How I Met Your Mother Co-Creator Carter Bays hosts Comedy Writing Workshop for over 40 military-affiliated participants
Story by SPC Eric Zedalis on 07/26/2019
Co-creator and executive producer of the popular comedy series How I Met Your Mother, Carter Bays, hosted a two-day Comedy Writing Workshop through Armed Services Arts Partnership at Capitol Post June 22-23.
ASAP, a non-profit organization with a mission of cultivating community and growth with veterans, service members, military families and caregivers, invited its ambassador, Bays, to its headquarters in Old Town Alexandria to teach more than 40 military-affiliated participants, free of charge. The workshop was on how to write a pilot for a television series – from concept, to outline, to script – over the course of two separate three-hour long sessions over the weekend.
According to Sam Pressler, Founder of ASAP, Bays hosted a similar workshop for ASAP in 2016 which was one of the organization’s best, and they had been wanting to bring him back ever since.
“We offer workshops and performances pretty much every weekend, so this is another way for us to continue engaging the veterans, service members and military families who have participated in our programs, but also to invite some new folks in who may not have connected with our community yet and offer them a chance to get involved,” Pressler said.
Bays, whose other writing credits include Oliver Beene, American Dad, and the Late Show with David Letterman, had very little experience hosting any kind of writing workshop before being approached by ASAP in 2016.
“ASAP was just such a great organization that I couldn’t say no,” Bays said. “I’m just so impressed with the talent here. These writers are phenomenally smart, and I just love working with them.”
A Cleveland, OH native, Bays has family that was in the military, including his father-in-law, and for some time, he had been searching for a way to give back and show his support.
“When this opportunity arose, I was so happy to be able to do it,” Bays said. “Here was actually something that I could do, because really, I’m not trained or useful in any other way.”
During the first half of the workshop, Bays says, he goes through his own rules and tips that work for him as a writer; however, he makes it a point of saying these rules are not for everybody. Where he thinks the real learning happens is in the 2nd half of the program where everyone works together.
“They get to see how a TV show is written in a room with a bunch of writers,” he said. “That’s when the fun happens and we’re just riffing and trying to come up with an idea for a show. It’s less about me imparting some important wisdom as it is getting people’s creative minds going and showing them it’s possible. That writing comedy is not a magic trick.”
To do this, Bays says he starts with the building blocks characters, situation, and themes and a discussion ensues.
“We build on each other’s ideas,” he said. “It’s my favorite type of writing community writing. People shouting out ideas, and ultimately seeing what the whole group comes up with as a team.”
The Wesleyan University graduate also shares insight into his experience with creating the How I Met Your Mother pilot with his writing partner Craig Thomas so participants can get a sense of how the show was first conceptualized.
“I go through how we came up with the pilot, and the way that it began by just writing about our lives,” he explained. “Just writing something autobiographical about our experiences and mine, especially, about being single, my friends getting married one by one. Then realizing I’m ready to settle down, but I have no idea how that’s going to happen, or how it’s supposed to happen. That was the genesis of the show, and everything else kind of came out of that.”
Separated Service member Bill Van Camp split 12 years between the Marine Corps and the Army and now resides in Alexandria where he is very active with ASAP. Having attended Bays’ Saturday workshop, he said his biggest takeaway was that outlining a pilot episode the first episode in any television series can actually be pretty simple.
“It’s not as overwhelming as I originally perceived what writing a TV show would be,” said Van Camp. “I felt like there was a lot more simplicity than I imagined.”
Still, for Van Camp, his favorite part of the workshop was the 2nd half where he says participants got to “see it all play out in front of us” and they were able to put something together that they’d all taken part in.
But for retired Army Staff Sgt. Adam Keys now a resident of Annapolis, MD, hearing about Bays’ thought process, in the beginning, was most enjoyable.
“We got some really good pointers as to how to [write a pilot episode],” said Keys following Saturday’s workshop. “It gave me a good foundation there’s no question.”
Keys, a triple-amputee who lost both his legs and one of his arms while deployed in Kabul, Afghanistan back in 2010, said he began watching How I Met Your Mother while being treated in the hospital.
“I got hooked on it right away,” he said. “I still watch the reruns to this day, and it’s always funny.”
As an aspiring stand-up comedian who is very involved with ASAP, Keys said this event, like every other ASAP-hosted event he’s ever attended, has helped him grow in the field of comedy.
“I’ve been to one other ASAP workshop, and I also went to their Comedy Bootcamp and their Operation Improv classes as well,” he said. “They’ve all been awesome. I’ve been involved with ASAP for almost a year now. Whenever I get the chance to jump in, I try to do that.”
Keys’ “jump right in” attitude actually led to his persona being the basis for a main character in the group’s manufactured pilot episode, and according to Keys, after just over an hour of work, they already had the makings of a possible sitcom.
Bays echoed that sentiment, adding that he could sense an Esprit de corps with this group.
“There’s a sense of collaboration and being a team that you just feel in this room,” Bays said. “And it’s inspiring to see that. It’s really a study in trust, where there’re no bad ideas. We’re all a team here, and we all believe in each other. And that’s the most fun way to work creatively.”
This capacity to work collaboratively, along with a unique life experience, should certainly give any aspiring military-affiliated screenwriter an advantage in the entertainment industry, according to Bays.
“Out in Hollywood, there are a lot of people that all have the same life experience,” Bays said. “I think we’ve seen this push for diversity which is terrific and you’re seeing more people being able to tell their story in pop culture. And I think, as a result, Hollywood is ready to hear stories from outside of the standard its used to.
“I’d be excited to see people coming from a military background and creating TV shows. I think the world is just waiting for someone to finally do that.”
Bays’ advice for those looking to break into the entertainment industry is to read and write as much as possible.
“I’m about to turn 44, and every day, more and more I realize one lifetime isn’t enough to write all the ideas in your head,” he said. “People in the military are probably even so much more aware of that than I am. So you know nothing’s promised, and each day is a blessing.
“The more you get out of your head, the more road you have behind you. So get it written down. If you’re thinking about it, don’t wait and see if you still like the idea a week from now. Write it down. Write it today, and tomorrow write something new. And keep writing.”
For more information on ASAP and its weekly programming, visit www.asapasap.org.