Wednesday, February 8, 2012


It's my pleasure to have award winning humorist, John Philipp, visiting with us Over Coffee. He is one of the authorssome of the funniest writers in America: the people who win humor contests, syndicate columns, appear on comedy stages, create the jokes on TVof My Funny Valentine. I had a chance to chat with him about his writing and My Funny Valentine. 

Share a bit about John Philipp with us. You’re originally from the east coast, aren't you? Did California’s sunshine blue skies and temperate weather lure you to the west?
I was born outside New York. Lived there for 20 years and then Cambridge, Mass for about the same time. Like all red-bloodied American men I was lured to California by Annette Funicello and everyone named Bambi. Also my boss made me go.

Ironically, I met a "Bambi" and married her but she would never let me call her that.

Among other things, you’re a humor columnist. How did that come about? Did you wake up one day and say, hmm, I like making people think and chuckle; I think I’ll start writing humor?

Seriously, I wrote humor because I wasn't good enough to write fiction — and not patient enough to learn how. Humor has a quite payoff. You tell a joke and people laugh or don't. With a short story, first you have to get it accepted. In those days, editors frowned on simultaneous submissions. So you'd send a story in, wait four months, get a form letter rejection, and send it somewhere else. If you persisted, eventually you'd sell it 12 years later. I was never much for delayed gratification.

Who were some of the humor writers that influenced you and how?

I love almost all humor. My first steady humor exposure was to Art Buchwald. We got the NY Herald Tribune at home, and my dad thought Buchwald was hysterical. Perhaps that's one reason I valued humor. This could be a story about a young boy who learns to write humor so his dad will love him but I discovered at age two that my dad did love me so I didn't start writing humor for another quarter century.

I know you’re very good with writing satire and humor and you’ve won awards for it. I also know that writing humor isn't as easy to write, as people would assume. Do you keep a notebook to jot down ideas to develop later?

I do. Articles in the newspaper, something in a cartoon, something someone says in the locker room, I get ideas all day long. Some ideas get developed during the day, usually when I'm in the steam room because that where my muse hangs out (A column about that is coming out shortly — as soon as her lawyer okays it.  Winking smile 

Typically, how long does it take you to put together a humor column?

I have no idea. Most often a short paragraph of a concept gets typed into a file. Maybe a week or a month later I'm going through my pile and I see that and write more. Or, I hear something that fits that topic and I dig out the file and add it.

Other times, like in the steam room, I play with an idea and organize it in my head, go home sit down and an hour later the complete first draft is done.

Not only do you write a humor column for a newspaper, but you also write one for a social media site-Gather. How long have you been doing that?

I've been writing for Gather for four years. Mostly I posted copies of columns I had already written but I did write some just for gather, including some of the "How to Write Humor" articles you included here once.

Yes,  you did a 5 part series on writing humor, in June of 2009. I'll link the the introductory article. At the end of the article are links to all of the articles in the series.

You also write fiction. Is it also comedic? Would you care to tell us a bit about it?
Usually my fiction is semi-serious, often with a surprising ending. But I just finished the first draft of a novel involving four generations, Jews in Europe during the war, a 13-year-old girl molested by her uncle, etc. Not much humor there except for her teddy bear, Monsieur Flaubert, who she talks to and I use as a device to get inside a young girl's mind.

True story. I read an article about survivor guilt and decided to write a story about a guy who fakes a heart attack to escape a hostage situation and then a bomb explodes and everyone else dies. He wrestles with, in this case, deserved survivor guilt and eventually gives himself a real heart attack — think "Crime and Punishment."
I started writing the story last week. The man is on his way to the bank. He's mad at his wife who doesn't appreciate his hypochondria and he starts fantasying leaving her and she's on her knees begging him back and pretty soon I had this sad, funny character on his way to an adventure.

So, the story will be humorous. And when it's out of the way, I will go back and write the serious, tragic one.

Available print and e-book
AmazonBarnes and Noble

My Funny Valentine is not your typical Valentine’s Day stories. How did you become a part of this project?

One of the other humorists told me about it. It was fun. It was the "Book of the Day" on the Kindle site yesterday. They've started another one about funny car stories. I'll probably submit to that for the fun of it. It's primarily a marketing vehicle for the writers in it and it gets you an "Author page" on Amazon.

What is the title of your contribution to this book?

Don't Surprise Your Valentine. Surprising your sweetheart with a non-traditional valentine's gift is the leading cause in the United States of mid-February ER visits.

Any lessons you've learned, as a writer, you’d like to share with us?

Read voraciously, especially the type of writing you want to do. Some of it will stick on you and it improves your "ear." You read something you write and you can tell whether that rings true or not.

Write as much as you can, as often as you can, you don't have to do anything with that writing if you don't want to. But you will get better. Someone recently said that mastery of anything is doing it 10,000 times. Get started.

Be part of a writing group — you are blind to your mistakes and will often miss your own brilliance. I have found that learning how to critique others is the best training for learning how to write better myself.  

John, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us. 


John Philipp is a weekly humor columnist for four Marin County, California newspapers and has won numerous humor and memoir writing awards. His humor columns are posted at GatherHis wisdom (with Phil Frank's cartoons) is posted at Thought~Bytes 

You can also find John on Facebook, where he offers Daily Ponder and Thought Bytes.


~Sia McKye~ said...

John, welcome back to Over Coffee. Congratulations on the success My Funny Valentine is having.

My husband loves anything funny. This is a perfect gift of laughter to give him for Valentines Day.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

A great write and most enjoyable to read. I shall be on my way to Heathrow Airport on Valentines Day to fly out to the US the following day, As I have no love in my life Valentines Day comes and goes these days,


Tonya Kappes said...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE that cover! Too fun! Thanks so much for featuring John and his links. I'm looking forward to reading his articles and buying the new collection.
I have found that I write blogs like he writes articles. I put bit and snips in a file, and then go back to add to them. I found it is much easier to do that.

Kat Sheridan said...

I just love John's work! There's a disctinct Dave Barry influence there. And this book is on its way to my house right now, as my Valentine present to myself. And writing humor is darned hard work. I think it's far easier to write a horrific scene of murder and mayhem than to write humor (in other words, it's easier to make people cringe than to laugh). That said, I'm looking forward to John's serious novels as well, which sound fantastic.

Jo said...

It is also more difficult to act humour than tragedy. I used to do amateur dramatics and had a professional teacher for a while. Both her hubby and mine were brilliant at doing humour, me not so much.

I jot down notes for my blog, I don't have a file, if I think of something, I usually write it in straight away, but I have been known to get an idea in the middle of the night and then I have to jot it down.

Karla Telega said...

John, it was a pleasure working with you on the Valentine book. So glad to hear that you'll be sharing your insights on getting behind the wheel in the next Funny Book!