Jon Millstein Had to Face His Skinny-Arm Demons

Jon Millstein. Photo: Drew Escriva

Jon Millstein (@jmillstein) is a comedy writer based out of Los Angeles. He is currently the head writer on Crooked Media’s What a Day podcast. He was previously a ClickHole contributor and a staff writer for Funny or Die and Rhett & Link’s Buddy System.

This week, Jon and I talked non-union writers’ rooms, Lay’s Potato Chip–branded content, and unlocking your inner American Psycho.

What motivated you to pursue a career in comedy?
I was doing comedy stuff at college with a lot of really funny people and realized how many of them were committing to doing it full-time. Once I saw people going for it, I decided I should too. Most of my college friends went to New York after school, but I moved to L.A. because my brother was living here, and so were the writer-directors of an unreleased comedy movie I acted in when I was 13. I thought the writer-director guys could help me get my first job. They didn’t, but I still respect the hell out of them!

I’ve worked a lot in digital media and know what it’s like for someone at the top to say, “We need to do something for National Babysitter’s Appreciation Day!” You actually don’t!! Turns out this was an existing graphic from South Park, so this whole tweet is kind of a false premise. Um … sorry for partying.

Do you think that social media has been beneficial to your humor in any way? Do you think it has been beneficial to the scene as a whole?
It’s definitely helped my writing, because it’s showed me just how high the bar for a good joke is. Every day on Twitter I’m reminded how insanely creative and consistent people are in their joke-writing. My favorite Twitter people are churning out amazing material at a rate that makes me sick and dizzy just to think about. So that’s obviously motivating, and I think when you sit down to work on a longer project, you know how good your stuff needs to be. I think it’s been beneficial to the scene too, because people are connecting and finding kindred spirits. I should note that social media is overall bad for the human brain and our experience of our precious lives, and as a species, we should do everything in our power to destroy it.

What do you think the future of comedy writing/publishing looks like?
Man, I don’t know. I don’t think we’ll go back to getting paid decent salaries to make digital comedy videos like I did at Funny or Die. And the increasing number of short-run and non-union TV writers’ rooms is not super comforting. I do think the internet will continue to help people who are doing something unique and good to find an audience. Maybe the difference now is instead of getting to make a pilot for NBC after that, they’ll get to make four seven-minute Lay’s Potato Chip–branded Quibi-sodes.

This tweet is based on the idea that someone who had never seen Grease saw kids perform it and thought they wrote it. I wrote this while I was on vacation with my family. I love 280-character Twitter and will use every letter because I don’t know how to make short pithy observations that are good.

Is there something you know now about the industry that you wish you could’ve told yourself when you were first starting out?
When I was in college, I thought TV writing was like other jobs, where you could work hard and find secure employment, but it turns out that’s only half-true. You’re probably going to be unemployed a lot. And it’s always going to be “on you” to make the next thing happen. So it’s more like sales or entrepreneurship than I expected it to be, which is actually why they call it show business. I guess I would’ve told myself that so I could make peace with it early on and unlock my inner American Psycho that would allow me to dominate the comedy market for generations going forward.

I love to make videos on Twitter, and this one was so fun to make because I got to hang out all day with my skinny-armed friends in a railroad yard. Having dinky, pathetic arms is deeply personal to me, so getting to share my feelings with people I care about and the world at large made me feel really good.

How are things going over at the Skinny Arm Brotherhood of Skinny Armed Brothers-Hood?
Really bad. After facing my demons and letting the world know how much I hate my awful arms, I bought weights and a chin-up bar to try and make a change. Now when I see any of the guys from the Brotherhood, they can’t help but notice my marginally less skinny arms … and they hate me for it. I gained muscle, but I lost friends.

Okay, this is a question that requires context, but I do have to get it off my chest. In 2005, I was on a kids show with your sister. One time after a shoot, she and I had a sleepover at your parents’ house. I met you and found out that you had auditioned for a different kids show that I was on the year previous. I immediately felt like we had built-in beef. Fast-forward to now, and we have both found ourselves as comedy people, doing our own respective things and having a good ol’ time. I love your work. But now that I have the opportunity, I just want to clear things up: Are we good?
Thank you for asking, Taylor. The beef is officially squashed. You did a fantastic job with the educational games and activities on the children’s TV show. The best person won.

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Jon Millstein Had to Face His Skinny-Arm Demons