These interviews are from my new book, And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations With 21 Top Humor Writers on Their Craft (Writers Digest Books), which contains conversations with 21 top humor writers. The five writers included here have one more thing in common: early on they all worked here in Chicago. (Each conversation is much longer in the book.)

If you’re wondering what constitutes a “top” humor writer, I would say an impressive resumé, deep respect from peers within the industry, and a willingness to sit still for five to 15 hours over a period of two to three days, usually on the phone, or in front of the computer, or in the back of a coffee shop—to answer question after question, in greater and greater detail, from a total stranger. And always for no payment. (Please keep in mind that if you cannot find your favorite writer in this book, perhaps he or she had “better things to be doing,” such as “spending time with family” or “earning a living.” Those are actual excuses, and, I have to admit, pretty good ones.)

If you are a student who wants to write humor as a career, or if you’re a humor writer who wants to improve your standing within the industry, or if you’re a reader who’s interested in a bizarre, secretive occupation at which few will ever succeed and those lucky enough to do so tend to go slightly mad (or, at the very least, become horribly depressed), the book might be for you. —Mike Sacks