Jen Spyra on the Art of Comedic Escalation
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
On the freedom of writing fiction:
JS: What I found coming from the world of TV, and before that at The Onion, there’s no room and no need for the interstitial worldbuilding that you have to do for pacing in a fictional story. So I was like a baby getting up and starting to walk. My instinct was always you don’t need that, cut that. It’s fat. Or you should end on a joke here. So I had to keep fighting my TV and Onion instincts. But then the freedom of fiction was an insane artistic experience.
MK: It seems like you finally didn’t have any boundaries. You could write just what you wanted to write.
JS: It’s funny because at Colbert and at The Onion I had a reputation of being a writer who will go too far. Don’t ask her if we’re going too far, she’s gonna say no. So I already had that rep, and then suddenly no one was telling me no.
On the art of escalation:
JS: The quick turn is certainly a comedy tool that you try to use all the time. I find with escalating and heightening that it’s really about surprising yourself. A lot of the time, and I believe this is a Patton Oswalt observation, it’s going from A to C and skipping over B. You go to that third thought. In order to surprise the reader I first have to surprise myself, so that means a lot of discarding the too fast or too obvious. For the story to feel satisfying and heightening in a way that’s fun and surprising but also makes sense, it all has to fit together and be germane and be of a piece.
Jen Spyra is a former staff writer for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Onion. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. She lives in New York City. Big Time is her first book.