I’m an avid collector of, “What now?” An accumulator of new and exciting ways of, “It couldn’t get worse”, and then it does. These are personal experiences. The “understood” words after, “It couldn’t get worse” are “…for me.” That’s probably obvious. Why would I collect your experiences? How would I know what they were?
This memory floated into my mind after writing yesterday about “Rewrite Night.” I believe I made it clear that I wasn’t crazy about that process. Well, one time, it wasn’t just that. Which would have been plenty. It was that. And then this.
I was consulting one night a week on a Showtime series called, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. Years later, I also consulted on Garry’s HBO series, The Larry Sanders Show. I’ll reserve talking about Garry for another time, except to say he’s a master of the comedy of personal discomfort. Never my favorite comedic genre, but he handles it better than anyone.
Wait. There’s one line I have to tell you, because it’s so beautiful in the way it capsulizes an entire character in a few short words. And I don’t just mean Garry’s character. I mean a certain character type, which very easily could include me.
I’m walking down the hall to the Writers’ Room, where I’ll be consulting on the script. It’s Garry Shandling’s Show chronicled the world of a single, male comedian, highlighting his problems with the various women in his life, including a platonic next-door neighbor. The show felt very much, in theme if not in execution, which was highly stylized, like the early Seinfeld. I actually thought Garry’s show was better. Then, early Seinfeld matured into middle Seinfeld. After that, there was no comparison.
But in the beginning, Garry’s show was more inventive and funnier. I actually shunned early Seinfeld out of loyalty to Garry. I’ve seen early Seinfeld since. I didn’t miss anything.
Anyway, I’m walking down the hall, and I pass Garry’s office, and the door is open. Garry’s on the phone, engaged in what sounds like a serious conversation. (It’s not like I hung around and eavesdropped; you could hear that right away.)
I only heard Garry say one thing. But that one thing said it all. About Garry, and, had I’d been in his shoes, I’m pretty certain, about me. Sounding serious and borderline anxious, Garry asked this precise question to the person on the other end of the line:
“How much do I have all together?”
I heard it. I archived it. I kept walking.
I met many interesting writers on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. One was the show’s co-creator, who also wrote it’s theme song, which includes whistling.
I met another writer who’d go on to co-write Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which I adored, and Men In Black, which I didn’t get.
A third writer informed me that he owed a certain studio a half-hour comedy pilot. He was blatantly dismissive of the project he’d proposed. It turned out to be Full House, which ran for years, making the writer vast sums of money.
I wonder what it feels like. “I’m rich. But from that!” (This is not me, putting down Full House; it’s the creator of the show.) Is it something you get over, realizing, perhaps with therapeutic assistance, that the money spends the same as if you’ve written The Graduate? I guess you’d have to ask the guy.
Rounding out the staff was an older writer, highly regarded in his day, but whose more recent claim to fame was flying to tornados and finding someone to have sex with as the twister passes overhead, because…you’d have to ask that guy.
Okay, so I go in, and I do my consulting. We get done around one-thirty in the morning. Lemme backtrack a second. When I arrived, I had parked in a nearby lot, passed through a tall, turnstiley-type gate, and walked to the building where the It’s Garry Shandling’s Show offices were located.
Okay, back to the present. I come out of the building, one-thirty in the morning, and I trudge towards my car. When I reach the turnstiley gate, I discover that it’s been locked with a padlock. (I later learn that the gate’s always padlocked after midnight.) I can not go through the gate.
I can see my car, sitting alone in the parking lot (the regular writers parked somewhere else). But I’m separated from it by an eight-foot chain-link metal fence.
It’s been a long night. I’ve pretty much had it. And now, I can’t get to my car and go home, because the gate I came in through has been padlocked. And there’s a fence.
Imagine if you will, an exhausted and irate middle-aged Jewish man, a man with minimal arm-strength, at one-thirty in the morning, climbing a fence, to get to his car. All I’m thinking is, “I’m too old for this.” Which is technically untrue, since I had no ability to climb fences at any age.
I participated in many subsequent “Rewrite Nights”, some fun, some excruciating, many in between. But as I sat through those torturous rewrite sessions, enduring the agonizing silences of a roomful full of people who’ve “got nothing”, my spirits were bolstered by one strong and certain belief.
No matter how arduous the work, no matter how long it took to get done, at the end of the night, I would not be required to fit my foot in one of those chain-link metal “diamonds”, and pull myself over a fence to get to my car.