Exclusive: Former Simpsons Writer Larry Doyle Brings the Funny Back to High School Comedy
In his own words, Larry Doyle decided he could write a novel because “if Balzac were alive today (he’s not, right?), I’m sure he’d be writing unfunny French comedies and Dostoevsky would be cleaning up on Law & Order.”
Mama Doyle assumed it was because he could no longer find real work. His friends thought he’d either gone nuts or finally become fed up with Hollywood.
Regardless of who is right, the end result, I Love You, Beth Cooper, is a must-read for anyone who still has those scary dreams where they’ve forgotten to both study for their Calculus final and wear clothes to the exam. (If you’re too mentally lethargic to read 253 really hilarious pages, a film version, directed by Chris Columbus is due out this summer.) For your chance to win a copy, leave the name of your favorite teen flick in the comments and read on for our interview with Doyle after the jump.
Flavorwire: Are you still busy working on the screenplay for ILYBC?
Larry Doyle: The film is done. The only thing they have left is some editing to get a PG-13 rating.
FW: You also wrote 2003’s Duplex, which Danny Devito directed, and when talking about the experience you said, “Mr. DeVito’s attitude about writers is pretty pervasive: once the script is written, the dream writer would turn into a pizza and a six-pack.” Was it the same with Columbus?
LD: No, I was there throughout the whole process. It was a completely different kind of experience than Danny’s way of doing things — or f*cking up things. It was about as smooth as a shoot can go. Nothing went wrong. Nothing dramatic happened. He’s just a pro.
FW: It is easier handing over your baby to someone who is more capable?
LD: It’s never completely easy. When you’re working on a screenplay, you don’t get the final say. I’ve been doing that kind of writing for the bulk of my career, so I’m used to it, but it’s not always delightful.
FW: Do you find it weird that the novel was originally a screenplay that wouldn’t sell and now it’s headed to the big screen?
LD: It’s a little odd. But a lot of people have turned their failed screenplays into books before, which suggests that maybe they should have been novelists in the first place. Truth be told, this is a specific aspect of how Hollywood works. They don’t value writers but they do value properties — like a finished book. I needed the book to explain that it’s “a thing.” The original screenplay, which was only about 90 percent finished, was not what they considered a high concept idea. They said it was “not castable.” In Hollywood this means that there’s no part for Will Ferrell. Someone actually suggested I make one of the characters who hangs out with the teenagers on graduation night a 35-year-old man.
FW: How was it different as a novel than the original version?
LD: The book was a lot funnier. There are more levels of irony and satire you can do in a book. It’s very hard to do a satire of a genre when you’re working in the form — it becomes a spoof, which is a lot harder to do well. In the movie version, if you have a shot of three hotties walking slowly down a high school hallway, that’s exactly what it is, In the book version, that same scene is a send up of a classic teen sex comedy.
Several versions in, the book became more about the main character, Denis Cooverman, figuring out who this Beth Cooper person is. It’s easy to write funny things, if that’s what you do. There are amazing comedy writers who can write these hilarious scenes, but you don’t a give a f*ck about the characters involved. If you don’t care about them then it doesn’t matter how funny the predicament is that you land them in. Take a comedy like Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. It’s really goofy, but those two guys have winning personalities. That’s why it’s better than 20 other movies about stoners that don’t work — where either the writing or the actors are irrelevant.
FW: How is the movie version different than the novel? Did you look to John Hughes classics like Pretty in Pink or Sixteen Candles for inspiration?
LD: It’s much more sincere. It’s the same kind of comedy, but it plays up much more of the romantic side of the story.
I was already in my 20s when John Hughes’s films came out, so I thought they were pretty crappy at the time. I’ve since gone back and watched them, and realized that they are good. I was much more inspired by American Graffiti, but I used Hughes’s work to set up Cooverman. He’s a reaction to the standard geek character in those films — I tried to fill him out. You start with the cliche, but my goal was to make the characters feel like real people. Hopefully I’ve succeeded with the book and the screenplay.
FW: Last question. What do you consider must-see TV right now?
LD: I don’t watch much comedy, for some reason. The only sitcom I make it a point to watch is 30 Rock. It is incredibly well-written and funny, surreal comedy; it’s great because it works on multiple levels. The Office is good when I catch it. I still watch Saturday Night Live, but I’m not loving it. It needs a stronger point of view. When they first started out it was a full on attack against the culture that existed by these later-age hippies. It was consistent. Now they have that Johnny Carson/Jay Leno point of view where everyone is moderately amusing.
I watch dramas, mostly — House, Law & Order, everything on HBO except that weird surfer show from last year. I loved Deadwood, though. And I watched all of Carnivale, even after I had decided that I didn’t like it that much, because I had to find out who that dude behind the curtain was.