When I was living in New York, trying and failing to become a comedian, I procured an interview with Woody Allen, who was at that point, a standup comedian and a playwright. The interview began yesterday. This is the concluding Installment Two.
Learning, making an effort yourself, seems to be one of Woody’s most highly-rated activities. He’s taught himself to play various musical instruments, including clarinet and saxophone, how to writer plays by reading and going to the theater, and last summer, he learned to direct movies. Take The Money And Run, which Woody wrote, directed and starred in will be out late in July.
Any trouble with it? “No directing problems,” said Woody. “Any troubles that there are are always in the script. No trouble at all getting the jokes down on the screen, that was easy. You turn the camera on and it’s common sense.”
Boy, I hate when “It’s just common sense.” Why can’t he just say he’s a talented creative genius, and get it over with? Can’t he see he’s doing hard things?
Looking back on a rather extensive show business career, Woody considers the years he wrote for television “the most moronic time I spent.” He admits that it was sort of fun to do in his late teens, but that basically television is just “a big pile of junk run by morons for morons.”
He still doesn’t like going on television too much, but the necessity of keeping his popularity flourishing forces him to make some rare appearances.
This popularity has enabled Woody to reach the plateau where he is able to do almost any project his creative energies feel like tackling. He writes every day, because if he didn’t, “it would bother me; I’d miss it.”
Mostly, he works on his own projects, ideas that come to him for his club act – he intends to continue his nightclub work – and movie concepts. He’s written a new play, which he describes as “just another comedy for me to direct and be in not all that dissimilar to this play.”
Woody considers himself both performer and writer and when comparing them, he notes: “Writing is physically easier in one sense. But after you’ve spent six months in writing a script, you want to get out and be among people and put it on. You get a little bored with just seeing you all the time.” Aside from writing and performing, Woody admits he likes to chase girls.
The night I saw Play It Again, Sam, which I consider to be a pretty funny play, though the jokes generally don’t attain the quality of his monologue material, a guy behind me reacted to the ineptitude of the character Woody was playing by remarking, “What a shnook!” in a voice most people would reserve for yelling “Fire!”
I asked Woody if such reactions affected him personally. “I don’t think about it,” he replied, after a thick, contemplative pause. “The material is a reflection of me, clearly, very personal, but, uh, it doesn’t bother me.”
This I found hard to swallow. How can a person constantly put himself down, and not be personally affected by the reaction? “It just doesn’t bother me to get laughed at for incompetence, that’s all. I consider these things only for laughs. That’s all I care about.” That closed the subject.
Although I’ve never seen Woody at work writing, I did get a sample of the concentrated diligence he applies to those efforts which he values. For during most of the preceding interview, he was deeply involved in carefully oiling and polishing his baseball mitt (“I play all positions equally. Equally what, he didn’t say.)
He worked in the “pocket” by repeatedly smacking a brand new softball into the webbing until it felt “right.” (The fact that he did this throughout the interview didn’t bother me, but it sure messed up the tape I was making of our talk.)
Disciplining your brain to sit down and do what you want it to do is no easy trick. Woody disciplined his to sit down and write great jokes. (And prepare a perfect baseball glove.) It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
Over the intercom came a booming voice warning, “Fifteen minutes to curtain. Fifteen minutes.” That was the prearranged cue to finish the interview.
“If there was no ‘money’ society, what would you do?” I asked in one final assault through the barrier of disciplined technique into the protected realm of Woody’s relaxed personality. “I don’t know,” he thought. “I’d probably loaf.”
A warning to all amateur loafers: If Woody Allen puts his miraculous mind to it, he’ll establish new international indoor and outdoor loafing records that will stand forever. And if by chance, you were to ask him the secret of his loafing success, he’d no doubt shrug disinterestedly and say, “Well, you know, I never much thought about it.”
It seems like the only people who think about doing things are the guys who don’t do them.