Welcome to the three hundred and twenty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with comedy and satire blogger Joel White. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Joel. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Joel: Hi, I’m Joel White a budding young Australian trying to break into the comedy / satire scene.
I’ve always been fascinated by the ‘truth’ and how to both find it and define it. This in turn made me think about my opinions and how they were created, how they’ve evolved, and what effect they’ve had on my life. The way I found best to put across my feelings with regard to this was with both the written word and performing both live and in front of a camera and I’ve been doing that since I was 14. I noticed very early on that nobody opens their mind to a serious debate, plus it’s just not as interesting, and that’s when I found the power of comedy. Everybody likes some comedy and it’s amazing how powerful a genre it is. I’ve always found that to open somebody’s mind to change you must first make them laugh, which is also true of me. In that way it’s a bit unfair that comedians fall right down the bottom of the showbiz / writing pecking order.
Morgen: They do seem to, don’t they and humour is so subjective, personal that it must be really hard to get it right. Tell us a bit more about your writing – you’ve mentioned humour, any other genres?
Joel: I write personal opinion in the form of comedy and satire on my blog The Small Opinion’s Blog, along with the other members of my comedy team called The Small Opinion. This blog is a bit more serious than our usual comedy, but we use all the material that doesn’t quite fit into our comedy show. This show is a YouTube comedy series set to come to life mid-2012, so if you’re reading this after then, hopefully it’s already out! Later on I’ll explain how it all works and what it’s about.
As for other genres, I’ve dabbled in short stories and have come away reasonably unscathed, but I’ve never held the same passion for it as I have comedy. One day I envisage that I’ll put out a serious novel, probably a thriller / mystery, but it’s not forefront in my mind at the moment. Closer on the horizon I’m currently dabbling in creating a Bryan Dawe / Jeremy Clarkson style collection of my previous work and binding it all together with some new material all in one handy to read eBook. Hopefully in a year or two I’ll be back to ask if I can do a promo of that!
Morgen: Certainly… feel free. You mentioned the blog, has anything else been published?
Joel: Back in 2010 I was part of the three writers that put together a book under The Small Opinion called Our Problem with Pineapples and it sold reasonably well for a first-time self-published book on Amazon and we were proud of it. However, in mid-2011 the group split up after a few ‘disagreements’ and other life events, so the book is no more and all the material has been returned to the respective owners. I thought that would be the end of my writing days, killed off before it even started, but as the founder of the group I got to keep the name (we sort of had a bit of a divorce settlement going on!) so to keep the dream alive I have now reformed the group with a few close friends and we are driving it forward in a new direction. Hopefully our fans are still with us! We haven’t yet got plans for a new book as a group, but it’s something we’ll discuss soon, I’m sure.
Morgen: I’m not sure how relevant my next question is but I’ll ask nonetheless, or perhaps more so given your live performances: have you had any rejections?
Joel: As a group we’ve been pretty lucky so far, I think the fact that you have a ‘team’ somehow gives you more credibility and are accepted more often. We’ve struck the deals we’ve wanted and only turned down when we were a bit too ambitious.
Personally, however, I’m a young writer trying to break into the scene as a freelancer, and it is quite tough. It is one of those areas that requires a bit of luck to get anywhere, and there’s a bit of a catch-22 situation where you don’t have the experience required in order to get the experience. I’ve scored a few jobs writing blogs, articles and some scripts and would love to get a real break somewhere!
I’ve always been quite resilient and able to drive on in the face of adversity, but now that I’m turning what previously was a hobby into hopefully a job it’s a bit tougher to accept rejection. I’ve always handled it by writing another article every time I’ve been turned down. It’s a good way to keep the juices flowing, I’ve found.
Morgen: It’s the right attitude to have. If you keep going and have enough variety it’s got to pay off. You just have to hit your head against lots of walls, I guess. What’s your opinion of eBooks, do you read them or is it paper all the way?
Joel: The world of writing is changing with the internet, and it is now possible to publish, market and sell your eBook without the help of anybody at all, and I like it. Obviously companies like Amazon make it much easier to do everything yourself and that’s why I think old-style publishing firms will change drastically, maybe even disappear, within the near future. The newest form of getting your book out there has lately been in the form of torrenting – releasing your eBook for free to the masses and they then pay what they think it is worth, and surprisingly this has been working. This is just one example of the many new ways to get your book out there; almost all of it is unfamiliar and untested. The internet holds an unknown future, and that’s why I am so excited by it.
Morgen: Me too.
Joel: I have found with eBooks and the multitude of authors out there you get a sense of rawness and personal development when reading an amateur writer’s work. Particularly as a young writer myself, I like supporting others and learning from their mistakes as well mine, and eBooks allow you to do this. Previously they would have had to be professionally published first, which meant you missed out on that important phase.
Nothing does quite beat the sensation of a library and the smell of a new book, though…
Morgen: That’s what most interviewees have said and whilst I do think there will be less paper books being published, I think the two formats will run alongside each other. No-one’s spotted any mistakes in my eBooks yet (or at least not told me) but just knowing it can be amended in a matter minutes is wonderful. I love technology. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Joel: Almost all of it. We self-publish, market, sell, and produce all of our own work, and I don’t see it changing for a little while yet. We have occasionally had some other people to do some back-stage stuff and art design for logos and so forth (I can’t even draw stick figures), but that’s about it.
Morgen: I’m OK if I have something to copy (my favourite ‘art’ is cartoons ). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Joel: The group is currently working on a filmed YouTube comedy series I mentioned earlier. Our show mostly revolves around an unscripted and unrehearsed segment we call ‘The Couch’ where we discuss semi-topical items and always breaks down into some funny debate about our view on the world as well as rattling off some stand-up material throughout it. We then move into our written material in the form of sketches, monologues, parodies as well as each creating a story for the episode. We concentrate on creating intelligent humour (although sometimes we get a bit silly!) that is meant to first make you laugh, and then make you think a little bit. It’s great fun to make and hopefully that will show in the final result and hopefully we’ll make some people glad they decided to watch it.
Next in the pipeline is hopefully a book and some live shows if we can get the audience, but they’re something we haven’t fully discussed yet.
Morgen: It certainly sounds like it keeps you out of mischief. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Joel: Everything about a comedy show falls down to the writing, even the improvised bits. You’ve got to have the material, the quality and the quantity to make a show work. This is why it annoys me a little bit when others refuse to call comedians ‘proper’ writers. Stand ups spend weeks perfecting even just a five-minute monologue to make it absolutely perfect, with every single word, sentence, paragraph and entire script being analysed over and over and over.
To make it work I’ve basically got to write every day, even if it is just a 30 second filler. When I’m not writing, I’m either seeking inspiration, thinking about how to make a piece of material better or bantering with other group members to try and spark something. I also have to work the necessary bland part-time job in order to survive.
With comedy writing you can’t use more than half of your material (but I never throw it away!), simply because it is just not good enough, and this can get quite frustrating. Sometimes you can spend hours trying to perfect a simple little joke, only to end up giving up on it. That’s a tip most professional comedians give you: never be afraid to reject your own material. Because of this I inevitably suffer from writer’s block every now and then, but I manage to work around it by performing and filming when I do and soon enough the inspiration returns.
Morgen: I’ve had a few interviewees say that they don’t have time (or money) to get writers block and knowing you have to make money is certainly a great incentive. Do you have to do much research?
Joel: A heck of a lot, as we often stray into science, history, politics, and other equally complex subjects. Since we want to keep comedy the comedy quite light we’ve often got to research until we understand it to the point where we can explain it to a three year old and they can understand it. Then we have to make it funny…
I’ve become a bit of a hoarder of knowledge, and seek out any kind of learning I can. I’ve become addicted to shows like QI and all kinds of documentaries, and these are great platforms from which to get a writing idea from. You can’t write about something if you didn’t know it even existed.
Morgen: I love QI. I went to an author talk by Alan Davies last summer (he’d written an autobiography) and he was hilarious. I asked him which was his favourite topic (from memory, astronomy) and what they’d not covered (whales, I think) – I have a terrible memory. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Joel: My favourite is just the sheer joy I get from it. Sometimes it’s a bit hard to find the motivation to get out of bed and do it, but once I start writing the time flies and there’s a feeling of warmth within me that makes me not want to stop.
My least favourite aspect is not being able to turn off. Just sitting in a café talking to a friend becomes a nightmare when you’re trying to find inspiration and trying to think of something funny, because inevitably that friend gets assaulted with all kinds of half-baked jokes that should never have seen the light of day. Then there’s the urge to take out a notepad during a conversation and take notes so that you don’t forget your ideas, all while trying to retain your dignity and manners.
Morgen: You could always make a note on your phone and pretend you’re texting someone, not that that’s particularly polite if you’re mid conversation but friends of writers should always know we’re always “on call”. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Joel: Find somebody that can give you some great advice. Then tell me who that is, so I can get in on it! You, Morgen, are quite handy in that regard, actually!
Morgen: Why, thank you very much. It’s always lovely to feel useful. And there’s plenty of it on the blog. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Joel: We’re on Google+ as individuals (me) as well as The Small Opinion. It is full of great writers, writing ideas and generally intelligent intellectuals that inspire a lot of my material. It is also brilliant for marketing anything as everybody is willing to give your stuff a go and will give you constructive criticism on it as well as spark up wonderful debates. There are also Hangouts, which are live webcam sessions, and it is great fun to get in contact with your fans and have a joke around with them as well. It is a top class social media website and is much underrated.
The Small Opinion is also on Facebook, but we don’t find that anywhere near as useful, but we still keep it updated if people want to like it. I’m on a few forums around the place as well, but they are more just for fun than for writing purposes.
Morgen: We’ve talked a bit about eBooks, what do you think the future holds for a writer?
Joel: There’s a lot in the future for writing with the internet becoming more and more important. There will be new media sources, ones that we never thought would take off, and writing services will be required more and more from people who would never have made it even 20 years ago. For example, I made reference to the Google+ hangout above, I believe this is going to become a brilliant new medium that is going to need some flexible and difficult scripting in order to turn it into something that really draws a crowd.
Morgen: I’m on Google+ but not really done anything with it yet (all part of the plan). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Joel: I guess I should mention the others in my group! It’s slipped my mind until now. We have Harley Martin, Ben Haylock and Don (yes, he only uses one name)*.
Harley uses an ‘angry logic’ to get his point across and is very funny when he gets annoyed (which we like to do quite a bit). We share a lot of the same views and get along quite well.
Ben is a very intelligent individual, currently studying a high-level science with a name so long it puts German compound nouns to shame, hence why I can’t remember it. He often finds things that we never even think of, an ‘out of the box’ thinker, and probably the funniest of us all.
Don is a hard one to explain. You’ll just have to see him for yourself. We worry about him sometimes.
We’ve also got a couple of others, I’m not sure they’ll want to be named, that contribute to the blog and help us out back stage from time to time.
Morgen: They could always leave a comment on here if they do. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Joel: Yes there is. If you write a book about failures and it doesn’t sell, is it therefore a success?
Morgen: <laughs> I’d say only if it’s then mentioned in another book about books that fail.
Joel: Thanks for your time, Morgen, it’s been a pleasure.
Morgen: It’s been horrible, Joel, hated every second. See you again some time.
*above photo shows Don, Joel and Harley
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