Monday, March 14, 2011

"Bill Cosby's Life Lesson"

Besides being a master teacher of comedy, both as a performer and as a writer – I once witnessed him pitch out an entire episode story in less than an hour – Dr. William H. Cosby, Ed.D. taught me a reverberating life lesson, involving the distinction between when you think something’s all on the line when it actually isn’t, when you imagine the thing matters tremendously when it only matters a little, between when you feel everything’s riding on it when very little, in fact, is, between when you believe it’s for all the marbles when it, in truth, is for a tiny marble-ette.

Have a piled up enough baloney on that sandwich?

Too much.

You can never have too much baloney.

Yes you can.

Well, peel some of it off, and save it for a snack.

You realize you just turned a metaphor into actual food.

I think I’ll just keep going if you don’t mind.

And not a moment too soon.

Thank you. Here’s what happened. I have moved to New York for The Cosby Show show, and this is the first episode we’re producing, a script I wrote, concerning a family funeral for a departed, pet goldfish. Besides making that episode, we are also shooting additional scenes for The Cosby Show’s pilot, a fourteen-minute presentation, which requires expansion to the standard, episode-length twenty-two minutes.

One of the new scenes concerns a freaked out father-to-be who has fled the “birthing room”, and “Dr. Huxtable” is faced with the task of calming him down and bringing him back in.

It’s the morning of the “table reading”, where the actors read the script out loud before the assembled production staff – fifty or so people – so we can see what’s working and what needs to be fixed. At this point, the actor who will play the freaked out father-to-be has not yet been hired. Dr. Cosby asks me to fill in for the missing actor and perform that part at the table reading.

I am immediately terrified.

Why? Well, in my own memorable words,

“What if I mess up?” (Though I may not have used the word “mess.”)

Dr. Cosby instantly replies to my exaggerated concern, and herein lies the life lesson,

“Bases loaded, two outs, bottom of the first.”

(To those less familiar with baseball than an understanding of this analogy requires, the length of a regulation baseball game is nine innings. Labeling this situation the ‘bottom of the first” designates it as a situation wherein not a whole lot is realistically at stake.

Bill Cosby had captured it in a nutshell. Responding to his request, I had injected “bottom of the ninth” urgency into a “bottom of the first” situation.


My lightning-quick response reflects a “fight or flight” reaction, bringing to mind oft-quoted (imaginary) bumper sticker on the back of my car that says,


The offer was made for me to fill in as an actor – an offer that I, objectively, should have been thrilled by – and I immediately jumped. Really, really, embarrassingly to the point of excruciatingly shamefully,


Old Cos gently – though not without a smile of satisfaction – reminded me it was the “bottom of the first”, and I immediately came back down to earth. I read the part – very well, I must admit, though not well enough, apparently, to be invited to actually play the part in the show – and that was not.

I may have told this story before, as part of some meandering, self-congratulatory tale of my enviable exploits. I showcase it alone today for easier retrieval. You may need a reminder of this someday. It’ll be right here.

When something unexpected comes up, and you’re reflexively ready to hit the roof, harken back to the wise words of Doctor C,

And remember what inning it is.


benson said...

Earl, thank you.

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Max Clarke said...

One of the best columns you've written, and very true.

Today is the birthday of the man who gave us the theory of relativity, Albert Einstein. Mistakes and successes are all relative, depending on context for their perceived importance.

I used to play a lot of golf, so I call my mistakes bogeys. Most mistakes are bogeys, few of them are double-bogeys, and a triple-bogey is rare. The opposite of a mistake is a birdie. If I do something good, a birdie. Something very good for somebody might even be an eagle. A good day is shooting under par.

Mac said...

Excellent post. Cosby sounds very cool. I try to apply this approach to first drafts. I used to find it so hard to start writing for fear it would be bad. Now I've learned to think - of course it'll be bad, it's a first draft, and I'll keep re-writing until it's not bad.

Matt said...

Great post. Wanted to point out that you got quoted on ESPN by their Dodger blogger.
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