Andy Cowan [Interview]

Today’s interview subject is a man who obviously knows what is hilarious. Andy Cowan has been in the business of comedy for over 40 years, and has been one of the creative minds behind so many projects that you know and love. He joins the ranks of several other folks we have had the pleasure of sharing some words from here at Trainwreck’d Society who also happened to write for one of the most beloved sitcoms all time known as Seinfeld. But Andy has had an immense amount of success behind just this one series as well. He is also one of the brilliant minds that brought us the irreverent and absolutely original series, 3rd Rock From The Sun. He also wrote for Cheers! The Merv Griffin Show! Seriously, the credits can go on and on!

And now Mr. Cowan has an absolutely incredible new book to share with you all. What lucky bastards you all are. It’s called Banging My Head Agains The Wall: A Comedy Writer’s Guide To Seeing Stars. It is an absolutely brilliant look into the world of comedy writing and show business in general. If you are somebody who even remotely considers yourself a fan of comedy in any form, you owe it to yourself to check out this amazing work of art.

So Ladies and Gentlemen, please enjoy some amazing words from the comedic legend himself, Mr. Andy Cowan!

When did you first decide that you wanted to work in the world of comedy? What initially drew you to this world?

Aside from very early influences as a kid like Laurel and Hardy, Jack Benny, Johnny Carson… and later Woody Allen and Albert Brooks, I was drawn to the MTM sitcoms during the ’70s… The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show… and a later offshoot of the MTM shows, Taxi, produced by some who’d written for MTM. I wrote several spec Taxi scripts that were well received. Another dip into the comedy pool was when I started doing standup in Philadelphia in ’76 during the early stages of the comedy club boom, before later moving to L.A. in ’78 and continuing to perform.

We have been fortunate enough to get some words from some of your fellow Seinfeld alum like Peter Mehlman, Steve Skrovan, and Marc Jaffe, because this is obviously a legendary program. That being said, in your own personal and obviously experienced opinion, what do you believe it is about Seinfeld that has continued to make it a staple in the world of comedic television?

As I say in my book… “The chemistry among the principles and natural rhythms…of the show were electrifying to me. You felt like you were palling around with living and breathing, organically funny characters.” Seinfeld was refreshingly devoid of the set-up, punch of so many sitcoms that continue to this day. The stories were most important. Also the show was brilliantly cast across the board, down to the guest stars and smaller parts. They had a naturally funny and slightly off feel to them, refreshingly different from the cookie cutter casting among a lot of network shows.

Another damn fine program you worked on was the truly unique hit series 3rd Rock From The Sun. I have to admit, when the show first aired, I never thought it would last. But it seems as though with some damn fine storytelling and character development, it has become a historic program as well! So again, in your personal opinion, what do you believe it is about 3rd Rock that set itself apart from other niche type sitcoms? What do you believe worked so well for this show to be such a hit?

John Lithgow was the big reason. He was such a great actor, so committed to the role and extremely likable. French Stewart, Kristen Johnston and Joseph-Gordon-Levitt (professional beyond his young age at the time) also went the extra mile. As I say in the book, I was drawn to shining a light on life through the fresh eyes of newly arrived extraterrestrials posing as humans. Everything would be brand new to them, and the actors helped the audience buy into the hook.

I understand you have a new book coming out soon that probably answers the questions I’ve already asked in much greater details. Can you tell us a bit about it? What made you decide it was time to get your story out into the world?

Banging My Head Against the Wall: A Comedy Writer’s Guide to Seeing Stars represents four years of writing about forty years of writing, performing and creating comedy from the ground up. Along with being the only writer associated with Cheers, Seinfeld and 3rd Rock from the Sun, I’m very proud of the myriad original creative projects… stand-up, half-hour comedies, sketch, talk, web/radio shows, comedy docuseries, single panel cartoons and comic strips that I get to share with readers. They’ll have a bird’s eye view of what it feels like to perform comedy on national television, take in industry pitching strategies and reactions back. Not to mention personal reflections from over fifty iconic celebrities I pre-interviewed during my first Hollywood job in the ’80s as a talent coordinator, writer and recurring performer on The Merv Griffin Show, including from Orson Welles’ pre-interview for his final appearance on the show, the day before he died. I structured the book to help the readers feel as if they go on the journey with me. The ups, the downs, persistence rising above daunting odds, and the uplifting message of hope I leave in the epilogue.

Speaking of “the opposite” of giving up, and still creatively flourishing after wandering the Southern California desert’s peaks and valleys all these years, I was happy to further drill down in my book on George Costanza’s opposite-winning method to the madness. I’d first reflected on doing everything the opposite in my own life before helping George grab onto the brass ring on Seinfeld in “The Opposite.” (Larry David, after whom George was reportedly patterned, once told me, “You are George.”)  As I illustrate in the book, to this day George’s epiphany is championed in art, economics and politics, and “the opposite” is also a recurring theme throughout the book in terms of comedy, as well as the twists and turns of show biz. It was a thrill to get to work with Jason Alexander many years after Seinfeld as a guest on my talk show pilot, in which we reenacted scenes from my first draft of “The Opposite.” That is just one of many creative project links readers can also visit within the book.

Because we love suspense and surprises around here, I feel compelled to ask: What do you feel will be the most surprising thing that readers are going to discover about the world of comedy writing from the book?

That when your creative juices are overflowing even though your resumé isn’t yet, you can muster up the audacity to hop a train to New York and arrange a phony meeting with Lorne Michaels at SNL. And in this era of classic TV reboots, readers will also get a kick out of discovering dozens of “new” Seinfeld stories I pitched on the show that never made it to air.

What else does the future hold for you? Anything else you would like to plug to our readers?

The book’s final chapter points to a new half-hour comedy docuseries project I co-created with Rich Ross and star in, the logical creative project Banging’s over 400 page journey leads to,The Lost Sessions with Andy Cowan. We worked hard on it, an inventive entry into the world of therapy with an accent on honest humor, a hint of pathos, and eking out therapy both in session and out in the 21st century world. Comedy veteran David Steinberg, an early champion of the show as mentioned in the book, will be meeting with me again to strategize about where we take it.


What was the last thing that made you smile?

Vocalizing and playing hand percussion with my jazz group in Los Angeles venues, a musical mission that’s been ongoing for over thirty years. And being dragged into an Arthur Murray Dance Studio (that happens to be in my building) two days ago by a lovely female instructor who noticed me walking by before teaching me a few quick Foxtrot steps. I hate dancing. I did the opposite!

Andy Cowan’s book Banging My Head Against The Wall: A Comedy Writer’s Guide To Seeing Stars will be available on June 28th. Find out more details HERE. And put in your pre-order on Amazon today!

Wanna reach out to the legend Andy Cowan himself? Well, he will allow you to do just that! Shoot him an e-mail at today!

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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