Portrait of a Comedy Writer as a Young Prankster

Josh Lieb describes the childhood that doomed him to become a TV writer.
  • Transcript


Question: Were you funny as a kid?

Josh Lieb: I was definitely the wise guy. I was definitely full of beans, piss and vinegar, all of that. I was always making jokes, you know, a complete jack ass. And I was always a short kid too. I think some of that, I feel like a lot of times, the short kid, the kid who waits a while to grow overcompensates with jokes. But separately I also knew I was going to be a writer, but I didn’t know I was going to be a comic writer. They are two separate things. I always loved reading and I always had a talent for writing. I knew this is what I can do. I was never really excited by any other career option. I never thought how cool it would be to be a lawyer, or a cowboy, or an – what do people think of career options, I don’t even know.

Question: A Fireman?

Josh Lieb: Fireman. Yeah, I never got too excited by that. I always wanted to be a writer, and my heroes were writers. There’s heroes there with me. My heroes were Walker Percy and Hemmingway, and Fitzgerald. These were people I wanted to be. This was the life I wanted to emulate. But I never thought I’d be a comic writer. I thought I would be a serious writer, I thought I was a poet. I was always writing as a teenager, which is funny because I think there’s nothing that annoys me now more than children who write or precocity as a writer. I feel like, leave it be, you’ll get to it eventually. But at the time, I knew I wanted to write and I was constantly writing for myself. The two, the wisenheimer side, and the literary side came together when I went to Harvard and I joined the Lampoon, which is the comic magazine there. I still, I had no real plan going in there, just that I was a funny guy and I liked to write, it seemed like the right place to go. And it was also a time where, when I as 16, I thought I’m [literary], I’m going to write poetry, and then when I’m 19, I’m like, “oh, I need to make a living. I need a job.” And several Lampoon graduates had already gone into the world of television and movies and – Doug Kenny, there’s a hero, fantastic writer. And so, I said, “oh well, okay I can do this.” I knew I could write and I knew I could write funny. I certainly knew television, I was like, this is the job for me. And then that’s when that happened.

Question: Did you ever pull pranks as a kid?

Josh Lieb: Nothing elaborate. I was more the insult comic, and not witty insulting. A lot of your mother jokes, and that’s still my stock in trade because they are really funny. Pranks – no, I remember one time I coated my sister’s room, I mean everything with talcum powder. But that wasn’t a prank that was just kind of this is an experiment. Let’s see what her room would look like if talcum powder was inside every single crevice of the room. And I got in a lot of trouble for that. But the pranks I do tend to be a little more theoretical. I remember one time, I was back in college, after graduation for one reason of another, and a friend of mine from college was going to be there. And the sandwich down the street from where we lived had closed, and I knew they turned it into a sunglass hut, which, what could be worse. It was one of the last places a kit at Harvard could afford to buy a sandwich, and now it was just a place for tourists to buy sunglasses.

Question: Elsie’s?

Josh Lieb: Yeah, it was Elsie’s, exactly. So, you’ve been there. And it’s gone now. So, I said to my friend Scott, I said you know, let’s grab lunch. I was like, let’s got to Elsie’s. He said, “Sure.” Because I thought maybe if we walked there and he thought it was still there, it would still be there, but it wasn’t still there. So, he got mad at me.

Recorded on:  October 9, 2009. Interviewed by Paul Hoffman.