Gene and Linda Perret are a father-daughter team known for their humor and classic joke writing skills. Together they’re writing a series of joke books for Familius, the first two which are now available: Mother Always Knows Best (At Least According to Her) and Old Age Is the Absence of Youth (Among Other Things).
Familius recently interviewed this father-daughter team on what it’s like working together to craft this series.
Question: Linda, how did your father’s work influence your decision to pursue comedy writing?
Linda: Most likely just from growing up around it. I was always intrigued by it, but never thought I had the talent to do it. Dad started a comedy writing newsletter called ROUND TABLE and I took that over from a business standpoint. It was working with various comedy writers through that newsletter that I felt I wanted to give it a try. That’s how and why I got into it. Most of the influence I had was just growing up around it, seeing what my dad did, and observing.
Gene: I’m disappointed. I always thought it was hero worship.
Linda: No, Mom would never allow that.
Question: Gene, what was your reaction to Linda’s decision to become a joke writer?
Gene: Actually, I was thrilled. I really knew nothing about it. As Linda mentioned she published ROUND TABLE for me and she came into my office one day and showed me a check. It was from Phyllis Diller. I said, “Where did this come from?” She said, “I’ve been reading the articles in the newsletter about writing comedy for so long that I decided to try it. That was the beginning of it, and as I said, I was thrilled. Later the executive producer hired her to work on a Bob Hope special and again I knew nothing about that until she showed up at the first writers meeting. I was surprised, but I thought it was great.
Question: How has humor strengthened your relationship as father/daughter?
Gene: Well, it has strengthened it to the point that I cut her out of the will about every third week nowadays. Seriously, it is something we have in common that we enjoy. We go to comedy shows together, we read books and articles about the profession and the comics. We still have ROUND TABLE, so we work with many aspiring writers and comedians. We enjoy the craft and we enjoy one another’s jokes.
Linda: I would say the same thing. We both have many friends in the comedy business and it gives us something to talk about and connect with.
Question: Why did you decide to work together on these joke books?
Linda: This is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It was an idea that I had been thinking about and it’s something that we do automatically. We always have many jokes going back and forth, so to put them into book form seemed logical. And it’s fun.
Gene: It’s interesting that we both enjoy humor. Often when there’s a family gathering, someone will come out with a straight line and Linda and I struggle to see who can get the joke out first. So writing books of humor felt natural.
Question: How do you decide which topics to write on?
Linda: Mainly, we get the idea of what the book is going to be aboutwhat the main topic is. Then we pretty much work separately.
Gene: It’s interesting. When we say “topics,” we’re mainly talking about “references.” We call them “sub-topics” which are different facets of the main topic. For instance, if we’re going to do a book about friendship, we ask ourselves, “What are different aspects of friendship? What areas can we write about?” It might be borrowing money, or helping someone move, or putting up with one another’s faults. But we do work separately on the jokes. I remember when I was writing jokes for standup comedians on a regular basis, I could write about thirty jokes in an hour. If I had another writer helping me, I could write about six jokes an hour.
Question: What is your creative process when writing jokes for these books?
Gene: As I mentioned, we write the individual gags separately because it’s easier and generally faster. Then we assemble the manuscript together.
Linda: Right. And that surprises people. They assume we sit down together and work out the jokes jointly, which would be a terrible way to work. Going back to how it would strengthen our relationship it would destroy it. Writing one-liners is a solitary process. You prefer to do it without distractions, which another writer in the room would surely be. But once we have the jokes on paper, we go through them together. We decide which ones should go and which ones should stay. We determine the best order in which the gags should be arranged. If we decide that one joke should be replaced we may write that joke as a team.
Gene: What I do is go through all the jokes and try to cut out the ones Linda has written.
Linda: That’s often true. You write a joke that you absolutely love and many times your co-author will say, “I don’t think that joke is good enough.”
Question: How do you work together to find inspiration?
Gene: Generally, the inspiration comes from the topic, from the idea you’re writing about.
Linda: Occasionally, though, you’ll have times when the topic doesn’t inspire you, when you can’t find the funny. When that happens you can lean on your writing partner. I’ll call Dad and ask what angle he’s using, what kind of lines he’s writing. Sometimes just hearing how he’s approaching the writing can help to get the juices flowing and the comedy ideas started. You have someone to bounce ideas off of and that can help get through the temporary writers block.
Gene: When you’re stuck, you can call another writer and listen to some of the jokes they’ve written. Now you don’t use their jokes, but you can often write variations on the ideas they used to write their jokes. They’re totally different gag lines, but built off the other writer’s unique approach to the comedy. It’s surprising, but it more than doubles your output when you utilize that shortcut.
Question: Co-authors often have disagreements on what should be included in the final manuscript. As father-daughter co-authors, how do you resolve manuscript disagreements?
Gene: I depend totally on parental authority. Linda relies on solid judgment and well-thought out ideas, so she generally wins. But really, we listen to each other and I think we’re both professional enough to make decisions based on the effectiveness of the lines and not on ego.
Linda: I agree totally. One of the things I feared when we started writing together was that I would lose my voice in any discussions. You can’t really talk back or you’ll get cut out of the will again.
Gene: No, she’s written into the will again . . . but in pencil.
Linda: I found out quickly that I was able to stand up for my opinions about which jokes should be included and which ones shouldn’t. So it worked out pretty well. We also have a built in referee in my Mom. If things get too heated, I call on her and then I’m assured of a win.
Gene: You can see I’m outnumbered. Parental authority has no bearing in this.
Question: What words of advice can you offer other parent-child business partners or co-authors?
Linda: The first advice I would give to partners is to respect the other person. You must respect them as a relative and as a writing partner. Especially important when working with family members is to take time for the family. There are times when the family gets together and Dad and I drift into discussions about our writing. When we realize we’re doing it, we force ourselves to stop. We can’t think business 100 percent of the time, because family is more important.
Gene: The best advice I can offer to writers who work in a group that includes teams or a staff of writers you have to learn to speak up. When I first started in television, I was too timid to voice my opinions and one producer told me, “Look we hired you so that we could hear your opinions.” It gave me the courage to be more vocal. However, you also should learn that if you offer your honest opinion and it is rejected, you should accept that. Move on. It’s easier to write new jokes or new plot points than it is to fight for ones that have already been rejected. It’s also important to listen to your co-author. Sometimes we feel that our idea is so good that it can’t be improved, so we don’t bother listening to suggestions. Often the other fella’s suggestion can make a tremendous improvement in your joke or your story. But it will never make the manuscript better if you never hear the suggestion.
Linda: Another important part of writing especially humor writing is that you should have fun with it. When Dad and I work together we have fun. I enjoy that aspect of the writing and feel that it helps the quality of the manuscript.
Gene: Let’s hope our readers do, too.
About the Perrets:
Gene Perret has been writing comedy since the early 1960’s, winning three Emmies and a Writer’s Guild award along the way. He wrote or produced numerous TV shows, including The Carol Burnett Show. He was head writer for Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller.
Linda Perret has written for Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, Yakoff Smirnoff, and Terry Fator’s Las Vegas show at the Mirage. She was also on staff for Bob Hope’s Emmy winning 90 Birthday TV special.
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