You got kicked out of your dorm for dropping light bulbs out your eighth story window at the Berklee College of Music is there anything they didn't catch you doing?
That was the big one. Eventually, that's what lead me to television because a couple of weeks later, I saw David Letterman doing the exact same thing on TV and I thought, "God, he is getting paid. This is what network television pays you to do. Maybe I need to think twice about this music career."
You wrote a few episodes of Space Ghost Coast to Coast. I've always wondered, how does the writing process for Space Ghost work?
Two things: First you pitch them an idea that you want to do. Once they say they like the direction you are going, there is a lot of creative freedom, so they let you write it. They send you a list of people they have interviewed as guests. They have already done the interviews. They have the voice of Space Ghost ask a bunch of questions and they have a bunch of responses. You can pick your guest and see if it works within the premise of your show then you get to re-write the questions.
How did you get involved writing for The Simpsons?
A lot of people call me a Simpsons writer. I really just wrote one script.
The one where Sideshow Bob steals a nuclear bomb, right?
Yeah, the Sideshow Bob one, and it got completely rewritten. It was actually just a little side project I had while I was working on Letterman. I get credit for writing it. It was still early on in my career and I didn't really know how to write half hours. They have the best comedy writers in the business on that show. From George Meyer straight on down, it's the most impressive staff I have ever seen. I met George Meyer when I was an intern on Saturday Night Live. Instantly I just gravitated towards their style of comedy. Just big fans of theirs.
The Simpsons, Letterman, Saturday Night Live, and of course, Seinfeld. That is quite a resume.
Yeah, well the only two shows I was ever really on the staff of were Letterman and Seinfeld. I was an intern on Saturday Night Live and I worked my way up to receptionist.
Did you ever get anything on the air there?
I did. I submitted jokes to Dennis Miller for Weekend Update and that is sorta how I got my start. I was writing jokes for Jay Leno for a little while he was guest hosting for Carson and then from there went on to Night Music, and then David Letterman. I did get to go back with Seinfeld and write his second episode of Saturday Night Live that he hostd, which was a lot of fun.
When you hear someone use a catch phrase from an episode of Seinfeld you wrote, do you get a nickel?
No. I am flattered of course that they know what it is. I wish.
What is your role in Seinfeld's upcoming Bee Movie?
I am helping co-write the movie with him, another Seinfeld writer named Andy Robin, and a fellow named Barry Marder. You know, it is Jerry's thing and we are just helping him out. I am not sure how the credits are going to work, but it is his movie. It's been like writing an episode of Seinfeld, except animated.
Is it going to have that Seinfeld-ian sort of feel to it?
Oh, definitely. All of those rhythms are in it. It is a very funny script, mostly because Mr. Seinfeld is so good at it. Jerry just appeared on my show. We taped an episode that is coming up. It was so nice to have someone super funny in the guest chair.
It's interesting your show is called "Talk Show", because you play with the usual talk show conventions so much. In a lot of ways it's the anti-talk-show.
That's right. Over the summer we were calling to Talk Show 45, we thought it had sort of a nice BBC, European feel. We thought we would have opening titles that said "There are 44 other talk shows on television. This is Talk Show 45." The network said "You will not do that. It is too depressing and too real." So we removed the 45 and while we were casting, putting the show together, and staffing up, we forgot to rename it. Now it's just Talk Show. I would like to say there was a plan.
It seems like, in a lot of ways, your show is satirizing other talk shows.
Well it is, really. We're experimenting. I am experimenting as a host and getting up to speed with a new job, which is really exciting. The guys here and myself are trying to do things a little differently, and you know that works sometimes and sometimes it doesn't. We are gonna keep trying and do it differently as long we are doing the show.
Has the network given you a lot of freedom?
Weirdly a lot this is the most amount of creative freedom I have had on a show. It's on par with what HBO hands out. They said, "you have a little bit of real estate on Saturday night have some fun and see what happens".
How do you feel it is going? Are you where you want to be or are you still working on it?
I don't think I will ever be where I want to be. We feel like we are putting funny stuff up there every Saturday night. The call I am getting a lot is, "I really laughed out loud; I keep laughing out loud when I watched your show. I don't care for you or your show, but the stuff around you is very funny." That's the news I keep getting. "It's weird watching you and I don't like you suits, but I am laughing out loud at the stuff around you." It is a very hated job to be a new talk show host. People hate that guy.
Conan was crucified his first year on the air.
They all were by the way. And if I weren't the guy behind the desk I'd be the guy throwing rocks at him.
Was this ever something you thought you might be doing? How did they find you as a talk show host?
I found them. I really wanted to get back into writing late night comedy weird and odd stuff like the stuff I had been writing when I first started out on Letterman. I think I had been trying to convince Norm McDonald to host the show, I thought he would make a great 12:30 show somewhere or an HBO show and he didn't want to do it. So I thought I'd just do it. You know it is the thing where you have always known you wanted to try it, but were afraid to put yourself out there and give it a shot.
Between the Internet, cable, and cartoons, people have never been less interested in talk shows. What drew you to that format?
Well, I am a big fan. What I see there is opportunity for change to come out and do it a little differently. It's just the way I work I don't really think about where the audience is, but I think about where I am as an audience, and what I would like to see, and then you hope people feel similar. I think they want to laugh. I think they want to tune in, laugh a little bit and go to bed.
Sometimes when you look at someone's IMDB profile something random pops up. Your only acting credit was for Jury Duty?
My friend John Fortenberry directed it and asked me and a bunch of other comedy writers to come out and help with the rewrite task, which we did. A lot of names from the Simpsons staff too where in that room, which Pauly Shore tossed out.
Do you know why?
Well, it was funny, that's why. Then he just put me in the movie and said, "do you want to play the folk singer?" I said, "sure." I just wrote a little song for it.
You can check out clips from Talk Show With Spike Feresten on YouTube, and catch him on the regular tube Saturdays at 12 on FOX.