David Schwen

Soon after I began writing for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, a veteran writer took me aside. Correctly identifying one of my almost-daily crises of confidence, he explained that I shouldn’t get so hung up on my day-to-day performance because our job was a “volume-driven business.” At the time I found that imparted wisdom depressingly cynical—like being reminded by your platoon leader as you head into battle, “Don’t forget, we’re all sponges designed to soak up bullets. Now have fun out there!” However, a couple years into this, I’ve come to accept that writer’s words as incredibly practical wisdom. On a typical workday, late-night writers produce a ton of material, written almost at the speed of instinct—only some of it will make it through rehearsal, and a fraction of that might survive the hour during which it was broadcast and enjoy an unusually long lifespan well into the next day’s overloaded news cycle. And, while it’s certainly possible to create solid, enduring comedy under those conditions—miraculously, it happens quite often—there’s no doubt you’re at a statistical disadvantage.

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