Curtain Call: Falling For Perfection


How far we’ve come. The House of SpeakEasy opened its doors on a snowy January night with a guest list including Uma Thurman, Andy Borowitz and Susan Orlean. Since then, we’ve featured some thirty of the best and brightest writers in the literary firmament. Tonight, two days after the summer solstice, and with temperatures firmly lodged in the eighties, we’re delighted to feature a super-cool guest list for our season finale. The Daily Show‘s Elliott Kalan, the New Yorker‘s Bob Mankoff, maestro Christopher Mason, poet Jeffrey McDaniel, polymath playwright and novelist Adam Rapp, Barnard College president and writer Debora Spar, and novelist Emma Straub will all take the mic to tackle the pleasures and pitfalls of Falling For Perfection. We’re delighted to introduce them to you…

Elliott Kalan has been the head writer at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart since he took over from Tim Carvell in January. “Writing for Jon Stewart… is the number-one job in the world,” he says, and it’s easy to see why. In this presentation sponsored by the Eagleton Institute of Politics, Elliott analyses the use of humour in politics:

Bob Mankoff is the cartoon editor at the New Yorker. He recently published an excellent memoir, How About Never — Is Never Good For You?: My Life in Cartoons, which we reviewed here. “My job is to look at one thousand cartoons a week,” he tells the (envious) audience at the TED Talk featured below. In it, he analyses dozens of New Yorker cartoons, distilling a kind of poetics for the perfect specimen.

Christopher Mason was such a hit at May’s Seriously Entertaining that we’ve invited him back! His song “Putin On the Blitz”, a satirical take on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, was so successful that it was picked up by the Huffington Post. Read our interview with Christopher here and marvel at “Putin On the Blitz” here:

Jeffrey McDaniel is a poet and a teacher at Sarah Lawrence College. His five collections to date are The EndarkenmentThe Splinter FactoryThe Forgiveness ParadeAlibi School, and his most recent, Chapel of Inadvertent Joy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013), which we reviewed here. In this video, as part of the Page Meets Stage series at the Bowery Poetry Club in 2011, McDaniel reads the hilarious “Middle Age”, later collected in Chapel of Inadvertent Joy:

“Our responsibility,” says Adam Rapp, “is to attempt to tell the truth as artfully, intensely, and humanely as possible.” In a remarkably prolific career, Rapp has done just that. His plays include the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Red Light Winter (2006) and The Metal Children (2010), while his fantastic novels include The Year of Endless Sorrows (2006) and The Children and the Wolves (2012). We spoke to Adam earlier this month about the “American Berserk” and young adult fiction — read the full interview here. In this video for Backstage, Rapp dispenses his advice for new writers and directors:

Debora Spar is the current president of Barnard College and the author of Ruling the Waves: From the Compass to the Internet, a History of Business and Politics along the Technological Frontier (2001) and The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception (2006). Last year she published Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), a thorough report card on the state of feminism in the twenty-first century (reviewed here). In this special TEDxBarnardCollege speech, Spar talks about the dangers inherent in falling for perfection:

Emma Straub is the author of two novels — Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures and The Vacationers (reviewed here) — and the story collection Other People We Married. In this picture essay, produced by The Morgan Library & Museum, Straub talks about the relationship between her writing… and her cats.

If you don’t have your tickets for tonight’s show yet, get them here!

Elliott Kalan Has To Be Funny Every Day

Do you watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart? We watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Do you know who Elliott Kalan is? If not, listen up, hotshot, because Elliott is the head writer on The Daily Show! Jealous? Well, as he told, “to be completely clear, objectively nothing is cooler than what I’m doing right now”. So you’re right to be.

Elliott Kalan in The Daily Show, April 2010

Elliott’s been in the chair since January this year, when he took over from Tim Carvell, who’d gone off to run John Oliver’s new show, Last Week Tonight (a weeklier version of the nightly news, as the ads say). He’s been working on The Daily Show for over a decade, starting as an intern in 2003. (That’s right, fellas: there’s hope! Read this great interview with Co.Create to find out Elliott’s tips for your meteoric rise…) He later became a production assistant, a segment producer, a writer… and now, head writer. Which, by and large, means that he has to be funny every day. And, presumably exponentially more difficult, make sure everyone else is funny every day. No mean feat. On the side, he’s one third of the movie-reviewing trio The Flop House (“a great listen for movie fans“, according to the New York Times), whose assessment of bad movies makes an art form of the hatchet job. With other members of the Daily Show team, he was part of a USO tour of stand-up comedians to Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan last year. According to his bio, the rest of his resumé is filled out with unpublished New Yorker articles and unaired talk shows with his name in the title.

Sometimes I think about what might have been. Elliott briefly campaigned to be the new Andy Rooney when the late CBS presenter stepped down from A Few Minutes with… in 2011:

Wanna meet Toppington von Monocle now? Check him out quoting Catullus at 6:25 here. Well, sort of.

Remember the year Brokeback Mountain should have won Best Picture at the Oscars? More to the point, do you remember the homoerotic montage from classic westerns that Jon Stewart presented during the show? Elliott Kalan almost didn’t when he was watching this year’s Oscars, even though he was the mastermind behind it:

But fortunately, the internet forgets nothing:

We look forward to welcoming Elliott to the House of SpeakEasy next Monday!

Elliott Kalan will appear at our next Seriously Entertaining show, Falling For Perfection, at City Winery NYC on June 23. You can buy tickets here. And be sure to follow Elliott on Twitter here.