So A Guy Walks Into A House…
Comedy writer Danny Zuker makes Manhattan Beach his retreat from a busy career writing for TV’s Modern Family.
Danny Zuker wanted to write jokes from an early age. Through a family connection, he was able to watch the last wave of Borscht Belt comics work in the Catskills in the early ‘70s. After college he worked steadily on such shows as The Arsenio Hall Show, Just Shoot Me! and Roseanne.
But eight years ago, like many in the entertainment industry, Danny found himself at a crossroads when the Writers Guild went on strike.
How did you go from strike to Modern Family?
When I started in comedy there were probably 40 sitcoms on network television. By the time of the strike there were seven. I went a year without working. We almost lost this house; it was scary.
I was all set to reinvent myself as a drama writer. And then Steve called me in for a pilot. I watched a rough cut, and it was the best comedy pilot I’d ever seen. I thought, “I have to work on this.”
It changed my life. At 45 I thought I was out of the business, and at 51 I had five Emmys. I appreciate it so much. I don’t think any of us knew it was going to be as beloved as it is.
Speaking of family, how did yours make its way the South Bay?
Like every other comedy writer, I thought I should look north of Montana or Pacific Palisades. But I wasn’t raised around show business, and I liked that the South Bay wasn’t too “show-bizzy.”
I noticed this house and thought it was pretty, and someone said, “Shaquille O’Neal’s renting that house.” I said, “Cool, let me know if it comes up.”
I made all of one good investment in my life; I bought property in the South Bay in 1998. So it’s singularly the only good investment I’ve ever made.
That first Halloween that I was the owner of the house‑not Shaquille O’Neal‑you’ve never seen so many disappointed children when I came to the door. I love it here. I know my neighbors; I feel a part of this town. And obviously it’s beautiful.
I understand your daughters are getting ready to go to college?
They are. I have twin 17-year-old girls. I just came from a college interview with one of them. They’re deciding.
Do your kids’ friends wonder if they inspire the characters or situations on the show?
Yeah, what’s funny is that my daughters are exactly the same age as the three actors who play Alex, Manny and Luke (Ariel Winter, Rico Rodriguez and Nolan Gould); they’re all 17. I always said it was fun to watch the kids who cost me money grow up with the kids who make me money. They’ve enjoyed it, and they like coming out to the set.
Do you and your wife plan to stay here when you retire?
I travel around, and this is one of my favorite places to be on earth. I look out a window and see a palm tree—and even though I’ve lived in California for more then half of my life, I still feel like the kid from New Jersey that likes that palm tree and what it represents. λ
Danny recently completed writing his 21st episode of Modern Family. He is also an avid tweeter … you can you can follow him at