Sayre Alum Aaron Lee Succeeds in Hollywood
By John Lynch
As if Hollywood comedy writer Aaron Lee weren’t already sold on Sayre School as the right place for him to attend, his English class with David Youngblood clinched the deal.
Lee transferred to Sayre from Winburn Middle School and graduated in 1988. While in Youngblood’s English class, Lee read the existentialist classic “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett.
Like the rest of his classmates, he was asked to write a book report.
Unlike his classmates, Lee turned the project into a comedy piece, comparing Beckett’s play to the TV show “Gilligan’s Island.”
“Just like Godot never comes in the play, the rescue ship never comes to Gilligan’s Island,” Lee said during a recent visit to his Lexington alma mater.
The premise of his story was that Beckett moved to Hollywood to become a comedy writer for sitcoms like “Gilligan’s Island,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Flintstones.” Of course, Beckett couldn’t get any of his scripts sold.
After all, who needs an existentialist writer in Mayberry?
The best thing about the book report, Lee said, was his grade.
“He gave me an A,” Lee said about Youngblood.
That’s one of the reasons Lee feels so indebted to Sayre.
“They allowed me to experiment and gave me the freedom to do the things I wanted to do. That’s a rare experience,” said Lee, who is a writer and co-executive producer for the animated series “Family Guy.”
Youngblood, who retired last year after a career that spanned four decades and countless students, remembers Lee well.
“He was one of those people you wanted to talk to outside of class because he always had something interesting to say,” Youngblood said. “And he was always funny, very wry.
“He had a gift for the absurd and you see that in ‘Family Guy.’”
Is Youngblood a viewer? “Absolutely,” he said. “It was one of my daughter’s favorite shows.”
Lee wrote regularly in Youngblood’s class, keeping a journal as a class project. Youngblood encouraged Lee’s gift for humor.
“It’s great that his humor is working out for him in Hollywood,” Youngblood said.
Lee headed west to Hollywood shortly after he graduated from Sayre, lasting only a few months in college.
Lee started as a standup comic, which is how he met his wife, Jennifer MacLean, a fellow comic. The couple, now married, has two grade-school daughters, one of whom already has written her own joke book.
Jokes are Lee’s career lifeblood. In 2004, he wrote for a Comedy Central roast program and was asked back for more writing for roasts of Donald Trump, actor William Shatner and Seth MacFarlane, creator of “Family Guy.”
Lee wrote for MacFarlane when he hosted the Academy Award ceremony. After four seasons with “The Cleveland Show” ended in 2012, Lee joined MacFarlane at “Family Guy.”
The best part of his job?
“Hearing so much funny stuff everyday in the writers room,” Lee said. “I get to laugh at these funny guys.”
Lee was the funny guy as a student at Sayre. He regularly entertained at school assemblies with off-the-cuff comedy routines. He also spiced up the morning announcements with his unique observations and witticisms.
“The atmosphere at Sayre was totally supportive and inductive for me to take those chances,” Lee said.
Lee returned to Lexington in April, spending a full day at Sayre, visiting faculty and talking to students.
“I was shocked at how much Sayre has grown since I was here,” he said.
“It was fascinating talking to the students. I met with a film class and they asked me all the questions I had when I was a student at Sayre.
“The things I was allowed to do here led directly to what I’m doing now, so I would do pretty much anything for Sayre. That was a life changing experience for me.”
Photo: Aaron Lee and David Youngblood talk over old times that they shared at Sayre School