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For Writers: The Importance of Being a Multi-Hyphenate

By Jonathan Leigh Solomon

George Clooney, Ben Stiller, Jon Favreau; just a few of Hollywood’s actor-writer-director multi-hyphenates whose careers offer the lesson that to prosper in show business, not to mention fully express your creative vision, it helps to be a “triple threat,” “wear three hats,” “pull triple duty,” call it what you will.

For writers, even if the “actor” and “director” part of the equation doesn’t interest you, the importance of being a multi-hyphenate more than helps, it’s essential. For no one is this truer than for comedy writers. Choose what best fits you. Maybe, storyteller-TV writer-tweeter. Or, screenwriter-blogger-standup. Or, novelist-playwright-cartoonist-essayist. But to have a successful career, you want to be the master of as many mediums as possible.

What’s the advantage? It comes down to three words: Options, options, options.

  1. First, there are the options for employment. If you don’t get staffed on a sit-com during hiring season, you’ve still got your agent sending you out to pitch your screenplay. And vice versa. And, while your screenplay is being shopped, you can be workshopping your play. Et cetera, et cetera.
  2. And, why didn’t you get staffed? Maybe it’s because no one has ever heard of you. Working in several different mediums gives your name more ways to get out there. Recently, a young Hollywood writer got a meeting not because of a script her agent sent around, but because a producer read one of her “Shouts and Murmurs” pieces in the New Yorker.
  3. Often you want to be ready to write alternate versions of the same property. Suppose your agents says, “We love your screenplay, but we can only sell it if you first get a book deal.” You want to be able to say, “When do you need it?” Conversely, what if your property starts out as a book and gets optioned? You want to be the one who’s assigned to write the screenplay. And live performance pieces can often find a second life in a different media as well. Stand ups know to have a sitcom starring themselves in their back pocket in case a development executive comes knocking. Nia Vardalos had the movie script for My Big Fat Greek Wedding to hand to Tom Hanks when he showed up in the audience of her one woman show titled, you guessed it, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
  4. You may discover that your overall comic point of view doesn’t pay off until it’s delivered into another format. Judd Apatow was brilliant with Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, but he wasn’t box office gold until he put his funny into films.
  5. And having several different projects on your computer screen can offer a good cure for writer’s block. For instance, if you get stuck on your novel, you can write a post for your blog, draw a cartoon or come up with a tweet. When you pick up the novel again, you might find you’ve gotten unstuck.

Lastly, the old Hollywood cliché that the writer’s place on the food chain is just above that of the PA is a bit dated nowadays. And, happily, this is particularly true if you are a comedy writer. On the other hand, we can’t all be Chuck Lorre, and it’s being a multi-hyphen that offers the best antidote to a lack of power or prestige – real or perceived. Think of it this way: you walk into a development executive’s office for a pitch meeting and there are seventeen of them and one of you. But if you diversify, the one becomes many. Now it’s “you,” the blogger-tweeter-novelist-playwright-cartoonist-storyteller-comic who walks into the room. The odds are a bit more in your favor.

Jonathan Solomon is hosting a live event on Joke Writing Across Mediums at The Writers Store on April 14th, click here for more details and to register!

Meet the Author: Jonathan Leigh Solomon

Jonathan Leigh Solomon is a stand up comedian who has appeared regularly on the Late Show with David Letterman. He teaches comedy and humor writing as part of the faculty for the extension programs at Santa Monica College, East LA College and Mission College. He has guest lectured at UCLA Extension and NYU. His essays on comedy appear in the Huffington Post.

Jonathan has worked in every comic medium. He began his career as a New York based comic, making regular appearances on the above mentioned, Late Show with David Letterman, and over two dozen other talk and variety programs, including Evening at t...