‘Deranged pen pals’ Zweibel and Barry team up for Lunatics

Read an interview with Lunatics co-author Alan Zweibel

alan_zweibelPardon the backstory, but it’s necessary to explain how this interview came about and why the first question in this Q-and-A is about Alan Zweibel’s prosthetic tooth.

I launched The Humor Columnist on Nov. 25, 2011. I didn’t tell anyone because I wanted to spend at least a month working out all of the bugs, of which there have been many. If I have learned anything in the last 30 days it is that I am not a WordPress designer. In fact, if WordPress had any brains at all it would send armed men to keep me away from its content management system for fear of destroying the company’s reputation.

To test the site I began posting stories, specifically the types of stories I plan to run when the site officially launches. These would include my columns, links to other humor columns and news about humor writers. On December 12 I posted a story called Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel are and have written Lunatics. Zweibel read the post and left a comment, thus becoming the first non-Russian-spam-bot to leave a comment on this site. I emailed Zweibel to see if he would do an interview and he agreed. The interview took a few weeks to set up. At one point Zweibel emailed me to say he had thrown his back out while looking for his tooth implant, which had fallen out of his mouth. Yes, you read that all correctly. He wrote about it here.

Zweibel and I spoke over the phone. He took the call at the Friars Club, where he has been a member since he left Saturday Night Live, where he was one of the show’s original writers. We talked about Lunatics, the book he and Dave Barry wrote about two New Jersey soccer dads who do not get along.

The story is told in alternating chapters by its protagonists, mild-mannered Philip Horkman (written by Zweibel) and Grade-A jerk Jeffrey Peckerman (written by Barry). Their adventure begins when Horkman, a youth soccer ref, calls Peckerman’s daughter off-sides during a key play in the championship game. I don’t want to spoil what happens next, other than to say the rest of the story involves the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Republican National Convention, a monkey that shoots a helicopter pilot in the groin and Charo.

The book is very funny. You can sense how much fun Zweibel and Barry had sending these chapters to each other as they played a friendly game of “Yes, that’s good, and then this ridiculous thing involving a lemur should happen.”

Universal Pictures has acquired Lunatics. Steve Carell is attached to star as Philip.

Thank you, Katie Clay at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, for sending me an advance copy of the book.

Joe Donatelli:
Have you been back to the dentist to have your tooth put back in?

Alan Zweibel: Yeah. It’s intact at the moment.

Joe Donatelli:
Did you ask the dentist why your tooth fell out of your mouth?

Alan Zweibel: You know something, he gave some lame excuse. Somehow he blamed it on me.

Joe Donatelli:

Alan Zweibel: Yeah. It didn’t really jive. I’ve since switched dentists and now it’s taken care of.

Joe Donatelli:
I’m glad to hear your teeth can now withstand the force of a small sneeze.

Alan Zweibel: Absolutely.

Joe Donatelli: I’m enjoying the book. How did you and Dave meet?

Alan Zweibel: Dave and I met about five years ago. Steve Martin was given the Mark Twain Award down in Washington, D.C. Dave was a presenter and I helped Larry David with his speech; Larry was also a presenter. My wife and I went down and Dave and I met at the after-party. We introduced ourselves and we liked each other right away. We saw each other intermittently when our paths crossed during our respective book tours.  And then it got to a point where when me and my wife would go to Florida, we’d have dinner with he and his wife and vice-versa when they came up to New York and we just made each other laugh.

I called him about a year ago, maybe a little bit less, and said we should write something together and we tried to figure out what. I live in New Jersey. He lives in Coral Gables, Florida. I said, ‘OK, is there some way that without being in the same room that we could do this?’ I knew that his daughter played soccer. I’ve got three kids, all of whom played soccer and Little League and all of that, and I knew what that was like, so I came up with the situation: A ref calls a girl off-sides when she kicks what would be the winning or the tying goal in a championship game; overzealous father goes nuts and there’s a feud and let’s see where it takes us. So I was the ref, Philip, and I wrote a couple of pages and I e-mailed it to him and he wrote the next handful of pages as Jeffrey, the overzealous dad. And we just kept on giving it back and forth to each other, advancing the story as we did.


Joe Donatelli: At some point you realized you had a book.

Alan Zweibel: We had 100 pages at one point and we gave it to our agents who gave it to our publishers. I had been with Random House and he had been with Putnam, and ultimately we went with Putnam. They bought the book when there was only a hundred pages. It’s all happened so quickly, I mean it’s amazing how quickly. I actually checked it out the other day. I had sent Dave the first chapter by February 25th. And by Memorial Day we had a book deal, and by Thanksgiving we had a movie deal. The book was done in October.


Joe Donatelli: How did the movie deal happen so quickly?

Alan Zweibel: The planets just lined up. I was doing a TV project for Showtime with Steve Carell’s producers and also David Steinberg, the comedian/director, and I showed David the first hundred pages and he really liked them and I mentioned it to Carell’s producers and they really liked it. And so I would send them a fistful of pages, 20 or 30, as we went along. The book hadn’t even been finished yet; they showed it to Steve Carell, who liked it and wanted to get the movie rights and wanted to play Philip. And so once we got it done, the agents put it together and it’s at Universal and with Steve. His company will be one of the production entities.


Joe Donatelli: Has Jeffrey been cast yet?

Alan Zweibel: Nobody’s been cast, really. Steve wants to play it but we haven’t been out to actors yet because we haven’t even started the screenplay.


Joe Donatelli: Is there a scene from the book that you really hope makes it into the movie?

Alan Zweibel: When the monkey accidentally shoots the helicopter pilot in the scrotum with a gun. Yeah, that would be fun.


Joe Donatelli: You guys have Charo in this book. I want to congratulate you and Dave for bringing Charo back to popular culture.

Alan Zweibel: Yeah. Dave wrote Charo. I was as shocked as anyone when I flipped open a chapter and there’s fucking Charo, yeah. Who the hell pulls that? Dave get his names really ripped out of the headlines. Since his character is a lot more vulgar and bawdy than my character, who’s more buttoned down and meticulous, some of the weirder stuff in there came from Dave, like Charo. I don’t want to ruin anything for you towards the end of the book, but with a bunch of characters, you go, ‘Whoa. How’d you do that? Why’d you do that?’


Joe Donatelli: I hadn’t heard the name Charo in a long time.

Alan Zweibel: Joe, no one has.


Joe Donatelli: You mentioned how you guys wrote this book while you were 1,500 miles apart. I know you’ve worked with other writers before. How did you like not being in the same room?

Alan Zweibel: Loved it. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I wouldn’t even know how to do it if we were in the same room. How do you write a novel with another guy and it’s, ‘Oh let’s see, we need a verb.’ It was like having a deranged pen pal in a way. I was on an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm this season and it works the same way. I didn’t know what Larry was going to say, but when he did I responded and we advanced the story that way, going back and forth. And we did it with the novel.


Joe Donatelli: I mentioned this on my website and you actually commented on it, but the book comes out more than two weeks after Christmas.

Alan Zweibel: That made me laugh a lot.


Joe Donatelli: Thanks. Book releases usually happen before Christmas. What happened in this case?

Alan Zweibel: This was planned this way from the get-go. I think the reasoning is that people get a lot of gift cards to Barnes and Noble and places like that. And then it wouldn’t get lost in all the thousands of books that come out right before Christmas. I know Putnam from the get-go said, ‘Well let’s have this come out January 10th.’


Joe Donatelli: That’s interesting.

Alan Zweibel: I found it interesting, too. I would have questioned it as well, but I thought, ‘Surely you guys know what you’re doing.’ And I think they do.


Joe Donatelli: You guys could hit a sweet spot on the promotion circuit.

Alan Zweibel: We might have those couple of weeks to ourselves, you know? And (Dave) and I have a big book tour starting on the 11th the very next day and we’re going to go all over the country and there’ll be a lot of TV and a lot of live performances.  Susie Essman is interviewing us on the 11th in New York and David Steinberg will interview the two of us the night of the 17th in L.A. and Letterman has had me on his show every time I have a book and there’ll be enough between the two of us; we will be out there.


Joe Donatelli: Did you guys get together at all while writing this book?

Alan Zweibel: Since we started writing this we have seen each other twice. Once was when Dave was up here promoting something and we had dinner. We went to dinner with the thought of ‘OK, maybe we would plot out the next hundred pages.’ That never happened. We had no idea where it would go and we never outlined it. We never plotted it. We just went, ‘Let’s see what happens, OK?’ So that dinner was fruitless, very fruitless. And then the next time we were in the same room, Putnam flew me down to Miami when Dave and I took the picture for the back cover. And we went out to dinner afterwards, with every intention of working on the book, and that didn’t happen, either. I think the only thing we spoke about, book-wise, at that dinner was, ‘Oh God, we are handing this fucking thing in, in October.’ You know, ‘Shit, we better start heading for the barn.’ It was no specifics. It was not which barn or how we’re going to get to that barn, it was just like, ‘All right we’ve got to rev up a little bit here.’


Joe Donatelli: This book is basically an escalating series of “Yes and…” improv scenes.

Alan Zweibel: Well, when I described it to my friend Larry David when we first started writing, he likened it to a Curb episode and he’s right. I had no idea when I’d sent him the first chapter, what chapter two would be like. I knew that these guys would not get along and there would be a feud. But I had no idea that (Dave’s) character would have that voice and that it would be so vulgar and so loud and it made perfect sense because my guy is so quiet and pretty much by the book. So on that level, it made sense, but I had no idea what he was going to send me. And then I would read it and I’d go, ‘OK, now what am I going to do?’ And I’d take a day or so to let it sink in and then I’d sit down and I’d bang out something and send it to him.


Joe Donatelli: Will you do another Lunatics?

Alan Zweibel: If they want us to do another one then we will. There’s two ways to deal with this. They’re the same characters ten years later or a year later or we come up with two different characters. I think we’ll probably go with two different characters, but you know, we have long book tour to discuss how and what is forthcoming.


Joe Donatelli: Book tours can be a grind. Is there anything you’re looking forward to on this one?

Alan Zweibel: I’m looking forward to being in front of an audience with Dave. I write really well on airplanes, and so I’m looking forward to that. I do about 20 speaking engagements a year–colleges and corporate events and fundraisers and stuff and I really like that. But I’ve never done it with anyone else. We have no idea what we’re going to do.


Lunatics comes out on Jan. 10 and is available on Amazon.com

Lunatics tour cities and dates

Wednesday, January 11, 2012 – New York, NY

Event: Barnes & Noble – Union Square in Conversation with Susie Essman

33 East 17th St

New York, NY 10003

212-253-0810 STORE

Time: 7:00 PM


Friday, January 13, 2012 – Columbus, OH

Event: Thurber House at The Columbus Museum of Art

480 E. Broad St

Columbus, OH 43215

614-221-6801 TEL

Time: 7:00 PM

For Tickets: http://www.thurberhouse.org/evenings-with-authors.html


Saturday, January 14, 2012 – Palm Beach, FL

Event: Barnes & Noble – Palm Beach Gardens

11380 Legacy Ave

Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410

561-625-3932 STORE

Time: 3:00 PM


Saturday, January 14, 2012 – Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Event: Books & Books at the Museum of Art Ft. Lauderdale

One East Las Olas Blvd.

Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301

Time: 6:00 PM


Sunday, January 15, 2012 – Miami, FL

Event: Books & Books – Coral Gables

265 Aragon Ave

Coral Gables, FL 33154

Time: 2:00 PM


Tuesday, January 17, 2012 – Los Angeles

Event: Book Soup at the Skirball Cultural Center

2701 North Sepulveda Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90049

310-440-4500 TEL

Time: 7:30 PM


Wednesday, January 18, 2012 – San Francisco

Event: Kepler’s

1010 El Camino Real

Menlo Park, CA 94025

650-324-4321 TEL

Time: 7:00 PM


Thursday, January 19, 2012 – San Francisco

Event: Commonwealth Club

595 Market St, 2nd Floor

San Francisco, CA 94104

Time: 6:00 PM

For Tickets: http://www.commonwealthclub.org/events/2012-01-19/dave-barry-and-alan-zweibel-authors-lunatics


Friday, January 20, 2012 – Phoenix

Event: Poisoned Pen

4014 N Goldwater Blvd

Scottsdale, AZ 85201

480-947-2974 STORE

Time: 7:00 PM


Saturday, January 21, 2012 – Dallas

Event: Dallas Museum of Art /”Arts & Letters Live”

1717 N. Harwood

Dallas, TX 75201

Time: 7:30 PM

For Tickets: http://dallasmuseumofart.org/Events/ArtsLettersLive/index.htm


Tour updates available here




Author: Joe Donatelli

Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles. He publishes The Humor Columnist.