Josh Lieb is an Emmy-winning producer for The Simpsons and The Daily Show and author of I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President. He has also been a writer for the popular 1990s television series "NewsRadio" and for The Jon Stewart Show.
Question: What advice would you give to someone who wants to succeed as a TV writer?
Josh Lieb: You just have to write. I mean if – yes, you just have to write. That is, if you want to be a writer. If you want to go into another aspect of entertainment, then do whatever that is. If you want to be a director, direct, or collaborate with someone on something. If you want to be me, you just write. You write, you write, you keep writing, you keep submitting and you get better and better at it. There's no other way at it and you keep pushing ahead and eventually someone will read your stuff. And also, my other advice would be for someone who wants to go into this business is, don’t do it if there’s anything else you can do. And I sincerely mean that. If there is anything else you can do, don’t do it because this is really only a job for people who are kind of stuck in it. It seems exciting, but its also, it can be – it’s aggravating and wearying and I don’t – I think you're probably very good at it – we don’t get a lot of renaissance men, we get people who are very good at writing anthem have some interesting hobbies, but we’re all a bit of idiot savants. Like this is the one thing we are good at. So, we just keep at it.
Question: Why avoid it?
Josh Lieb: Because of the numbers and because not just the aggravation of actually getting the process – not just the aggravation in the process, not just the frustration of actually getting something made, but also the fact that so many people are trying to do it. The competition is so fierce and you really are one of a billion sperm going at that egg and that is a job. And it’s too competitive. And I’m sure there are tons of very talented writers out there, and actors, and singers, and everything else who won’t get their break, who are having a tough time in their 20’s and watching less talented people rise above them. I think that if they keep pushing at it, eventually they’ll find their niche. It might not be the one they wanted, but it is a very frustrating career path. Even in success there’s frustration. It’s just so hard. Because of the collaborative part of it and because of the money and the effort that goes into it, it’s so hard to get – here’s my vision and actually get that made. Unless you’re Bill Gates and you own your own studio, it’s not going to happen like you think it is.
Question: Is this true even if you have exceptional talent?
Josh Lieb: I don’t know quite the answer to that. I think merit is enough if you keep pushing, and pushing, and pushing. You might not get the break you wanted. I think the breaks eventually come and I think the largest break you have is perseverance; if you have that quality, eventually you will break through. But it can be very rough, especially now in the field of comedy writing, jobs are drying up. There is less and less scripted comedy out there right now, and scripted television in general. The business is in a bit of a crisis. If you can be a lawyer, and you can be happy being a lawyer, be a lawyer, please. You’ll do yourself a favor.
Question: Why is scripted television dying out?
Josh Lieb: It’s cheaper to make reality shows, which are very entertaining and I think they are coming back, everything is on a pendulum, you can only entertain people with the standard reality format so much, and people like stories. They really do. People like sitcoms, people like Friends. So, I think the pendulum is swinging back. But it is tremendously expensive to hire a staff of writers, to hire a bunch of actors and a top rate crew and make something that looks like it should be on television for television. It’s real easy to get a video camera and video tape someone eating bugs.
Recorded on: October 9, 2009. Interviewed by Paul Hoffman.