It all started with a lie. When Etan Cohen was a summer intern at MTV, a fellow coffee schlepper fibbed to him about being a writer on “Beavis and Butt-head.” That sounded like fun to Cohen, so he cold-called head writer Kristofor Brown and said he had a few ideas of his own.
Brown, to his credit, encouraged Cohen to submit his suggestions. More to his credit, recounts Cohen, “When Kris got my ideas — all of which were horrible — he took the time to explain why they were so bad and then suggested I try again.”
Cohen did give it another try, though Brown hadn’t expected to hear from him again.
It resulted in Cohen spending the remainder of his college years at Harvard writing for “Beavis and Butt-head” and mastering wry pop-culture observations.
After college, with a degree in Yiddish, Cohen moved to Los Angeles and signed a deal with Disney Television Animation.
He landed a staff job on ABC’s “It’s Like, You Know,” and was then recruited by “Beavis” recreator Mike Judge for “King of the Hill,” for which he won an Annie Award for animation writing.
Judge also helped him make the transition into features.
“Mike called me up and asked me to write ‘Idiocracy’ — about a man who signs on for a sleep experiment and wakes up 500 years later, but a quirk in evolution has left him the smartest guy on the planet — which was insane,” he says. “It was almost like film school, except Mike Judge was teaching the class.” (“Idiocracy,” starring Luke Wilson, is slated for release via Fox this fall.)
Cohen now has a full plate. He’s the sole writer working on DreamWorks Animation’s “Madagascar 2” and he has six features in development, including “Utopia Street,” produced and directed by Jay Roach.
Says Roach, “I wanted to work with him after reading a draft of ‘Idiocracy.’ Comedy is often about taking something to its logical conclusion — which is hard enough — but with Etan you always get where you have to go and the trip is always far better and far, far funnier than you’d expect it to be.”
Birthplace: Jerusalem, Israel
Inspirations: “My family and the Boston Red Sox taught me never to give up — anything is possible,” says Cohen.
Favorite unproduced script: His original idea “Project A” (the ‘A’ stands for ‘asshole’) , which is in development at New Line with Ben Stiller’s Red Hour signed on to produce.
Reps: Agent, Dan Rabinow and Matt Solo (ICM); attorney, Peter Nichols