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Writer, comedian and filmmaker behind “The Care and Feeding of Sex Symbols.” Ask me anything!

T.M. Caufield
Apr 10, 2018

T.M. Caufield has published three fiction novels (including “Rewriting Harry Potter” and her latest “Serial Killer”), one non-fiction book for kids in the juvenile justice system, and has written and performed stand-up comedy, (as well as produced and directed a documentary on the art form.) She currently runs a judgement-free advice column based on her book “The Care and Feeding of Sex Symbols,” so you can literally ask her anything!

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Conversation (73)

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How would you describe your comedy style? Is it sattire, political,...etc?
Apr 16, 11:57PM EDT1
How does writing stand up material, particularly to self–perform, differ from scripted comedy?
Apr 14, 6:14AM EDT1

Not sure what medium of scripted comedy you're referring to, (e.g. film, television, plays, musicals, one-man shows, etc), but in the broadest sense of the question, writing stand-up material with the intent to self perform is different from writing scripted comedy in that stand-up is more conversational while scripted comedy is often better served by the "show, don't tell" approach to writing.

Apr 15, 8:44PM EDT0
As far as stand up performance, do you play a role in how a sketch is executed?
Apr 14, 6:00AM EDT1

Yes, in stand-up comedy I write and perform all my material.

Apr 15, 8:32PM EDT0
What kind of prep time does an hour of stand-up require?
Apr 13, 10:51PM EDT1

The prep time for a one hour stand-up routine depends on how experienced the comic is. Comics usually go out every night to test jokes in front of as many audiences as they can, (including open mics). They listen back to their recorded set daily and refine, and as new jokes come to them they add them to their set to build longer and longer routines. Keeping the best, and throwing away the rest. A *very* seasoned comic can usually get an hour of solid material in about a year, while someone entering the game will need anywhere from 2-5 years.  (For those interested in the process, you may want to check out my documentary, "The Makings of a Stand-up Comedian.")

Apr 13, 11:12PM EDT0
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from the business, as far as writing goes?
Apr 13, 11:12AM EDT1

As far as the writing business goes, I’ve learned that everything has a formula. That there are no secrets to anyone’s “success.” If you do “x” you’ll (eventually) get “y,” and everyone’s “x” is well-documented... The “rub,” I’ve found, is in figuring out what you want YOUR “y” to be, and to base it on deep-seated needs in order to get fulfilling results. Consequently, the biggest lesson I’ve learned in my approach to the writing business is to never compare another’s business plan/route to mine as we have totally different drivers, and to stay focused on my goals.

Last edited @ Apr 13, 11:40PM EDT.
Apr 13, 10:59PM EDT0
When did you realize you could make people laugh? Is there something about your upbringing that led you to the comedy?
Apr 13, 6:16AM EDT1

Well, as you know we’ve *all* said or done something at some point in our life that made others laugh, but as far as stand-up comedy goes - (which requires a totally different skill set from your average “class clown,” by the way) - I found out within 10 second of being onstage. (I said something to myself upon walking on stage that the audience picked up and found pretty hilarious... And I include that experience in “Rewriting Harry Potter” if you’re interested...) And to your second question, growing up my writing mentor said that laughter came from pain, (which is something I want to explore in my next documentary). And if that’s true, my pain-riddled childhood *must* play a part. What part, I’m not completely sure... So I guess we’ll find out together!

Apr 13, 10:38PM EDT0
What skills are different from creating writing content and stand-up script?
Apr 12, 7:50PM EDT1

Well, the main difference between writing stand-up comedy and regular content is that stand-up comedy has to be... - wait for it... - FUNNY! Lol... It also has to be *super* tight in order to maximize your laughs per minute. And its success is dependent on the skill/delivery of the performer. Writing regular content requires none of those things.

Apr 12, 9:40PM EDT0
Towards what would you want your career to be heading to in the following five years?
Apr 12, 2:50PM EDT1

To be honest, I'm happy as long as I just keep writing... I'm working on a Mary Magdalene/Jesus book right now that's set in the present day, which I'm SUPER excited about... I have another documentary involving stand-up coming up, and I'm starting to like ghostwriting stand-up for others, too, so more of that would be great... Oh, and I *definitely* want to write some plays in the future.

Apr 12, 9:32PM EDT0
How different do you consider regular film-making is from making the documentaries?
Apr 12, 6:15AM EDT1

Well, I believe that there's a thin line between art and propaganda, so in approaching documentaries I start with questions and let the subjects of the film give me the answers. And ultimately *that's* what I'm documenting... With narrative filmmaking I'm telling a story that already has a beginning, middle, and end.  So I consider the two VERY different.

Apr 12, 9:29PM EDT0
Why do you think there are fewer women than men in comedy, do you have a theory on that?
Apr 12, 6:15AM EDT1

Good question.  From what I've noticed, there are actually a lot of women in stand-up comedy, but you'll find most of them on the entry level. I think the discrepancy occurs amongst the more experienced, and I'm not exactly sure why that is. I've heard all sorts of theories ranging from the industry being a boy's club that just hasn't figured out how to accommodate women in a post-"equal opportunity" world, to women being more "nesters" who simply aren't as comfortable with "life on the road" as much as men. Fortunately, us seeing fewer women comedians out there doing their thing doesn't stop any girl wanting to get into the industry from going out there and doing hers. So with that said, "Break a leg, girls!"

Apr 12, 9:18PM EDT0
What kind of art do you love more considering your experience so far – film-making or literature?
Apr 12, 12:20AM EDT1

Despite both mediums having absolutely thrilling aspects about them, I'd have to say literature, for sure. With filmmaking, every word, interaction, etc. has to move the story forward. Whereas with literature there's so much more freedom to just d*ck around, explore the world and characters in depth, and have fun. Plus, I love working by myself, so sitting alone and writing a book suits me wonderfully.

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Apr 12, 8:48PM EDT0
What limitations does a movie director have, in terms of the additional roles he or she can undertake?
Apr 10, 7:34PM EDT1

The director's limitations depend on how much freedom the producers give him or her. Filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick were notorious for being heavily involved in *every* detail of the process, from hair and make-up decisions to final cut. (And, of course, being a producer, as well, makes you one of the bosses, which will get you this sort of freedom.) While other directors are hired to just create a vision for the look/sound/feel/etc of the script and manage the cast and crew in the production phase, but have limited say in post production and beyond. It really depends on how much the director has "invested" in the picture.

Apr 10, 10:51PM EDT0
How would you define the actual role that a director is supposed to fill?
Apr 10, 5:21PM EDT1

I would define a director's role as one who is responsible for bringing a script to "life." He or she creates a vision for the look/sound/feel/etc of the script, and then oversees the film's cast and crew in the technicalities involved in realizing that vision.

Apr 10, 10:38PM EDT0
How do you know when to walk away from a story that doesn’t have a natural ending?
Apr 10, 3:52PM EDT1

I would never walk away from a story *permanently* with no "natural" ending. While I agree with Da Vinci that "art is never finished, only abandoned," every story that I've ever written had a definite "Fin" moment. The ending can be unorthodox, unexpected, and even jarring to some, but as a writer I can feel in my bones when the story wants me to say "that's a wrap." So I'd wait until however long it takes until you get your story's "natural" ending, and you'll know instantly, and without any doubt, when you've got it.

Apr 10, 10:29PM EDT0
What are some of the qualities that make one suitable for film making?
Apr 10, 4:54AM EDT1

A desire to tell stories visually... A desire to work daily, and for long periods of time, with others... And the ability to be a creative problem solver because Murphy's law *will* apply.

Apr 10, 10:17PM EDT0
How did you finance your first feature/short film?
Apr 10, 2:40AM EDT1

I was lucky enough to find a private investor...  Or shall I say "blessed." 

Apr 10, 10:13PM EDT0

Why did you feel like 'Rewriting Harry Potter'?

Apr 10, 2:16AM EDT1

I felt like writing "Rewriting Harry Potter" because I wanted to speak my truth in a humorous and entertaining way. The story's about a talented, yet frustrated, writer who tries to achieve greatness by accepting an assignment to rewrite one of the most popular books of all time, and at the time I was trying to make peace with my own voice and path. And, naturally, as a writer there was no better way for me to do that than to write about it ;)

Apr 10, 10:11PM EDT1
Who is your favourite sex symbol and why?
Apr 10, 12:05AM EDT1

Well, in "The Care and Feeding of Sex Symbols" I explore the difference between two major types of sex symbols - the ones who use men, and the ones men use. And I still find it hard to pick favorites as there's something about so many of them that I absolutely *adore*... The book centers around Mae West and Marilyn Monroe, so obviously they hold extra special meaning for me. And since the thing I find most attractive about a sex symbol is when they live their truth, if I had to pick one living, breathing, and walking demonstration of that I'd say Erika Jayne fits the mold beautifully.

Apr 10, 10:05PM EDT0
What book are you reading right now? What is it about?
Apr 9, 8:59PM EDT1

Well, right now I'm in the research phase for my next book, so I'm doing a lot of reading for that, but one person just sent me a copy of "The Art of Loving," so I'm dabbling with that, and another person sent me "12 Rules for Life: An Anecdote to Chaos," so I've opened that, too. Both are non-fiction, and the first one is a philosophical approach to love, while the second one seems to be more of a straightforward self-helpy book... On my nightstand I also have "Life Lessons from Nietzsche," (self-explanatory), and "A Course in Miracles," (a "spiritual" book). I crack both open from time to time... So basically, I read books that are very different from the type I like to write. Don't want to support the competition ;). Haha, j/k.

Apr 9, 10:33PM EDT0
How did you get into stand up comedy? Who introduced you to it?
Apr 9, 7:35PM EDT1

Well, I was always drawn to stand-up, and can't really remember my introduction to it... But it took me a long time to actually try it as I'd not only perceived women comics to be greeted as slight buzzkills when they walked out on stage at comedy clubs, (until they proved they were funny, of course); but, naturally, I didn't know if I'd be any good at it. Fortunately, I finally got to a low-enough point in my life where I had nothing to lose but fear, so I gave it a try and loved it... God bless ye, sweet depression...

Apr 9, 10:48PM EDT0
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