Luke Cunningham has had an interesting road to his first novel. For three years, Luke Cunningham was a comedy writer for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Now he’s a middle-grade author and just released his first book LEO: Inventor Extraordinaire. Loosely based on the life of Leonardo Da Vinci, LEO, Inventor Extraordinaire was released this week. It is part The Da Vinci Code for kids and part Renaissance-influenced action-adventure story. LEO, Inventor Extraordinaire is filled with robots, wacky inventions, mathematical puzzles and slap-stick humor. Luke has a strong passion for Renaissance he developed while earning a history degree from Brown University. Check out what Luke Cunningham shared with YEM before he takes over our Twitter account today!
Luke: The best. I worked there when the Tonight Show came back to New York in 2014. I loved hearing Jimmy Fallon perform jokes I had written. It was the culmination of spending 8 years as a stand up comic. It was a joy to walk into 30 Rock every day and write for the hottest show on tv.
Luke: Jokes are little stories. Usually two-three sentences with a surprise at the end that makes you laugh. If the punchline isn’t a surprise, the joke doesn’t work. A book is a huge, complicated version of that same machine. Books need to hold the readers attention and the reader should not see the twists and turns coming. Building a 400 page machine was a lot more complicated than writing jokes but writing comedy prepared me for the work needed to write the book. I probably but 10,000 hours of work into this book over 9 years and I’m proud of how it turned out.
Luke: Writing for late night is like the 200 meter dash and writing a book is like a marathon Writing for a late night show is much more competitive. Every day I’d produce 60ish jokes total and maybe 2-3 of those would make air on a great day. I’d see results every day. Writing a book is a much, much longer and more collaborative process. The best part of writing a book was getting an editor, the magnificent Jacque Alberta, who could read my writing and collaborate on how to best build the story.
Luke: The best way to describe it is ‘Diary Of A Wimpy Kid’ crossed with a Dan Brown novel. My hope is to introduce a whole new generation of people to the ideas and the art of the Renaissance.
Luke: I went to an art exhibition about Leonardo Da Vinci in 2011. At the exhibition was a model of a 500 pound wooden robot lion that Leonardo made in the early 1500s. The robot actually worked. That blew my mind. So I imagined what if someone with his wonderful brain was born today. That was the jumping off point to the book. It also helped that his life parallels a lot of the best YA fiction. Eg. Leonardo Da Vinci didn’t meet his father until he was 13, he was a a genius in a small town, etc.
Luke: Absolutely. If I’m lucky enough for this book to lead to a series, there are so many other characters from the Renaissance that I’d love to bring into Leo’s world.
Luke: Yes. I’ve got lots of ideas for rom-coms.