Atlanta native Rob Kutner, a four-time Emmy Award winner for his writing for "The Daily Show," has published a humor book, Apocalypse How: Turn the End-Times Into the Best of Times!. Kutner will appear Saturday, July 12, at the Barnes and Noble at Perimeter Mall, and on Sunday, July 13, at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum.
You attended the prestigious Westminster Schools here in Atlanta with Ed Helms, who was on "The Daily Show," and with Brian Baumgartner, who co-stars with Ed on "The Office." Who was funnier, and just what the hell was going on over there at Westminster?
Brian's a year younger than me, and Ed's two years younger. Ed and I were in the choral group together, which I think means we were supposed to be cattle. I was in South Pacific with Brian. Brian was very outgoing, hugely expressive. In South Pacific he played the sailor who wears the coconut bra. I actually feel like Ed's comic voice developed later on. He was more serious in high school. I guess once he left the pressure kicked in. I've also wondered how the three of us came out of that environment. Maybe it's the double boiler-pressure-cooker thing. We were all just bursting with weirdness.
According to Wikipedia, and Wikipedia is never wrong: “The Westminster Schools is a private secondary school in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. Founded in 1951, Westminster has the largest endowment of any non-boarding secondary school in the United States. The school’s expressed mission is ‘to develop the whole person for college and for life through excellent education.’" You now work for ‘The Daily Show.’ Would you call yourself a "riches-to-rags" story, then?”
I’d say yes. All I can hope is that my story will inspire millions of would-be immigrants to give up and just stay in their country of origin.
Your book tries to make a post-apocalyptic nightmare feel more like a dream. Do you know something we don't?
I think that I have a natural predilection for doom, and I think this comes from working at "The Daily Show." With this book, you get to see all the ironic plus sides to the end of times. For me, I have a lot of anxiety about the end of the world because it seems there are so many ways the world is going to end. And when you think about it, it could be a great boon for Atlanta traffic.
The art and design by Joshua McDonnell is really novel, as are the illustrations, by a variety of collaborators. Lots of charts and lists with a variety of color schemes and fonts. It really gives the book a graphically driven, guidebook sensibility. How did you come up with the concepts?
Yes, Josh’s work was jaw-dropping, above and beyond what I dreamed of when I wrote the text. But it totally jibes with my ultimate goal, which is to have people to read as little as possible. Or for as short a time as possible. In chunks. Future literary critics will no doubt refer to this as my “Chunk Period.”
The book is broken down into eight easy-to-follow chapters, starting “Food and Supplies,” includes “Recreation” and concludes with “Career Wealth and Power.” What do you think is the most important chapter for the soon-to-be survivalist get through this?
Well, I did order them in terms of absolute priority, putting food, clothing and shelter first. But if you want to skip ahead, the book itself is absolutely delicious (with zero transfats!). Of course, that means you’ll really need to buy two.
What's the challenge as a humor writer to successfully switch gears from writing humor for broadcasting talent like you do on "The Daily Show" and writing humor for readers?
You definitely have that element of doubt. But that's what I enjoyed about it. With "The Daily Show," I call myself a cog in the machine. You're writing for someone else's voice. In this case, I get to write just for myself; it's my voice. Whatever you put on the page, it's not edited to the same extent they do on TV. You can fill all kinds of windows. It's more precisely calibrated on TV. You have the ability to make it a little more timeless.
How often do you get back to Atlanta?
Get back pretty often. I still have family and friends there. One time some friends of mine and I drove to Alabama, and we found this billboard sign out near where the Talladega race track is, and the sign shows you what the rapture might look like. And I'm like, spoiler alert!
What's the competition like to get a joke on the show considering there are 12 writers on staff?
It's healthy competition. You're aiming for a very small window. Often times you're not working on something that's gonna be on that night, but something that's a day or two ahead. You might average a joke or two that night. But I can only speak for myself. Ironically, people always assume I write the Jewish humor, and most of the Jewish humor is written by a non-Jew.
What’s the most recent joke you had on the air, and was it funny?
The most recent joke I had was after Obama was criticizing the religious right (or as they’re known in Georgia, “the religious”) for selective use of Scripture, asking, “Which verses do we legislate by? The ones in Leviticus saying slavery’s OK and shellfish is an abomination?” My joke was, “Of course not. That would be terrible business for the Bubba Gump Forced Labor Shrimp Company.” Also, when Hillary Clinton recently gave her non-concession speech in New York, I went with Aasif Mandvi to the shoot and helped shape that field report we ran on the show.
Who's funnier: Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert?
Oh, come on, man. I can't answer that. I think it's really apples and oranges. They each really have a different voice.
You were a writer on “Dennis Miller Live” and were nominated for a 2003 Writers’ Guild of America Award. What the heck has happened to him?
Dennis has always been what some call a “California Republican” — supports gay marriage, pro-choice, but hawkish on foreign policy and very anti-taxes. The 2000 election and 9/11 exacerbated those tendencies, and he went with his gut. The easy choice would have been for him to take more popular positions, but if you try to do comedy that doesn’t truly come from your convictions, it doesn’t work.
Tell me about the Shushan Channel.
It’s a comedy-variety show I’ve put on the past six years in New York for the Jewish holiday of Purim, where we retell parts of the story using contemporary TV shows and parodies. If anyone saw our viral YouTube video “Jewno,” that was a promo for it. And if you want to buy our material to use at your synagogue, go to shushanchannel.com! What? You asked, didn’t you?
You have four Emmys to one Emmy nomination by your wife, Sheryl Zohn, for her work on "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!" How tense is it in the household these days?
It’s OK because she’s got one baby in her belly to my none. And I think me trying to carry one would be even more painful than her trying to carry an Emmy inside her.
For tickets to the Breman event, visit www.thebreman.org.