David Hill is a writer/performer in the hilarious sketch group The Charlies and writes a column for McSweeney's. I met Dave (I'm switching to the casual now, this is journalism!) in an Advanced Study Sketch Writing class at UCB. Not only does Dave write and perform while holding a full time job, but he and his wife also take care of Gus, an adorable 18 month old. I asked Dave how he balances work, life, comedy, and a toddler.
1. What's your work schedule?
My job has a weird schedule. I travel a lot for work so I can be away on the road for days at a time. When I'm not on the road my time is more flexible. But I also have an 18-month-old at home, so when I'm in town I have this second job that requires a lot of time and attention and kind of negates the flexibility I get from my work situation.
2. When do you like to write? Are you a late night/early morning person? Where's your favorite place to write
I write late at night, often sitting in a comfortable chair. Sometimes I write in hotel rooms, but even then it is usually late at night. Lately Gus has been waking up late at night while I'm writing and I'm convinced he can hear the sound of the keys clacking.
3. How do you juggle work and comedy pursuits while finding time for your family and friends?
For one thing, I'm probably pretty bad at my job. But nobody has said anything to me yet so I'm probably in the clear for now. With family, it really helps to have a supportive and understanding partner. She understands that writing and comedy is something important to me, she understands why and isn't judgemental about it, and she allows me to make time for it.
Honestly the more time I spend around the whole comedy scene in New York the more I realize how much farther along I'd probably be if I had more time to dedicate to it. There are so many classes, so many shows, so many talented people to work with, and so many opportunities to get work up on stage or showcased online. If you can dedicate yourself to it, you can rack up a ton of valuable experience in a relatively short period of time. But I have no time so I haven't learned shit yet.
I live in Park Slope so I've tried to write in the local coffeeshops where so many of the neighborhood writer-types hang out. That works sometimes, but most of the time I get antsy and anxious. Drinking coffee and sitting on my butt for long stretches doesn't work for me. Writing is something that requires me to be able to be very still and comfortable.
4. What keeps you motivated in doing comedy?
The joy I get from spending so much time laughing and trying to make other people laugh helps balance out the crushing existential sadness of everyday life in a Godless, infinite universe.
5. How do you keep yourself from getting exhausted/burnt out?
I have lots of ridiculous hobbies and interests. I take breaks from writing comedy by catching up on television, playing European boardgames, and trying to finish Infinite Jest. I also spend time hanging out with my family and occupying Wall Street.
It helps that I have other creative outlets. I write for a basketball blog and I have a bi-weekly column at McSweeney's about gambling.
6. What advice would you give to people with 9 to 5 jobs who are interested in pursuing their dreams on the side?
Someone told me once that there were around 100 full-time WGA comedy-writing jobs in New York. If you're fortunate enough to get hired to write comedy and paid well for it, then good on ya'. If you don't, then it doesn't mean you shouldn't write comedy. It bums me out to hear about people who are myopically driven by the hope of getting a writing gig and then get discouraged and give up when they can't find one.
Like most people I think it'd be great to be able to write comedy for a living. But barring that, I also think writing comedy for its own sake is pretty great, too. My advice is to write because it is fun and brings you and others joy and not because it is a means to some other end. The day will come when writing truly is your job. Until then why treat it like work? Write when you're inspired. Your writing will probably be better because of it and people will notice. This is my plan, anyway. So far it hasn't landed me a job at SNL so your mileage may vary.
I think it may be good advice at any rate because it seems important to experience life in order to write about it. People who lived their entire lives in the entertainment industry write sketches about auditions and make TV shows about what it's like to work on a TV show. Who can blame them? And it isn't always bad. It's just that people write what they know, and if the life you know is unique and interesting, your voice as a writer will be, too. So don't think of your obligations as things that take you away from your writing. Think of them as fountains of inspiration, just waiting to be eviscerated and lampooned by your clever wit.
Thanks so much, Dave!
You can check out Dave's McSweeney's column here.
And watch The Charlies' video Racist Zombies.