Kirker Butler is an American animation writer. He has written and produced several episodes of the animated series Family Guy, and has served as co-executive producer of The Cleveland Show, another series by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.
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I grew up as a comedy nerd in Kentucky and now live in Los Angeles. I've been a TV writer for the past thirteen years on shows like What I Like About You, Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, The Neighbors, and Galavant. I just wrote a new novel called Pretty Ugly that is set in the world of children's beauty pageants in the south. I am also the author of the graphic novel Blue Agave and Worm. You can find out more on my website here: http://kirkerbutler.com/books/. I'm also on twitter @kirkerbutler AMA!
Guys, I have to wrap this up! It was so much fun! Thank you for having me. I'll check back later and answer a few more questions if you post them. Take care, and thanks again.
I'm back for a few minutes. It's 8:30 PST. If you're still interested, I'll answer a few more questions.
Okay, I'm out again. Thanks so much. You guys are cool.
How did you break into writing for TV? LA seems a long way from Kentucky. And how is writing a novel different from your writing day job?
I was living in Kentucky and making a short film called The Confetti Brothers about two idiots who own and operate their family's 75 year old confetti business. I came to LA to shoot Rip Taylor for the film and through a mutual friend met a guy, Wil Calhoun, who was running Friends at the time. He read my stuff and told me to stay in touch and if he ever got the chance he'd hire me. I stayed in touch and two years later he got What I Like About You on the air and, true to his word, hired me.
TV is very collaborative. Lots of voices contribute to a show. Family Guy and Cleveland had 20 some odd writers pitching jokes and stories. The novel was just me. So, if a TV show sucks there are lots of people to blame. If my book sucks, it's all on me.
Coming from a small town when did you first know that you could make it in Hollywood?
I failed so spectacularly as an actor in Chicago, that Hollywood was kind of terrifying. I always had the thought that if it didn't work out I could just move back to Kentucky. I'd done it once already, I could always do it again. But once I was in my second year at Family Guy it all kind of felt a bit more permanent. That being said, I might have to move back someday, so you never really know.
Nice username btw.
Kirker, what's it like working along-side Seth McFarlane? Also, is it true what was said in the commentary track for Hell Comes to Quahog that it was a riff on the old movie Hell Comes to Frogtown?
Seth is a genius. He works his ass off. Mike Henry said the FG writers room was like a comedy gym where you went in and worked out for 8 hours a day. At the end of the day you were exhausted, but you were funnier. This was true, and Seth was the reason for of that.
Yes, I took the name from Frogtown. Rowdy Roddy is awesome. I actually met him at a wine tasting of all places in central California. Good dude.
Hey Kirker, thanks for your contributions to entertainment! I don't know if that constitutes as a question. So, how do you feel about the level of success you've had thus far?
I feel fucking great about it. If it all went away tomorrow, I'd feel incredibly fortunate I got to do what I've done.
I read and liked Pretty Ugly. Pretty ballsy to write from a female perspective as a male. What made you think you could pull that off?
Thanks. Someone said on my book tour that I write like a woman, which I took as a huge compliment. I've been married for 15 years, have two daughters and I'm close to my mother. If I didn't at least try to understand women, I'd be in a world of shit.
Hell yes. That's an answer I can get behind! I'm the host of a movie-based podcast, Movie Buzzed. We get buzzed, enjoy a movie, provide commentary/trivia, and interview a guest. We'd be ecstatic to have you on as a guest! Would you be interested?
Hell yes. Tweet at me. @kirkerbutler /r/trees!
Kirker, what's your favourite cheese?
I can eat cream cheese by the barrelful, Philadelphia Brand, original. Nothing better.
Do you fear that, one day, a robot will take your job? Why or why not?
I think this is a very rational fear we should all have. Skynet is real, guys.
who is your favorite Family Guy character to write for?
Brian because he's so smart and Peter because he's so dumb.
Hey, I know you did several voices on Family Guy/The Cleveland Show, and a lot of the other writers did too. How was it decided if a writer would perform a voice, instead of auditioning another actor to play it?
We would sometimes break off into small groups to write the cutaways, four of five of us, and then we'd come back in to the main room and pitch them to Seth and the other show runners. We'd try to perform them as best we could and if they got a big laugh sometimes we'd just get to do the character because it got a laugh in the room. A lot of those jokes work because of the delivery and since we wrote them, we knew how they should be delivered.
I wrote a bit in a room late one night with Alec Sulkin and a couple others where Meg and Chris were breaking in to George W. Bush's compound. I did Bush in the room and Seth let me do it on the show even though he'd already done Bush a couple times. I did two more Bush episodes (I think) after that.
Well, you wrote some of my favorite FG episodes. Thanks for that. [/asskissing]
Since I'm feeling brave enough for a follow-up question: What would you say was your favorite animated episode to write, of any series?
Being a huge Star Wars nerd, writing the Something, Something, Something Dark Side episode of Family Guy was pretty incredible. Also, when any TV writer says, "I wrote that episode" just know that 20 or so other writers contributed a ton of work to it. However, all your favorite jokes in SSSDS are mine. :)
Your wife must be pretty kick-ass. In what ways has she influenced you?
My wife is the best. Seriously, you should all meet her. I'll see if I can set that up.
She's also a writer, Karen Harryman (Auto Mechanic's Daughter, available now on Amazon), is my first reader and the one who tells me if what I'm writing is good or horrible. Most of the time I agree with her.
YES!!!!!!!!! We just had our 420 episode w/ VFX artist Peter Kuran I have a feeling that this will go swimmingly.
I'm so in.
How did you get into writing?
I was at the Second City Training Center as an actor in the mid-90s. I was hoping to be an actor, but I was not very good. On the MainStage at the time was Stephen Colbert, Steve Carrell, Adam McKay, everyone who's anyone in comedy, and I knew I could never do what they were doing because they are geniuses. I told my teacher this, a guy named Joe Keefe, and he said, "you're funny, can you write?" So, I started writing. Five years later I actually started getting paid for it.
What did you do for money during those first five years?
There are some great street corners in Louisville, Kentucky with some very generous "donors" as I liked to call them.
Actually, I worked retail. For some weird reason I was the Polo and Tommy Hilfiger Jeans specialist at Dillard's in Louisville. Not my proudest moment. Then I got a job as a tape editor for WHAS TV in Louisville. I was just there last week promoting my book. They don't use tape anymore. When I moved to LA I temped for a few months before I got a job working as a news producer for E! I did that for 18 months before WILAY.
Who was your favorite Galavant guest star to work with? And any word on a season two?
We shot in England and I was here for most of it so I didn't get to meet a lot of them; however, I was there for my episode which starred Ricky Gervais. It was very cool. He was great. So funny and friendly. He improvised and made the whole episode so much better. Dream come gruel I also met Weird Al at one of the Galavant parties in LA. I was gushing over him so much that another writer eventually came over to me, pulled me away and said, "I'm saving you from yourself."
Also, no word yet on season two. We should know one way or the other very soon. Fingers crossed.
How is it working with Timothy Olmudson?
Is this you, Tim? We talked about this.
Tim is awesome. So funny and such an actor's actor. We threw a lot of crazy shit at King Richard this season and he was game for all of it. Love that guy.
Do you have any desire to break into the film industry?
Sure. I'd love to write a movie that actually gets made. But even in the time I've lived out here it's changed so much. Studios are making fewer and fewer movies and what they're making all kind of seems the same. If the right thing came along, then sure, but I'm really content where I am. If I never make a movie, I'm cool with that. TV has been very good to me.
Is there any jokes that you have written for family guy or the Cleveland show & felt that it went a bit to far but it was aired?
Nothing I felt went too far, but there are a few things I'm amazed are on TV. I wrote the Mexican abortion scene from Family Guy where Peter finds out he's a Mexican immigrant and his mother tells him the story of how he was born. We see her as a younger woman going into an abortion clinic in Mexico. Then she's hanging by her arms from a pole as blindfolded Mexican children hit her stomach with sticks. Peter is born anyway and two doctors come out, one with hedge clippers to cut the umbilical cord and one with a leaf blower to clean off the baby. At the table read Fox standards said there's no way we could do that. But Seth liked it so he said, "let's see it at the next stage" and we did and it was even worse. Fox again said no, but Seth said, "let's see it in color." So, we did and it was horrifying but hilarious. Fox still had a problem with it, but somehow Seth was able to convince them to keep it.
Interesting side story: a few months ago I went to a movie with a writer from The Neighbors. She's friends with Moby, who came to the movie as well. Before the movie started I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked over to see Moby leaning over and whispering, "when this is over I want you to tell me all about the Mexican abortion." That was oddly gratifying.
How handsome are the booksellers you have met on tour?
Some of the best looking people I have ever met work in bookstores around this great nation. If any of you are reading this, just know that I want you all in that special way.
If you were stuck on a deserted island with a mermaid, would you rather that mermaid be top half or bottom half fish?
I like boobs a lot so I would say bottom half fish. Also, I'm sure the conversation would be dreadful with a fish head.
Now that I purchased a copy of Pretty Ugly can I
1: Write fan fiction where I continue the journey of the characters after the book ends?
2: Adapt the book into a short film using the actual locations (or close approximations) you mention in the book?
First of all, thanks for buying the book. Please tell your friends to do the same.
Second, I hope you write a mountain of fan fiction, and it becomes the next Fifty Shades. You deserve it.
Any advice for writing comedy?
My advice to all writers is to write every day and finish what you write. Even if it sucks, finish it. If you write and don't finish, it's just dicking around. If you finish, it's an accomplishment.
For comedy I think it's important to have a point of view. Write what you think is funny. You will quickly find out if others agree.
You told me I was special!
And you were, Don. You were.
On days when you have writer's block, how do you get the juices flowing?
Where do you get inspiration from in your writing and your jokes? Are there specific writers or comedians that influence the kinds of stuff you produce?
I've fell in love with comedy at a very early age. Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, David Letterman, Harold Ramis, John Hughes, guys like that are who shaped my idea of what was funny. It's all had a cumulative influence on me and my writing. If I could someday write something half as good as those guys, I'd be very happy.
I'd like to continue on this a bit further as it pertains to my question.
You said it took you 5 years before you started getting paid to write, so what were you doing with your writings to get noteriety? Where were you submitting your writings before someone caught on to them and said "I'll pay you to write for me."
I submitted to every journal and magazine I could find, and I still have my rejection letters from every one. Eventually, despite all the rejection, I felt confident enough to write and direct a short film. It was called The Love Seat and it was a 15 minute silent film about a guy and his favorite chair. When he gets married, his wife throws it out and gets a new sofa. The man is heartbroken and leaves with his chair to find a place where he and the chair can be together forever. It was pretty strange, but I got it into a few festivals and it caught the eye of Lloyd Kaufman, founder of Troma. It was not a Troma-type film in any way, but Lloyd was very supportive and encouraged me to keep going. So I wrote and directed The Confetti Brothers, which gave me a bit more confidence and got into some other festivals. We actually ended up taking it to Cannes in 2001 where Lloyd screened it at Troma's festival in Cannes. It all had a cumulative effect. I wasn't making any money doing this, but I was getting experience and gaining confidence. I was also writing every day so when the time came for me to get a job, and I was asked, "do you have anything I can read?" I had a ton of material ready to go.
>Seth convinced them to keep it
Seth knows how to play his cards.
I have two children, both young girls. And no, there's no way in hell I would let them watch Family Guy. They do really love True Detective though.
Flight or invisibility?
Flight. For traffic purposes.
How did you get the gig directing a Steel Panther video and does that mean you will be occupying the Directors chair more often?
I've been trying to develop a show with those guys for a few years now. They're incredibly funny and hopefully it will actually happen. When their latest album came out they approached me with an idea for a video, and I ran with it. I love those guys.
And yes, there are a couple things I'm working on to direct. Who knows if any of them will actually happen, but I'm working on it.
What's your writing process in terms of having a balance of story and funny? Do you write an unfunny storyline first just to get a basic story arc then make it funny? Or do you try to be funny right from the get go and build the story arc as you go along?
Good question. If I'm writing something original, I usually start with character. For me it all comes from the character, and if he/she is interesting than the story is easier to find and make funny.
When I'm writing for TV it's a combination. Some stories are inherently funny which makes them easier to write funny, and some are a little harder. Usually, the more specific a story is to a character, the more humor you can wring from it. When Peter found out he was a Mexican immigrant on FG (a storyline pitched by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, btw), it was easy to make funny because you knew Peter as a character, plus with all the immigration stories in the news we had a lot of places to go. Other stories are harder to make funny because they're less specific. A hurricane hits Stoolbend for example. That was given to us as an event night by Fox so we had to come up with a story that wasn't necessarily specific to our characters. It was a little harder, but I think it turned out well.
Have you ever had a Mountain Dew?
I'm from Kentucky. I was baptized in it.
Blue Agave and Worm should be a Netflix animated series. Can you make that happen?
I'm doing everything I can to make that happen! Believe me.
Is a pig's pussy pork?
Tastes like it to me.
what in-jokes have you hidden inside your writing on TV shows?
I usually put at least one Star Wars joke in every script that I write. Sometimes they make it all the way through, and sometimes they get cut. I think the only show I wasn't able to do was Galavant. It's hard to squeeze a space reference into a medieval fairy tale. Also, sometimes I'll name a character after someone I grew up with, or maybe a family member. And, of course, the subliminal Illuminati mind control references that Hollywood requires all writers to include in their drafts.
Family guy or The Cleveland Show?
I love the Cleveland Show, but Family Guy touched me first. You never forget your first.
Do you know Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and is he as awesome as his name? :D
He is a she, and she is awesome. We shared an office when we first started at Family Guy, it was a supply closet that they converted for us. She's hilarious. I love her. Although her real name is Cherry Chevapravatdumrong-LeBeouf, but she dropped the last part because people kept spelling it wrong.
I've read of writers often changing names of say a murderer in their scripts because someone on staff does a search and finds that only 2 people in the world have that name and might get mad. do you have to clear your buddies' names that way when you sneak them on a script?
There is a rule the legal departments of all the networks have about names, but I don't know what it is. I'm sure it's something very convoluted and nonsensical.