For a man who once wrote a show about nothing, Steven Skrovan ’79 has made something of himself in the world of comedic screenwriting.
Skrovan, former member of the “Seinfeld” writing team and current executive producer of CBS’s popular sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” for which he won an Emmy Award last year, spoke about comedy, his life, and his career after graduating from Yale at a Saybrook College Master’s Tea Monday.
The lunchtime meeting was colored by Skrovan’s description of the ups and downs of his professional career. He emphasized that uncertainty is part of the comedy business and also part of life. He joked about his multiple firings.
“That’ll be a theme today,” Skrovan said.
Skrovan’s career has been characterized by frequent job changes. From the early 1980s, when he told his first stand-up joke — it was about an overly realistic doll called Gary Gonorrhea — to his present work with the major creative minds in Hollywood, Skrovan’s involvement with the entertainment industry has been eclectic.
Skrovan has paid his dues many times over. His first gig was emceeing at a club in Ohio that offered prizes for the best heckler. At one point, he worked as a junior varsity football coach in New Jersey to support himself while he worked on his act. He said comedy work was always difficult at the beginning.
“You’d wait for months and months and months before even getting onstage. I was doing a lot of bitching in diners at 2 a.m. — There’s no ‘old boy’ stand-up comedy network from Yale,” he said.
Since his time jostling for space at the microphone, Skrovan has logged years of work behind the scenes of American television, writing for Nickelodeon and other networks and hosting a short-lived talk show on MTV. His major professional breakthrough came after moving to Los Angeles. He was fired from the job he had traveled cross-country to fill, and in the employment lull that followed, he sent a rough script to a then-fledgling NBC show called “Seinfeld.” Shortly after his submission, Skrovan said he received a call from the show’s producer, Larry David, brusquely asking him, “You want a job?”
Of course, he said.
The Yale alum joined the creative team of the show in 1993, and likened his work with David and Jerry Seinfeld to “auditing a master class.” He praised their comedic talent and said he still sees their collective creative genius as inspiration for his current writing work.
Skrovan has scored a major hit with “Raymond.” Many students at the Tea raised their hands to identify themselves as fans of the program. He said the show “succeeded on merit.”
“We had nothing going for us, no stars,” he said. “We were on Friday nights on CBS.”
Skrovan delivered his class commencement speech at Yale but had few concrete plans. After driving his Dodge Duster up to New Haven’s East Rock with a classmate, he reflected on his future.
“I’ll never forget the ‘what now?’ feeling. [My friend] was headed to Wharton, and I was headed for my parents’ basement in Ohio,” he said.
But uncertainty has never held Skrovan back, he said. He encouraged students at the Tea not to worry if they did not have a clear sense of direction.
“In a lot of ways, I’m still trying to find out what I want to do when I grow up,” Skrovan said.
Michael Rae-Grant ’07 said Skrovan’s story encouraged him.
“It gave me hope because I’m not a very prepared person,” Rae-Grant said. “It was inspirational to a degree.”