Lew Schneider is a busy man.
From writing and producing award-winning television comedies like “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Men of a Certain Age” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” to publishing essays on topics including comedy, sports and parenting, the 1983 College graduate’s plate is undeniably full.
But when Al Filreis, Penn professor and director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, approached Schneider about teaching a class on comedic writing this upcoming spring semester, he couldn’t have been more effusive.
“I would have loved this class when I went to Penn,” Schneider said in an interview, bemoaning the lack of available outlets for an aspiring comic in college in the 1980s. “I majored in Mask and Wig,” he joked.
Because Schneider’s work requires him to travel much of the semester, he plans to make four weekend trips to Philadelphia to teach. On those weekends, the class will meet Thursday evenings, all day on Fridays and Saturday mornings. When he isn’t on campus, Schneider will meet individually with students via Skype and email.
Filreis doesn’t think Schneider’s traveling will affect the quality of the class. “Courses at the Writers House have been bringing writers in by Skype for years,” he said. “I think it’s great using any technology that’s available.”
Expecting large enrollment, the Center required an application for the class due this Monday, Oct. 15.
According to Mingo Reynolds, director of administration for the Center, 50 students have applied so far, but the class will be limited to 12 or 13 students in order to keep face time with Schneider at a maximum.
While planning the course Schneider decided he “wasn’t going to screen for funny,” but instead would look for students who are “personal and truthful in [their] experiences.”
One of those applicants is College junior Josie Elias, an actor and writer for the Penn-themed web series “Classless.”
“I’m really looking for the eye of an expert to help me critique my work,” Elias said. “As a writer in any genre you have to be looking at your work objectively.”
Schneider hopes that the course will emphasize this kind of self-criticism and cited the individual sessions with students as a kind of “forced office hours” in which he would help them re-work their writing.
But with Schneider’s hectic schedule, plans may very well change.
Schneider is currently putting together a book, tentatively titled “Maybe I Should Have Just Had An Affair,” which will be a series of essays about his take on what a mid-life crisis is. He also mentioned working on a pilot for TNT.
Both the Writers House staff and students are hopeful the class will continue as scheduled.
Among the lessons “Comedic Writing” students might learn in January: writing good comedy means telling the truth.
Schneider explained, referring to his own experiences writing for “Everybody Loves Raymond,” for which he won two Emmys, “The appeal of that show was there was a sort of universality to it. Everyone knew that feeling. It’s funny because it’s true.”