Wait: Does Life Want You Dead??

Caitlin Kunkel
12 min readApr 18, 2024

A process chat with TV and humor writer Evan Waite about his new gift book

Evan Waite is a fantastic comedy writer — he has the ability to be both silly and smart, ridiculously heightened and yet somehow grounded in reality at the same time. He performed at the Satire and Humor Festival I co-founded in March 2019 and brought down the house SO HARD with this piece that Emma Allen, the editor of “Daily Shouts” and cartoons at The New Yorker, asked him to submit it to her. That’s pretty much the best case scenario from reading your work out loud!

Evan also writes for TV (he’s currently working at Family Guy), and just this week published his first comedic gift book with Chronicle: LIFE WANTS YOU DEAD: A CALM, RATIONAL, AND TOTALLY LEGIT GUIDE TO SCARING YOURSELF SAFE. If you’re a short humor or satire writer, gift books are an EXCELLENT way to make the jump from short pieces to a longer concept that uses your skills. Today’s interview focuses on how Evan did just that.

I also dropped additional editor notes throughout when he touched on topics this newsletter is concerned with, like stacking projects, collaborating, and creative roadblocks.

Read on, and buy the book here or here!

You’ve written across a wide variety of mediums — you and I got to know one another from the humor writing world, you’re currently writing for Family Guy as a co-EP, and now you’ve stormed the world of book publishing.

Do you have a method for stacking projects or switching between various mediums?

It’s not an overly structured method, but I just like to have a few different things cooking so that when I get bored or suffer from writer’s block with one of them, I can hop over to something else that’s more engaging to me at the moment. (Ed note: I highly recommend this method as well! You will get a lot done despite yourself.)

Writing prose humor pieces with my friend River Clegg is fun because he and I can both send each other kernels of an idea, and then focus on other things while the other is working their magic on it. When he sends me back a much-improved piece packed with hilarious jokes I never would have thought of, it feels like Christmas morning! (Ed note: this is how I feel about co-writing as well! I recommend writing with people who have different strengths than yours)

The book clearly has an, shall we say, anxious attachment style of looking at life. How did you hit upon this idea of framing a comedic book as a “how-to” guide to stay safe when life wants you dead?

Well, I had always thought I was a fairly well-adjusted person, but when the pandemic hit, I suddenly realized that that was not the case. I felt insane and off-kilter. But it wasn’t just me. This was a huge societal shift and everyone was going through it. Almost overnight, everyone’s relationship with fear changed, and we’re all grappling with that still. So I felt confident that a humor book based around an examination of fear would resonate with other people, because it resonated within me. (Ed note: this is a GREAT thing to think about when conceiving a gift book concept — not only who the audience is for this book, but WHY and WHEN they would buy it for themselves or others).

So I walked around Barnes and Noble looking for a format that might make for a good container to discuss these feelings. I came across a section of survival guides and it instantly felt right because the tone was so heightened and paranoid.

I felt that marrying this tone with a terrified idiot narrator who gives horrible, self-destructive advice felt like fertile ground comedically.

On top of the jokes, I knew the book could help readers process their own fears, and make them feel less alone in what is clearly a strange and disorienting moment in history. (Ed note: love that Evan searched for framework and parody inspiration to match his initial kernel of an idea. Great advice if you only have half the concept developed in your mind).

Look at these blurbs!

The book has an overall framing principle but the individual pieces mostly stand alone. How did this impact how you wrote the book? Did you work out of order? Overwrite and cut?

It did impact the book in that it allowed me to hone in on one piece at a time and try to squeeze every drop of comedy out of it. Then I could clear my mind and move on to the next bit. Chunking it in that way made it feel more doable. But it also made me have to consider the balance. If an idea was funny but felt too close to something else, either comedically or tonally, then one of them had to go.

I wrote many more concepts for individual pieces than I needed, and then I would whittle it down to the funniest and most interesting ideas so that I had a menu of good options to pick from. (Ed note: you MUST overwrite)

Then when I woke up in the morning, I’d pick one and just start cranking on it. Sometimes I would pitch ideas to my friend Adam Lederer when we played tennis. The book’s conclusion was the last thing I wrote, and it was tricky because I wanted the book to end on a more hopeful note, but without selling out the conceit of the book. It took some adjustments, but I’m happy with where it landed.

What was the editorial process like?

I wrote roughly one chapter a month, and then I would submit them to my editor Becca Hunt. Then while she was reviewing that chunk, I would start hacking away at the next chapter until I got her notes, and went back to do rewrites. Sometimes it was good news and the changes weren’t too drastic, but other times she would veto several pieces and I knew I had a lot more work to do. As much as I hated that news, I had to admit that her assessment was almost always right, and she would lay out exactly what her reasoning was. It was hard to argue against.

The final chapter took a bit longer to figure out, because it had to accomplish something slightly different than the previous ones. So I pitched Becca on a few concepts and once we landed on one that we all liked, it was off to the races. The visual bits in the book made the editing process a bit more complex. Sometimes a picture was cut for space, or it was attached to a joke that got cut. Or Becca thought a different approach to an illustration might be funnier. Between the ever-changing chapters, the editing notes coming in periodically, and the graphics coming in periodically in various stages of completion, it was logistically very challenging. Luckily, my illustrator Paula Searing is one of the most organized people I’ve ever met. She’s got spreadsheets for days.

Let’s talk about Paula! The book is heavily illustrated and has a lot of visual humor in it, from inserted signs and charts to full page illustrations. Had you worked with Paula Searing previously? What was that collaborative process like?

I knew that the book proposal needed to be packed with illustrations as a proof of concept. Nobody wants to hear you describe what the images will look like one day. They want to see them! So I reached out to a friend at ClickHole, who recommended Paula to me. It was a huge stroke of luck. She’s a genius and she made a huge impact right away.

My publisher, Chronicle Books, was so impressed by her work that they recommended we collaborate on the whole book together, which is exactly what I was hoping they would say! Paula was able to execute any crazy idea I could come up with, and make it so much funnier. It pushed me to go farther and be more ambitious.

Each week Paula and I would have a meeting where she would deliver another batch of gold that made me giggle like a child, and we would talk through the illustrations to make tweaks. These meetings were always a real treat at the end of my week, and gave me the energy to keep going because I just wanted to write stuff that made her laugh. (Ed note: great look at the collaborative process between writer and illustrator)

I would pass on a chapter to her, and then as I was writing the next one, she’d be making illustrations for the previous one. The most ambitious piece to tackle was the subway map poster. It took several months, because it’s a complicated idea with tons of jokes, and a lot of internal logic that needs to hold together. But Paula nailed it, and it’s the single piece of comedy I’m most proud of in my entire career. In short, Paula rules, so when looking for collaborators, find people that rule

Have you ever had a near-death experience or felt like you had?

The best day was the day I sold the book. The worst was the next day when I realized I actually had to write it and the clock was ticking! It wasn’t as dramatic as a near death scenario, but I felt like if I blew this and turned in something unfunny, I would be exposed as a fraud and would want to die!

What are some of your influences when it comes to specifically writing parody?

I’ve been a huge Saturday Night Live fan since I was a kid, and so many of their commercial parodies are seared into my brain. The Onion was huge, and to have been able to write for them is still something I still pinch myself over. It was my first gig in comedy and so the principles and comedic philosophy I learned over there have served me very well ever since. I use things I learned there every day. Calvin and Hobbes’ Sunday strips also had some very satisfying parodies that would take on a different style with perfect execution.

The Daily Show’s America (The Book) was a huge influence. It was produced by one of the most brilliant satire programs in American history at the height of its powers. It is deeply funny and endlessly interesting. It showed me how important the tactile element of a comedy book is. When I see it, I’m compelled to pick it up and flip through it. It feels good in your hand. The colors pop. It taught me how important the visual aspect is crucial to selling the comedy. If done right, the words and images each make the other funnier. They feed off each other. (Ed note: I completely agree with this, and another book in this form I love is Megan Amran’s Science…For Her! which looks and feels like a science textbook, but is insane).

What creative roadblocks came up for you as you worked on the book?

I will say that all things considered, the book just sort of poured out of me, so once things got rolling, there was never a lack of ideas.

But one thing that was tough was when pieces would get cut, I had to make sure that my exhaustion didn’t cloud my judgement. It’s a seductive idea to keep a just-okay piece in because it means less work for you, but on a gut level, I knew that was the wrong move and that I had to suck it up. (Ed note: this is how a professional writer thinks, folks!)

One bit from the “Love” chapter I was sad to lose was a piece calling out R&B singers for being irresponsible for not promoting dental dams in their slow jams. It featured a bunch of fake lyrics to iconic songs like Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You” but with jarring, deeply unsexy dental dam references shoehorned in. I thought it was funny, but my editor felt that not enough people knew what dental dams were. It’s actually a sad indictment of our country that so many people are going down on women without draping sheets of plastic over their genitals. We can do better, America. (Ed note: I have nothing to add here except HAHAHA)

What was the timeline for the book from proposal to first draft to final draft,? Us internet writers can find the pace of publishing…glacial.

I started writing the proposal in December of 2020. That process took about 3 months. (Ed note: gift books are sold off of book proposals, which contain an overview, an author information section, marketing and platform info, comp titles, and then samples of the proposed work, about 30–40 pages).

Then I hooked up with a book editor who helped me tighten it up, and we sold it in the summer of 2021. Then I had about a year to write it, but the bulk of it was written in about nine months. After that, it was a ton of editing, discussion and review of the design, and a bunch of other tasks that are all a bit of a haze. I had to weigh in on a lot of things that were outside of my area of expertise, but the thing I tried to stay locked in on was the funny. (Funny > Correct)

You co-write a lot on your humor pieces, and writing for TV is very collaborative as well. How did you like writing on your own for the book? Was it challenging? Liberating? Frightening?

It was all of those feelings stacked together into one big feelings sandwich. It’s a lot of pressure to write any book, much less write one that is up to the standards I set for myself. My goal was to write a comedy classic, and setting the bar that high can be paralyzing. But the more I focused in on just writing a funny page, instead of a funny book, it took some of the pressure off.

One useful strategy was to force myself to be at my desk writing within ten minutes of waking up, which had me in a weird liminal state where very strange jokes would come to me. Then later when I was fully awake, I could refine it. (Ed note: this is a very interesting technique! It might be because the internal editor hasn’t fully woken up yet, so you aren’t pre-judging your work and just getting it out).

I ended up having a lot of fun writing the book because I had so much control, and so my north star was simply what made me laugh the most.

This book is the purest expression of my sense of humor, and I poured every ounce of creativity I had into it. Being able to hold it in my hand is satisfying on a level that it is hard to describe.

Could you share a favorite line or joke with us?

Here’s a joke from the “Body” chapter that I enjoy:

“Understand that your body is a jail; you’re literally made of cells! To survive on the inside, you must learn to protect yourself from yourself. For I have met the enemy, and he is us, and us is ashy, ’cause me forgot cream. He/we must be stopped, and in this chapter, I/me show you how/why.”

Evan has the type of career I imagine a lot of comedy writers would aspire to — working across mediums, getting the chance to write in his own voice as well as collaborate with other writers and illustrators on TV and humor projects, and continuing to experiment with different projects and topics. If this resonates with you, support him by grabbing a copy of the book today!

ABOUT ME: My name is Caitlin Kunkel and I’m a comedy writer, long-time teacher, and creator of The Second City’s Online Satire Writing Program. I co-founded The Belladonna Comedy and the Satire and Humor Festival, and I co-wrote the satirical gift book New Erotica for Feminists: Satirical Fantasies of Love, Lust, and Equal Pay, named one of the Top 10 Comedy Books of 2018 by Vulture. My second book, a co-written comedy craft book, will be announced soon and out in January 2026. Subscribe to my newsletter on the creative process, Input/Output in the meantime!

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Caitlin Kunkel

Satirist + pizza scientist. Co-founder of The Belladonna. Sign up for my newsletter, Input/Ouput: https://inputandoutput.substack.com/