Peter Mehlman [Interview]

The subject of today’s interview may very well be one of the most fascinating individuals we have had the pleasure of showcasing here at Trainwreck’d Society. Continuing on with our love affair of brilliant writing, especially in the world of television, we are featuring the legendary comedy writer and journalist Peter Mehlman. It’s pretty easy to ramble off Mehlman’s credits as a writer and producer in several different formats, as he has worked on some of the most notable television shows in history. Notably, he was a driving force behind the powerhouse that was Seinfeld. But, alas, there is something even more special about this guy that has to be addressed.

The term “yada yada yada” means a lot of things to different people. The idea behind this saying pre-dates it probably by decades, and has since transformed to different coagulations of the English language, ultimately meaning the same thing. But, the term “yada yada yada”, is still a major part of the our slang culture, and can very easily be heard daily. And ladies and gentlemen, Peter Mehlman invented this term! I’m not saying that this single phrase is the only reason we should remember and ultimately bow down to the brilliance of Mehlman, I just find it to be a solid example as to why he may be one of the most influential people to ever put proverbial pen to paper. The man transformed our language as we know it through the insight of his own brain. What better sign could we have that a genius is living amongst mere mortals?

As you will read the amazing interview below, Peter exists on a plane beyond of this low-rent blogger, as I learn a few things about my poor use of the English language, and that I probably have no business doing so. But, of course I will. Oh, what new exciting times we are living in. It is important to note that what we have below is not just a collection of gentle stabs at a moronic blogger, it is a brilliant story loaded with wonderful advice from one of our finest minds in the world of television producing, writing, journalism, yada, yada, yada (See what I did there? Who’s the hack now? Haha).

So without further rambling and bullshit written montages, please enjoy some amazing words from the legendary Peter Mehlman!

When did you first realize you wanted to be a journalist for a living? Was it a long time ambition stemming from childhood?

Spring semester, sophomore year at the University of Maryland. I’d been writing for the student paper then took a journalism class in which you had to write 40 articles in one semester. I wrote 66 and felt constantly jazzed by the whole process: poking around for stories, rushing to get stories in under deadline… all while reading All The President’s Men. Twice.

What was the first piece you can remember seeing published and was able to say: “I wrote this, and somebody gave me money to do so”? And how was the feeling at the time?

Summer 1978. Just having graduated, I got my foot in the door at the Washington Post — a great story too long to get into here. Suffice to say, I heard the Post wasn’t hiring white males so I wrote a job letter as a woman. Don’t ask. My first piece was for the sports section… a feature on “rail birds” at Laurel Race Track. These were people who stood around the rail watching their horses lose and their wallets lightened. On the other hand, I was paid $50. The sports editor, George Solomon said, “Nice piece kid. Fifty bucks.” I went to a Xerox place to photocopy the check. They insisted on stamping the word COPY over the copy, thinking I was going to try something fishy.

I have to ask you about bloggers. Are we destroying journalism as we once knew it? Are we on the list of blame for the reason that people who are actually talented find it impossible to come up as a freelancer like you could pre-Internet?

Like everything else internet-related, blogging gives anyone a forum to spout off. For the longest time, I just thought blogging was for people who can’t get paid to write. Actually, I still kind of believe that but clearly there are some bloggers who post some worthwhile writing. Finding them is a treasure hunt even the lightest work schedule cannot include. It’s not as if blogging is that much more detrimental to journalism than a million other avenues on the internet but it’s certainly not upping the quality of journalism. It’s possible The New York Times and The Washington Post are all that’s keeping American society from total chaos.

With all of your insider knowledge and you wealth of experience with Seinfeld….what do you think Newman is doing now? Not Wayne Knight obviously, but the character, how is he handling Trump-era NYC?

Considering his personal habits, it would be an insult to medical science if Newman is still alive. But if he is, he was probably a Trump voter because his whole existence was based on Anti-Jerry-ism. That said, he wouldn’t be fanatical about it because Jerry, who wasn’t fanatical about anything occurring in the outside world, would be taking Trump in stride.

If you received a nickel for each time somebody used the saying “yada yada yada” since you first brought it to the world, how much money do you think you would have today, and which small country would you purchase first?

Nickels don’t add up that fast. I still wouldn’t have as much money as Jerry or Larry and they haven’t bought small countries, last I checked. But if the haul were much more massive than I’m guessing, I’d buy Luxembourg. I flew into it once and it felt like an especially lavish college campus. And the fact that no one ever visits Luxembourg is extra appealing. I have Attention Surplus Disorder… I just don’t want to be bothered.

During your time running the hilarious web-series The Narrow World of Sports, what would you consider the most awkward experience during its run? What made for some of the most uncomfortable moments in doing these amazing interviews?

It was never awkward except with Sugar Ray Leonard. He never grasped the concept enough to go along with the humor side of it. He’d been in the public eye so long, he had an auto-pilot he’d push the second the camera went on. He’d be thoughtful and wide-eyed and serious… then the camera would go off and he’d be exactly the kind of guy I wanted him to be when the camera was on. In a way, it didn’t really matter: The main philosophy of the show was that the questions were more important than the answers.

I read briefly somewhere that you have dabbled in the world of stand up comedy. Are you still doing so? Do you find it to be an exciting and/or difficult challenge?

You read that briefly? Did you run out of time or was the reading material just incredibly thin? Whatever. Yes, I have been dabbling, am still dabbling, and totally love it. It’s so much fun that I feel calmer on stage than when at a cash register saying, “Venti Half-Caf drip please?” Of course, there’s really nothing at stake so there’s no reason to not be calm. But my mind works on a heightened level up there, my enunciation and verbal fluency is better than it is at dinner with friends. So it’s pretty curious/thrilling.

When you look back on your illustrious career as writing in so many different capacities, what are you most proud of?

Whatever illustrious means… There’s possibly some satisfaction about being fairly daring in trying out different stuff and being sort of successful without having any career goals (Everyone’s so goal-oriented: Why limit yourself?) It’s nice that I’ve made a living writing without having to take a crappy job or sell out in any other of the ten million soul-crushing ways offered by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce…

…Boy, this is a vague, deflection-riddled answer. My overall career is not the kind of thing I dwell on, even though resting on your laurels sounds nice and is probably way underrated. In order to come at least somewhat in the ballpark of an answer to your question: Recently, I had a nice essay published in the Washington Post and realized that being in print still excites me in a way I didn’t feel after writing a good Seinfeld script. It takes a bit of courage to have a winding career path and I truly consider Seinfeld to have been a career detour. Yes, it was an absolutely ridiculously great detour, but a detour nonetheless. Knowing what you like is pretty career-making.

What do you have coming up that our reader(s) should be excited about? Anything you would like to plug?

I maybe hosting a brunch but it’s just for friends. Also, there are few things (one in TV, one internet-y thing a la Narrow World of Sports) that are in those delicate stages where it would be bad luck to discuss them in any detail. And I assume they won’t happen because it’s healthier to presume they won’t happen. (Philosophy: you better enjoy the work because the moment you send it out into the world, it’s like driving a new car off the lot… it instantly devalues by half.) And there’s the stand-up which would be very difficult to pin me down on because booking the actual stage time is the tough/unreliable part of it. So no, nothing to plug.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

This morning. Hearing Howard Stern do his impression of his parents. That is a never ending source of smile-a-ture. And after that: getting my Starbucks order and paying for it all without saying a word to anyone.

Check out one of the most infamous episodes of The Narrow World of Sports featuring the legendary Kobe Bryant:

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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