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Friday, November 11, 2011

Holy ghost writer David Javerbaum works on God's memoir

He is the Lord your God, thou shalt not have any memoirists before Him.
David “D.J.” Javerbaum won 11 Emmy Awards as a producer and head writer of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” for more than a decade. How to top such a sweet gig? By working with God Himself. Javerbaum served as the “mortal amanuensis" to the Almighty for the new book The Last Testament: A Memoir by God (Simon & Schuster, $23.99, 383 pp.), Jehovah’s tell-all book on everything from the creation of the universe to the date of the apocalypse to Adam and Steve. Javerbaum will sign and discuss The Last Testament at the Book Festival of the MJCCA at 7:30 p.m. Mon., Nov. 14. He talks about working with God, writing songs for Stephen Colbert and Neil Patrick Harris, and why it’s better to be funny than clever.

How did you end up working with God?
I left “The Daily Show” a year and a half ago, and was writing comfortably in my office one day. I turned and my couch was burning. God appeared to me in the form of a burning couch. He said, “I know thou art looking for work, and I need a memoir. I need help with the mirth.” I was flattered that He asked me, but I said, “I have an agent, and there’s a protocol.” Fortunately, it turned out that we have the same literary agent, Daniel Greenberg — so we were all on the same Semitic team.

What’s it like to work with God one-on-One?
He’s not very pleasant. He’s like the Old Testament God. He would come over and expect me to work at all hours. I’d be working on a screenplay or a TV pilot, and He’d come in at 3 a.m. and demand that I work. He’s big on divine inspiration, because He IS divine inspiration. I would type at the keyboard while He spoke, or sometimes He’d take over my body and type at the keyboard Himself.

What would you do if you disagreed with Him?
Most people have probably had a boss who was a dick or was often wrong, whom you were afraid to tell was wrong. That’s what it was like. If I thought something was wrong, I’d say “I think that’s an incredibly brilliant idea, and maybe adding this thing will make it even better.” He really likes flattery. He likes being told He’s great. He actually invented Islam just to be told how great He is.

What were some of the most surprising things you learned?
I was surprised about some of the specific things He mentioned, like His favorite football teams. Turns out it’s the Giants and the Raiders. I wouldn’t think He’d get that specific.

Did God correct any misconceptions we have about the Bible?
Most of the Old Testament is literally true, obviously. The one thing that He corrected was that He told Noah to bring two of every animal on the ark during the Flood. In fact, He told Noah to bring two of any animal, because it’s nice to have pets around on a long trip. Having two of every animal on a boat would’ve been impossible. Creating the Earth in six days, that’s possible. Methuselah living to 969, that’s possible. Two of every animal on a boat? Impossible.

What’s next for God?
We have one year to go before he destroys us on Dec. 21, 2012. He wants our last year to be a pleasant as possible. He wants us to take a victory lap together. He told me that He’s interested in making another universe, maybe one with seven dimensions instead of three, and three basic forces instead of four. But I won’t be able to see it — I’ll be toast, too. He might delay the inevitable if people buy enough of the book to justify sequel. In that event, He’ll kick the can down the road.

You started with “The Daily Show” in 1999 and left in 2010. How did the show change over that time?
The show evolved, like any living, breathing organism changes over time. The basic approach doesn’t change. It’s Jon’s show, and he’s so focused on what he wants that it’s easy to help him. It changed me tremendously as a writer.

How did it change you?
One of the biggest things I learned is that it’s better to be funny than clever. You can’t argue with funny — funny works on a transcendent level. I went into the show being arch and clever, and Jon’s much more visceral. He’d look at a story and say “Here’s the hypocrisy of the situation, and that’s where the humor is.” Sometimes the subjects lend themselves to really, really funny laughter, and some times there’s a mordant, ironic tone. Sometimes on a given day we’d err on the side of stridency, and sometimes on a given day we’d err on the side of flippancy, but I think the barometer of the show was pretty well calibrated.

You’ve written the funny opening numbers that Neil Patrick Harris sang at the Tonys and Jane Lynch sang at the Emmys. How much back-and-forth do you have with projects like that?
The Tonys song I knew would be for Neil Patrick Harris, so I came up with two or three ideas with him in mind. He liked the one that became “Broadway: It’s Not Just For Gays Anymore.” I wrote it and he made suggestions — “What about this and this and this?” He’s an amazing performer.

You co-wrote the brilliantly hilarious songs for “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All.” How did those come about, particularly with ingenious pairings like Toby Keith’s “There’s a War on Christmas?”
In some cases, the songs were tailored to people we knew were coming, and some were just ideas we liked. John Legend did a great job with “Nutmeg,” but that was going to be funny no matter who sang it. All of the songs had a solid premise. Toby Keith was very cool and got the joke. I’m proudest of the last song, "There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In," which Stephen Colbert sang with Elvis Costello. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, and I personally believe in what the song says.

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