There's nothing at all funny about a textbook — unless it's in Dan O'Shannon's hands. Last year, the Emmy Award-winning writer and producer from Newhart, Cheers, Frasier and Modern Family wrote What Are You Laughing At?, a guide to comedy theory.
"Since I was a kid, I wondered how comedy worked," says the 51-year-old O'Shannon, who graduated from Painesville Riverside High School. "A lot of people are naturally funny, but marshalling that into a script is a tricky thing." O'Shannon will interview comedic legend Tim Conway and tout The Cleveland Memory Grenade, his CD of jingles, during an appearance at Ghoulardifest Nov. 1-3. He talks with us about his resume, hometown influences and therapy.
CM: What has it been like to work on some of TV's most beloved sitcoms?
DO: I've been extremely lucky to work on a lot of great shows with a lot of talented people. When you sit in a room with a lot of other great writers, it becomes like tennis. If you go up against good players, you're going to get better.
CM: Modern Family just won another Emmy and is now syndicated on USA Network. How difficult is it to maintain that level of success?
DO: It's at the point now where we're sick of seeing ourselves (laughs). There's a thrill of discovering something new and wonderful. Then it becomes a question of how can something ever be as fresh as it used to be? People are very quick to notice patterns, but if you break those patterns you have no standard.
CM: Who were your early influences?
DO: Like everyone else, I watched Big Chuck and Hoolihan, Captain Penny and Superhost. I kept my radio under the pillow at night. After high school, I did stand-up on open mic night at the Cleveland Comedy Club.
CM: How do you put yourself into the minds of your characters?
DO: I was writing comedy but was unhappy in my own life. I went to see a therapist. It didn't stop me from being funny, it made me a writer of characters who have their own fears, drives and goals. I like to go into people's minds a little bit.