Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Vali Chandrasekaran

Vali Chandrasekaran writes for television’s My Name Is Earl. In 2006, his script Jump for Joy was nominated for a Writer’s Guild Award. He has been an editor of The Harvard Lampoon and a management consultant for Boston Consulting Group, and he runs the Web site Vali’s Views. In a memorable turn on-screen, he played the role of “Vali” on the NBC hit comedy The Office.

He and Steve Hely wrote The Ridiculous Race.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply.
I'm a monogamous reader, not one of those people who reads many books simultaneously. However, this monogamy doesn't cover books that I've already read. I reference those frequently whenever I write.

Currently, I'm reading Sin In the Second City, Karen Abbott's vivid history of an early 1900s high-class whorehouse. The book starts with the murder of rich department store heir and, within the first 70 pages, features characters named Bathhouse John, Hinky Dink Kenna, Big Jim, and Mushmouth Johnson. By page 100, readers relive the night Prince Henry of Prussia visited the brothel and watched harlots dance in fawnskin and devour a platter of raw sirloin. It's an interesting insight into what used to give rich-dudes erections.

The book that I'm currently referencing is John Swartzwelder's How I Conquered Your Planet. Swartzwelder has written 59 episodes of the Simpsons and invented Homer Simpson. (Matt Groening may have created Homer, but Swartzwelder made him the funniest character on television.) One veteran Simpsons writer told the New York Times "John Swartzwelder is the greatest writer in the English language in any form." I know a few incredibly funny TV writers who consider this an understatement.

Whenever I write, I have a copy of How I Conquered Your Planet on my desk. The book, about an incredibly stupid detective named Frank Burley, is my favorite of Swartzelder's five self-published novels. Whenever I feel stuck, I open the book to a random page and start reading until I hit a great joke. Here's what I just stumbled upon, after reading for 10 seconds:

Setup: Frank Burly is on trial for trying to overthrow the aliens that had taken over earth. "Now I'd seen enough TV shows about trials to know that you've got to surprise 'em. The lawyer who wins is the lawyer with the biggest surprises. So I showed up wearing different clothes everyday. And one day I stood in a completely different spot... But the prosecution lawyer surprised everybody even more by how much evidence he had against me."

I've heard authors described as "writer's writers." Swartzwelder is something more rarefied than that: He's a comedy writer's comedy writer. To be honest, I don't think there are any others.
Visit The Ridiculous Race Facebook page and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue