Like I mentioned before, TiFaux is taking part in the Adopt a Writer project. Participating TV Blogs are finding writers, finding out what their lives are like with the strike and helping them to tell their stories. For our first assignment, we interviewed Michael Jann of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Ask Michael Jann what the hardest part about being a striking writer is and this is what he’ll say.
“Besides the loss of paycheck, a loss of erections.”
Ask Michael Jann what his daily routine consists of during the strike and this is what he’ll say.
“Hoping and praying the strike ends. Working on a book: The Five People You Meet In Hell. It’s about the AMPTA.”
Needless to state, Michael is a professional cut-up. For the past 15 years, he’s been writing monologue jokes for Jay Leno from his office (a media hub where he scans newspapers, surfs the internet and sets the television to blare news, sports, Dr. Phil, Oprah and his self-professed favorite, Blind Date).
“I write and write and write and hand pages of jokes to Jay — the greatest boss in the world, always says thanks — and then [he] tells the jokes in front of about ten million people that night.,” he said, adding “I get paid for this.”
Now that the strike has hit, Jann, a Connecticut native, has found himself in the surreal position of picketing with his fellow writers.
“The picket lines are drudgery and boring beyond belief. But there’s one that is 90% Tonight Show writers, so I get to joke around with them and stay connected. We accomplish nothing picketing, except for providing moral support for one another. On windy days I throw my sign up in the air, and pretend it’s a kite. The sad thing is, it never really blows away.”
Jann’s comedy career began in Catholic school back in Connecticut, getting in trouble for cracking jokes in class. In fact, he once claims to have had a yardstick broken over his back (“Giggling in church was a felony”).
After going to school at the University of Connecticut and diverting from his original plan to become a veterinarian (thanks to a D in botany), he went into advertising as a temporary career. Over the course of ten years, he wrote TV commercials in Hartford, Philadelphia, Boston and New York.
After that, though, he decided enough was enough and he switched coasts to move to Los Angeles. He bided his time writing for National Lampoon magazine and Nick At Night until Jay Leno began guest hosting on the Tonight Show and was accepting submissions from freelance jokesters via fax. Jann started writing for Leno at fifty bucks a joke and when Johnny Carson retired, Leno hired Jann on full-time.
Jann has nothing but effusive praise for his boss Jay, although some union members might still be fuming about his decision to write his own monologues.
“Jay was super supportive for two months, visiting the picket line every day. He had to go back — he is a brand that must maintain its viability. He is a force of nature — hasn’t taken a sick day once in fifteen years. I don’t begrudge him going back.”
For now, though, Jann is still on the picket lines.
“Picketing is surreal. No other word for finding yourself out in the street, walking in circles, holding a sign, accomplishing nothing.”
For now, he vents by doing personal writing.
“I hope that’s not against the rules.” he said. “I’m not being paid.”