvisational comedy rather than standup comedy or the traditional comedy that came before. The show has also changed with the times yet remains required viewing. Lorne also has an eye for talent. Just look at Kate McKinnon. Lorne also manages to stay ahead of the curve. People catch up to him and it’s a remarkable feat.

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Q: Another portion of your book pinpoints your collaboration with Tony-winning jazz composer Cy Coleman, who composed the musical ‘Sweet Charity.’ Do you foresee writing more musical theater material in the future?

A: A couple of years ago after I wrote “700 Sundays,” I was asked to write the libretto for a musical version of “Field of Dreams” with music by John Ondrasik (Five for Fighting), lyrics by Glenn Slater (‘Sister Act’) and direction by Des McAnuff (“Jersey Boys”). We were very excited about the work we did for two years but the producers of the movie, without even listening to one song or reading my (libretto), decided not to (pursue) the musical version. It was heartbreaking. We thought the show had a chance to be really good. We really thought we captured the essence of a movie we loved. But I’d absolutely like to write more musicals and look forward to doing so. And as for working with Cy, he was older than me, someone of a different era, but I’ve always embraced what came before me. For instance, comedians like Alan King in terms of comedy. I’m a fan of how we got to where we are. And when I sat with Cy, I embraced the moment.

Q: Last year, you wrapped “Here Today,” a dramedy you co-wrote and co-produced with Billy Crystal. What should audiences anticipate from the film?

A: Tiffany Haddish stars opposite Billy as a young woman who becomes the muse of an author battling dementia. We’re waiting to find out when and how it will be released either as a traditional theatrical release or straight to streaming. We’re really proud of the film. Tiffany couldn’t be funnier and she’ll make your heart melt.

Q: What are your views on comedy today?

A: Right now, we have a political and social situation that’s tumultuous to say the least and we also have a politically correct culture that’s tying our hands, to be frank. (There was a time) when everybody made fun of everybody else and then you went to lunch together. But now you have to watch everything you say. Satirists open the mirror to reflect. That’s how cultures grow. Comedy today is crippling, to be frank. I look forward to the day when the pendulum swings back toward the middle a little bit.

Q: What have you learned about yourself during this pandemic?

A: I’ve been married for 41 years, have three kids and five grandchildren. There has been a lot of prioritizing and re-evaluation in my life. I’m also finding great comfort in what I’m writing. I look forward to waking up every morning at 5:30 and delving into projects such as a new book as well as a new movie with Barry Levinson (“Rain Main”). I’m also mindful of mortality and the importance of the time we have left and what we’ve been given. And even though I’m appearing in Dayton (virtually) due to the pandemic, I look forward to being there in person again once this is all behind us.

HOW TO SEE IT

What: A conversation with Alan Zweibel about his book “Laugh Lines — My Life Helping Funny People Be Funnier”

When: Saturday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m.

Where: Via Zoom

Cost: Free

More info: Register by calling 937-610-1555 or visiting jewishdayton.org.

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