Each week in Give A Little Bit, we’re talking to funny people — comics, writers, cartoonists, senators — about the first time they got a laugh. This week, Maura Quint discusses her first words, joke thieves and the humor in crossword puzzles.
Your first bit…
According to my mother, my first sentence, which I repeated any time I baby-waddled into a room was “what you people doing?”. This made my parents, and whoever was over drinking with them, laugh. Now that I think of it, that’s pretty much all I’ve done for the rest of my life, various forms of asking what the fuck is THIS guy doing? And what about THAT guy? What are THOSE PEOPLE doing? But now with way more swearing.
My writing process is…
In life I never really set out to be funny. I would just tend to talk or write off the cuff and people would often then tell me I was funny. I’ve always been a bit of an information junkie, constantly reading, researching, listening to NPR, overanalyzing song lyrics, etc, so there’s a lot rattling around in my head and what I started noticing was that I’d sit down and start writing an email to a friend or something else mundane and the weirdest string of words would come out and it would make me laugh.
So now my process tends to mostly be just writing and seeing what comes out. But when I’m under pressure and feeling uninspired, reading and taking in more knowledge is usually helpful. I love wikipedia and I love then explaining whatever new information I’ve consumed to someone else with a similar sense of humor as myself. It’s a good way to jumpstart my mind.
My influences are…
I read Far Side and Calvin Hobbes nonstop when I was little. Garfield too, because I was a kid stop judging me, which I now credit for my hatred of Mondays, love of Italian food and total distrust of men named John.
I also always played games, all the time, with everything. We played word games on road trips and trivia games on weekends. I did crossword puzzles and logic problems. My brother and I would work to make as many anagrams as possible from signs we’d see. I made games out of spelling tests and eating food I hated, anything at all that I could.
I think those games had a lot to do with how I approach comedy now, because I love playing games with words. Sometimes that means puns, sometimes it means finding odd connections, but usually what comes out is something that makes me laugh.
About that time you outed a rampant joke thief….
A ton of people all spoke out about a problem in their community. Not to be too “it takes a village” but without everyone getting fed up at once, no one outside of a handful of comedy writers was going to take note. I know that because I, alongside several other people like Patton Oswalt, Wayne Gladstone and Rob Fee had been pointing out plagiarism and talking about the problem for years but it wasn’t until we communally hit the tipping point of everyone speaking at once saying this isn’t acceptable that the rest of the world took any notice.
That tipping point was the news that Josh Ostrovsky, who’d built an empire solely from stealing content, had signed with CAA. Those of us writing comedy on twitter had known for years that Ostrovsky was a comedic Death Eater. When the CAA news broke, everyone was making bitter jokes about Ostrovsky on Twitter. The one thing I can take credit for was that I saw us all in a comedic echo chamber and so I took my rant against this notorious joke thief to Facebook, where the general public of people who hit on you in college and former coworkers lived, because those were the people that were most likely to follow Ostrovsky and think nothing of it, so those were the people I wanted to wake up.
Once I did that, my post started catching on fire and media outlets started picking it up. We finally broke through to say “we’re creating work, it’s being stolen and profited from and it’s not ok” and a lot of the public who had never thought of this before said “I didn’t know and you’re right, it’s not ok.” The internet is still very new and there aren’t a lot of rules for it, we’re writing them altogether right now based on what we say we’ll accept and what we won’t.
I wish I wrote…
There’s a ton of comedy that I adore and I watch and I just revel in its existence, like so many episodes of The Simpsons or Arrested Development, but when I think of something I feel a real pang of wishing I’d written, it’s often something I’ve read on McSweeneys.
Before I started writing anything down, my friends were forced to listen to me logically respond to absurd song lyrics, so when I first read John Moe’s Pop Song Correspondences on McSweeneys, I felt like I was reading a much better version of the ongoing joke I’d been forcing my friends to endure. I remember reading this awesome “Progressive Rock Fans Are Terrible Trash Talkers” in 2007 by Gladstone and thinking “how did I not write this?” then I remembered I didn’t know enough about Prog Rock to ever have done it so I was really happy Gladstone had.
And most recently, I was pretty damned jealous I hadn’t come up with “Reasons You Were Not Promoted That Are Totally Unrelated To Gender” by Homa Mojtabai which is fucking brilliant.
A possible new bit…
I have a few ideas for books that I occasionally daydream about while I’m working my dayjob, but unfortunately, until I get hit by a Greyhound bus and win some sort of damages lawsuit and/or find an ancient pirate map that leads me to a treasure, perhaps the treasure of knowing myself, more valuable than gold, the books will remain in my head. For now, I’m excited to be contributing to some awesome comedy websites like Runt Of The Web and Croptop.
Maura Quint is a writer whose work can be found in publications such as McSweeneys, Runt of the Web, Someecards and on twitter at @behindyourback. She would be happy to name your band but you have to let her sing back up sometimes. Her mic doesn’t need to be on.