With little fanfare other than a daily Tweet about it, the comedian Josh Fadem has been writing a short story every day for a year, and then posting it to his blog. On the whole, the stories are funny, sometimes bawdy, and sometimes sad or even heartbreaking. Often uplifting or inspiring. One of my favorite moments comes in “The Introspective Human Men’s Club”, when a robot pretending to be a person misspeaks and nearly breaks his cover:
The robot pretending to be a person made a mistake. It was eerily similar to human beings in that it even made human mistakes like letting true motives, that were meant to remain concealed, slip. He was just as human as the rest of them. He even felt shame and embarrassment for his learned imperfection.
Tomorrow marks the publication of his 365th story. (As of “press time” he doesn’t yet know what it’ll be about.) On the eve of such an achievement, I asked him some questions about comedy, short-stories, and the impetus behind the whole project.
You write for TV and you write your own standup material and you write sketch comedy?all of which are genres that seem to get good attention from the public. Why, then, did you decide to write short stories, which like 1 percent of the public ever talks about?
Thanks for your interest! It sort of turned into being something I could do, and put out, and have control over, where the success or the reaction of them didn’t matter in the same way writing for someone else, or even acting for someone does. I could do it and act like no one was watching, but still put it out there and say, “Check this out!” No one is going to give me a deal based off a one-page story called “Pussydad’s Big Farm” (not a story I wrote, but could have easily been). I’m not competing, it just turned into a thing to do for fun and practice.
What does the short story let you do that other forms of comedy don’t?
Hmmm, it’s all the same really. I found myself amusing myself more often though.
In what way, exactly? I’m curious about the extent to which you thought (or didn’t think) about audience while writing these, and how that compares to how (or whether) you think about audience with your sketches or standup.
I don’t know. I would just find myself actually having fun writing them sometimes and thinking of what crazy place they could go to. If I do stand up, or sketch or acting, I am usually having fun performing. But ultimately the reaction from audiences determines whether it lives or dies.
Tell me about your process. When do you sit down to write these each day? What ideas/notions do you bring to the task at hand? What’s your goal with each one? Also, perhaps most importantly: how do you when you’re done?
The rules for me have been I have to write them every day at some point before I pass out, and they have to be at least one page. It would be nice if I could somehow pull off a semblance of beginning, middle, and end, but that wound up being too much to ask with a few of them. Also I try to get at least one laugh in there. The goal with each one was different from day to day. Sometimes it was to try something new. Sometimes it was to try a different style. Sometimes it was to fine tune a particular style. Really it was whatever I wanted to do. And knowing that I was going to do one tomorrow and for the rest of the year made it real easy to not give a fuck and amuse myself. Which is why it’s been increasingly more difficult this last month and last week. Each one feels like pressure (from myself). As for ideas, sometimes I had zero ideas. Sometimes I’d have like 5 false starts until I got one I was okay with finishing. Sometimes I would know what I was going to write early in the day. Sometimes I would take notes on stories I intended to write. Sometimes I’d just have a funny name. Sometimes I would go finish one I started a month earlier.
How consciously did you think about style or voice? Were you “going for” something, voicewise? Looking back, how would you describe the style or tone of these stories?
I think part of the answer is in the previous question. But I wouldn’t describe it. I’d like someone smart like you to do that.
Your first story, “Dirty Mouth Ricardo’s Dream!” is about the stresses of being a performer, and the pressures of pleasing casting agents. How much of this project was a way to work through your personal issues, for lack of a better term? Or maybe this: how autobiographical did the stories get?
Actually that first one was about creative rejection from someone else who wasn’t a casting person at all, maybe a couple of other rejecters as well. But looking back on that one I think it’s kind of bad or embarrassing. I would work personal things in as they came to me to be worked in. There are some months where there’d be a lot of personal things or philosophies or questions worked into the story. Maybe not as many, as often, this current month. Maybe that means I worked through everything and figured out all the answers?which is that you cannot figure out all the answers. Or maybe I cannot figure out all the answers. You might be able to. But I should be content in figuring out all the answers that I am able to figure out, until I decide to figure out more…. I still have to write a story today.
What have you learned about writing by doing this? What have you learned about yourself?
That doing creative things every day is good. Even when you don’t want to. It beefs up the other stuff. It’s therapeutic sometimes. You work out issues. You have fun. You feel satisfied at the end of the day. You dread it. You look forward to it. You get better at it. You get faster at it. The things you doubted before, you doubt less. Or the doubts move to other departments, which you will have to focus on in some other way. Also there is liberation in trying to make bad art. It’s freeing to take the need for something to be “good” out of the equation, then you can really enjoy finding things. I might not know what I learned about myself until I go back and read them.
Do you have a favorite?
Nope. Not yet.
You say you’re not done writing stories. So what’s next for you after 365 days of them?
Look at them, see if they’re any good, not stress about getting one written some nights when I can barely stay awake, organize them, edit them? See if there’s some sucker who likes them enough to help me turn them into a book. Illustrate them. Figure out something else to write every day. Maybe I’ll write an ending of a movie every day for a year. I still got to write this last one today though, hope I pull it off, no idea what to write.