Two Essays: You'll laugh; you'll cry

1) Comic, writer, and producer Carol Liefer on working in the Seinfeld writers' room. Among the surprising and delicious secrets is that they didn't actually have a writers room as we know it today. Instead of a room of writers breaking an episode and rewriting jokes, each writer—who could not be a professional TV writer but had to come from standup— had to pitch one idea to Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. If the idea was bad, David had a physical tic involving his shoulder. Leifer in this excerpt from her new book talks about the classic episode "The Marble Rye''—where the idea came from—and other episodes, like the one where Elaine encountered a store "skinny mirror." Being a woman in a staff of male comedy writers really helped with coming up with good ideas. She also talks about the generosity of her friend, Jerry Seinfeld, who did her a big solid using his private jet. Her new book seems very attractive: going behind the scenes on some great shows in a joyful way, and being a motivational how-to for aspiring comedians and TV writers.

2) Carl Sagan's daughter, Sasha, writing a beautiful essay on growing up Sagan, where critical thinking and humane skepticism and honesty ruled the day. When as a little girl she was asking "why" questions like about death, her father told the truth, but, of course in a wondrous way: "You are alive this second. That is an amazing thing." And then, suddenly, he wasn't. And she was 14. Years later, her father's papers are at the Library of Congress (thanks to Seth MacFarlane, who gets a lifetime pass from me for this and the new Cosmos), and she reflects on mortality: "And in that moment my father was both so alive in the minds of those who loved him and so painfully gone."