An Interview with Pete McEntegart
“I don’t have training as a comedy writer but I have trained myself a bit. Even when I was younger, before J school, I was writing Seinfeld scripts on my own…and I’ve dabbled with stand-up in the last few years. I’m not a professional like Bill Scheft. I’m not a comedy writer in sports – I’m more a sportswriter doing comedy.”
“I share an office with two other writers, but they’re not there all that often. I’m sure I could write from home if I wanted to…I like to go into the office – otherwise I might not shower and dress. Also, to see people, since I don’t really do reporting anymore. I just read a lot of things and try to think of funny things to say. I’m very much in my own head – which is isolating. So I like to go to the office.”
Pete McEntegart: Interviewed on April 18, 2008
Position: senior writer of 10 Spot blog, SI.com
Born: 1969, Carle Place, Long Island
Education: Williams, 1991, B.A. (history), Columbia, 1996 MJ
Career: Goldman Sachs 91-94; Journal Messenger (Manassas, Va.) 1996- 97; Daily Advertiser (Lafayette, La.) 97-99, Sports Illustrated 2000-2004, si.com 2004 –
Favorite restaurant (home): Molly Pitcher’s Ale House, Upper East Side, Manhattan “my neighborhood tavern”
Favorite hotel: Four Seasons, Houston. ‘I was in the oil and gas group with Goldman – that’s where we stayed”
Favorite restaurant (road): “I don’t travel enough to have one – they don’t send me anywhere anymore, which is a point of contention. If si.com would send me to a few places I’d have a few. When I took the position I said I’d like to go to major events. They said yes and it did in the beginning but now much less. I do think there is a benefit to being on the scene for a big event if it’s part of the national conversation.”
Pete McEntegart’s 10 Spot on ‘How to Write a 10 Spot’, an original post for Sports Media Guide, April 23, 2008:
1. Arrive at office by 8:15 a.m. Eat bowl of Fiber One cereal. Brain must be regular.
2. Roll through rotation of Web sites, printing out top stories. Create neat pile for false sense of accomplishment.
3. By 9:30, kick myself for not coming up with innovative idea for morning post last night. How about when I wrote a spoof of CBS announcers describing Tyler Hansbrough getting out of bed? (“It seemed he just willed his feet onto the ground. He simply was not going to be denied.”) I liked that one. Read it again to waste more time.
4. With specter of 10:30 morning meeting looming, it’s now or never. Pick best (or only) idea I have and run with it. Top 10 lists are always a nice choice. Write, edit, bold the names, hit “publish” by 10:29.
5. At morning meeting, learn what actual sports journalists are doing while I’ve been concocting list of Eli Manning wedding highlights. (“1. Intimate ceremony held in gap of Michael Strahan’s teeth.”)
6. Start monitoring comments from morning post. Jump into any conversational thread I find amusing. Watch out for double-entendres run amok. Wish I’d thought of many of the commenters’ lines. Make note to steal in future.
7. Eat lunch at desk. Pick up morning story-pile and begin to write “Lunchtime Laughs,” a list of jokes in old-fashioned form (factual set-up off the sports news plus made-up punch line) that’s basically extinct except for late-show monologues and the 10 Spot. Wonder anew whether there’s good argument for extinction. Try to post by 1:30-1:45 p.m. because the natives get restless, commenting on my tardiness. Tell them off.
8. If it’s a Caption This day (twice a week), tear myself away from the comments section to search for a photo that lends itself to funny captions. Double-check that it doesn’t lend itself too easily to obscene ones. Post.
9. That night at home, select and post about a dozen favorites among the reader-submitted captions. Stress once again that it’s not a competition and there are no winners, just “happy participants.” Soothe the feelings of those who still insist they “lost.”
10. Hop in and out of comments among “night crew.” Say good night and ask them not to trash the place while I’m gone. Wake up and repeat.
Q. Are you a sportswriter or a comedy writer?
A. I was a sportswriter. I worked at newspapers and at the magazine for a while. I don’t have training as a comedy writer but I have trained myself a bit. Even when I was younger, before J school, I was writing Seinfeld scripts on my own. I had an interest in comedy and I’ve dabbled with stand-up in the last few years. I’m not a professional like Bill Scheft. I’m not a comedy writer in sports – I’m more a sportswriter doing comedy.
Q. Do sportswriters have to be wise guys?
A. Lots of writers I enjoy have that in their arsenal and can get some laughs – there are some funny guys writing sports. Gary Smith doesn’t need to play for laughs – he should just be Gary Smith. Sport lends itself to comedy – one of the things I like about sports is that traditionally it’s been a refuge from the real world.
Q. How hard was it to do a 10 Spot on Pope Benedict?
A. That was pretty easy. The pope is guaranteed humor – I noticed a lot of the late night shows getting a lot out of his visit. His visit to New York has been huge news for weeks. I went to Catholic school and was raised on Pope-ology. Obviously you have to be careful when making light of religious topics.
Q. What is it about the Pope that tickles people?
A. Good question. I don’t know that he’s inherently funny. It’s a common topic. Even non-Catholics are aware of the rituals and that he has a giant hat. There’s a lot of history there. If you’re going to write topical humor to a mass audience you need to know that a fair amount of people will get the punch lines, even if it’s a non-sports topic, like the Spitzer scandal.
For what I do, the Pope coming to Yankee Stadium offers a lot of possibilities. You’ve got one of the great religious leaders and you put him in the context of baseball – it’s sort of a natural formula for humor – juxtaposing things that are different. Contrast is the basis of a lot of humor – not that I know that much about comedy theory.
Q. Isn’t comedy instinctive?
A. Yes and no. I took a class for comedy writing and I read books about it. There are no strict formulas, but there certainly are techniques. Monologue jokes often have a factual set-up before the punch line.
Q. Do you watch Letterman for ideas?
A. I don’t’ stay up that late anymore. I go to Sports Business Daily every day for a transcript of Letterman’s and Leno’s monologues. They do a fair amount on sports, which is good – I get to see how someone else takes a crack at it. They do things that are hard for me to do because they can use a non-sports set-up and then make fun of the Knicks with an easy punch line. I can’t do that. It’s cheating to use a non-sports set-up in my world. But I will have a sports set-up and use Elliot Spitzer as the punch line, or whoever is in the news.
Q. Describe your job.
A. Now that it’s a blog it’s different than it used to be. I have more interaction with readers who are on all day commenting. It’s a very different dynamic – one that I like. There’s more instant feedback – I’m not just beating my head against a desk trying to craft a joke that I send out and don’t hear much back on it. Whereas now any riff I write people come right back at it and I can come back with comments in real time.
In general I’m supposed to riff on the lighter side of sports and on people that deserve to be mocked. Certainly the Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens types are manna to me. Our site has the news stories and people taking a more serious look at sports. Those things are important and have a place but 10 Spot is more for laughs.
Q. What is your workday like?
A. I used to file overnight when it was just 10 items per day and I posted once a day. For awhile I would write it overnight because sports happens at night and you want to reflect on everything that happened the night before. So I stayed up late but got up early to actually file it.
Since it’s become a blog I’ve gone to a regular Working Joe schedule. Monday through Friday I’m in the office at 8:15 and I try to get my first post up by 10:30, when there’s a meeting. Originally when we went to the blog format I thought I would stop the old-fashioned joke approach. But the audience rebelled and I decided I’m good at it and not a lot of other people do it. I started doing something at lunchtime called Lunchtime Laughs, which is up by 1:30. A few days a week we do a caption contest where we put up a picture and the readers write captions. Once a month we have a write-your-own-joke contest, where I give them set-ups from the news and let them write the punch lines.
As much as possible I try to get the readers to work so that I can coast on their coat tails.
Throughout the day I’m jumping in and out of comments while trying to write my next post. For material I read all the headlines and main stories of the day. I print out a bunch of stories as raw material and read through them and hope things click in my brain. It doesn’t always happen as timely as I would like – it’s catch as catch can. I sort of write out all the headlines and look them over and over until things occur to me. It’s not very scientific.
Q. Do you read other blogs?
A. People use ‘blog’ to mean so many things. I do read sites that are aggregators, like fark.com. Whether that’s a blog I don’t know. I just go to see every kind of whacky story they link to – that’s huge for me. Sports Business Daily is good. Even the minor stories, like a team having a promotion, can be funny. I need to see as much as I can.
I don’t read Deadspin anymore. I’m writing at the same time and I don’t want to see their riff on something before I do it. I look at The Big Lead in the morning – he does a bunch of links I’ll read. I don’t do too many bloggers per se – while I find them funny I just don’t have the time. I’m not going to read a 500-word riff on Kissing Suzy Kolber. I’m trying to come up with my own material.
Q. Who has time to read blogs?
A. Some people obviously are reading some of them. During the day while I’m writing I’m pretty much on the treadmill – I keep going to the main sites to see what is posted. From 8 to 12 I’m going all the time.
Q. Are you always on?
A. I work Monday to Friday basically. Now that it’s a blog I will jump in at other times. I didn’t expect this, but the readers are still there even when I’m not. I took a Friday off in February to visit my brother in California and they put up 1300 comments, talking to each other, wondering where I was. Somebody did a top 10 list of what I was doing in San Francisco. I’ll jump in sometimes on weekends. Our readership like most sports websites is mostly guys in offices. Business hours are our peak time – that’s when I’m at the controls. But I will jump in on some weekends and evenings.
Q. Do you gather material when you’re off?
A. To some extent. On weekends I try not to think about it. When it gets to Sunday I have to start thinking of how I am going to spin this or that. I’m not like some sportswriters who say the last thing they want to do when they’re off is watch sports. I still love sports – I watched the Masters and March Madness. In doing that I might see something I can make fun of on Monday. I don’t consider that work.
Q. Do you watch how many hits you get?
A. In the general sense, yes. There are times when I figure out how I can actually monitor it and then I get obsessed with checking in. Then they change the access and I go months without any idea. For awhile when I was on Fan Nation they had the number of views on top of each post and I looked at each one. Now it’s not and I’m just as happy. The hits are not really up to me. If they link me to a prominent post on the front page I get more hits regardless of what I write. It is what it is. If they put me on the front with photos f women in bikinis it gets a ton more hits.
Q. Does the number of comments indicate which posts are stronger?
A. Not really. At first they would be only so many comments. They didn’t have pagination in the comment section – you couldn’t jump from one page to the next. Once they changed that suddenly it was easier to post and read them all. Basically I have a loyal band of commenters. Some people are online all day posting, which is impressive unless you’re their employer. The first few pages will be on topic my post and they’ll add their own lines. If it’s a top 10 they’ll write 11, 12, and 13. The regulars know each other in a virtual sense. They might bring up their own topics or they might riff on posts from weeks ago. Ultimately the number of comments has to do with how interesting the conversation was on that post. It had less to do with the post itself. Commenting has a life of its own.
Q. Do you write from a couch in your office?
A. No. I share an office with two other writers, but they’re not there all that often. I’m sure I could write from home if I wanted to. Until I went to a blog I did half and half. I like to go into the office – otherwise I might not shower and dress. Also, to see people, since I don’t really do reporting anymore. I just read a lot of things and try to think of funny things to say. I’m very much in my own head – which is isolating. So I like to go to the office.
Beat writers are with their teams – they have sort of an office environment with other writers and athletes, and may not want to go to a regular office. This is it for me. If I just wrote from home every day – I’m single and live alone – I wouldn’t see anyone.
Q. Do bloggers feel isolated?
A. I would think they would. One reason I like the blog better is that even though I don’t really know these people I feel like I do because I deal with them so much. It’s nice to go back and forth. My job isn’t as isolating as it once was. Since I don’t cover events and do traditional reporting it’s nice to see humans.
Q. Is it journalism?
A. Well, I get paid. Probably not. It’s some sort of hybrid. It’s not what I learned at Columbia. It’s a living. Most days it’s a fairly entertaining way to make a living. When you come up with a funny joke it’s nice to get a few laughs. Then there’s the days when some poster decides to post something that crosses the line and you’re dealing with over-heated comments.
Q. Do you have interest in writing a traditional long form story?
A. If my goal job was to be a traditional columnist I think would play for laughs more often than not. Obviously there are some serious columns out there but that’s not what my bosses here want from me. Within the 10 Spot occasionally I will do some things that aren’t necessarily serious but might be a rant or reminiscence. I like to mix it up a bit.
Yes, I do have interest in doing other kinds of writing. But my experience is that it doesn’t fit that well in 10 Spot. Readers come there for laughs and conversation and a light tone – they don’t like it when I don’t do that. I guess I can look for things outside of the 10 Spot to do other sorts of writing. I’ve written magazine stories in the past. The 10 Spot is pretty much a full time job. I would be doing anything else on my time off. I’m trying to write a novel now – it’s a very different thing. I do occasionally write things for other parts of the site, but not often because 10 Spot wears me out.
Q. What’s your novel about?
A. It’s a sardonic thriller set on Wall Street.
Q. When will we see it?
A. I have to finish it and sell it. You don’t want to look like a chump and talk about it unless it happens.
Posted by Pete McEntegart, 10 Spot blog, si.com, April 15, 2008:
Pope Benedict XVI makes his first visit to the United States this week. One highlight of his trip will come Sunday when he celebrates mass for some 60,000 worshippers at Yankee Stadium. The Pontiff will also officiate a mass on Thursday at the Nationals’ new stadium, but since that isn’t happening in New York, it’s less important by definition. (OK, it’s really that Yankee Stadium lends itself to more wisecracks.)
Here’s what to look for when the Pope comes to the House That Ruth Built:
10. Crowd issues Bronx cheer when Pontiff admits love for Cardinals
9. Cheekily buries “Pope hat” in new stadium’s concrete
8. Absolves sin of trading away Jay Buhner
7. Hitches ride from bullpen to altar in Popemobile
6. Wiseacre removed after bellowing, “You’re no Benedict XV!”
5. Miraculously heals Carl Pavano
4. Delights crowd by multiplying hot dogs and buns
3. Draws wild cheers by declaring that it’s easier for Big Papi to go through the eye of a needle than for a Red Sock to enter into the kingdom of God
2. Communion wine jacked up to $8 a sip
1. Canonizes Derek Jeter– finally!
(SMG thanks Pete McEntegart for his cooperation)