Why We Write

January 18, 2008

Why We Write – Number 21: Jack Kenny

Number 21

Today’s piece is written by Jack Kenny, Creator/Executive Producer of “Titus” and “The Book of Daniel.” 

 

Why I write.  The short answer is because my acting career stumbled into the toilet.  Although that’s not entirely true, still…I could read the writing on the wall.  It was from my agent, and it said “stop calling me!” 

My first actual writing job happened completely by accident.  I was living in New York City, and I had wrangled an audition for a math series – yes, a TV show about mathematics – for Children’s Television Workshop, called “Square One.”  They were putting together an ensemble of actors, and wanted us to bring in two monologues.  A monologue for a childrens’ math show?  Okay.  I scoured the shelves of the Drama Book Shop.  Nothing.  I ravaged my extensive hardcover collection of Fireside Theatre plays.  Nada.  Not even in “Your Arms Too Short to Box With God.”  Damn.

There was a surprising dearth of appropriate monologues about mathematics.  Not even Geometry, which everyone knows is hilarious.  You’d’ve thought at least David Mamet would’ve cranked out a one-act about “fucking fractions,” but no.  So, as a last resort, I decided to write something. 

I figured I’d get there attention by doing a bunch of different characters in one piece – show them what an asset I’d be to their ensemble.  “Such range!  We must have him!!”  I ended up writing a monologue (a three-minute one-man show, really) about all of the Odd numbers going on strike to protest their being called “odd”.  It started with a news bulletin (doing my famous Walter Cronkite), and segued to interviews with people in various walks of life whom this crisis has affected:  Julia Child unable to measure out recipes; Mario Andretti unable to shift gears; Russian rocket scientists unable to launch, forever stuck at 10- (If you haven’t guessed, I do accents and voices.  Kinda.) 

They laughed.  They liked it.  Did I have a second piece?  As luck would have it, I did:  a short monologue – the number “zero” talking to his therapist about his feelings of inferiority.  “Even my closest friends think I’m nothing!”   They liked that, too!  I imagined my fortunes doing a 180.  Success on TV!  A regular role on a series – okay it was PBS, but it was TV!  Could movies be far behind? 

Then I got the call – they wanted me.  Could I do two scripts right away?  Just two episodes?  I thought they were looking for an ensemble.  “No, no, no.  They don’t want you as an actor – they want you as a writer.”  They what?  A writer?  Does it pay?  “You’ll have to join the Writers’ Guild.”  What’s that?  Are they as good as Actor’s Equity? 

So, for the first time, I stood behind the camera and watched actors breathe life into something I had written.  It was cool.  It was great.  It was like crack – and I was hooked.  And I wasn’t the nervous one for a change!  I was the writer! 

Friends often ask me if I miss it.  Do I miss acting?  Sure.  I like acting.  But I love writing.  I love creating characters.  I get to act out all the parts in my head – and change them if I want!  But the best part is, I can write whatever and whenever I want.  I don’t have to wait for someone to ask me to, or to pay me to.  I can write alone in a park, or in a Starbucks, or on a plane…  You try to do that with acting and they tend to lock you up.

 

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

5 Comments »

  1. That’s hysterical, did those sketches of the odd numbers and zero and therapist ever become a reality because that is simply one of the funniest things I’ve heard.

    Comment by Inar — January 18, 2008 @ 3:01 pm | Reply

  2. Titus was one of those shows that my whole family could actually watch — if only because it shed a light on how dysfunctional (and fun) we were. That hardly ever happens. Thank you for choosing the career that you did, because you helped to bring a family just a litle bit closer together.

    Comment by Brittany — January 18, 2008 @ 10:45 pm | Reply

  3. I watched Square One!! Thank you for being willing to become a writer for a great piece of my childhood.

    Comment by Beth — January 19, 2008 @ 9:53 am | Reply

  4. I loved Square One back in the day! Thanks for your work on that show ^_^

    It’s not really a monologue, but there’s a really awesome poem about Math in Stanislaw Lem’s Cyberiad.

    Comment by Mike — January 19, 2008 @ 10:52 am | Reply

  5. Man, I used to watch Square One every afternoon when I was a kid. Loved it.

    Comment by shope. — January 21, 2008 @ 1:11 pm | Reply


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