‘Saturday Night Live’s Jack Handey Says His OCD Makes Comedy Writing Easier
Jack Handey, the genius Saturday Night Live writer behind Deep Thoughts, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, and Toonces the Driving Cat doesn’t believe his struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have held back his show-business career. In fact, Handey told Mike Sacks on the Doin’ It With Mike Sacks podcast, “I think it's a major factor in being a comedy writer.”
“In a way, I feel like I'm fortunate to have it,” Handey says, “because there are so many comedy writers and comedians that have it. For some reason, it makes you think of jokes. It's almost like a mechanical thing that your brain has a little twisted wiring that makes it write jokes.” But while Handey believes OCD has helped his comedy writing, “there's a downside to it too,” including battles with “feelings of guilt, counting things, and cleanliness.” Handey takes medication to help stabilize those symptoms which he says can be debilitating.
Most comedy fans never get to know the identities of SNL writers as their work is mainly done behind the scenes, but Handey became a household name with his short Deep Thoughts with Jack Handey bits. Sacks was struck by how those comedy pieces almost predicted Internet comedy.
“These were tweets 30 years before tweets existed,” notes Sacks.
“Yeah, somebody said that I invented tweets,” agreed Handey, hoping there’s money in that particular recognition somehow. But one reason the old Deep Thoughts hold up so well was that the evergreen running bits strayed far from the type of humor that SNL is mostly known for, including the celebrity impressions that most performers love to do. “A lot of the stuff is topical or political. I tried to avoid that on Saturday Night Live, which is probably why most of my sketches were in the last five minutes of the show.”
Other non-Deep Thoughts sketches also age well, such as Happy Fun Ball. Sacks lauds its short, dry set-up, followed by a long list of disastrous repercussions. “I just remember it occurred to me over the summer. I don't know how it happened but a lot of disclaimers made me laugh.” It’s a timeless formula — simplicity, followed by the world crashing. “Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.”
The manic disclaimers were read by Phil Hartman, with whom Handey enjoyed a fruitful partnership. “He was just amazingly good,” says Handey. “He was just calm. You could go between dress and air and he'd be in the makeup room. I would go, ‘Change this line to this, change this line to that, blah blah blah.’ He was like, ‘Yep, got it.’ He was just so cool under fire and could do just about anything.”