Rob Kutner is a writer for TBS’ “CONAN” and has written for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart “ and contributed to its bestseller, America: The Book. Rob Kutner is also the author of the satirical end-of-times bestseller Apocalypse How: Turn the End Times into the Best of Times! and the Amazon Kindle e-bestseller/Audible audiobook The Future According to Me. Rob Kutner’s other writing includes HBO’s “Dennis Miller Live,” as well as humor and feature pieces for the New York Times, Esquire, Huffington Post, McSweeney’s, and the Weekly Forward. Rob Kutner has also written material for the Oscars, Emmys, Writers’ Guild Awards, MTV Movie Awards, Guys’ Choice Awards, and two White House Correspondents’ Dinners. Born in Atlanta and educated at Princeton University, Rob Kutner has also lived in St. Petersburg Russia and Jerusalem. He has received five Emmys, a Peabody, Television Critics’ Association award and a Grammy for the audiobook of America.
How do you describe your occupation?
TV comedy writer, currently for CONAN on TBS.
In the morning, I look over the news for “juicy” stories that will hopefully yield good comic fodder. I write jokes until lunchtime, then send them to the boss. Then I write another batch, go to a meeting with him, my fellow writers, and some executives. Then one more batch, the show taping, then a meeting after the show to pitch new ideas. Then a round of high-fives over how much we all changed the world today!
What are you reading at the moment and what made you want to read it?
Middlemarch by George Eliot. My wife! She kept exclaiming how good it was, and calling it her “favorite novel.” My wife is a tough cookie, so that’s like a 200% on Rotten Tomatoes from her.
Can you remember the first book you read by yourself?
Not really. I’m guessing it was Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt, or another of that genre aimed at weirdly ordering little children around.
Are you a page folder or a bookmarker?
Used to be a folder, then when I started sharing books with others, a marker. Now mostly Kindle, though I vastly prefer print.
When did you fall in love with reading?
I know that I’ve been doing it since age 5, and since then there’s rarely been anything or anyone else I’d rather be with. (If my wife is reading this, “Love you, honey!”)
If you could gift yourself books at age 16 and age 25 – what would they be and why?
Good question! At 16, I was obsessed with love, romance, and girlfriends (to be precise: the lack of all three in my life), so maybe The Inferno by Dante might have cast some perspective on where that quest can lead you! At 25, I was all about career and breaking in, and forming my entire identity around my job. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson – with its portrait of 1950s career-driven bleakness – might have been a good corrective.
What are perfect reading conditions for you?
Adequate light. A magical stopwatch to freeze time.
For someone starting out in your career, which three books would you make required reading and why?
The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus is an invaluable guide to every skill I’ve had to call on.
Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman is a great and inspiring look at the writer’s life, and introduces that invaluable maxim of Hollywood life, “Nobody knows anything.”
The Devil’s Candy by Julie Salomon exposes what’s going on inside the studios so horrifically, even Upton Sinclair would be like, “I need a moment.”
If you could invite 5 authors (dead or alive) to a dinner party – who would they be and why?
Not to generalize, but a large chunk of successful authors are/were dysfunctional asses. So my main goal would be, “What’s the most delicious trainwreck of a dinner party I could create?” Enter Franz Kafka (so boundlessly deep, murky, and twisted), Thomas Aquinas (what a life trajectory!), Anthony Trollope (his eye for hypocrisy is unmatched), Steven King (the guy was already half-crackers in his heyday and has only increased that ratio since), and Zora Neale Hurston (because she strikes me as bursting with passion of all kinds).
What was the last book you purchased, and why did you buy it?
Aleister and Adolph by Douglas Rushkoff, a graphic novel and the weirdest-ever WWII-counterfactual, asking the question, “What if the Allies had on our side known Satanist Aleister Crowley?” It was like watching the History Channel on acid.
What is your favourite thing about reading?
Disappearing into the flow. I get annoyed at the real world when it intrudes, wanting to tell it, “Hello? You’re INTERRUPTING.”
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
I’m currently reading Bad Rabbi by Eddy Portnoy, which is a literary nonfiction collection of real-life stories reported in the New York Yiddish newspapers of the early 20th century. (The book itself is in English.) It’s a highly engrossing stew of sex, crime, and pettiness that makes you think “We haven’t changed a whit.” Or should I say, a bissel.
If you could insert yourself into any book, which would you pick and why?
That’s a toughie, as – in my experience — the best books describe the most harrowing of worlds! That said, I kind of loved the take-no-prisoners breezy style of the characters from A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, and wouldn’t mind time-travelling with them.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, a heart-wrenching tale about the lives of real Mumbai slumdwellers. Every tiny item in their life is a struggle and in constant danger of being swept away. I still think about these people, and I’d like to think it helps me bring a grounded attitude towards my navigation of ‘first world’ banalities.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?
I’ve always been haunted by All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque – but not because of its gruesome WW1 details. Rather, it’s because of the creepy duality that the protagonist must live in when he’s home on leave. Trying to act like everything’s normal while also possessing a catalogue of horrors in your head – what better feeling for this era?
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
The 2nd half of Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I’m coming for you one day, buster!
Which book sat on your shelf are you most excited about reading next and why?
I’ve been holding off on buying anything new until I finish Middlemarch by George Eliot, but a friend said that The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot is even better. Now, where did I put that pesky magical stopwatch….?