This year marks the 50th anniversary of American comedy writer and entertainer Allan Sherman’s hit, Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! For years, Sherman had been someone that had fascinated Mark Cohen, enough that he had researched Sherman a great deal. But with the anniversary fast approaching, Cohen realized he wanted to write a Sherman biography, Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman. To mark the release of his book, I conducted an email interview with Cohen about Sherman. Enjoy.
Tim O’Shea: The timing of this book was perfect in at least one way, given that the book benefited from your extensive interviews with Sherman’s ex-wife, Dolores “Dee” Golden–who sadly passed away in 2012. Was she reticent to talk to you at first?
Mark Cohen: Just the opposite. I heard from the Sherman children, Robert and Nancy, that their mother was eager to talk with me. I perhaps foolishly delayed calling her because I wanted to make sure I was fully educated from other interviews before we spoke. And when we did speak we found we had a rapport and enjoyed each other. I interviewed Dee almost every day for a month, and we had sporadic conversations after that initial in-depth period. Her contribution was crucially important. There were only a few things she did not want me to print and I honored her wishes. The story was complete without them, anyway, and no biography is ever truly comprehensive. You can only include the scraps of the life you gather up from what’s left over after decades have passed. There are always things you never find out.
For years, I have wondered why some Saturday Night Live sketches (frequently after 12:30 AM in the last half hour of the show) die horrible unfunny deaths. Watching this old sketch from the 1989-1995 series, A Bit of Fry & Laurie (starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie), I realized the way good comedy writers turn a sketch around.
Too often the sketches run out of steam, or beat a dead horse. The great thing about this sketch–which for the most part has Laurie singing an absurd American jingoistic parody–was just as you thought it ran out of steam, Fry enters the sketch and punches Laurie in the throat.
Ending a sketch can be a challenge (as any writing, of course), but this struck me as a great lesson in Sketch Writing 101.
Former Entertainment Weekly writer Jennifer KeishinArmstrong has a new book–Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted–detailing the creation of the classic TV series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The show, which originally ran from 1970 to 1977, is still front and center in many people’s minds. In this year alone, it was ranked fourth in EW’s top shows of all time, and the Writers Guild of America named it #6 in its 101 Best Written TV Series List. To make the release of the book, she agreed to an email interview.
Once you have enjoyed the interview, be sure to visit the publisher’s site for a preview read and for links to a variety of ways to buy the book. It is a great read–and I cannot wait to see what she does examining Seinfeld (her next book which she mentions briefly in the interview).
Tim O’Shea: Consider how you viewed the cast and crew before writing the book and then after, was there any particular actor or crew member that you came out of the process for a greater appreciation of them?
Jennifer Keishin Armstrong: Almost all of them, really! I loved the women who wrote for the show, and hearing their life stories gave me a broader appreciation of not just their work on the show as much as what they had to do to hack it in such a male-dominated world at a time when women’s lib was just starting to make inroads. And Valerie Harper, who’d always been a role model to me, was even better in person — and it was clear to me how much her motherly instincts helped glue the backstage family together.