The wunderkind writer who was signed by Pixar
At 28, Simon Rich is the hottest property in Hollywood. Sarah Hughes meets him
A glance at Simon Rich’s CV is enough to induce career vertigo. He’s written for both The New Yorker and Saturday Night Live, has published five books (the most recent is out this month), has seen his first novel, Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations, optioned by in-demand director Jason Reitman, and is currently working for Pixar.
It’s the sort of career a fortysomething would happily lay claim to: Rich has just turned 28 and with his tousled hair, rumpled clothing and fresh face could pass for 18. “It doesn’t bother me that I look so young – I think it makes the bar a little lower,” he admits with an engaging grin. “After all, I don’t think my novels are particularly impressive but for a 12-year-old they’re astounding…”
Self-deprecation is Rich’s default stance. Asked how he started off in comedy he says: “When I was a teenager, I’d try to write horror and people would read it and burst into laughter, so I got the message early on.” It’s a position he possibly developed to ward off accusations of privilege. For just as there is no doubting Rich’s precocity – he wrote for Mad magazine while still at college and was hired to write for Saturday Night Live at 22 – so there is no getting away from his background. He is the son of the political columnist Frank Rich (who provided expert help to Armando Iannucci for Veep) and the stepson of New York Times feature writer Alex Witchel. He was educated at Manhattan’s prestigious the Dalton School on the Upper East Side and went from there to Harvard, where he edited the university’s satirical magazine, The Harvard Lampoon.
Small wonder then that not everyone is overjoyed at his success – Gawker once dedicated a post to him headlined “Should Nepotism Annoy Us?” – yet even those who rail against his upbringing are forced to admit his talent (that same Gawker piece hailed his “undeniable comedic flair and imagination”).
“I’m incredibly lucky to write for a living,” Rich admits, adding that he understands the nepotism backlash. “Because of that I don’t take it for granted and work really hard because every day I worry I’ll be forced to get a real job.”
He attributes his success to a love of childish things: “I always wanted to be Roald Dahl and the biggest single influence on my writing is The Simpsons,” he says, adding “the best jokes, or at least my favourites, are ones that are universal about human relationships.”
He has an eye too for the small absurdities of life – his well-reviewed second novel, What in God’s Name: A Novel, depicted God as the boss from hell “irrational, temperamental, arrogant, emotionally needy” and took aim at corporate American culture. His latest book, The Last Girlfriend on Earth and Other Love Stories, a collection of witty, off-kilter love stories, includes a tale in which Sherlock Holmes fails to understand his girlfriend is cheating on him. He drew inspiration for the stories from The Magnetic Fields’ darkly witty 1999 album, 69 Love Songs. “Basically, it’s my attempt to rip Stephin Merritt [the singer/songwriter of the Magnetic Fields] off… even though it’s the weirdest book I’ve written, it’s also the most honest and probably the sappiest.”
As to the future, he’s unable to say much about the new Pixar movie – “I’m prepared to take on God but not Disney’s lawyers” – but admits working there is a dream fulfilled. Given his growing success a job writing for The Simpsons surely can’t be far off? He laughs. “Yes, it would be a dream come true but I’m not counting on that, it would be enough just to take a tour.”
‘The Last Girlfriend on Earth and Other Love Stories’ by Simon Rich is published by Serpent’s Tail on 31 January, £9.99
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