Buck Henry Appreciation: ‘He Took You on a Ride You Never Wanted to Get Off’ (Guest Blog)

Comedian Lizz Winstead says the late screenwriter and director behind “The Graduate” and “Heaven Can Wait” inspired her to develop “The Daily Show”

Last Updated: January 10, 2020 @ 11:31 AM

My heart dropped into my colon when I heard the news that Buck Henry had died.

Twitter was full of declarations of plans to rewatch “The Graduate,” “Heaven Can Wait” or old episodes of “SNL.” But my first instinct wasn’t to watch actors bring his incredible scripts to life, or even watch him perform.

What I wanted to do was watch Buck Henry tell stories. So I curled up on my couch with my laptop and scoured YouTube for hours watching him on every chat show I could find, talking about life and politics, like he was in my living room with me. Like he was still here.

You see, I became a really big Buck Henry fan watching him on late-night TV, back in the 1980s when I was a young, up-and-coming comedian. Back then, amazing storytellers would be staples on TV when the art of storytelling was celebrated. You know, back in the old days when people had attention spans, enjoyed nuance and trusted facts.

Oh, for f—s sake, lemme say it for you, “OK Boomer.”

But seriously, Buck Henry was one of the best. His ability to transform the mundane with rich detail while confidently sitting with each silent pause, building the story is the part of him I admired the most. Whether explaining his insomnia or his social anxiety, Buck Henry hilariously hooked you in and, like floating on a lazy river, took you on a ride you never wanted to get off.

He was also one of my favorite political and social critics. In fact, when I was developing “The Daily Show,” I went to the Museum of Television and Radio and watched episodes of a little-known sketch show he wrote and performed on called, “That Was The Week That Was” which was one of my greatest inspirations in creating “TDS.”

When talking politics, Henry’s ability to sum up a politician in a single sentence was done with a dry wit coupled with a succinctness that comes from judiciously choosing only the words you need. When asked about George Bush on Letterman in 1988, he effortlessly responded, “We need a president who’s fluent in at least one language.” Aaaand scene.

So watch “The Graduate” and “Heaven Can Wait.” Then while you’re at it, binge “Get Smart” because Agent 99 is one of the most amazing female characters in a sitcom. But make sure also you carve out the time to watch him tell stories, because the Buck Henry under all those layers is a force in his own right.

Lizz Winstead is a writer and comedian. She is the co-creator of "The Daily Show" and served as its head writer.