While more than a few writers in the 21st century have turned their blogs into books, Rob Kutner went the more traditional, old-school, route, securing a book proposal, writing the book, then finally going to blogs such as The Huffington Post to promote it. Kutner’s book, Apocalypse How, begins with an introduction that asks the question: Wait, what was that you were saying about the end of the world, again? Then Kutner follows through with helpful hints and advice for turning "the end times into the best of times." He’s also very fond of putting jokes in footnotes. But you can hear him read it yourself at one of these upcoming readings: May 19 in Boston (Pandemonium Books in Cambridge), May 20 at Princeton University, May 21 in Brooklyn (Word) and May 24 in Manhattan (Bluestockings).
But back to my initial query about blogging your way into a book deal. Kutner told me that’s not his style. "I think it’s just because, doing the regular blog is very hard," he said. "My hat is off to anyone who has a blog, because I couldn’t do it…It’s like doing an indefinite spec script. Who knows who’s going to pick up on it? With my job being very demanding, it wouldn’t make much sense for me to take all of this time without a concrete possibility of something happening with it."
That job? Writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. Kutner got blurbs for his book from Stewart as well as Stephen Colbert and former employer Dennis Miller (blurbs after the jump). Here’s how Kutner described it to me: "I consider it sort of perfect bathroom reading. Which is a very special thing, and I don’t mean that pejoratively."
After years of working on a team of writers for TV as well as for the Daily Show’s America book, this is Kutner’s first solo project, as it were. Writing for The Daily Show, obviously, is much more collaborative. "It’s a) Jon’s voice, b) you’re sort of part of a big machine," he said. "Your material may or may not be used. You may have the greatest joke in the world, but then it comes up as part of a greater vision or larger framework (for a sketch). Our show is topical. It’s not necessarily enduring. Whereas the book is a thing you can hold in your hand. I tried to make it evergreen. If an apocalypse can be evergreen."
"What I’m saying is, it’s a timeless classic."
Did the book idea come out of anything you’d done at Comedy Central? Not the idea, per se, but the notion that, in covering "all of the calamities" of the day, "our impulse is to find a way how to make that stuff light," he said. "As to what it actually became, that was drawing on some old anxieties, growing up in the 1980s during the Cold War and the threat of nuclear holocaust," he said. "I also grew up in a Christian school, my whole life from kindergarten, it made me scared of Hell."
A 1994 Princeton grad, Kutner covered his comedy bases on campus (editing The Tiger humor mag, writing for Triangle productions, founding member of the Quipfire improv group) before moving to Hollywood to pursue a career in TV comedy. "I was aiming more at sitcoms," he said. He was a production assistant on Unhappily Ever After (does that count?) when comedy friends from Princeton referred him to Dennis Miller Live, where he started as a writing assistant. "That was a very encouraging environment," he said. The third year, Miller promoted Kutner to writer. The show ended that next year. But Kutner knew someone at The Onion, who knew people at The Daily Show, and a slot opened up for him five years ago. Looking back on his start, he recalls: "I was probably out there for five years before I got that break on Dennis Miller. I think that’s kind of right down the middle…some people get a break early, some don’t."
Kutner dipped his toes into stand-up comedy but doesn’t consider himself a comedian. "I don’t know if I have the stamina to really do it as much as you have to to succeed," he said. "It’s a lot easier for me to sit down and write a book than do stand-up for seven minutes and get up in front of angry, drunk people."
Angry, drunk people? (They write books) Zing!
Anyhow. Kutner’s book is full of zingers. He also wrote that Jewno parody you’ve already enjoyed (writing it with his wife, Sheryl Zohn), as well as this promo video for his book, voiced by Rob Riggle. Enjoy!
Praise for Rob Kutner’s book, Apocalypse How:
"A great read. Don’t cower in your lead-shielded, ape-proof bunker without it." — Jon Stewart
"If you buy only one book to accompany you through horrific worldwide catastrophe, make it this one." — Stephen Colbert
"For years now, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out
whether Rob is a better guy or a better humorist. This cinches it, he
is a far better humorist. I laughed, I most assuredly did not cry." — Dennis Miller