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Wry comedy, with Punch

The writer behind IFC's 'Minor Accomplishments' finds dark humor on showbiz's fringes.

August 02, 2007|Michael Shaw | Special to The Times

Just after college, David Punch moved with a friend from San Francisco to Madison, Wis. They had intended to open a laundromat with a bar in the back, to be dubbed "the Backwash," but quickly realized they were in over their heads. "We had a great name but didn't have any other information, such as how unqualified we were to run a business," says Punch, 42. These were hard times for Punch: "We were pretty poor, and I sold my blood for money. It's tough to build a career out of that. It's a good summer job, but there's not much of a future in it."

Such creative improvisation has served Punch well as executive producer of the IFC comedy "The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman," which he co-writes with the show's star, Laura Kightlinger. Though Kightlinger's Jackie and best friend Tara (Nicholle Tom) work at the fringes of the entertainment industry, the show isn't about the industry, per se. "IFC does shows about showbiz like ESPN does shows about sports," says Punch -- in other words, the less about the subject the better. Rather, each episode -- as much a short film as a TV show -- is a forum for Jackie and Tara to inadvertently test the limits of their friendship.

Punch has been writing in one form or another since attending Middlebury College in Vermont. "When pre-med got too hard, I switched to creative writing," he says. His first "career," however, was as a musician: He played bars and clubs as a drummer in rock bands for 10 years, until he'd had enough. "If the Nazis had really wanted to punish the Jews," he says dryly, "they would have made them work in the music industry."

During his music stint, he wrote a couple of novels before moving to journalism. He got jobs in Massachusetts and New Jersey writing for small-town papers, which he credits with giving him a solid foundation for TV. "[Reporting] is a great education," he says. "It teaches you to listen, and to write on a deadline -- to really get it out in a hurry and sell it clear and simple."

Though "Minor Accomplishments" has a dark edge, Punch's entertainment career has been relatively charmed. His first film project, "Just Over There," was a 2 1/2 -minute film he shot over two days at a friend's house in Gloucester, Mass., for $1,500. He put it out on the festival circuit, and IFC bought it for its shorts program in 1999.

It was through an IFC exec that Punch hooked up with Kightlinger, a veteran comedian who was writing for and appearing in "Will & Grace." He says he thought, "It's not every day that you meet someone who looks like a model, who's as smart as Lenny Bruce and funnier than a barrel full of Jerry Lewis."

Speaking of that meeting, Punch adds: "It was a big relief to find out that she was willing to think that other people are smart and funny too, because a lot of people who do what she does have season tickets in the Debilitating Insecurity section of the arena, and that keeps them from seeing that other people might have something to offer. So right from the start, there wasn't any of that competitive stuff that usually goes on when you put a performer in a room. She's just too generous a person to engage in that baloney."

The metaphorically inclined Kightlinger describes their partnership this way: "I'm a commoner digging a hole in a large rest area. I'm sweating, digging, lamenting my fate. Then an arrestingly handsome country gentleman in tweed boxer shorts and vest, sprouting guns the size of well-fed corgis, takes the shovel from my hands and says, 'Laura, my good man, what say we decide where to put the filling station before digging holes all over God's creation?' And that's Dave. He brings logic, light and good breeding to the situation. He's also the innately funny, imaginative, politically current concept person."

Whatever the nature of their chemistry, it has yielded "Minor Accomplishments," no minor accomplishment considering their first job together in 2001. Punch had conceived a set of interstitial shorts and asked Kightlinger to star. On the day of the shoot, she called Punch at 7 a.m. to say she was all made up but the driver had never arrived. Punch had depended on an unreliable friend to drive his star and said friend had blown it.

"I almost destroyed the relationship before it had gotten off the ground," says Punch. The shorts never went anywhere, but a series pilot was born two years later.

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'The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman'

Where: IFC

When: 11:30 p.m. Sunday

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