Mar 182013

Jason Gorbett, a former member of Matt Groening’s Futurama writing team, talks to us about writing for animation, how to keep things funny, and working with celebrities:

How is writing for animation different from traditional screenwriting?

The fact that you can turn Bender into a human who’s so gluttonous he balloons up and has to be rolled off screen at the end of the episode, combined with the fact that he’s a talking, drinking, obnoxious robot in the future in the first place, gives you an idea of just how limitless the visual palette of animation is. Even veteran live-action writers new to animation tend to forget its possibilities and create talking heads without leveraging the sight gags and visual humor that no other medium can offer.

What are your three most memorable moments in the writers’ room with the Matt Groening team?

Matt happened to sit next to me when we were punching up my Wizard of Oz parody, Wizzin. I’d written Mom slapping her sons and sending them off as flying monkeys to retrieve our heroes. Matt had a sensitive car alarm and pitched one of the sons crapping on her car, setting off the alarm. Then we launched into a series of finely-tuned monkey hits that had us doubled over in that way that makes getting into a writers’ room worth any number of old ladies.

We worked a lot of late nights and got pretty loopy in those days, and as an offline subversive distraction writer Ron Weiner had a running gag about an imaginary show starring The Frugal Gourmet, who had recently gotten in serious trouble for illicit behavior with a minor. It culminated in a final scene where the judge offered The Frug a choice between surgical and chemical castration. After a pregnant pause, I replied, “Which one’s cheaper?” I’ve never had a greater sense of pride than making a roomful of jaded pros practically piss their pants.

The third was the table read for Wizzin. It took place in The Simpsons table read room, and sitting at the table with the writers and talent, Billy West, John DiMaggio, Maurice Lamarche, Katey Segal, et al, and Matt was an honor I can’t describe. I’d started at production assistant, delivering scripts until 3 am and making coffee for reads at 6 am, and here I was a couple of years later with a shout out for writing the critically-acclaimed third act of the 50th episode. Then again, meeting Mike D, Beck, and Pam Anderson were pretty cool moments too.

Who was the celebrity for whom you most enjoyed writing dialogue?

I’d have to say Al Gore. His daughter Kristin was on the staff, and this was leading up to the 2000 election. Having him on a conference call in the writers’ room was a special moment during a special time. He was funny and humble, holding his own with Harvard Ph.D.’s. The other was Conan O’Brien who took our entire staff out for pizza and beer. Handing out beers with Conan was one of the high points of my career, and writing dialogue regarding his freakishly long legs was almost as much fun as following him down Sepulveda Boulevard.

Which is your favorite episode of Futurama?

Anthology of Interest II. You watched it, you can’t unwatch it!

IMG_9478.jpegJason Gorbett teaches How to Write (& Sell) a TV Cartoon Show for Shocking Real Life. He holds Masters degrees in both philosophy and journalism, and worked as a journalist, travel writer, and tour leader until meeting his wife in Belize and moving to L.A., where he found himself in Matt Groening’s office on the Twentieth Century Fox lot. He worked with Groening day-in/day-out for three-and-a-half years, collaborating alongside writers for David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, and The Simpsons, culminating in a wealth of knowledge he’s happy to pass  on to his students.

Industry testimonials  for Jason Gorbett:

“He’s hilarious.” Matt Groening, The Simpsons and Futurama

” . . . great, great work in the room and on the script!”
David X. Cohen, Executive Producer & Show Runner, Futurama

“Jason has been a tremendous asset to the show, and can always be counted on to do a great job . . . he impressed me from the beginning with his hard work, patience and wide range of knowledge . . . complete pleasure to work with . . . dedicated, responsible, and honest . . . I highly recommend him.”
David X. Cohen, Executive Producer & Show Runner, Futurama

“I love . . . you . . .”
Lucy Liu (actual quote: “I love [it when] you [spell check].”)

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