The Conversation: Saturday Night Live writer Simon Rich on love stories, Tina Fey and Twitter

'Most of what I write is really bad'

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The Independent Online

You're so young, and you've achieved so much – how's that working out?

I have friends who are doctors and pro bono lawyers so I always feel like there is something fundamentally silly about making stuff up for a living.

A lot of your characters are quite lazy – is that you?

I keep a pretty strict schedule. I write every day, seven days a week. But I don't work that many hours – about 40. That's probably fewer hours than a gas station attendant. In the middle of the afternoon my writing becomes very bad.

What's your new book about?

It's a bunch of supernatural love stories about dating in your twenties. It's very personal. In my twenties the most high-stakes thing was dating, so I started writing about my experiences. It was upsetting because these were the most visceral, affecting moments I'd ever had, but when I wrote about them in a realistic style they ended up being really dull.

But when you bring in an ex-girlfriend who's dating Adolf Hitler, as you do in one story…

Exactly. When you find out your ex is dating somebody new, it feels like they're dating Hitler because you hate them so much. Or when you have a stranger kiss you, you're expecting a call from the President of the United States.

One thing that keeps cropping up in your work is a hatred of pretentious art.

My heroes have always been as accessible as possible, like Douglas Adams or the writers of The Simpsons. I would never use a word that someone would have to look up, and I would never use a footnote.

Were you a writer on Saturday Night Live when Tina Fey was doing her Sarah Palin impression?

It was my second season. All of a sudden there'd be a metal detector on your way to the writers' room. Barack Obama was on the show before he was President. He had protection and these guys are trained to be on high alert for anyone who looks even remotely suspicious. I'd written a sketch about blood-thirsty pirates and there were actors with blood streaming down their faces: I saw a bunch of secret service guys reaching for their guns.

You hook the reader very quickly in your books.

I'm a really big fan of pop music, and I think that's influenced my writing. Most of the songs I like, you get to the chorus by 40 seconds. I like to hook somebody by the end of the first page.

The phone you just put in your pocket, was that a Nokia 3310?

This is just for my time in England. But my actual phone is even worse. It's just so I'm unreachable by email because otherwise I'd be distracted. I love iPhones, but if I had one I'd be too distracted by basketball scores to reach my daily word count.

And you're not on Twitter.

If I write anything that's worth showing, then I can probably get some money for it. Most of what I write is really bad. The public only sees 5-10 per cent of it. I'd be very scared if they had access to that other 95 per cent. When I was 16 I was, like all 16 year olds, extremely arrogant. I thought I was the greatest writer on Earth. If I had had access to blogs, or self-publishing, I'd have published novels. And I would have been humiliated by them today. I'm so grateful that I was unable to publish my teenage novels.


Simon Rich, 29, is from New York. After graduating from Harvard he became a writer for Saturday Night Live and, more recently, Pixar. His new collection of short stories, The Last Girlfriend on Earth, is available now