Dan Gurewitch '06 is on the writing team for one of the hottest shows on TV: 'Last Week Tonight with John Oliver'

By Michael Passalacqua

January 29, 2015

Comedian and writer Dan Gurewitch ’06 is now working for one of the hottest shows on TV: HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver." Oliver, a former “Daily Show with Jon Stewart” correspondent, has been hosting his satirical show about news politics and current events since last spring. Gurewitch, who graduated from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University in 2006 with a degree in television, radio and film, previously worked as a writer for CollegeHumor.com. He took some time to answer questions about Newhouse, the comedy business and writing.

How did Newhouse help your career?

Newhouse gave me the freedom to fail as I made my first attempts at screenwriting, which was really valuable. I'm really happy that I had those four years to learn and try things out before being a fish in the much larger ponds of New York and L.A. It's also just a great place to meet like-minded people who you'll end up working with later in life.

Dan Gurewitch '06 is a television, radio and film graduate of the Newhouse School

What is something you learned at Newhouse that you still use today?

The importance of collaboration. To its credit, Newhouse is very good at trying to give students a realistic sense of what's important when you're actually out working in the world, rather than leaving students with the impression that everyone gets to be a lone auteur creating genius work without the help and input of others. If you're not able to adapt to new situations and bring a positive vibe to group efforts, nobody's going to want you in a comedy writers' room.

What is your favorite part about being in the comedy business?

I get to spend most of my time hanging out with and creating things with my favorite type of people -- smart, funny, lovably cynical idiots. On a creative level, I have a constant itch that needs to be scratched, and TV writing allows me to feel like I'm always making something new. I can't think of anything else I would be as happy doing. That may change later in life, but right now this is my dream career.

Do you ever struggle with writing new material, if so how do you overcome it?

There are days where the comedy baby is born smoothly, and days where the comedy baby is not born so smoothly. You have to be willing to do both, to put the work in even when you're not feeling struck by pure inspiration. A simpler answer is "necessity." When you're writing comedy for a living, writers' block can be fairly easily overcome by things like deadlines and terror.

What is your best advice for someone looking to get into comedy?

The main career advice I try to give people that are just starting out is this: constantly be creating, and constantly surround yourself with like-minded people who are doing the same. The first point is important because you’d be baffled by the number of people out there who say they want to write but never write, say they want to act but don’t put the work in, etc. If you can put yourself in the minority that’s actually making stuff and improving all the time, that’s already more than half the battle.

The second point, surrounding yourself with like-minded people, should come relatively naturally if you’re out there doing comedy. But it’s important first because they’ll challenge you and make you better, and second, because that network of friends you create will eventually help you get actual work. Just don’t think of it as “networking,” because then you’re an insufferable person. Think of it as “having friends who share your interests,” with the awareness that a potential job connection can be a nice side effect of that.

If you had to choose to write, act or perform stand-up for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

Writing. I love performing, but for me it's writing that gets the closest to filling the void. You know, the void, the gaping existential maw that haunts all human existences. We all have one of those, right?! The act of writing itself is often just the worst, but having written something is one of the most satisfying things in the world. If I could never do it for a living again, I'd find a way to do it in my free time.

Michael Passalacqua is a freshman newspaper and online journalism student at the Newhouse School.