For 12 years, David Raether ’78 wrote for TV comedy sitcoms, including 111 episodes of Roseanne. He absolutely loved it. It was invigorating being in “the Room” with other writers, brutally and honestly dissecting each other’s work to make sure the script was as good as it could be. Did it work? Did it follow what set it up? Did it push the story forward? Was it funny? You could write a completely brilliant draft of a script, he says—one that everyone agrees reads great—and then see it completely rewritten by the group over the week of production. If you find that upsetting or galling, says Raether, don’t go into comedy writing!
As much as he loved the work, however, the time commitment was enormous, and his family life suffered. Many nights, he would work till 3 a.m., which meant that he rarely enjoyed any family time beyond weekends. Something had to give, so he took a couple of years off to help pull the family back together—an effort that met with some success. Then, when he tried to return to TV work in 2007, he found a different landscape. Many sitcoms had been replaced by reality shows, and he had trouble finding a job, even though he had expanded his search beyond writing and editing.
Thus began what Raether calls an “incredible experience” that has shaped him in many ways. He sold off cars and other valuables to make ends meet, but sending out 2,541 resumes and applications was to no avail. Eventually, he found himself homeless. He lost his house, his career ended, his savings vanished, and his family (wife and eight kids) broke apart. The fall was tremendous. In a recent TEDxAmherst Talk, Raether talked about what it felt like not knowing where (or when) he would find the next meal, or where he would sleep that night. But in the process, he says, he discovered that he was far more resourceful and resilient than he had ever dreamed. He also learned that it is not shameful to be poor. Devastating, vulnerable, difficult, and painful, yes—but not shameful. Continue reading