Who makes the funny funnier? That would be Alan Zweibel, and the Bergen county resident will be doing a virtual book event at the Words Book Store in Maplewood Thursday, April 29 telling the stories from his new book Laugh Lines: My Life Helping Funny People Be Funnier. 

The Bergen County resident, who started his comedy career selling jokes for seven dollars apiece to the last of the Borscht Belt standup . Then one night, despite bombing on stage, he caught the attention of Lorne Michaels and became one of the first writers at Saturday Night Live. It was there he penned classic material for Gilda Radner, John Belushi, and all of the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players. Zweibel would go on to co-create and co-produce It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.

Zweibel has also worked on Curb Your Enthusiasm, collaborated with Billy Crystal on the Tony Award-winning play 700 Sundays,” Martin Short’s Broadway hit “Fame Becomes Me,” and six off-Broadway plays including; “Bunny Bunny – Gilda Radner: A Sort of Romantic Comedy,” which he adapted from his best-selling book and is planning to return to the New York stage.

Throughout the pages of Laugh Lines, Zweibel weaves together his own stories and interviews with his friends and contemporaries, including Richard Lewis, Eric Idle, Bob Saget, Mike Birbiglia, Sarah Silverman, Judd Apatow, Dave Barry, Carl Reiner, and more. The book also features a charming foreword from his friend of forty-five years Billy Crystal, with whom he co-wrote and co-produced the upcoming film Here Today, that stars Crystal and Tiffany Haddish.

Zwiebel, who was a guest on my show Monday night, April 26 and talked about the movie..

"We're real proud of it," says Zwiebel, "Before Covid shut everything down we had a chance to test screen it in from of 400 people at a theater in California and people laughed where we wanted them to laugh and they cried where we wanted to so we held out."

As for Zwiebel's book, Laugh Lines: My Life making Funny People Funnier, how hard is it to make funny people funnier?

"I only pick the people who are funny," Zwiebel said. "At the beginning when I was writing jokes for guys in the Catskills who were paying my seven dollars a joke, I did run into guys who weren't funny but when SNL started and I was lucky enough to get that job, I was able to write for people not only my age but my sensibility."

As a writer, Zwiebel considers himself a lucky man.

"I've been pretty lucky through all the years writing for Gary Shandling, Martin Short, and the whole list, it's fun, it's a collaboration. Writing is such a lonely venture so to have somebody that you really like and you get along with, and you have a similar sensibility, it social and heart."

It also creates a lot of long-lasting friendships.

"When we started SNL and I partnered up for the most part with Gilda, I wrote for everybody but Gilda was my buddy and created a lot of things together and then Shandling and Dave Barry and a lot of people. What it is is, you get inside their head and 'What's gonna make them funny? What will they respond to?'"

"You put our ego aside," Zweibel continued, "because if you do it properly, it has to sound like they wrote it."

Did Zweibel ever have to convince somebody that he knew what was funny better than they did?

"At the beginning, I was like 'c'mon give it a shot, gimme a break here I was up all night.'" But Zwiebel said, "if the person who's gonna say it doesn't believe in it, it's not going to work because even if they say it, it's not going to be done with conviction."

So how does Zwiebel handle the situation?

"I learned early on, you explain 'This is why I wrote this joke, if you don't like the joke, please listen to why I wrote it, and if you agree to why I wrote it, let's think of another joke,' but we have to make this point."

How hard is it to write comedy in today's climate?

"The PC movement and cancel culture, there's a hypersensitivity that's out there. When we were growing up, everybody made fun of each other, and then you went for lunch."

"Now it's like you can't say this, you can't go there, you can't say this way, you'll offend somebody here, and you go, 'My God,' let's just sit back and relax because to me the irony is that when you make these rules you're actually dividing people."

Zwiebel explained, "When people are laughing together, it's a unifying thing. There's a common language there. but if you say you can't say this because it's gonna piss off somebody, well the fact of the matter is, you are stressing the differences between us as opposed to the things that make us pretty much the same."

To get Laugh Lines: My Life Helping Funny People Be Funnier, click here.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Steve Trevelise. Any opinions expressed are Steve's own. Steve Trevelise is on New Jersey 101.5 Monday-Thursday from 7pm-11pm. Follow him on Twitter @realstevetrev.

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