I've been looking back on my adventure in Hollywood, culling pages from my journal...
So, as it turns out, my big reason for joining the WGA Activities committee, to get a workshop going, was misdirected at best. I was on the wrong committee. Another committee, the Programs committee, would do something like that.
We reach February 1992, and I had finished and sent off “Like Magic.” I’m surprised to read that I had serious doubts about it at the time. Now, I have fond memories of it (In fact, I’m supposed to be working on it). But I was also annoyed that my Hollywood connections (Kevin, Bill and Joel) didn’t want to see any of my scripts, they just wanted to consider stuff they pitched to me.
September ended with nothing going on, which bled into October. No word on anything. My new Atari PC was replaced, so that meant I had to get back to work on something.
Later, word was coming out of Hollywood that Paul Ruebens was already at work re-building his career, and leaving Pee-Wee at the wayside for the time being. So, hurray for him. ABC announced it was getting out of the late night business. Not my fault!
or Skit Happens
During my time with Olympia Dukasis' Whole Theater, I managed to impress Ms. Dukasis with my comedy material. Here's how I know:
At this time, 1988, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” had a mini-tradition of asking Oscar nominees for best supporting actor to host the show. And they asked Ms. Dukakis. Good for her. But then the weirdest thing happened. Tom Gilpin called me aside after one of our rehearsals and asked me if I wanted to meet with Olympia Dukakis. Sure?
Mid-August 1991, word comes in from Hollywood. Kevin wants to know how the “Magic” script is coming. Again. Once that’s out of the way, he remembers to tell me that “Kringle” is being sent to the William Morris Agency, as well as a couple of other places. But mostly he wants the “Magic” script.
Bill, from “Party” calls to assign me some bits to write. I note in my log that this is a good sign because the writer meetings have generally been without form. I write that some “kid” on the staff seems to have made an impression on people and might wind up as an on-screen character (“Oh, well.”)
or Skit Happens
We had to write a book report on it (naturally) but something in me was stirred. I couldn't just write the same old type of book report. I actually decided I was going to honor the book by mimicking it. I was going to use the style and logic of the book to make my point. What that point was is long forgotten, but I do remember one line that summed up the style of that report: "Yes, Captain John Yossarian would fight the army, but he couldn't expect beat it, after all, if the whole Nazi army couldn't, how could he?" Snappy, right?
I am a comedy nerd. Granted, I haven't kept up with some of the latest stuff as I am also a prude. There's so much more effort put into to being "outrageous" or "gross" or "scatological" instead of just, you know, funny. I'm old fashion that way. However, my failings include leaning too far into clever over funny. Anyway, I loved comedy enough that I decided I wanted to do it. It was a matter of getting up the nerve.
What finally gave me the nerve to try it "out loud," so to speak, was an assignment in my High School English class. My teacher, Mr. Dowling, included the book "Catch-22" as part of the class curriculum. Holy mackerel! That was some amazing book. Deep, meaningful and funny as all get out. Absurdist and anti-establishment. And it seem to channel the comedy stylings of the Marx Brothers or Abbott & Costello like I'd never seen before and certainly not in school. This was a real eye-opener.
Later, in college I had this awful English teacher. He handed out a stupid writing assignment, to research and write about one subject from a list of two dozen of the driest topics ever which he handed out. The affect of rain on Peru agriculture?* The best selling soap in the country?* Ugh! This was not something I desired to do. I hated research. I glumly scanned the list. Then something leapt out at me. One of the topics was discussing the future of Ocean Picture Theaters. Ocean Picture Theaters. Yes, yes, it was a typo, but it was a typo I was going to run with! I handed in my paper as a CEO's report to his shareholders about the difficulties of the Ocean Picture Theater business, essentially Drive-Ins but for boats and sharks. My mark was okay, but he was forced to concede that I had taken full advantage of his "error." Ha! Never the rebel, I was really concerned that I had pushed my luck with this one.
So I've been in an out of the "comedy biz" (as no one calls it) for years. I've written articles, screenplays, stage plays, TV pilots and specs. And sketches, so many sketches.
These days on the internet there are self-appointed "comedy police" who patrol the 'net looking to trip up comics by pointing out that they stole a joke, premise, bit or adverb from another comic. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't. There's comedy zeitgeist, I believe, where certain concepts and ideas just seem to emerge and become apparent to writers. There is parallel thinking all over the place. There's also a ton of easy punch lines go after. There are billions of people on the planet, you just know a couple of them are going to come up with the same idea. It's happened to me a couple of times.
I was submitting material to two different radio outlets for a time, if one rejected it, I still had a chance the other might accept.
I wrote a game show sketch (unique, right?). The first place passed on it. The second company, however, gave me a maybe. He liked it well enough, but wasn't sure. He essentially said, "We'll see." This is one of those sketches I fell in love with as soon as I wrote it; a silly idea followed through to a logical conclusion, staying true to the game show premise but having fun with it. It wasn't a string of joke-jokes, but a mix of jokes, concepts and a rhythm of language and pace that carried it along. The game show was called "Homonyms!". Needless to say, not long after I submitted the skit to the radio people, "30 Rock" introduced its new game show "Homonyms." It was a 30 second black out/cut away bit from the main plot, but still. It was meaner than my version and the logic was reversed from my bit; where their contestant could never be able to win, my contestants seem to struggle to correctly respond to what was an obviously easy set up.
I wrote to the radio producer and said "See, this could have been yours!" But I held the skit in my back pocket. After all, "30 Rock" used it as a 30 second black out sketch, what's the harm, right? Who's gonna remember that?
Apparently the writers at "30 Rock" remembered that. A few weeks later they did a call back to the joke when "NBC" franchised the game show to Iran. And...my skit was dead.
So, remember, it's not even a matter of who thinks of it first these days. It's about who has the bigger audience for the bit. But, yeah, if All Star Radio had done "Homonyms" when I first submitted it, I would still be an unknown, but I'd be an unknown with bragging rights!
*not actual topics, but you get the idea...
So, Warner Brothers liked my script, but it was decided to pass the script directly to Paul “Pee-Wee” Ruebens, who promptly got arrested in a Florida porn theater. From the time the story first broke on a Friday night (as my family & I were packing for a weekend getaway) until that Sunday night (when we came home), the details trickled out and they were not happiness-inducing.
Yeah, after posting this, other thoughts came to me and now it's turning into a limited edition series. We'll see how it goes...
Dan vs. the Rock
Ah, the writer’s life, sitting alone in front of a blank piece of paper (virtual or otherwise), allowing your imagination to run free and gather the thoughts and impulses needed to generate prose, to create a story, to come up with a sketch. Writing isn’t always easy, but sometimes an idea comes to you in a flash, and you are merely transcribing inspiration. You can fall into the zone as you write, where time and effort fall away like a flaky biscuit. I treasure those times. And after the muse has come and gone, you have something tangible to hold; a short story, an article, a comedy skit. Not just any comedy skit, the comedy skit; the one that would get me noticed!
Just a few days later Kevin called with news: the Warner team read the script and liked it, but they didn’t love it. They were on the fence about it. So Kimberly, who now no longer worked for Warner, told Joel & Bill to send it to Paul Reubens. An end-run. They did just that, sending it to Reubens’ agent. The idea was that if Reubens and his people liked it that would be enough to push Warner off the fence. Or entice Rueben to set it up elsewhere. Or just option the damn thing. In the meanwhile, Bill and Joel were still all set to send out the Flebber version of the script to others as soon as the option expired. Not good news, not bad news, just different news. “Stay tuned,” I noted.
6/24/91; the one-year anniversary of my Hollywood odyssey, Staten Island branch.
Kevin called. Kimberly liked the script. Thought it was better, funnier (huh?). Anyway, it was on the weekend read list for the studio folk with (we assumed) Kimberly’s recommendation. She'd be leaving at the end of the week (so how much would her recommendation even mean at this point?). Besides, the option would expire two weeks afterward.
Freelance writer, still hacking away.