How did you become a writer? I became a writer in high school, co-authoring a wicked "Batman" parody in the school paper, called "Vultureman," with his faithful young sidekick Crow, my first published success. In college, I wrote for the humor magazine, which I later edited, and then did a humor column on college life in the campus daily at San Jose State University. The journalism fraternity, Sigma Delta Chi, published a paperback of my pieces, "The Portable Nachman" -- and I was on my way. A few months before graduating, I got an offer from the San Jose Mercury-News, quite out of the blue, to write a TV column, and later added a humor column.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). My major influence was Robert Benchley, whose nonchalant comic style I ruthlessly tried to mimic. I read everything he wrote, the funniest man in print I'd ever read (more laugh-out-loud funny than Thurber or Perleman). I also was heavily influenced by Mad magazine's mercifless jabs at all pop culture, Max Shulman's column on campus life that ran in the college paper with Marlboro ads, and the satirical comedians of the time --Nichols & May, Bob & Ray, Stan Freberg, Tom Lehrer, Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman, Bob Newhart, etc. (all of whom I later wrote about in my 2003 book "Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s"). I had a creative writing teacher at college, Roland Lee, who was a big supporter of mine. The book that most influenced me to become a journalist was Ben Hecht's autobiography, "Child of the Century." Mencken was also an influence, his flamboyant rococo style more than his views or politics.
When and where do you write? I write at a computer in my study, surrounded by photos of some triumphant moments in my career, musical theater posters and showbiz artifacts. I write every day for four to six hours if I'm working on a book or have a free lance assignment or column deadline.
What are you working on now? I'm now at work on a book about the landmark Broadway musical showstoppers, also a memoir and a collection of my entertainment pieces from my 14 years as critic and columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? I've never had a real psychological writer's block, just periods when I'm not much in the mood, or don't feel inspired or in a funny frame of mind, but it always passes. I've never understood writers who claim it's agony and claim to bleed every sentence. For me, it's a joy and a release, if it's going well. It's all I really know how to do with any competence. It keeps me engaged and entertained as nothing else does, except friends or a great musical or solo performance.
What’s your advice to new writers? Read everything, the classic advice that I never quite followed, and write, rewrite and polish every day. Be as tough on your work as you can be, advice I wish I were more vigilant about. New writers, if they're any good, don't really need advice.
Bio: TV critic and humor columnist, San Jose Mercury-News (1960-1963). Feature writer, New York Post (1963-1966). movie and theater critic, Oakland Tribune (1966-1971). Feature writer, critic and syndicated humor columnist, New York Daily News (1972-1979). Critic and humor columnist, San Francisco Chronicle (1979-1993). Author of six books, including "Playing House," "Out on a Whim," "The Fragile Bachelor," "Raised on Radio," "Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s," "Right Here on Our Stage Tonight!: Ed Sullivan's America." Winner of an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for a series on Broadway lyricists, Pulitzer Prize juror on the best play of 1989, winner of New York Newspaper Guild Page One Award for humor.