The original post for this episode can be found here.
Craig Mazin: Hi folks. This is Craig. Today’s podcast episode will contain some salty language. So if you are with kids in the car or people that just don’t like that kind of talk, go and put the headphones on. Or pull over and stop.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 427 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the podcast it’s a new round of the Three Page Challenge, where we look at writing samples sent in by listeners and discuss what’s working and what’s not. To help us do that we’re excited to welcome back Mike Birbiglia. He is the writer-director-performer of Sleepwalk with Me, Don’t Think Twice, and The New One now playing in Los Angeles and coming to Netflix very soon. Welcome back, Mike.
Mike Birbiglia: Thanks so much.
Craig: We got the Bigs.
Mike: I’m Patient Zero on the pod. I was one of the first listeners.
Craig: You’re the only person that calls it The Pod, by the way. Nobody else calls it that.
Craig: You’re the only one.
Mike: First of all, I love The Pod. And then second of all I plug The Pod.
Mike: When I did the tour, The New One, in DC and went back to Georgetown to my screenwriting class taught by John Glavin I told the students, “You should listen to every episode of Scriptnotes or at the very least the top 20 recommended ones.” It is a great public service that you’re doing for free—
Craig: Well, I’m doing it for free. John has been paid very well. [laughs]
Mike: But that it’s a great service and it is as good, I believe, as any film program in America. If not better.
Craig: Correct me if I’m wrong, not free?
Mike: No, they’re quite expensive.
Craig: Yeah. They’re quite expensive.
Mike: Hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Craig: So if you could have something for free, or something that’s like it but not as good for $50,000 a year?
Mike: I’m going to go with free.
Craig: You’re going to go with free.
Mike: This is the ad. It’s a 30-second spot. We’ll run it on Fox Business.
John: Love it.
Craig: Right. Do we have our own personal 800 number so that we know to give credit to Birbiglia for these subscriptions?
John: Absolutely, yes. So use the promo code Birbiglia to save 100% on your zero dollar—
Mike: Use that easy-to-spell hashtag Birbiglia.
Craig: Yeah. But take out most of the Is, but not all of them. Keep the one that matters.
John: While you’re searching for Birbiglia on Scriptnotes you could listen to Episode 121 and Episode 261, your early ones on the show. So thank you very much for coming back the third time.
Craig: It’s his third time. You’re going to get a jacket soon.
John: The fourth episode.
Craig: I think the fifth. SNL does a five-time club.
John: Craig, we have a live show coming up. We can plug the live show. December 12, it’s a Thursday, in Hollywood. People can get their tickets right now. They should get their tickets right now. Craig, why is this the episode they should come for?
Craig: Well we have fantastic guests. One I think is going to be a big draw particularly, but the other ones should be equally as big. We have Lorene Scafaria, who is fantastic, and recently wrote and directed Hustlers, which is a big hit. And she is a wise individual.
Mike: She was great, one of the times I heard her on this show was tremendous.
John: She’s amazing.
Craig: By the way, didn’t seem to realize that it was going to be a live show. Yeah, she just said, “Wait, this is live?”
Craig: Yes it is Lorene. We also have Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman who are the co-creators and co-stars of This Close which is on Sundance Channel.
John: It’s a fantastic show.
Craig: Amazing. I met Shoshannah on a panel for the TV Academy. She was remarkable. Super funny. Really smart. Just one of the – you know sometimes you meet somebody and you’re like, oh yeah, yep, your brain, my brain, we’re the same kind of screwed up.
John: In a world of coincidences, Josh Feldman was assigned to me by the Sundance Labs to – I’m his mentor. And so I’ve been meeting with him for the last year.
Craig: Shoshannah has selected me as her mentor now.
Craig: So, yeah.
John: Our mentees are going to battle it out live on stage.
Mike: I think what’s special about the live event, because I did one in Austin with you folks once.
John: That’s right.
Mike: Is that the level of nerd in the audience is so beautiful.
Craig: Yeah, yeah.
John: Oh, just wait till this one.
Mike: And, no, hold one. But I believe that the level of nerd is so strong that I think, especially if you’re single, perfect place to find your life partner.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: That’s beautiful.
Mike: Another screenwriter.
John: We have not had a Scriptnotes wedding yet. I think that is a goal for–
Craig: We might have.
John: We might have.
Craig: No one has told us.
John: Tell us if it has happened. But first tell us who the fourth guest is.
Craig: If you wanted to increase the concentration of lovely dorks, our kind of nerds in the audience, what better way could you do than have Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel, the chief creative officer of Marvel.
Mike: That’s pretty over the top.
Craig: Show up. So Kevin is a producer. Kevin is a studio executive. Kevin is sort of also a writer of a kind. He’s the puppet master of all of these Marvel movies, all of which have done remarkably well. So Kevin is going to be joining us. And I have a feeling that we’re going to bring in different nerds. I mean, we have our nerds. And I think we’re going to get some new nerds.
Mike: Do you have Scorsese coming by?
John: Oh my god. We should get them together.
Mike: I would love to see that conversation.
Craig: You know what we’ll do? I will be Martin Scorsese. I’ll do my Scorsese impression. I’ll be Scorsese. It’ll be great. I’ll be Scorsese doing a Birbiglia impression.
Mike: What you do isn’t cinema.
Craig: You’ve got to go really fast. So the thing is, the thing is, when you look at the movies, when you look at all the films, when you look at the great films, you’re talking about like The Searchers. And Marvel, I’m not taking anything away from them. They’re great movies. They’re great movies. People love them. But is it cinema? Is it cinema? It’s not cinema.
Mike: Oh my gosh.
Craig: It’s like Martin Scorsese is here.
Mike: It’s pretty good.
John: It was really good.
Craig: It’s not as good as my Birbiglia.
Mike: No, but that’s strong. What’s your Birbiglia? What’s your Birbiglia?
Craig: The Birbiglia, this is all I have so far. So Jenny and I were doing great. We were doing great. We were talking to each other. We were having a great time. We were sharing the sofa. Everything was going great. Everything was amazing. And then one day she said to me, “Hey, I think I want to have a kid.” And I said, oh no.
Mike: I think it’s OK.
Craig: It’s not bad, right?
John: But it’s not fantastic.
Craig: Your assistant thinks it’s F-in amazing.
Mike: Peter, yeah.
Craig: Peter is all over that. Two thumbs up from Peter. You’re so angry.
Mike: The vocal quality isn’t right.
Craig: Well, I’m not that kind of impressionist.
Mike: It’s kind of a summary of some stories that I’ve told. A summary of the stories I’ve told.
Craig: It’s a style. It’s a style. I think what it is, is it’s fast and the stop and then the heartfelt.
Mike: I think it’s more of a [pray-see] than a precise.
Craig: Correct. It is an imprecise [pray-see].
Craig: Correct. But if you are not feeling well tonight, because you have a little bit of a cold, and you need me to just do it. I’m not sure 100% of the audience will know.
Mike: I’ll call Bill Hader.
Craig: Right. If Hader says no.
Mike: And then if Hader says no, I’ll call you.
Craig: Then you call me. That’s what they do on Barry, by the way.
Mike: Hader does one that’s menacingly mean. One of the things about the SNL folks, Fred Armisen does, too. One of the things about the SNL folks that people don’t often realize is that not just can they do impressions of famous people, they can do them of their friends. And they’re pitch perfect. And they’re mean. They’re mean-spirited and they make you feel bad.
Craig: I hope that mine didn’t make you feel bad.
Mike: No, no, no, that was fine. But one time I did a show with Fred Armisen at a college in New Jersey and he just got on stage and he did five minutes of me.
Craig: Oh my god.
Mike: And it was hilarious, but like impressions are mean. I mean, you basically pull out a thing that’s notable and then you put it times ten.
Craig: Here’s a non-mean. Have you ever heard Tig Notaro’s impression of a clown horn? It’s really great. It’s like – it’s really good. I like that one.
John: Good stuff. Other bits of news. The premium feed is going to be coming pretty soon. So we’re setting up the new thing that’s going to replace the old thing, which was bad, and janky, and broken. But in fixing some stuff we had to change some pipes behind the scenes. So if this episode did not show up as you expect it to, just go and re-subscribe in whatever service you’re using.
Craig: How would they know if it didn’t – how would they hear this?
John: So what I’m saying is if it’s been a while and you’re like I can see this episode on iTunes, but it didn’t show up for me, you should actually just go ahead and re-subscribe because something got broken. I think it’s going to be OK for most people, but people are on weird players sometimes.
Craig: And is my share of the revenue going to increase?
John: All of those details are going to be announced at the live show.
Mike: There’s a lot of news at the live show about your revenue streams, Craig.
Craig: I think we know what’s happening.
John: But one of the things I want to test out, were going to do a trial run today, which is to have a bonus segment after the credits. So just like Marvel movies have a little bonus segment afterwards, so in our bonus segment today after the credits I want to talk about scams.
John: Because you and I have both encountered scams this past week.
Craig: Yes. Yes. And, Mike, for a while that was your main source of income was just running scams.
Mike: Yeah, yeah, that’s what I do.
Craig: On the streets of Brooklyn.
John: Finally. A bit of follow up. We’ve been talking a lot about assistant pay. One of the ideas that came in from listeners was to have a town hall. That is actually happening. So Sunday November 24 at 3pm at the SAG Building there’s going to be a town hall. The venue is pretty small, so we’re going to try to live stream it as well. Details are going to be in the show notes for this episode or just check my Twitter. This is not an official Scriptnotes event. I’m going to be there, but it’s really the folks behind PayUpHollywood and the Young Entertainment Activists.
Craig: How much are you charging assistants to show up?
John: That is a free show.
Craig: Oh, you’re not charging them? [laughs] How great would that be? We’re charging assistants to come to a town hall about improving their pay.
Mike: That’s Hollywood in a nutshell, by the way.
Craig: That is kind of how it works, isn’t it? Have you been following assistant – Peter, have you been following along? Oh, yes, yes, Peter is pulling his credit card out right now for us. Excellent.
Mike: To buy a ticket to the assistant pay event.
Craig: Oh, Hollywood.
Mike: I’ve only been following it a little bit. I saw a few threads that John I think had retweeted that I thought were very powerful. And I think it’s a good movement.
Craig: Hopefully it’s an effective one, too. You know, one of the other ideas that we had heard was the notion of some kind of pledge, and we don’t know necessarily what the details of it would be, but a worthy topic for the town hall. A pledge that is essentially a kind of minimum, where you can say as an employer, whether I’m a show runner or I run a large company, whatever it is, I’m signing onto this pledge and promising I will never pay an assistant less than this dollar amount per week. No matter what the hours are, this is the base pay. I’m not going under it.
And in that way people could look and see, oh, here are the people that are at least not terrible. It may not be necessarily people that are great. But if we could remove terrible from the equation it would be a huge improvement.
Mike: I think that’s great.
Craig: We’ll see.
John: Mike Birbiglia, you’re in town because you are at the Ahmanson doing The New One, which is a new show. What do you actually call that thing that you are doing? Because it’s not standup. It is a one-man show, but it’s not a one-man show in the way that other – what do you call what you’re doing?
Mike: People call it many things. And I have no problem with whatever people call it. Some people call it standup. Some people call it a solo play. Some people call it a one-man show. Some people call it a monologue. It’s something that, you know, I did four of them now with my director, Seth Barrish. Sleepwalk With Me, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. Sleepwalk With Me, which became a movie. My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend which is on Netflix and maybe right now on Prime. Thank God for Jokes which is on Netflix. And The New One, which comes out November 26 on Netflix. And they are, you know, they take about three or four years to develop. I develop them in front of audiences. I tour the country with them. They have a story to them. They have a singular story that contains stories within them. They form an arc. They sometimes have emotion, depending on how the audience experiences it.
Some people love them. And some people are perplexed by them. I think the same way that some people loved and were perplexed by Hannah Gadsby’s show that won the Emmy, which I loved. But some people were like, “Wait a minute. It’s not jokes the way I understand jokes to be.” But I’m proud of that. I think the same way that Hannah is. And other people who do these kinds of shows are.
Craig: I listen to standup all the time just on Slacker on Internet radio in my car, just to keep up. I like to keep up with comedians. And there is a set that Janeane Garofalo did and at some point she said someone came up to her after one of her sets and said, “I really enjoyed your talk.”
Mike: Your talk.
Craig: Here it is. That’s it. That’s what I do. That’s it. I do a talk. But there is something very writerly about it. You are maybe writing this thing in slow motion because I assume you’re amending and—
Mike: Every night.
Craig: Every night.
Mike: Every show. Even now when it’s already in the can.
Craig: So every show you’re—
Mike: And when people hear this I believe Monday there will be eight more performances at the Ahmanson. I’ll still be making changes and it’s already in the can coming out next week.
Craig: I think I’m seeing maybe like your second to last show or something like that.
Mike: It will be a good one.
Craig: You know what? Maybe don’t do one more after I do it.
Craig: When I’m there you’re done.
Mike: Wow. This is a real power move. I’m going to bring this up at the assistant event.
Craig: Well you’ll have to pay your way into that.
Mike: Yeah, $40.
Craig: It’s a lot.
John: So all four of these shows are autobiographical. And we had Lulu Wang on last week talking about the autobiography that was in her movie. To what degree as you’re developing this are you being absolutely faithful to the sequence of events, how they happened, versus what actually works on stage?
Mike: Well it’s funny because, you know, David Sedaris who does this I think as well as almost anybody, if not anybody, people ask him that a lot. How true is this? And his answer makes me laugh. “True enough for you.”
Craig: [laughs] Yeah.
Mike: And I think that that’s part of it. What you want to do is tell a story that has an arc and makes people feel and experience something. You also want people to believe that it happened. And so does it have to be true to a police log? No. It doesn’t.
Craig: But true enough to the spirit of what you felt and—
Mike: Absolutely. And it absolutely is that.
Craig: I always think about, especially when someone is telling stories about their own family, and you’re telling stories about your wife, at some point she’s going to say, “Yeah, that’s not true enough.” Do you get that from her a lot?
Mike: Sure. Constantly. Jen wrote this show with me and this is a very specific thing. At a certain point I reached this point where I was – the spirit, if people haven’t seen the show, the spirit of the show is the first half of the show is about all of the reasons no one should ever want to have a child. Second half of the show is about how I had a child and how I was right. And then in the emotional twist how I was wrong. And that sort of is like one little tease of the ending, of like, oh, OK, there’s hope for this person.
Because it’s dark. It’s a very dark comedic show.
John: Looking at yourself as a character, you’re not entirely sympathetic through a lot of this.
Mike: No. Absolutely not.
Craig: Ever. Even on this podcast. Ever.
Mike: But at a certain point, you know, my wife is a poet and I would say like, “Hey, could you tell me what it was like? What did it feel like – because she’s such a character in the show – what did it feel like when our daughter was dealing with different milestones, crawling,” and you know, and so for example she showed me – she goes, “Well, I wrote this poem about her crawling.” And I read that and I just go, well, that’s better than anything that I could write. And so I thought I’ll just read this on stage. And so then she became a credited additional writer on the show.
And so it really became – to Craig’s question of how much do you sort of vet the stuff – with this one it’s like I’d say every line in the show is vetted. And to the point where like, it’s funny, I won’t spoil – Elizabeth Banks came last night and she was – which is a huge honor, because I’m a huge admirer of hers. And she was laughing about there’s this line where I admit something about myself that maybe I’m not pulling my weight around the house quite enough. And she was like, “Oof, that moment is so devastating.” And I said to her, I go, “It’s not true. I actually do, do that thing.” And you take one for the team as an autobiographical writer because the drama wants conflict.
Mike: And the drama wants the protagonist to be wrong.
Craig: Of course.
John: So that the protagonist can grow and change and do all of these things.
Craig: And there’s a great tradition of this. I mean, you know, very famously Dean Martin would host all of these wonderful roasts and be drunk off his ass and everybody loved him because he was old Drunk Dino. And he didn’t drink at all.
Mike: That’s hilarious. I didn’t know that.
Craig: It was apple juice. Because you can’t function at those things and have timing and be funny if you’re literally lit. So he just faked it.
Mike: That’s fascinating.
Craig: Yeah. It’s just what we do. I mean, not on this podcast.
John: 1.5 glasses of wine.
Craig: 1.5 glasses.
John: For a morning show like this 1.5 glasses of wine is perfect.
Craig: 1.5 glasses.
John: Talk about the writing process. So, the idea for doing The New One. Obviously you’re having a kid. A natural life event that’s happening. But what is the start of writing and when do you have stuff on a page that you’re starting to put in front of people to listen?
Mike: So for years I had – Jen and I had talked when we got married. She’s an introverted poet. I’m more of an extroverted comedian who talks about my life on stage. And we talked about when we get married I’m going to talk about us on stage. That’s sort of the nature of what I do. And I don’t know what to do. We talked that through.
When we had our daughter, when Jen got pregnant she was like, “I don’t want you talking about this.” And so I was like, OK. And so I wrote Thank God for Jokes which has nothing to do with me really. It’s about the concept of jokes and context really. And at a certain point we were at the Nantucket Film Festival for my movie Don’t Think Twice, and the director of the festival said there’s a storytelling night and the theme is jealousy. And Jen in the car looked at me and goes, “Well you’re jealous of our daughter Una. You should talk about that.”
Craig: Oh, you got the green light.
John: Yeah. OK, great.
Craig: You cracked the seal. Watch what happens now.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah. So I was like, OK, great. I’m going to talk about this. And it killed.
Craig: Of course.
Mike: I told a story about being jealous of our daughter because the premise being, and this ends up being a line in the show, which is my wife and daughter love each other so much and I’m there, too. I’m the pudgy, milk-less Vice President of the family. And that became essentially the thesis of the show The New One, which is about how Jen and I were two people who were one. And then at a certain point another one came and I was on the outside of that group. I was the one and they were the two. And then ultimately the communion of the ending of the show is that three becomes one.
Craig: Theme, my friends. Unifying theme. It works for everything. And it does elevate everything. And you mention Don’t Think Twice. So now I have to ask, because I was there during the early midwife-ing of Don’t Think Twice.
Mike: You were in my living room, on the couch, which I reference in the show, in the special.
Craig: And I thought the movie turned out beautifully.
Craig: And I’m of course, greedy audience member that I am, I’m wondering, OK, when is the next big cinematic Birbiglia experience coming? Or are you out of it?
Mike: I’m writing it.
Craig: Oh, you are? Are you?
Mike: I am. I am. There’s a few things I’m writing. I’m writing something for the stage that I’m very excited about. And it’s different from anything I’ve ever done. And I’m writing something for the screen that’s very different from anything I’ve ever done. And then Jen and I just finished a book called The New and Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad with poems by J. Hope Stein that merges comedy stories and poetry. That comes out for Mother’s Day.
John: That’s great.
Mike: So those are the three writing projects I’m working on right now.
John: Very cool. That’s a lot.
Craig: The Birbiglia industries are humming along.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah.
Mike: Well Bill Gates asked me if I could raise productivity.
Mike: And so said well I have to.
Craig: Well as a – I mean, I own quite a bit of stock in – what’s the stock symbol? BRBG?
Mike: Yeah, that’s what it is.
Craig: BRBG. I own a ton of BRBG. Yeah, so please. Faster.
Mike: Keep up the—
Craig: More and faster. More and faster.
Mike: If I could plug one thing, if people like what I’m doing, if they watched the special on Netflix, sign up for my mailing list on Birbigs.com. And what you’ll get is I’m doing a pre-order of my wife and my book, which comes out in May, and if you order that you’ll get a card, like a holiday card from me, and then my wife’s poetry book Little Astronaut, which is gorgeous.
Mike: It’s spectacular. And this is actually – it’s a subject of a special that I’m working on for a couple years from now, but I’m increasingly a huge fan of supporting what you like. If you like the local pizzeria, go to the local pizzeria. If you like the local bookstore, go to the local bookstore. If you like small movies, see it in the theater. And I feel that way about my work. Like I so appreciate my fans. Because I’m not supported by a studio or network, it’s just people signing up for my mailing list and pre-ordering things. And that makes me able to make more things.
Craig: And what percentage of that money do I get?
Mike: Wait, you don’t get any of it.
Craig: Again? Is there any revenue stream I share in?
Mike: I think that you—
John: Chernobyl DVDs.
Craig: Oh yeah. I get a little something from that.
Mike: The way that Elizabeth Warren feels about you, Craig.
Craig: I’m the problem. I’m the problem. I know. I know. I know.
John: I have a question about a specific technique I saw you do in the show, and I’m wondering sort of how you get to it. There are moments where you’ll finish a thought and sort of blunt cut to a completely different thought. And it feels like there’s a ticking clock you have to get back to to tie it back in in a short period of time. But it was the first time I ever noticed you doing it, but it works really well. It felt like in a weird way kind of a cinematic technique where you cut to something different, and like got to get back to how this is going to fit in. Can you talk about that?
Mike: It’s funny you should say that. The show in a certain sense is a spoken film in a certain way. Like my director, Seth Barrish, and I would always think in terms of pictures. You know, it’s like, you know, it’s more evocative to talk about sitting on the couch than just to talk about a conversation between me and my wife. Lying on the couch together, sharing hot and sour soup is more evocative than just talking, etc.
And yet in terms of like the driving force of the show, my director and I talk about a lot, is all about intent. And that the audience knows that we’re going somewhere. I’m digressing about how people with kids are like zombies. And I do like a flourish of four minutes of comedy about that. I come back to ultimately what I’m really saying is Jen says to me, “I think that if we had a kid I think it would be different.” And there’s a focus in the part where I’m saying Jen said this that I bring my voice down. The lighting designer does a nice job of coloring it in a way and focusing the lights so that the audience knows like pay attention to this part. Because this is actually the spine.
Craig: It’s kind of a nice mirror of who you are. Because you are very, like you say, you’re effusive, you’re outgoing, you’re funny. And so there is a lot of stuff coming out of you. And then I think sometimes you stop and go, wait, hold on. I’m in trouble.
Craig: Or I feel a certain thing. And it reminds me – you get the best of all of it. And it’s a natural separation I think for you.
Mike: Thanks. Exactly. I would say the free association quality of the show is an outgrowth of my personality and how I communicate, but it’s essentially honing that thing. Codifying that thing.
John: So, in a traditional standup set you can sort of jump to another thing and there’s not expectation that everything has to circle back around. Because it is meant to be a dramatic piece it all comes back together at the end. You have to build a trust with the audience that you really are going to get back to this place.
John: All right. Three Page Challenge. You’ve listened to the Three Page Challenges before on this podcast. So what we do is every once and a while we invite our listeners to send in the first three pages of their script. It could be a pilot. It could be a drama. It could be a – kind of whatever. Some of these are web series apparently. But we take a look at them and give our honest feedback. So this is all voluntary. Everyone who signs up for this knows what they’re signing up for. If you want to send in your Three Page Challenges you go to johnaugust.com/threepage. If you want to read these Three Page Challenges there will be links in the show notes to them.
All right, our first Three Page Challenge is called F.T.S, Episode 1, Menstrual Pain, but Danielle Motley. Mia, late 20s, sits in the large stall of her workplace restroom facing a period stain on her pants as an automated air freshener spritzes in her face. Mia asks Siri on her phone to call a contact named Fuck Boy before two women enter the bathroom and Mia hangs up before the call connects. Mia responds to text messages from Fuck Boy, who is annoyed that she called if she couldn’t talk.
Mia waits for the women to finish their conversation and leave. Mia then calls her sister, Bug. Mia begs Bug to bring her a change of clothes. After teasing her, Bug says she’ll be there in 30 minutes. Stuck in the stall until Bug comes, Mia hears a tiny girl enter the bathroom and explode the next stall. The air freshener stops working.
That’s where we’re at at the bottom of three pages. Mike Birbiglia, we’ll start with you. So, all four of the Three Page Challenges we selected this week are comedies or comedic. What was your first impression looking at F.T.S.?
Mike: So what I like about it, and this is a challenging thing for me. You guys do this all the time. I listen to it on The Pod.
Craig: Cast. [laughs]
Mike: It’s hard to be critical, because I want all writers to know the thing I tell myself is keep writing, essentially. And so it’s hard to be critical. What I like about it is it’s personal. And it’s sensitive. It’s writing from a place of pain, literally, which I think is great. And I think it’s a good place to start comedy from. I always think that’s a great place to start comedy from.
I flagged like one thing just as a rule of thumb in comedy which is there’s a character named Basic Bitch and I think that that’s a trope of some kind. Basic Bitch. I think it’s someone else’s joke maybe. Or not. Or just it’s a trope. And I just think if you’re writing comedy whenever you have something that is a trope just think of three alts for it. What else could it be other than Basic Bitch? Because I think that your equity with the audience, your trust from the audience, is that you don’t use tropes. As a comedian, the moment when I’m watching a comedian use a trope I go like I’m not sure I trust the writer anymore.
John: There’s some tropes in some of these pages and I think we should point them out when we see them. Craig, your first impression of these three pages?
Craig: I struggled. I struggled. I want to talk through where I thought things were going well, Danielle, but also where I think you ran aground.
Let’s start just with what you want me to see and how you present the thing you want me to see. Because there is a moment here right off the bat. And right off the bat what you’re telling me is that this woman is not just simply going to the bathroom. She’s a surprise period, right. So, it’s gotten on her clothes and she has a huge problem. In disbelief she says, “This is bullshit.” That’s terrific. I like that opening because that felt very real to me.
The problem is I’m going to read back to you, here’s what I get. I am in a woman’s bathroom in a corporate building. I’m not sure how I would know it’s a corporate building just from this woman’s bathroom, but that’s fine. In the largest stall, the one that’s supposed to be reserved for those with disabilities, Mia, late 20s, sits on the toilet, pants and underwear at her knees. Her neat braids pulled tightly into a chignon, regrettable college tattoos hidden under expensive clothing.
I’m already frustrated. I can’t see those tattoos. Why are you telling me about them now? And then you say she is without a disability, by the way. Also cannot know that at this point. And then you say she is not, however, without a huge period blood stain on her silky green panties and brown slacks. That’s how you would relate that maybe in prose, but what’s happening here is I’m seeing this person. I’m seeing her looking at this. Then you’re showing it to me and she’s saying, “This is bullshit.” And the problem with that is that means she’s been staring at it long enough to have already said this is bullshit.
This is a weird thing to go through, because it’s so logic intensive and it feels picky and annoying. But I promise you it actually is the essence of what makes things funnier not on film. If you show me this woman in a stall staring down and she says, “This is bullshit,” and then you show me what she’s looking at, then I will probably laugh. But if you show me what she’s looking at and then she says, “This is bullshit,” it feels very stilted. So there’s a rhythm and an order thing that you have to kind of consider.
The other issue is I think Mike is 100% right. Chatty Bitch and Basic Bitch means that you just don’t know. And by the way there’s nothing – Basic Bitch wasn’t any less chatty than Chatty Bitch, so I wasn’t really sure what the difference between the two is. There was sort of a faux attitude there. So your character names are implying an attitude that will not come through because they don’t have name tags on that say Chatty Bitch or Basic Bitch. And their discussion that these two women are having just felt like water treading to me. It just didn’t matter. It could have been just wah-wah in the background while she’s trying to figure out at the same time how do I solve this problem.
I’m not sure why she calls Fuck Boy as opposed to her sister first. But, you know, so be it. But I don’t also quite get a sense of her – I know you want me to think that she is in trouble, but it doesn’t seem like she’s in trouble. It’s weird.
John: There’s a lack of urgency to it.
John: So, your comment about it feeling a little bit like prose, like novel writing versus screenwriting, I agree with you. Because there were some stuff that was really smart and funny but it’s going to not really work on a screen. The example being the deodorizer thing. There’s probably a way you can shoot that where you actually the little spray. Because it pays off nicely at the end. But it felt more like a novel kind of joke. Because since we can’t smell anything on screen we’re not getting the hit of it, which you could describe it in a book version.
Craig: When it first comes in, let’s see. Where does it first show up?
John: It first shows up on page one.
Craig: Ah, yeah, right there, the “automatic air freshener mounted on the wall above her eeks,” that’s misspelled by the way, “ekes out a puff of scented aerosol spray. Rolling Meadow scented to be exact.” That is prose. It doesn’t matter to me – that’s cleverness that I can never get credit for. But what I can get is if she says, “This is bullshit,” and then the next thing in the action is a buzz above her and air freshener squirts out some horrible smell that’s slightly better than the smell in the bathroom. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. And then, buzz, again. You can just have buzz, puff. And then we would know that there’s this sound, you know. Something…
OK, and then last thing here. Danielle, there’s a certain focus that we have when we’re doing body comedy, so any kind of comedy that surrounds bodily functions there is a cumulative effect. It can be incredibly funny. God knows I’m not above it, clearly. But what is really hard to do is two kinds of body comedy on top of each other. Monty Python had better blood jokes than anybody. So people would be bleeding, squirting blood.
Craig: it was the greatest. But they wouldn’t also have somebody shitting at the same time. It’s like you get one body function at a time. In this case it’s period blood. I don’t think we can handle the shitting.
John: Mike, you do a lot of body comedy in all your acts. So Sleepwalk With Me obviously—
Mike: There’s a lot of physical maladies that I discuss in my shows.
John: And so you’re trying to create a visual, visceral reaction to it which makes us sympathetic to your situation but it’s not sort of the main point of it. It’s to be able to talk about something else.
Mike: Yeah. And I think that one of the things in my show is I sort of go out of my way to phrase bodily things in a way that I’ve never heard them be phrased before. And I think that that’s sort of the key to comedy because – one of the keys to comedy – because you want to surprise people. We’ve all seen things that have shitting in them. We’ve all seen things that have period blood in them. But it’s like what’s your take? What comes to mind when I think of period blood. I think of Superbad had that really memorable period blood in it. And I think what was – what was so memorable, like they’re dancing or something.
Mike: And there’s something about it and it’s very subtle. And it’s very like all of a sudden you’re like, oh, I see what’s happening here. The filmmaker, Greg Mottola in this case, is sort of clearly thinking about the ways that period blood have been depicted in cinema historically and then he’s making a choice to do it. I’m going to do it this different way. Because bodily functions are so much a part of the human existence that you have to think about how has it been done, how am I going to do it differently?
Craig: And there has to be more than just it. Right? So if you’re going to be doing a joke about someone having their period and surprise period, then it can’t just be, “Argh, blood.” You know? And if you’re going to do a joke about somebody shitting it can’t just be shitting noises, right? They’re crazy. There has to be a context to it of some kind or another that makes it, I don’t know, just more panicky, more funny. We just can’t rely on the fact that it exists. In and of itself it’s not that funny.
John: Wrapping this up, I want to emphasize some things that I really did like about these pages. And so on the bottom of page one Basic Bitch shakes the locked door to Mia’s stall. Twice, underlined. Mia, “Really?” Like that twice moment was a very specific thing. Like when someone doesn’t rattle it once but rattles it twice, like you didn’t get it the first time? That tells me that Danielle is noticing something about what that situation is.
I like the idea that Fuck Boy is called Fuck Boy. I didn’t buy using Siri to call it. That’s not a thing I believe. She’s in the stall. There’s no reason why she needs Siri to do it. So I didn’t quite get that.
We talk a lot about texting in movies. It’s absolutely a valid thing to do and to show. In this case I would have probably bolded those texts just because I think there’s the risk that people are going to skip over those texts because they’re not seeing them as crucial dialogue kind of information.
And here’s an example of a confusion that happens. On page three, the door opens again and a tiny woman in clear discomfort rushes into the stall furthest from the one Mia is in. Mia jumps as she slams the door. The she and Mia is confusing. So you’ve got to be looking at your sentences to make sure there’s not a confusion there. Because you read it twice, you’re like, wait, did Mia slam the door? So just always be looking for ways that people could get confused.
Craig: And where’s the camera? I mean, I’m with her. She’s talking with her friend. And then are we cutting out of the stall to see this woman running in and running into a different stall, pause, pause, pause, pause, go back into the stall and her whisper yelling, like she had to wait for the camera to leave the stall. Just why?
John: Yeah. Really thinking about it as what we’re going to see on screen I think will help this.
Craig: Yeah. Geography.
John: I think Danielle actually has a sense of what’s funny and what can work. It’s making it cinematically funny is going to be the next step.
Craig: You know what? I agree. And I would say to her this is very common. This kind of comedy is really hard to do. And you’re going to need passes at it. Just like imagine yourself as a 3D printer. You’ve laid down your first. Now you have to lay down the next layer. The next layer. The next layer.
John: Craig, do you want to talk us through Dunked by John Bickerstaff?
Craig: Bickerstaff. This is Dunked by John Bickerstaff. Inside a beautiful church we watch as a line of handsome young teens, first a young man, then a woman, submerge and emerge from their baptisms. Behind them stands 16-year-old pudgy and scared Simon. Simon receives a kiss from his girlfriend Emma before stepping into the tank and into Pastor Roy’s arms.
Pastor Roy tries to gently lean Simon into the pool, but Simon won’t budge. He says he can’t swim. So Pastor Roy reassures him and applies more pressure. Simon resists, even using his mouth to hold onto the lip of the tub. When Pastor Roy finally does dunk Simon, Simon reaches up and slaps him across the face.
Later we find Simon sulking in the bathtub before his mother barges into the bathroom. She feels guilty that since she home-schooled Simon he never learned to swim and she’s bought him swim trunks.
Well, John, why don’t we start with you on this one?
John: So, there’s a lot here I liked. And so I want to talk about two scenes that we see here. There’s the baptism scene and then there’s the bathroom scene with his mom. Let’s talk about the baptism. Totally valid idea. It gets you into the crux of what this story is about right away. We see that he’s obviously a kid in a religious setting. There’s going to be a baptism. We have a sense that after these first two kids are being dunked that there’s going to be some problem. Just a natural sort of setup/payoff kind of thing that happens in comedies.
And the way he resists going underneath the water – I can see the joke happening there and I can also see when you’re on the day shooting that thing you can try a bunch of different ways and it can be really funny. So I can see that all working.
I had bigger problems in the second scene, which is the dialogue between Simon and his mom. There was a lot of stuff in there that I wanted to cut. And I also sort of want to discuss with you guys about tone and voice. “Cheese and Rice Ma!” felt too impossible even for the world that I think we’re supposed to be in.
So there’s a lot of stuff here I enjoyed. I didn’t think it all worked.
Mike: Also, Cheese and Rise, Ma, so that we don’t think that we’re in Cheese and Rise Massachusetts, one of my favorite towns in America.
Craig: I mean, bad drivers. Great food.
John: Just the absolute best. Other things I’ll point out. Simon, 16, tubby and terrified. Great. I get tubby and terrified.
Craig: Here we go.
John: Emma, 15, his girlfriend.
Craig: That’s it.
Craig: Oh, I know how to cast that. Let’s find…girlfriend.
John: We’re looking for…girlfriend. So, all we know is that she’s one year younger. Who dates a tubby and terrified 16-year-old? That’s a fascinating choice. So you’ve got to give us something specific about this, because otherwise we don’t know who this is.
John: Craig, what are your–?
Craig: Similar issues. Just as an interesting thing that happens right off the bat is a question of perspective. So we have our main character, Simon, and he is terrified of being baptized specifically because he’s terrified of going into the water. He thinks he’s going to drown, I guess. I mean, that’s sort of implied here.
Well, then his perspective matters. I want to see him looking at that water. I want to feel his fear of that water. Right now what I’m getting is a handsome guy and another handsome guy and Pastor Roy, 45, rugged but nebbish, which is an impossible combination.
John: Good luck, casting director. Find rugged but nebbish.
Craig: Well, we looked through every single person on the planet. There is no one. So, that’s not a combination you can do. But that guy guides him out of the tank. He brings in a teen girl into the tank. And meanwhile it’s just happening. And then we show this guy and he’s nervous. And I don’t know why. I don’t know that he’s nervous because of the water. I need to know he’s nervous because of the water because otherwise he’s just vaguely terrified of nothing. And his girlfriend says the weirdest thing in this moment, which I kind of thought was remarkable and could be amazing if I understood why she said it. She says, “I love you.” Why? Why is she saying that? Is she saying it because she knows he’s terrified? Is she comforting him? It could be great.
And the physical comedy of this I think could be really funny. I would make it bigger. So I don’t know if you’ve ever seen what it looks like – one of the things if you’re training to become a lifeguard they teach you – you have to be really careful because drowning people will try and kill you. They are in a full panic. They will try and kill you.
John: Fight or flight kicks in.
Craig: 100%. If I go in that water I’m going to die, therefore I have to fight you. And I want this to just get bigger.
Mike: That’s a really smart point.
Craig: And Pastor Roy is big. And Simon is probably not in great shape. And this could be a great – and also the idea of getting beaten up by a pastor in a church while this organ music is playing is really funny.
John: And also remember that as an audience we have an expectation that something is going to go wrong, so you have to meet that expectation but also exceed that expectation. And still continue to surprise us even though we knew that something like this could happen.
Craig: Yeah. The only other thing I would say is I agree with you, tonally in that second scene, and I’m kind of curious what you think about this, too, Mike. Everything was sort of fine. I mean, even like Cheese and Rice is sort of like well maybe they’re Mormons or something, even though they’re not. But where I tripped up was Mom says, “Si, what are you doing in there?” Which is a weird question also since he’s just in the bathroom taking a bath. It’s not that crazy.
And he says, “I’m baptizing myself. In the name of the humiliation, the mortification, and the condemnation. Amen.” So I don’t believe that. I just don’t know where that line is coming from.
John: That line does not exist in a reasonable world.
Craig: Sometimes John what we’ll say is that line feels really written, meaning, OK, you might be super proud of the combination of words there, and they are smart. But they just don’t belong coming out this person’s mouth, so you don’t get credit for it.
John: Mike Birbiglia, talk us through.
Mike: Yeah. It’s funny you should mention that, in the name of humiliation, mortification run, because I didn’t have the exact note you did, but I found myself reading it three or four times. Because I kept thinking – and that’s what you don’t want. You don’t want people in their head as the reader going, “Did I miss something? I’m going to read this again. Wait, did I miss it again? I’m going to read it again.” Like you want people going, going, and going, and they’re in. And I found myself out at that point.
I think that what I liked about the pages is that I found it immediately visual in a way that understood in one page, which is impressive. To do anything in three pages is very hard. In one page I understood the dunk tank and I understood what was happening. And that’s impressive and a lot of potential for comedy in it, which I think is great and original. I haven’t seen it.
And then what I liked was title card, Dunked, pivot to the tub water, which to me feels cinematic and it feels like it has a vision. It’s presenting a visual language. And to me I’m reading someone’s pages who is trying to make a film instead of just a comedy.
Mike: They’re not just trying to make me laugh. They’re trying to tell a story with pictures. And so immediately I go, oh, OK, what is the relationship between the baptism and him in the bath. This is going to be what this is about, but in a way that I don’t understand yet. But I’m intrigued.
Craig: I agree with that. It seems like there’s potential for this to be a really interesting story. Just needs to be some sort of – you know, it’s the same thing. Just rigor. Apply rigor to it. And at no point should anyone hearing any of this feel like they’ve failed. This is what writing is.
Craig: To John’s point about girlfriend being a generic, there’s this great story from an interview I think years ago I read of Noah Baumbach where he was saying like when he wrote Squid and the Whale, one of my favorite movies, it was on hold for so many years that he rewrote it from all the different character’s perspectives. He’d do a pass for, you know, the Jeff Daniels character. He’d do a pass for the Laura Linney character, etc.
Craig: There you go. Yeah.
Mike: And then what you end up with something so layered that you could never in a million years think of those characters as girlfriend, or boyfriend, or mother, or father.
Craig: Also, you couldn’t in a million years write that all at the same time. So that’s sort of my—
Mike: To your layer point.
Craig: Yeah. Make sure that as we go through this that you guys give yourselves breaks and understand that this is part of the process. You can’t get it all right all at once.
Mike: Yeah. And you guys have said this on the show a lot, and I’ll say it even again, both of my movies, Sleepwalk with Me and Don’t Think Twice, I’d say 12, 13, 14 drafts, full drafts, is what is on the screen.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I gave you a little bit of a high colonic on—
Mike: Oh yeah.
Craig: On your last one.
Mike: You crushed me.
Craig: I didn’t crush you.
Mike: You gave me really tough notes that were very helpful.
Craig: I mean, yeah. Well I’m glad they were helpful.
Mike: They were.
Craig: But they’re the only ones that matter, I guess. You know? It’s like you just have to kind of – you have to go through it. Everybody does. I’ve gone through it a billion times. Never let Scott Frank do it to you, by the way.
Mike: Oh, I can’t even imagine. I’ve heard him on the podcast here and holy cow.
Craig: I wrote a script once. I showed it to Scott Frank. He spoke about it with me for about two hours. I took the script. I put it in a drawer. Literally never looked at it again.
Mike: Oh my gosh.
Craig: It’s gone. I purged it from my mind.
Craig: Yeah. No one could have killed something with more – it was actually – his killing of it was far better than the script. I should write a script about what he said.
Mike: One time I was trying to explain to my wife who Craig was, because she had just met him once in our living room after a reading. And she goes, “Is he the guy who was shouting at you after the reading? With the beard?” Oh yeah, that’s Craig.
Craig: I can’t imagine I was shouting.
Mike: No, I don’t think so.
Craig: No, you see what happened? That’s true enough.
Mike: True enough.
Craig: That’s true enough.
John: I want to talk about Karen on page three because while I want to get rid of some stuff on page two that she does, her voice is actually really interesting and passive-aggressive. So I do like, “Well, you shouldn’t be doing anything you need a locked door for anyway. What if there’s an emergency? I’m not strong enough to break down a door.” She’s going through the list, well I might need to break down this door.
Also, we do a cut of dialogue here which is good and appropriate, so people just take a look at it. She says, “Which I don’t think is entirely true. I can’t. But I home-schooled you.” So when characters interrupt each other, that’s a thing that happens a lot. And so you’ve done a good job here on page three interrupting in a way that is actually helpful and sort of conveys more information. So I did like that.
Finally, I didn’t buy the floral bathing trunks at the end. It just didn’t feel like they would have to exist. It felt forced to me.
Craig: Yeah, like a prop joke.
John: Yeah, a prop joke.
Craig: Ha-ha, flowers. No, she could have bought any bathing suit theory.
Mike: Or they could have done the floral trunks and they don’t even mention it.
Mike: And you don’t hang a lantern on it, so as to tell the audience to laugh.
Craig: You just have the kid, you can have Simon just look at it like WTF mom.
John: Excellent. Do that.
Craig: Good point.
John: Let’s stop there on the Three Page Challenges. I think those were two good different examples.
John: And we have a listener question that comes in from Akiva Schaffer.
Mike: Oh gosh.
Craig: Here we go. It’s a good one.
Mike: Heavy hitter.
Craig: So Akiva wrote this in. Avid listener of the podcast.
Mike: Podcast, yeah. Who I have made a film with. I played a small role in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.
Craig: Never Stop Never Stopping.
Mike: Never Stop Never Stopping is the subtitle.
Craig: So great.
Mike: From The Lonely Island. Brilliant director.
Craig: Akiva is one of the – yes, along with Andy Sandburg and Jorma Taccone who is another friend of our show, and your neighbor. Your wall neighbor.
Mike: Was my wall neighbor. We just recently moved down the street.
Craig: Oh, to get away from Jorma.
Mike: Which by the way, the—
Craig: And Mari Heller.
Mike: And Marielle Heller, whose Mister Rodgers film is tremendous.
Craig: I hear that. And she is also starring in Scott Frank’s, the aforementioned Scott Frank’s—
Mike: I know. I know. She’s a great actor, too.
Craig: You know what? Scott never showed me that script. I never got a chance to yell at him over that script.
Mike: Oh wow.
Craig: He knows. This is what Akiva writes. He says, “Hey, I have a bit of Hollywood umbrage.” Nice. He does listen. He listens to the show.
Mike: Well done. Well done.
Craig: “And it’s so petty and privileged that I don’t know where to put it.” We’ll welcome you in, Akiva. “So I thought maybe you were the show that would have the platform or correct showbiz audience where it could be appropriate. It’s about screeners, specifically the waste.”
Mike: Yes, this drives me nuts.
Craig: Yeah, so let me just back up for a second for those of you wondering. Around the award season, which is—
John: Starting now.
Craig: Roughly now, around Golden Globes, Academy Awards, the Writers Guild Awards, the DGA Awards, SAG Awards, the companies that have movies and shows that are up for these things will start mailing you at home a DVD of them if you are in one of those groups. God help you if you’re in all of them. Because you will get one of these for all of them. So you will get eight – I think the most I got was like eight versions of Us. For whatever reason in the last Academy cycle, or last award cycle I got eight Us DVDs. I don’t know why.
So, what he says is, “First we have the materials themselves. The paper, the cardboard, the DVDs, the huge boxes, the random photo presentations or posters.” Mrs. Maisel is a huge—
John: Oh man. The wrapping paper. The poster.
Craig: Crazy. “Then there are the duplicates. Last year I received three copies of most movies because I’m in the DGA, the WGA, and SAG. There are the trucks that deliver them. For the TV screeners it’s even worse. There are bigger box sets.”
Mike: It’s endless. It’s endless.
Craig: “It’s a ridiculous waste and no one uses DVDs anymore. Can’t we be more eco-conscious?” I’ve abridged this slightly.
Mike: He’s absolutely right.
Craig: He is.
Mike: It’s infuriating. And also you can’t to my knowledge – I researched this last year because I had the same frustration. You can’t really recycle DVDs.
John: No. You can’t.
Craig: They live forever.
John: Because they’re metal and plastic.
Craig: So, I’m sure John you are in the Film Academy.
Craig: I am now in the Television Academy.
Craig: That’s right. That’s right. I’m in an Academy now.
John: He’s an Academy voter.
Craig: I suspect that one of the things we would hear if we brought this issue to our respective Academies is, “Uh, yeah, no one uses DVDs anymore under the age of blankety-blank, but we have a lot of voters who are over that age and they do use them.” What do we say to that?
John: It’s the first mover problem. The first studio that stops sending DVDs is going to feel like they’re at a disadvantage for awards.
Craig: Yes. Of course.
John: That’s going to happen. So I know the studios aren’t supposed to collude about stuff and get together to meet about things, but I think an outside group could bring them all together perhaps and say like what if you all agreed to send out DVDs, then I think we could do it. Because honestly the digital codes they do send out for some things, they work, and they actually help prevent privacy because they can see how many times each of those have been downloaded and stop a URL from downloading again if they need to.
Craig: I would love for them to stop this. It does seem absurd.
John: I think I want to give Warners credit. I think Warners was the first one to have a good For Your Consideration app that installs on Apple TV that you can register it.
Craig: That just sounds so much better.
John: It is better. So the devil’s advocate, like there are times in which you are off the Internet and there are people who go to their cabin in the woods and watch a bunch of screeners. I’m sorry. That’s going to be more difficult now.
Mike: There’s also an upon request version of it.
Craig: Yeah, exactly. Like I need a DVD. Send me my DVD. But otherwise, yeah. Default to it. I think the Academies actually could just say we’re going to make the rules that if you send physical screeners by default you’re not eligible for an award. How about that? Problem solved.
Craig: And a lot of angry art members. I will be an art member soon.
Mike: I work as an actor on the show Billions.
Craig: Of course. Yes.
Mike: And it’s a much more eco-friendly set than I’ve worked on in the past.
Craig: Brian Koppelman is 100% recyclable.
John: [laughs] Indeed. It’s really compostable, but it’s really the same idea.
Mike: Actually if you recycle him he actually comes out as Scott Frank.
John: Funny how that works.
Craig: Levine, not recyclable. Cannot–
John: He’s like the Terminator. You have to melt him down.
Craig: David Levine is one of the nicest people ever and his face – his face just implies that he wants to murder you. He has—
Mike: That’s true.
Craig: He has such an intensity about him.
Mike: And he’s in great shape.
Craig: He’s in amazing shape.
Mike: Very intimidating thing about him.
Craig: He’s tough as nails. But he’s nice. He doesn’t want to murder you.
Mike: Yeah, very nice.
Craig: But his eyes say take a step back, I might murder you. Whereas Koppelman, you know, 100% recyclable.
Mike: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
John: All right. It’s come time for out One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a thing called Spleeter. It’s an open source music separation library. What this actually means is it can take a track of music and split the vocals out from the—
Mike: Oh my gosh. Really?
John: It seems like a magic trick. So I’m going to play this here for you. So here is a demo. Here is Lizzo’s Truth Hurts.
[Truth Hurts plays]
All right, so that’s the vocals. But useful, more useful sometimes is getting the actual backing track so you can do your–
Craig: Do some karaoke.
[Truth Hurts Plays]
Mike: That’s incredible.
John: So it’s machine learning that does it. So basically they’ve just—
Craig: That’s terrifying.
John: They’ve gone through thousands and thousands and thousands of clips and are able to figure out like oh this must be voice, this must be background, and then it’s filling in the pieces that are missing.
Craig: It’s terrifying.
John: Yeah. So it’s the same thing that enables people to do face swaps essentially.
Craig: I just took a DNA test. I’m 99.5% that Ashkenazi Jew.
Mike: Oh wow.
Craig: Yeah, that’s how Jewish I am. That’s how Jewish I am. I just drew a target on myself for racists, again.
John: Craig, One Cool Thing?
Craig: Sure. So I probably talked about this before. One of the great mysteries of medical science is why do we sleep. We don’t really know why, or at least we didn’t really know why. And this goes across all mammals for sure. It’s not that we sleep because we get tired. Something is going on. And if you prevent people from sleeping they will go crazy.
John: And die.
Craig: And then they will die. So what is actually happening? So there is a new study out from Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, a professor of neurosurgery at The University of Rochester, and an author of a study in Science. And basically what they found was they know that as our brain works and metabolizes and does things throughout the day there is a creation of harmful toxins. There are proteins and plaques. These things eventually can build up and cause dementia and Alzheimer’s in old people if they can’t be cleared out.
How do they get cleared out? Well they get cleared out by cerebral spinal fluid. What they found is during sleep the flow of cerebral spinal fluid in the brain increases dramatically, essentially washing away harmful waste proteins that build up between brain cells during waking hours. It’s washing our brains. We have to sleep so that our brains can wash themselves.
And they’re doing this literally in a kind of cyclical way like a dishwasher. Brain cells when we sleep actually kind of shrink, making easier for the fluid to kind of go through and move in and out. It’s bananas.
So we may – and by we, I’m not one of the authors of the study. But we humans may have finally figured out why we have to sleep and what’s actually going on.
John: Now if you’re intrigued by this topic I think I may have made this a previous One Cool Thing, a book I read a couple months ago, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker goes into more detail not only about sort of the cleaning up of proteins but also why we have the two kinds of sleep, the REM and NREM sleep and sort of the specific functions that they’re trying to do in those things. And you need both kinds of it. So one of it is for more physical stuff, one is for memory formation. And if you interrupt those things – basically you read through this book and it’s basically a bunch of horrifying studies where they keep waking people up and up and up and up.
Craig: And this I assume is of some specific interest to you because you very famously have a fairly rare but serious sleep disorder.
Mike: I have a sleep disorder, and like you’re saying, it’s a field of study that people don’t know the answers to the questions. Why do we sleep? Why do people sleepwalk? You know, and there’s researchers who are doing tremendous work. But yeah, it’s endlessly fascinating.
Craig: Well maybe based on this in ten or 15 years you can take those mittens off when you sleep. Your sleep mittens.
Craig: You should sell sleep mittens.
Mike: I’ve thought about selling a lot of things, Craig.
Craig: That’s birbigs.com.
Mike: There’s a sheet that you’ll see in the show that I sleep – instead of sleeping in the sleeping bag lately I created a fitted sleep sheet that fits me into my bed with a hole for my head.
Craig: Oh wow.
Mike: Yeah, and it’s pretty inventive.
Craig: Like a nun.
Mike: And the reason – and people always say you should sell that, you should sell that. There’s something about the medical liability.
John: Oh of course.
Craig: Oh yeah.
Mike: That scares the lights out of me. This idea of like what if someone is hurt or injured or god forbid dies trying to do this thing, and it’s like Mike Birbiglia’s sleep sheet killed them. Look, man, I’m just trying to make a living out there.
Craig: You sell that thing and literally 98% of people that use it die.
Mike: Yeah. With my luck.
Craig: Exactly. It wouldn’t be just one rare case that you have to deal with. It’s almost everyone.
Mike: So my One Cool Thing harkens back to something I was saying earlier which is – it’s something Mark Duplass had tweeted recently which is supporting local. Supporting local bookstores. Supporting local pizza. Supporting your local cinema.
It’s in some ways, you know, in my case I live in Brooklyn. We buy all of our books from Books are Magic. It’s a tremendous bookstore run by an author. Her name is Emma Straub. And she opened her own bookstore. And I feel like in some ways this local movement is political. It’s a political response to the wealth disparity in society right now. There’s people with billions, there’s people with nothing. And I feel like let’s support the people who are making good food, who are selling good groceries, or selling good books and putting a lot of heart and soul into their work.
John: Buy local, buy Birbiglia.
Craig: Buy Birbiglia. The guy has no store. You will. His death sheets are currently on sale.
Mike: Oh my god.
John: We’re going to make our own death sheets and we’re going to put your face on them.
Craig: I’ve got thousands of these things. I don’t know what to do with them.
Mike: Oh my god. This will be the end of me.
Mike: And you, for $19.95.
Craig: I mean, I’ve been waiting for the end for a long time. Bring it on.
John: That’s our show for this week. A reminder to stick around after the credits because we’re going to talk briefly about scams. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by James Launch and Jim Bond. If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions.
For short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. You are @–
John: Nice. You’ll find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. You’ll find details about the town hall, about Mike’s show, all sorts of stuff. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts. We get them up about four days after the episode airs. And you should come to our live show which is December 12.
Craig: Oh yeah, you got to come to that. We’re the Jon Bon Jovi of podcasts, so you do need to get your tickets immediately. They will sell out.
Mike: Jon Bon Jovi now or Jon Bon Jovi 1987?
Craig: Always. Just all Jon Bon Jovis.
John: Let’s talk some scams. So Craig and I both got hit up by serious scams this past week.
Mike: Oh wow.
John: Craig, summarize what happened with you and the Amazon thing.
Craig: Very strange. I received a package addressed to me from Amazon which happens all the time. I buy things on Amazon all the time because I spit on Mike Birbiglia’s buy local theory. No, no, I love buying local, just sometimes there are things that are not available locally.
Craig: So I get them on Amazon. But I open this package and I did not recognize any of the items as something I had purchased. There was a toy car. There was a selfie stick. And there was a vibrator. The vibrator was not called Selfie Stick, but I’ve been thinking that that would be a great name for a vibrator.
John: That is a selfie stick, yeah.
Craig: Yeah, it’s a kind of a selfie stick. So I said, hey Melissa, did you buy a toy car, a selfie stick, and a vibrator. And she said no. And I believed her. Because of the toy car. So I called up Amazon and I’m like what do I do with this. And they’re like, oh, it must just be a mistake. You can just keep it or throw it out. So we kept the vibrator.
Then the next day another package shows up with junk in it like hemp oil and a phone case. This happened like seven or eight times. And I got more and more angry. And what basically the scam is this. This is what we found out. Either they get ahold of a credit card that isn’t theirs, or they have their own credit card they’re using, or gift certificates. They purchase these items and they create an account using your name and your address, but they register it under a phone number that isn’t yours.
Craig: And then they send these things to you and because it has been delivered to you on Amazon they’re able to now review their own product as a verified purchaser, which moves the product up in the algorithms. It’s called brushing. And Amazon appears to be one billion miles behind this problem. Like they are nowhere near solving this. They’re barely acknowledging it exists. And the more I read about it, the more it seemed like it was everywhere. Like this is going on constantly. Yeah, it was a real bummer. But we seem to have shut it down. For now.
John: So my scam that happened is we ordered from Door Dash a pizza delivery and so the guy picks up the pizza, calls us and says, “Hey, there’s a problem. The wrong Door Dasher picked up your pizza. I’ll stay here and I’ll get the order refilled. Sorry about the hassle.” And so we’re like, oh, this is a very helpful guy.
But then he sort of keeps calling, and that’s where something is not right here. And says like, oh, so you need to call Door Dash and cancel the order and that way they can refund your money because this is taking too long. I was like, yes, we can do that. And through the app you can cancel the order. And then Door Dash calls and says like, hey, did you cancel this order. And I’m like, yes, but we think the food is still on the way.
It gets really complicated. But the guy then calls and says, “Hey, I’m nearly at your house. I’m here.” So I go down and meet him on the street. At this point I’m already suspicious. Something is just not right here. And essentially the scam is that they get you to cancel the Door Dash order and they say, oh, I paid for it myself and so you can pay me all of the money. And they try to use Apple Pay so that it feels like it’s a legitimate thing happening through the app, but they’re not really using the app at all.
Craig: How did they know how to get in between you and your pizza?
John: So he was – he genuinely did work for Door Dash. And so he picked up the order and then pretended that it had been canceled. So I don’t think that’s a scam with long life to it.
John: But what I was impressed by is he had very good social engineering on the phone and in person. Like when I actually met him I was like, oh, you’re one of those people who is trying to pull the gold ring scam in Paris. Like you just have a whole pattern of how this whole thing works.
Craig: I mean, to pervert pizza, which is something that you and I both feel so—
Mike: It crosses a line.
Craig: It really does.
Mike: It slices right through the line and divides it into eight slices.
Craig: Delicious slices.
Mike: Perfect, perfect triangles.
John: So Mike, do you believe in the goodness of humanity?
Craig: Not anymore he doesn’t.
Mike: Well, we talk about that quite a bit in the show. I think people are fundamentally decent and trying.
John: Yeah. That’s good. That’s a good approach to it. I genuinely do believe and trust people because I feel like in the absence of trust and the absence of the ability to believe that this thing will happen and this person is going to be a good actor society just breaks down. But I will say it was incredibly – it rattled me. For a good two hours afterwards I was just like down on humanity.
Craig: Well, yeah. I mean, that’s how I am every day. So what you experienced there briefly was my life. I generally trust people when I sense that there is a baked in component of mutual benefit. So I trust that somebody is going to stay stopped at that red light when I go through the green light because that’s to their benefit to do so.
Mike: That’s right. Defensive driving, so to speak.
Craig: Yeah. If there’s a situation where somebody is going to benefit for sure more than I am, then I don’t trust them. I don’t trust salesmen. Why should I? I know for a fact that the entire point of sales is to manipulate and lie to get you to give them money. That’s how it works. I’m not even angry at them for it.
You talk about how expensive the sofa was, right? And when I was a kid I worked at a clothing store. And they were like you have to try and sell these today because we have too many of them. The specials.
Mike: The same thing when I was a waiter. Yeah.
Craig: It’s a lie. The special is literally the opposite of special. So you just have to be aware of that. So I just – caveat emptor – I don’t blame people for it. I don’t think it’s necessarily immoral on those kinds of levels. It’s just people have to survive and they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do. And also sometimes, you know, we all have to do it to some extent to get through the day. Although, I don’t know, as writers we don’t really do that. We don’t have an opportunity to do that, do we?
John: If we – there are very few scams that we can pull, because ultimately our name is on it. So that’s the thing, this Door Dash was sort of anonymous but sort of not anonymous. So ultimately when I reported him I could say like it was this person and this was the phone number I got a call from. But I was relying on this faceless entity who I didn’t know, this company, to be doing the work of actually stopping him for doing this to other people.
Mike: This might be off-topic, but the subtle scam of show business I find – and this is not all personal managers, but some personal managers are essentially taking on too many clients. They’re managing 30, 40 people.
Mike: In the hopes that one of them hits it and then their 10% of that fortune. If five of them hit it then they’re blah, blah, blah. And so I dealt with this in my career where I worked with many managers over the years where they’re basically pretending that they value me in a certain way and see my trajectory in a certain way, but secretly they don’t think that.
Craig: I think it goes both ways, too. I mean, listen, I know that no matter what your agent says to you about how much they love or care for you, if you start sucking and you can’t get work, they’re going to dump you. And similarly no matter how much you say to your agent, “I love you and you’re so wonderful,” if the best agent in the world shows up and says, “I’m ready to take you on,” then you’re gone. It’s going to happen. Because it’s not – that is a business relationship and I don’t even think of that necessarily – that to me is sales. It is a little bit of like it’s in the zone of sales.
Mike: Right. You have to be a better consumer. A smarter consumer.
Craig: Caveat emptor and caveat vendor. Right? But there are very few scam-scams that writers can pull on you. I guess the closest is there are writers who take on too much work.
John: Of course.
Craig: Knowing fully well that they can’t do it all, or can’t do it all well. So that is a kind of a scammy sort of theft thing. It’s just it’s not self-sustaining.
John: Yeah. So you and I both know – I’m not going to actually say his name – but there was a writer who was notorious for like taking on a bunch of projects that he was not himself actually writing.
Craig: Mike Birbiglia.
Craig: Oh, I wasn’t supposed to say.
John: So he would have a team of young writers who were actually doing all of the work. But I don’t hear about that anymore, I think because it doesn’t happen, but maybe I’m being naïve.
Craig: No, I mean, there are people that still do these things, or people sometimes take on a weekly assignment which is very highly paid thing to get and then they just don’t deliver, which you know, like I say even if it’s not a scam, even if it’s just, I don’t know if they got tired or they weren’t right for the job, the point is it’s not a self-sustaining thing. Because everyone talks and it is so hard to get on the list of people that they give weekly assignments to, and it is so easy to get booted off of it. Like just don’t take the job. It’s going to cost you more in the long run to take one of those jobs and not do it right then it is to just do it right.
John: Do it right.
Craig: Do it right.
John: Thank you, sirs.
Craig: Thank you.
Mike: Thanks guys.