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Wanna Write For Latenight? Get Tips From A 'Tonight Show' Producer

"Ratscalibur" author Josh Lieb explains why you should set your work on fire.

Have you ever wondered how latenight talk show hosts get to be so hysterically funny? So did we, until we discovered this filthy, exciting secret: They aren't.

Not by themselves, anyway.

Every comedian with a TV talk show has a behind-the-scenes team of writers whose job it is to put hilarious words into his mouth every night, thus creating the illusion that he (the comedian) is the funniest human alive.

And if that sounds like a super-cool job to you, you'll want to check out our interview with Josh Lieb.

By day, Lieb produces one of the biggest nighttime talk shows there is; by night and weekend, he's the creator of thrilling novels (including his latest, "Ratscalibur," about a dude who becomes a rat and saves the world, in that order.) And when MTV News caught up with him via email, he had lots to say about the road to writing for television.

MTV News: Tell us about your work: What's a typical day like for you?

Josh Lieb: I'm the producer of "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," so I definitely have an exciting day job. I work on other projects at night and on weekends. Right now I'm picking what I want to work on next. I feel like I might try children's poetry -- or maybe a sequel to one of my books. Monday through Friday I go to 30 Rockefeller Plaza and oversee the writing, production, staff, and everything else for the "Tonight Show." Then I get to watch this amazing show get taped at 5 o'clock, I edit it, and then I'm usually home around 8.

MTV: What has the path been like from the start of your career to where you are now?

Lieb: I thought I was going to be a poet when I was in college, but then I found out I was poor so I decided to do something I'd get paid for. I got off to a fast start in TV, writing for Jon Stewart and the sitcom "Newsradio," Then I did a season at "The Simpsons," and then things kind of slowed down for a while. I was in the wilderness a little, writing pilots that didn't get made, consulting on shows here and there. Then I went back to work with Jon Stewart at the "The Daily Show," which was great. I left to do some other stuff, and came back to New York for "Tonight." I don't ever want to leave.

MTV: What did you study in school? Is it at all relevant to what you're doing now?

Lieb: I was an English major in college, though I ended up getting my degree in "General Stduies" because my grades were too bad to qualify for an English degree. I read an awful lot in college -- a lot of Dickens, a lot of 19th century American stuff, a lot of old mysteries. It didn't really have anything to do with what I do now, except inform me as a writer, and maybe it's helped me attain a certain fluidity with my style. You have to know writing styles well before you can copy them -- and then incorporate parts of them into your own style.

MTV: You're also the author of a new middle-grade novel called "Ratscalibur." Is there any connection between your book and your work in showbiz?

Lieb: I keep my TV writing and my book writing almost wholly separate. The audiences feel so different. Plus, at "Tonight", I work with this person named Jimmy Fallon who can make almost anything funny. With the books, any humor in them is entirely on my shoulders. It's a very different way of approaching the problem.

MTV: Can you share any crazy stories from behind the scenes on "The Tonight Show"?

Lieb: I don't have any, largely because I can't remember anything! It's all too much, too fast, for anything to register. I can't focus on any one day, because I always have to be ready for the next. It's fun but frenetic -- like living in a circus that never stops performing. I have to start writing down things that happen, or I'll forget my life entirely.

MTV: What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do for a living?

Lieb: If you want to do this -- either write for TV, or write books -- the first thing you have to do is write a lot. And I mean a ridiculous amount. You have to write so much that you don't mind throwing away and changing things that you've written -- which is the second thing you have to do. A lot of young writers are very precious about their words. Don't be -- you've got to be ready to burn stuff. You're not as good as you think you are, at least not yet. The more you write, the faster you'll write, and the less you'll mind throwing stuff out.

Penguin young Readers

Josh Lieb's new book, "Ratscalibur," is out in stores May 5.