Josh Piven is the author or co-author of more than twenty non-fiction and humor books, including the worldwide best-selling The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook series (Chronicle Books), As Luck Would Have It, and The Escape Artists. His latest project is No Reservations, is a thoroughly modern retelling of the Nativity classic tale re-imagined for our times: iPhones, TMZ, the Twitterverse, and an unforgettable "reality" show featuring a very timely birth. No Reservations plays at The Adrienne Theatre's Skybox in Philadelphia, PA (2030 Sansom Street 3rd Floor) through December 15. Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a writer? Probably any one of the million comic books I read after I learned to read! Richie Rich, Archie, Daredevil, The Rawhide Kid. Need I go on?
I’ve been writing for as long as I remember…even before high school. I was always good in English class, was co-editor of yearbook, etc. Then I majored in creative writing while at Penn. My Mom was a book editor for years, so I’m sure that helped! My father is an architect but (or "and") also a very good writer. I’m also a good speller!!
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? Woody Allen. Can you put me in touch? I have a screenplay he’ll LOVE…
I have collaborated with many writers but it’s been more of an "I do this, you do that" process, mostly via email. I’d like to try to do a little comedy writing in a group. No Reservations was written with the help of a Dramaturg, but that was more for things like plotting and characterization and less input on the words. But putting on a play…that’s another story. It’s wonderfully collaborative process, and the script gets changed all the time based on what happens in rehearsals. For new plays, at least.
3. What made you want to write No Reservations? I just thought it was an interesting and funny idea, to try to imagine what would happen in this very traditional story if it was re-done using modern themes: the cult of celebrity, social media, reality TV, etc. The play touches many of these, as well as the real estate crash and other things. It’s also told mostly from the perspective of the innkeepers. Jesus (in the play he’s called "Elmer") is less the "main character" than the conceit that allows the play to explore these other themes.
4. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing No Reservations? I will be thrilled if people laugh and have a good time. I’m fine with that. Though a Tony Award (Barrymore in Philly) would also be good. That said, there are some themes the play explores that are worth discussing further, those mentioned above and just some timely topics like what it means in our society that everyone feels a need to share everything all the time. Facebook is like the world’s biggest (and worst) reality show.
5. What excites about having this cast bring your words to life on stage? What’s amazing to watch is how talented actors (and a talented director) can make lines come across so many different ways depending on how they play it: their inflection, their movements, their timing. In rehearsals, I can hear a line that I wrote and have heard a million times, and I’ll laugh because it’s done in a way I never considered when I wrote it. And this is even before they have their costumes on.
6. Is your writing process different for the stage than it is for books or television? If so, how? Totally different. It’s much more visual, at least for me. It’s not only what the character is saying, but how it’s said, where they are located, what’s going on around them, what props are being used. You have to realize this show is classic farce, so in some scenes you have 8-11 people on stage at once, all running around, doing different things at different times (or at the same time). And, there’s sound and sometimes music. This is just not something you deal with writing books. I also tend to write in chunks, and then I’ll be at the gym or in the shower or something and a funny line will come to me and I’ll type it into my iPhone so I don’t forget it…yes, I shower with my iPhone in a Ziploc bag. This also happens in rehearsals: I’ll see what’s happening on stage and then add a line or change it to make it work better. It’s a much more collaborative art form. Writing books is kind of solitary work. Plus with plays, you get to see the audience’s reaction. This is not something you get with books. Unless you stand over the reader’s shoulder while they read. My wife loves it when I do that. It’s so romantic.
7. What is your favorite part of the writing creative process? Thinking up good jokes and clever turns of phrase.
8. What does it mean to you to be a best selling author? Meh, I don’t know. I don’t really think about it. It’s a nice thing to say on a resume, and clearly it helps when trying to sell new projects. But the work is the work. If it ain’t good, ain’t nobody buyin’ it. I’ve written two novels and neither has sold. It’s not all wedding cake…
9. What have you learned about yourself from being a writer? I can’t imagine doing anything else. Well, maybe I could work in a little chapeau shop, depending on the hours (Spinal Tap reference, for the humor impaired).
10. What's the best advice you've ever received? Only drink alcohol on days that end in "y." KIDDING, kids, don’t try that at home. Until you’re 21. I’d say do what you love and then try to find a way to make a living at it.
11. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? I’d turn myself into Woody Allen. But I’d keep my good looks…
He often writes about himself in the third person. Older than twenty but younger than seventy-five, Piven is perhaps best known for his famously tongue-in-cheek worst-case books, books that offer readers real-world (though often hilarious) advice on surviving worst-case situations that they might—but hopefully won’t—encounter: everything from “how to fend off a shark” and “how to wrestle and alligator” to “how to determine if your date is an axe murderer.” Merchandise based on the series includes desktop calendars, note cards, holiday cards, board and video games, and an iPhone app. Two television series based on the books have been produced (and canceled). An expert on a broad range of survival topics, Piven has appeared on The Today Show, 20/20, and ABC World News, as well as on local news broadcasts in virtually every major media market in North America, and many foreign countries. He is now embarking on his most harrowing survival challenge yet: live theater. Check back for the obituary…