Mike Royce- Writer/ Executive Producer/ Co-Creator: Everybody Loves Raymond, Men of A Certain Age, Enlisted, 1600 Penn, One Day at a Time
When did you realize you wanted to work in TV?
My basic story, I always felt like I was writing, even when I was in film school and in College. The stuff I liked writing the most, in my screenwriting classes had a little bit of a sitcom feel to it. The first film I made that was any good was a short comedy film basically about David Letterman. I was always a big fan of standups so I became a standup after college, and that is was led me back to television writing. My first writing job was for an MTV show with the Sklar Brothers. I did a lot of warm up comedy stuff and that set me up with a lot of sitcoms including “Spin City” where I got my first script, then I knew Ray (Romano) from standup and that led to a job on “Everybody Loves Raymond” and moving out to Los Angeles. It was really more so that I knew I wanted to work in comedy and comedy led me to television.
Was your first job in the industry the show for MTV?
It was my first comedy writing job. I was working as a standup a lot but that was the first staff job I had. I was on TV as a standup but writing on “Apartment 2F” was my first writing job.
What did you learn from that whole experience?
It’s funny because that was a show where we didn’t have an appointed showrunner. We were all kind of learning together what made a good show, without an experienced person. We all had to hash out what making a sitcom was without anyone really knowing what we were doing. We made some funny shows and learned a lot about what gets a laugh on a stage as opposed to what might get a laugh in the confines of your home. I think the very first thing we filmed was a four-line teaser to the opening of the show where they are just sitting on the couch watching something and they go back and forth with a few lines and have a big punch line at the end and it didn’t get a laugh. We realized it wasn’t much of a punchline, but it was a very funny, subtle joke, but it wasn’t big enough to get a big laugh and we sort of learned. The trick with the multi-cam comedy is to do smart jokes, good jokes, jokes you’re not selling your soul for, and then also get a laugh.
How was your time as a showrunner? How do you think the job of a showrunner has changed due to social media, and with how fans are now weighing in on their favorite shows?
It’s interesting because I have mostly been a showrunner in the age of social media. “Lucky Louie” for HBO, there wasn’t twitter back then, but there were a lot of message boards but you had to be a real fan to be in that world at that point. It’s great because you find these real, super fans who are so appreciative of what you’re doing for the show. I’ve been on shows that I thought were good but they got canceled and in the old days you wouldn’t be able to hear that anybody liked the show, it was just this was how many people watched. In this world you get to interact with fans right away, the people who really love the show, even if there aren’t a lot of them. For some of the shows I’ve done there has been this really loyal audience and you can feel the appreciation, which is great.
What is your writing process like? How is it different than writing standup for yourself?
A lot of times for comedy shows it’s similar to writing comedy for yourself in that it helps to talk it out. Often my process is that I record myself talking out ideas and then I’ll write it up, a lot of times if you’re sitting in front of the screen you could get bogged down but if you start talking, and pretend you are talking to someone who really, really likes your idea that helps (Laughs) it really helps writers block to be able to talk, talk, talk. I enjoy working in a writer’s room if you have the right people in there because you can have a lot of feedback and you end up getting all of these great ideas that you wouldn’t have had on your own through the proves of improving with the other writers and mingling your ideas with them. It’s a different and really great process as opposed to being by yourself. Norman Lear wrote that into his book, that he conquered writers block by being able to talk out things because he saw a therapist to help him with writers block and the therapist said; All of these ideas, they’re all in your head. Its like you’re in a room that’s crowded with your ideas and all of the ideas are trying to get out of the room at the same time and what you need to do get them out and then you can put them in the right order.
Was that different for you when you did “Men of A Certain Age?” How was that transition from “Everybody Loves Raymond?”
It was a really interesting thing to change. I never made a mental “okay, now I’m doing drama” switch in my head. The show was its own peculiar tone and I always said “Always a drama but with some comedy in it” so we never wanted to say “well this is a drama so no jokes.” I wasn’t that kind of show. As far as the transition goes, we just tried to do what we thought was right and label it later. A lot of times when we were writing the Pilot we would say, “what are we even going to call this? Is it a dramedy? I guess.” We almost thought of it as an indie movie, but it was a series and we just wanted to get the tone right in our heads and have people label it later. It was more about what was writing what was true to what we were feeling than saying “oh, this is a drama now.” And trying to somehow switch in your head what you’re doing.
What is your favorite thing that you’ve ever written that’s made it onto the air?
If I could change the question to one of my biggest thrills I’ve ever gotten, it would be when Ray hosted “Saturday Night Live” and we wrote a couple of sketches. I wrote a sketch that got on and then I got to go into the dress rehearsal for “Saturday Night Live” and got to listen to it. It was so thrilling to hear those people, Tim Meadows, Will Ferrell, all of those people and Ray, do a sketch that I had written with help from the staff get such a big laugh. As a guy who grew up idolizing “Saturday Night Live,” that was such a dream come true to hear your sketch do really well, it was fantastic.
What show made you fall in love with television? What shows on TV right now are you loving?
Shows that made me fall in love with television, I’m going to have to give you a bunch! “Saturday Night Live,” “David Letterman,” “The Rockford Files,” “Cheers,” those are a lot of them. Shows that I am currently loving, “Brooklyn 99,” “Transparent,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Review,” “Key and Peele,” and “Modern Family.” I want the list to be long because there are so many types of comedy. “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is fantastic, and “Fresh Off the Boat.”