Fundamentals: Issues and Sketch

“So, what are you all interested in?” asked Scott Sherman, AB’04, to the three dozen students nestled in seats in the Francis X. Kinahan Third Floor Theater, waiting to hear him speak. Sherman, who has written for The Onion, Comedy Central, Saturday Night Live, and several projects in development, stopped by campus while on a tour promoting his second book, The Devious Book for Cats (a parody of the popular The Dangerous Book for Boys, cowritten with four other former Onion staffers). But he wasn’t in the Reynolds Club on a Friday afternoon to talk about feline fancies—the subject of the workshop, sponsored by University Theater, was “Writing (for Money!).”

Writing for money, Sherman stressed, “is not Proust. It’s not like I will be able to write when the tea absorbs into the biscuits.” Students asked questions about subjects from getting an agent to balancing an academic workload with getting writing experience.


Attendees, mostly undergrads, hoped for writing careers covering a slew of media—from sketch comedy to print journalism to online outlets. “That’s probably a smarter take,” Sherman nodded, adding that print media, in his opinion, probably wouldn’t be viable for much longer. He described his own career trajectory, spurred by interning and then working as an assistant to the producers at Second City while a student, and by his Fundamentals: Issues and Texts major, in which he focused on definitions and permutations of comedy throughout history. After college he went straight to satiric newspaper The Onion before landing at Comedy Central, where he’s a writer for a sketch series starring comedian Demetri Martin. It will have its premiere this winter. “I hope you watch it,” Sherman said, “and tell your friends to watch it, and we’ll get a second season. The Emmys will come, and I’ll thank you all.”

He advised the students to take writing seriously. “If you don’t have a work ethic, it’s just not going to happen.” Although Chicago doesn’t offer a lot of formal preparation for the intense grind of being a professional writer, he said, “you’re all way ahead of 90 percent of the people on the road you’re going down,” simply because students at Chicago are used to being challenged. “The only difference between the three all-nighters I pulled to do my Fundamentals exam and the three all-nighters I just pulled to finish [writing] a pilot for Fox was that during one I was surrounded by giant puppets.”

Rose Schapiro,’09

Sherman speaks to his audience.

Photos by Dan Dry

November 17, 2008