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The Adventures of Mrs. Jesus by Dan O'Shannon
The Adventures of Mrs. Jesus
Modern Man: As He Moves on from Modern Family, Dan OíShannon Talks TV, Doing Nothing and Jesusí Wife
Cleveland native Dan OíShannon will be departing the writing room and executive producing role for Modern Family at the end of this year after five seasons on the show. OíShannon has previously written for Cheers, Newhart, Frasier, and others. Heís heading to CBS studios to work on some new projects, but for now, heís trying to wrap up the final three episodes of the ABC sitcomís fifth season with his fellow writers. (Theyíre writers, so yes, they are behind schedule.) Heís also doing a million other things, but he graciously took a break from all of them to chat with us about the industry, Cleveland and free ginger ale.
Vince Grzegorek: So, the last time we talked, back in October, we asked you to do something for our comedy issue and you politely apologized and said you had too much going on. Specifically, you said, ďUnfortunately, I canít write anything at the moment without being wracked by guilt about the fact that I have a script and 45 more pages on a book due, and I havenít started them yet and at work people ask me how the script is going and I say itís fine and then I sneak out and see a movie which I donít enjoy because Iím too aware I have a deadline bearing down on me like a truck and I wonder if the 20-year-old usher who mispronounced Ďbullockí knows Iím a fraud and why am I shoveling fistfuls of Raisinettes down my gullet when Iím not hungry? Just writing this email when I should be writing a Dunphy kitchen scene makes me want to jump out a window.Ē First of all, we can tell youíre a professional writer because thatís exactly how professional writers act. Secondly, so, uh, are things looking better?
Dan OíShannon: Yeah, that sounds like me. I did get that scene written. Itís in one of the upcoming episodes.
VG: Where are you guys at with the season?
DO: Weíre figuring out the last three episodes of the season. We start months ahead, but then we start producing episodes and we lose our lead time. And then it comes down to the last minute and weíre scrambling for stories. It could take a few days to break a story, or sometimes it takes three or four weeks. Sometimes you throw everything out. Weíre all scrambling, but we know basically what we want to do and where we want the characters to end up. Itís just a matter of finding an interesting way to get them there.
VG: What about the book? Is it as much about geometry as the first one? [What Are You Laughing At? A Comprehensive Guide to the Comedic Event was OíShannonís first book, a kind of scientific look at comedy and jokes.]
DO: Itís a collection of cartoons. Theyíre sort of cut-and-paste cartoons from over the past year. Iím almost done. Itís a series of cartoons about the mythical, well, presumably mythical wife of Jesus, what her life would have been like. Thereís a lot of metaphor and symbolism. I was actually working on it this morning. If you find my Facebook page, I put up a picture of what the cover looks like.
VG: The story of Mrs. Jesus. With everything else going on, why the hell did you start another book and why this kind of book?
DO: I really donít have time, but I do it. Mrs. Jesus saved me. At first, it was a doodle I did at work, and they loved it. I was going through a divorce, I was anxious, and I couldnít sit there alone for one more night looking at the wall. I thought of that cartoon, and I draw slowly, so I found some public domain pictures and did word bubbles, and some people liked it. I made another, and another, and now Iím just about done with a book.
VG: I suppose we already know the ending.
DO: Well, unfortunately Jesus dies on the cross. But hopefully they have come a long way before that happens. Iím sure some people will really, really hate it and really, really hate me for it, but I like it and think itís funny.
VG: Do you make it back to Cleveland much? And how un-Hollywood do you try and make your life once youíre here?
DO: I really am low key when I get back there. I have a condo in Lakewood, which I just bought this past year. I try to get back for an entire month, like Iíll be spending almost all of April there. I just hang out with friends, go to the places I used to go. The last few times I was working on the book so I didnít do much, but besides a couple of speaking things, I kind of have nothing to do this April.
VG: Doing nothing is fabulous. Is this just time for you to move on?
DO: Iíve been there five years. Iíve done what I can with the characters. Iím ready to do other things. I have some half ideas, and maybe some of those half ideas will connect into a whole.
VG: TV still, though?
DO: Yeah, Iím not really qualified to do anything else. Itís tricky. TV has been extremely good to me, but Iím also aware that itís not like I deserve to make a good living because I worked on TV.
VG: Is this where I tell you some friends and I have an idea for a great pilot?
DO: I think legally Iím not supposed to listen. Iím going to CBS Productions in June. They stop me from hearing peopleís ideas. Like, if I meet a guy in a grocery store and he says he and his coworkers have an idea for a show about working in a grocery store but itís about more than working in a grocery store, and I say, ďUh, no thanks,Ē and then somebody at my studio Iíve never even talked to does a grocery store idea, it opens it up for a lawsuit. So, I have to say stop, donít tell me about it. When someone asks, ďShould I pursue a job in TV writing,Ē I say yes if you love TV writing but not if you love money. The money is going away.
VG: Are there more Cleveland easter eggs in Modern Family than Iíve caught? I caught the reference to Noodlecat.
DO: Yeah, thereís a place called Noodlecat. I ate there one time, and a year later, I walked in and said, ďHey, you guys were mentioned on TV on Modern Family. That was me!Ē And they gave me a free ginger ale.
VG: A free ginger ale?
DO: Well, I had only stopped in for a ginger ale. I should just randomly sponsor them and talk about them all the time even though I donít eat there. Put Noodlecat in this article.
VG: Noodlecat. There. Done. I donít know if you watch the show, but I donít particularly like how How I Met Your Mother treats Cleveland. Like a bunch of yokels, like people who actually decorate their weddings in Cleveland Browns motifs.
DO: I donít watch nearly as much TV as I should. I just sort of really donít. I do my work and I go home. I also collect Cleveland radio airchecks. I got tons of stuff, all Northeast Ohio radio recordings dating back to the late 1950s. Iíve got hours and hours, and I sell a collection of old radio jingles at the Cleveland store in Tower City. The Cleveland Memory Grenade.
VG: Whatís your favorite old jingle?
DO: Oh, thereís a bunch. Thereís Garfield 1-23-23, an old place called Uncle Billís. Half the money goes to the Jimmy Malone charity. I still collect old tapes. If anyone has some old reel-to-reels or cassettes from back in the day, tell them to get in touch, Iím buying.
VG: Can you get Sofia Vergara to leave my fiancee a voicemail?
DO: Iím actually writing notes to the cast now that Iím leaving, so Iíll be working on hers soon. I kind of have to let her down gently, let her know the sexual tension is just too much.
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