Festivus 2009: Holiday creator Dan O'Keefe takes your questions

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Dan O'Keefe
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Monday, December 21, 2009; 11:00 AM

Enjoy airing your grievances and performing feats of strength with Festivus creator and former "Seinfeld" writer Dan O'Keefe, author of "The Real Festivus," who takes your question about how he came up with the holiday and its evolution over the years.

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Dan O'Keefe: Hello, everyone. Thank you for your continued interest in a celebration enjoyed by literally dozens of stoned college students and federal prisoners around the country, and based on my peculiar cultlike upbringing.

Bring it.

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Milwaukee: We started selling Festivus Poles back in 2005 for the fun of it and expected it to be something that would be popular for a year or two. Four years later, we see that more and more people seem to be celebrating every year -- way beyond the original "Seinfeld" fan base. How does it make you feel to have introduced a celebration which is now up there with the more traditional December holidays?

Dan O'Keefe: You do me too much honor, sir. It is in no way 'up there' with Christmas, et. al. It is a younger, retarded cousin to those more venerable holidays. I am as surprised as you that the damn thing has legs. How does it make me feel? Like my father, through me, has permanently infected the popular culture with a strange hybrid virus of Jersey City and Oxford origin, in the manner that Neal Stephenson describes ideas (and the Bible) as being transmitted virally through human minds in 'Snow Crash'

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Baltimore: Good morning,

What day is Festivus celebrated and is there any significance to the date?

Dan O'Keefe: The show said it was 12/23. The significance of that was we chose it randomly. The Frank Costanza line was 'to get a leg up on Christmas.' In real life it was celebrated whenever the hell my dad felt like it, September to May. One year there was none. One year, there were two.

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Belrin, MD.: ....what is "Festivus"...as we we were out at ...the deli?

Dan O'Keefe: Huh? Does "deli"='medical marijuana dispensary?' Not following.

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East Village, NYC: Dan, please tell us about the dynamic of working in the writers' room. How do ideas get pitched within the group? Criticism? Laughter? Is there a lot of free-associating, and back and forth building upon ideas? How is the collaborative process different from writing a script on one's own (later submitted for revisions, additions)?

Dan O'Keefe: Every show has a different room, but you pretty much described all the possibilities other than vicious argument sleading to fistfights. At "Seinfeld" there were idea-pitching rooms, outline-fixing rooms, first-draft-rewriting rooms, rewriting-stuff-that-was-dying-on-the-stage rooms, etc. We could do this because we had a fairly sizable staff that was all very talented. Oh, but each writer individually pitched story ideas to Jerry and the head writers (Schaffer/Berg/Mandel), banged out the outline for approval, and then eventually wrote a first draft. So there was both a collaborative process and individual scriptwriting, blended harmoniously, hot side hot, cold side cold. Also: woooo, East Village! Born right near there.

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Arlington, Va.: Are there any Festivus carols?

Dan O'Keefe: Yes: "The Reader's Digest internal politics is giving me an ulcer," "Daddy please stop drinking," "You are now allowed to watch 'Star Trek,' children, because it is paving the way for a military coup against the Constitution," and "When does it get easierrrrrrrr?"

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Bethesda, Md.: Did your father celebrate any other made-up holidays?

Dan O'Keefe: Yes. "The Polish Hour" (unexplainable), "Unbirthdays" (after Lewis Carroll - to make up for something truly appalling a child was given an extra birthday), and others.

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Milwaukee: Did many of the more classic lines come from you or from the entire staff? i.e., "I've got problems with you people"; "I find tinsel distracting"; ". . . high strength to weight ratio"; "there had to be another way"; "A new holiday was born. A Festivus for the Rest of Us"

Dan O'Keefe: All that more or less was the writing staff, much of it me, except "a Festivus for the Rest of Us" was an actual family Festivus motto, referring initially to those remaining after the death of my father's mother, and then coming to mean in general a forward-looking focus on life and the living, i.e. "Let the dead bury the dead."

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Washington, D.C.: What's been the most surprising Festivus celebration you've heard about?

Dan O'Keefe: Any celebration of this lunacy amazes me. I think the using of Festivus as code in a Superbowl by one team whipped my head around pretty hard, though. Ravens?

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D.C.: How old were you when you realized your Dad had made up Festivus, and it wasn't an actual tradition?

Dan O'Keefe: I believe about eight. I mentioned to a kid on the bus "We had Festivus last night, and..." He said "Whaaaaaat?" I soon realized to keep my mouth shut about it and I did for literally twenty years with outsiders, to the point I had actually repressed/forgotten it, till my younger brother (Mark O'Keefe who wrote 'Bruce Almighty' and 'Click') mentioned it to the 'Seinfeld' head writers and they made me stick it in an episode, although I fought against it.

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Milwaukee, WI: Not a question, but please pass on to Dan that I would be happy to stock him up on Festivus Poles as a thank you for having come up with this whole thing. He can reach me at www.festivuspoles.com Thanks Tony

Dan O'Keefe: I may take you up on that. I am very glad someone's getting business out of this. More power to you, man.

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Arlington, Virginia: Is there any foundation to the theory that Festivus is of Irish- Jewish origin and that Leopold Bloom is the patron saint?

Dan O'Keefe: Uh, is this Julie? Or Richard? That displays an alarming knowledge of my family. My dad's from a Jersey City slum originally, my mom is obsessed with Joyce and I think wrote her PhD dissertation on Finnegans Wake, and my dad, after almost becoming a priest and then violently rejecting Catholicism, decided that the Hebrew religion was the only one he found to have merit, and thus at one point while on a three-day drunk, while stumbling through Grand Central, cornered a passing rabbi and demanded to be converted to Judaism on the spot, for which the fellow rightly called the cops on him.

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Greensboro, NC: I believe I saw television coverage of a Dan O'Keefe/Lisa Loeb date. Care to comment?

Dan O'Keefe: While Lisa Loeb is hot, I am married and you are thinking of a little douchebag parasite who wrote a book on Festivus and set himself up as an expert because he interviewed me for the Times. I'm not typing his name so his book sales don't spike, but in addition to having a clunky prose style, he was rude and annoying to Loeb, and attempted to use a reality-show date with her to promote his crappy pamphlet.

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Sterling, Va.: I am extremely impressed that you threw out a Neal Stephenson reference in the first reply. I won't be airing any grievances towards you this year.

Dan O'Keefe: Love Stephenson. I am a Democrat but Stephenson is the only person who has made a convincing case for conservatism in 50 years, IMHO: see 'Cryptonomicon' and 'The Diamond Age.'

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East Village, NYC: Dan, thanks for your great answer about the working in the room. Lots of funny people are inspired by the work you and the other writers/producers created for Seinfeld, Drew Carey, etc. What are some of your favorite influences, that you either grew up with, look back to, or have in recent years rediscovered?

Dan O'Keefe: Woody Allen, H.Allen Smith, Ball Four (Jim Bouton), Monty Python, Jonathan Swift, Dick Van Dyke, George Carlin, Patton Oswalt, David Cross and Mr. Show generally, Ben Stiller Show, Payne/Taylor, Hal Hartley, Withnail&I, Bad Santa, Ace in the Hole and Billy Wilder generally, Samuel Backett, John MArston, Eugene Ionesco, Larry Sanders, Always Sunny in Philadelphia, In A Lonely Place, Sarah Silverman, South Park, Ren & Stimpy, Lovecraft/Poe/Bradbury, Twain, Flight of the Conchords, Mary Hartman, Simpsons, Broadcast News, Martin McDonagh, Buffy, how long you got?

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Atlanta, Ga: I've got a lot of problems with you people... how can it snow two feet in Bethesda and all we get in Atlanta is MORE RAIN? Who built this city so far south and in the middle of tornado alley no less? Now, on to the feats of strength. This year participation is MANDATORY!!!

Dan O'Keefe: That seems not so much a question as a threat. Also I forgot to list in last question Jacques Brel Tom Waits Elvis Costello Redd Foxx Richard Pryor Bill Hicks.

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Milwaukee: We do get accused of having commercialized Festivus but we're having way too much fun to stop at this point.

Since the aluminum pole was not a part of your "heritage", who actually came up with that one? And did you ever remember the purpose of the clock in the bag?

Dan O'Keefe: Commercialize away. It does not involve the birth of a Savior of mankind and thus you are not cheapening anything with mere commerce.

Jeff Schaffer came up with the pole. Brilliant guy. Just launched 'The League'on FX. Watch it.

Clock and bag was real. From my dad. Still don't know what it meant. Some creepy sex thing with my mom I fear. He won't tell me and I don't wanna know.

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Arlington, Va.: Are you comfortable with Festivus as the first line on your obit, or do you feel the need to get out from under it at some point?

Dan O'Keefe: You people are not helping me get out from under it, here.

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Austin, Tex.: Expertly played airing of grievances in your reply to Greensboro.

Dan O'Keefe: Thank you, Austin. Awesome music y'all have down there. Love me that Junior Brown.

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Dan O'Keefe: Thank you everyone with nothing better to do on a Monday morning in a snowstorm. Go get a damn job.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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