Frustrated writers take strike online

NEW YORK — If David Letterman were on the air now, he might offer this wry commentary about the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike: “Everyone in New York City is behind the writers. Today, I was walking through Central Park, and I saw a squirrel picketing his nuts.”

That joke, by “Late Show With David Letterman” writer Bill Scheft, instead was posted on a blog created by 10 of the late-night program’s writers, who are drawing on the humor they usually bring to their jobs to cope with the walkout.

Eric Stangel, who is co-head writer and a producer of the show, along with his older brother, Justin, launched recently as a creative outlet for the staff.

“This was a good chance for these guys to get their writing styles out there, communicate the message of the strike and also show how funny they are,” he said.

Plus, “We’re a bunch of guys who work 12 hours a day, all year round, and all of a sudden we have nothing to do,” said Justin Stangel.

Since the bare-bones blog went up, the sardonic chronicle of life on the picket line not only has given the “Late Show” staff a platform, but also has emerged as an effective guerrilla weapon in the public-relations battle between the union and the studios.

With a mixture of offbeat jokes and familiar Letterman bits (the unflappable Hello Deli owner Rupert Jee has video cameos), the writers offer self-deprecating anecdotes about their strike experiences, peppered with jabs at their corporate adversaries.

Quipped Steve Young: “It’s all the fun of working on the show, without the stress or the pay.”

By the end of its second week, the site had logged more than 60,000 hits and had received fan e-mails from as far away as Australia and Germany.

“It started as an outlet because we were going nuts from walking in a circle,” said Scheft, a 16-year veteran of the show. “Then, with the firestorm of hits and the awareness, I think we realized there was a bit of responsibility that came with it.

“We are fighting for the Internet, and we’re getting the message out about the strike through the very thing that we’re fighting for. The response just shows you how ingrained this is in people’s lives.”

When the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers announced plans to resume talks, one factor that apparently contributed to the detente was the fear among some studios that the blogs and videos effectively were casting them as villains.

“They’re our version of electronic samizdat,” said Michael Winship , president of WGA East, alluding to underground publications distributed in the former Soviet Union. “The humor is devastating.”

Perhaps the most prolific purveyors have been writers for late-night comedy shows, who are accustomed to quickly satirizing current events.

“It is important to us that people understand what we’re doing and that we’re not just willfully taking their shows off the air,” said “Daily Show” writer Tim Carvell. “But it also just felt so good to write jokes again.”

Beneath their jokes, however, is a strong undercurrent of gloom.

“You go home and sit in your house and say, ‘I have no job. I don’t know when it’s going to be over,’” said Justin Stangel, 38, who joined Letterman’s program with his brother as a writer in 1997. “It’s really just a miserable time.”

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