East Bay festival presents comedy-writing brothers

Nine years of Hebrew School at Walnut Creek’s Congregation B’nai Shalom, and all Murray Miller remembers is one measly sentence: “Yeish li shulchan” — “I have a table.”

Not exactly “I have a dream,” but Miller put his limited Hebrew to good use recently when he had a pool table shipped to his Los Angeles home. The deliverymen happened to be Israeli, allowing Miller to utter his well-practiced Hebrew sentence.

Miller could afford that pool table because for the past several years he and his older brother Judah Miller have been writing as a team for Hollywood television. Murray rattles off with great agility their “string of failed sitcoms,” including “Stacked,” “The Tracy Morgan Show,” “Committed” and “Clone High.”

The Miller brothers will share their collective wisdom about writing in Hollywood at a Sunday, Nov. 5 presentation for the 18th annual Contra Costa Jewish Book Festival.

They’ve also been regular writers for the annual MTV Movie Awards, a show known for its irreverence and hipness, two qualities Murray Miller likes to think he and his brother possess.

These days the brothers write for a hit: Fox’s enduring animated comedy “King of the Hill,” now in its 10th season (or maybe its 11th; Miller isn’t sure). But one thing he is sure about: Writing for cartoon characters is less stressful than writing for pampered Hollywood stars.

“You don’t have to worry about people saying ‘You can’t do that,'” noted Miller. “You’re given a lot of leeway. With animated characters, the [voice] actors come in, have some coffee, do the recording and head out. They’re happier.”

Ask Miller what he and his brother plan to talk about at the book festival and he replies thoughtfully: “That’s a very good question. We should probably think of something.”

No doubt these two funny Jewish brothers from Alamo will come up with a shtick or two. Both began their show business careers separately — Murray as a Manhattan-based standup comedian, Judah as an L.A. production assistant. But they found out soon enough that they came up with more jobs and more jokes writing together.

Both attended Monte Vista High School in Danville, though Judah is three years older than Murray. Murray believes there must have been other Jews there, but he says he remembers it differently. “It was like [Judaism] was this weird cult I was in,” he recalls. “My bar mitzvah was horrifying, inviting everyone from school who had no idea what I was doing. That’s why we become comedy writers: We invite too many gentiles to our bar mitzvahs.”

Writing for “King of the Hill” and its creator Mike Judge (writer/director of “Office Space”) is a dream job for the Millers, since both have been fans of the show for years. But even so, once hired, both had to do some serious cramming.

“We watched so many hours of ‘King of the Hill,’ it became a virus on my TiVo,” says Miller. “We caught up pretty quickly.”

Though the fictional Hill family is shockingly un-Jewish (creator Judge is 100 percent USDA Texas non-Jew), Miller thinks the Jewish comic instincts he and his brother rely on help the show. And living in L.A. — land of the sun-baked Jewish comedian and the 24-hour deli — has worked out well for the brothers.

“You somehow relate to other Jewish comedians and comedy writers,” he says. “I don’t know what experiences we all have in common, but I feel the camaraderie. They have a similar cynical sensibility.”

Meanwhile, back in the outskirts of Contra Costa County, the brothers’ parents — Gary and Zoe Miller — couldn’t be prouder of their sons, professionally joined at the hip as they are. “I’m sure our parents are thrilled,” says Miller. “At least I think they’re thrilled. It means if one of us is employed, we’re both employed.”

Judah and Murray Miller will speak 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5 at the Contra Costa Jewish Book Festival, Contra Costa Jewish Community Center, 2071 Tice Valley Blvd., Walnut Creek. Tickets: $10. Information: (925) 943-5238.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.