As part of this weekend’s Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival’s 40th anniversary, a virtual celebration at that, programmers of the GPJFF present an entire day dedicated to new media programming with a Master Class on Writing for Television with BoJack Horseman Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg. Check the lineup on PJFF.org. The virtual Raphael Bob-Waksberg class is on November 15.
Raphael Bob-Waksberg, a comedian and voice actor out of San Mateo, CA. is best known for the gloriously absurdist animated comedy series BoJack Horseman from Netflix as its creator and showrunner, as well as the Amazon Prime Video animated series Undone. Also under his formidable belt, Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory: Stories.
A.D. Amorosi: Starting with the notion of writing, period, was scripted work always the goal, or did you start out in other forms? And how successful were you in other ideations of the writing process?
Raphael Bob-Waksberg: I majored in playwriting in college, where I also wrote and performed in a sketch comedy group. At the same time, I had a blog where I would post short stories, humor pieces, diary entries, whatever I felt like. And I wrote comics. I wouldn’t say TV writing specifically was always my goal. Even now, I like to mix it up with other kinds of writing.
A.D. Amorosi: Scripts – was it always television you were after, and why? What were your favorite show scripts? The arcs you most admired, and why? Was there always an idea that you would morph or change the game on what television scripts could be? And based on what reasoning?
Raphael Bob-Waksberg: When I was in high school, one of my favorite TV shows was Newsradio. A really funny sitcom with – intentionally – very little heart. Just a jet black silly joke machine. Then before the fifth season, Phil Hartman died, suddenly and tragically, so the fifth season premiere is this incredibly heartfelt – but still hilarious – tribute to his character Bill McNeal. All the characters were mourning Bill, but watching it, it’s very clear that the writers and actors are all mourning Phil. There’s a scene in the episode that blew my mind – all the characters read letters that Bill wrote them. I was amazed at how much the letters sounded like Bill McNeal, even though Phil Hartman was dead. I guess I always knew on some level that TV was written by writers, but that was the first time I became aware of how much they bring to the show – that the voice and the humor and the characters and the stories – that it all comes from the writers.
A.D. Amorosi: This might seem like an overly simple question, but how did you get from the idea stage with your writing, say, becoming part of a writer’s table on early work, then to being or getting your own concepts produced? How did you get in deep where the business is concerned?
Raphael Bob-Waksberg: Sometimes trajectories that feel jagged or disconnected while you’re on them look like a straight line when you’re looking back. It’s easy for me to connect the dots now – I was in a comedy group, we got a manager, I started writing pilots, I sent them to my manager, he sent them to other people who hired me for jobs. Eventually, someone thought I was good enough to have my own show! But while it was happening, there were so many false starts and tangents and weird little career cul de sacs, it was hard to tell if I was making any progress at all.
A.D. Amorosi: So far, your focus has been – at least from what we see on screen – animation. I know that Undone uses rotoscoping with its actors in real-time, as is not strictly animation. What do you like most about that form? What drove you to that process? Something you get or don’t get (aesthetically, spiritually) from live-action?
Raphael Bob-Waksberg: I think in some ways adult animation still feels like wide open uncultivated country for me. “Adult animation” has – with a few notable exceptions – been so much of the same thing for so long: crass comedy, centered around male characters, mostly white, often the father of a nuclear family, with hard jokes and standalone episodic stories. There are so many other kinds of stories to tell and so many other ways to tell them – and for the first time, it seems like there are outlets willing to let creators explore those other kinds of stories. It’s an exciting time!
A.D. Amorosi: How do you connect what you do and are as a writer with your religion, your very Jewishness?
Raphael Bob-Waksberg: You might as well ask a fish, “What’s it like breathing water?” Being Jewish is so deeply ingrained into my life, my personality, and my sense of humor I couldn’t possibly extract it from my work or myself. How do you connect a cup of tea with the teabag that’s been steeped in it?
A.D. Amorosi: What can you teach or are you teaching in regard to writing for television that may not be the norm? Please give me a hint as to what your master class might entail going to NYU Tisch or UC Davis?
Raphael Bob-Waksberg: The title of my master class is “I Am Smart and Everyone Else Is Wrong.” I think that about says it all, doesn’t it? I want to talk about stories – what makes a story a story, what do stories need to be interesting, how to craft relationships, dialogue, structure, best practices for writing, all that good stuff – you could probably get similar information from any writing class honestly, but my class is free, and also my advice will be better because I am smart and everyone else is wrong.
A.D. Amorosi: Final thoughts? Next efforts? Prayers? Etc.?
Raphael Bob-Waksberg: As of answering this question, we still don’t know who the president is going to be, but I’m choosing to stay optimistic because I know sometimes very good things come out of Pennsylvania.