From Stage to Screen: An Interview with Dan Gregor

21576_885954542839_1678524_n by Abbey Hester and Theresa Miller
When it comes to writing comedy, Dan’s the man. Dan Gregor has written on our favorite comedy shows (“How I Met Your Mother” and Adult Swim’s “NTSF:SD:SUV”). He’s sold six TV pilots to the major networks (NBC, ABC, Fox, CW, FX, IFC) and feature films to some major studios (Paramount, Universal, Imagine Entertainment). His sketch shows have been featured on “Funny or Die,” and he’s even had a long-running show at the Upright Citizens Brigade that was the basis for the pilot he sold to IFC.
TV writing, feature writing, short film, live sketches, improv–this guy has done it all. Lucky for us, he’s going to use his spare time to teach a class at Writing Pad. In his five-week comedy pilot revision class, Dan will show you everything you need to know to polish up your script so it’s ready to send out. You’ll even get a table read and a glimpse at how they take a rough draft to a shooting draft on professional shows. There is just one spot left in this amazing class, so grab it before it’s gone!
In the meantime, we tossed some interview questions at Dan and he was nice enough to toss some answers back at us.
1. How did you get your start on “How I Met Your Mother”?
My writing partner (Doug Mand) and I had a long running sketch stage show called “Banging My Dick Against the Wall” at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater about our failed dating lives in New York. We’d filmed some shorts of it and were developing it into a pilot for IFC when “How I Met Your Mother” had a last minute opening. They were specifically looking for people who could write how_i_met_your_mothercomedy about being single in New York, so we just happened to fit the bill perfectly at that time.
2. Did you ever use something that happened to you in your real dating life as the basis for a “How I Met Your Mother” storyline? What was it and how did you adapt it to make it appropriate for the show?
I have a pretty shameful story about trying to hook up with a girl on 9/11. It’s rare that we have to downplay the real life story to make it interesting for TV, but in this case we had Barney on a date with a girl where they witnessed a suicide, but Barney was still convinced he could turn it around and keep the date going.
3. You’ve written for “Adult Swim’s NTSF:SD:SUV,” which is radically different from “How I Met Your Mother.” How are you able to vary your writing style for different shows and maintain your own voice? 
When you’re writing on a staff your primary job is to write the show’s voice, not your own. Nevertheless, I like to think I have some telltale joke structures that pop up throughout my writing. Mostly they’re weird jokes about anthropomorphic animals or food.
4. How has performing sketch comedy helped with your writing? 
Sketch writing is an amazing starting place for any writer because it forces you to learn brevity and clarity very early on. A sketch needs a really clear comedic point and engine for it to be good, and so does any scene in a story. Performing your own writing is the best way I’ve found to forge your tastes and learned lessons into hard-wired gut instincts.barney_stinson_how_I_met_your_mother
5. Why are you so drawn to comedic writing?
I have no other marketable skills.
6. How much does script revision help you sell a script? What if you think your script is perfect the first time around?
If you think your script is perfect the first time around, you’re probably an asshole. Or at least not a writer. What writer has that kind of confidence? No script is birthed perfectly from your mind-womb. Writing is less about the flashes of inspiration, and more about the craft of putting together all the pieces and honing them together through multiple drafts until every piece is great.

7. What will students learn in your class? 
How to pick apart each piece of your script and improve every moment so that it’s bulletproof.
Thanks for chatting with us, Dan! It was a blast. Don’t forget to sign up for Dan Gregor’s Comedy Revision Workshop, starting up March 18th!