Monday, November 7, 2011

"Who And Why?"

Recapping the last two posts:

My brother’s friend, Simon, consciously rejected show business, opting instead for a successful career in the mattress industry.

The characters in Tammy Cochran’s “Life Happens” found their personal dreams scuttled by outside forces.

Two examples. One, “out” by choice; the other, by necessity.

And then there’s me.

Who ended up “in.”

(I use me as the prototype for “in”, not because I’m special, but because I know more about me than I know about anyone else. Do you really expect me to do research?)

Why did I, against frightening obstacles, not just because a career in show business is by itself an odds-defying undertaking, but also because I seemed laughingly deficient in the underpinnings generally believed to be necessary to realistically take the challenge of a career in show business on?

Let’s look at some clues.

Here we go.

Who’s smart?

Me. (Not Mensa smart. I’m talking “active mind.”)

Who applied that smartness watching thousands of television shows, throwing his life away, but filing away everything he saw?

Also me.

Who showed a special interest in comedy, not just half-hour comedy, but also the wide range of comedians appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show who provided him with a thorough education of the different ways of eliciting laughter?

Once again. Me.

Who consumed hundreds of comic books, gaping, mesmerized, at a panel in a Woody Woodpecker story, in which it appeared by the imprint in the snow that

Woody had incredibly skied around both sides of a giant tree?

Who saw The Court Jester when he was eleven, then turned around and walked back into the theater to see it again, not only to be convulsed a second time, but to study how they did it?

Who risked humiliation and failure writing camp shows, when it was the last thing in his nature to risk anything?

Who dropped out of law school after five weeks to instead, do he had no idea what, just not that?

And last – this list being more representative than comprehensive – who turned down a full-time job as an ad copywriter to stay in show business, when, at the time, he was not in show business? Or in any other business, for that matter.

All of the above,


Okay, now, the other side.

Who has virtually no aptitude for numbers (even though his high school guidance counselor, noting his anti-social proclivities, recommended a career in chartered accountancy)?


Who has no facility whatsoever for working with his hands?

Yo. (Which is Spanish, for me. I do have a facility with languages.)

Who is entirely lacking in the persuading tools of salesmanship? (I once hawked “team colors satin ribbons at the annual Gray Cup Parade – the Canadian Super Bowl – and wound up at the end of a long day having not sold a single ribbon.)


Who is temperamentally unsuited to immerse themselves in projects, plans or experiments that might take decades to complete?

Ich. (That’s not a judgment of that prospect. It means “I” in German.)

Who lacks the maturity to engage in any “adult” enterprise whatsoever wherein I might at some point have to say:

“Those wisdom teeth need to come out.”

“I’m sorry you were found guilty; here’s my bill.”

“I thought it was a great investment, but I was wrong, and you now have nothing.”

“It appears I have built your ‘dream house’ on quicksand.”

“You have a disease I am pretty sure will kill you.”

These are too painful to even list, so I’ll just stop and say,

Me. I could never tell people any of those things. Not without crying really hard in front of them.

Fundamentally, show business is a sanctuary for talented children. Who are more than averagely needy. (When I was once asked why I wasn’t a comedian, I replied, “My upbringing wasn’t quite painful enough.” I may not have made the “pain” cut for “comedian”, but I had no problem qualifying for show business in general.)

Yes, there’s also luck involved. There’s timing. There is “show biz connections.” (Without the invaluable first job provided by my brother and Lorne Michaels, I might easily have wound up a street-famously entertaining homeless person.) I should note, however, that “connections” will only take you so far; that point being until you hand in your first writing sample.

A fierce tenacity is also a prerequisite, which you may not even be aware you have until it pops up under pressure. (To make it to my first Hollywood assignment, I once demanded that an armed Immigration Officer come out from behind his counter to a pay phone, to speak to an Immigration Official in Los Angeles – whom I had called “cold” and instructed to stay on the line – to confirm that I was legally qualified to work in the States. I could sense bolts of fire shooting out of my eyes. It had never happened before.)

But mostly, though I may return to this subject in the future for further investigation, the underlying explanation for my winding up “in” lies in my “Personal Inventory”, those elements that drove me towards show business, and the missing elements driving me away from anything else.

I went into show business because

I’m Popeye.

A yam what I yam.

And that’s all what I yam.

Why did I succeed?

Not a clue.

But my guess is it had less to do with me than I might like to believe.


Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; life's funny like that.


JED said...

You said, "Who is entirely lacking in the persuading tools of salesmanship?" and answered, "Moi."

I think it would be an interesting article if you could explain how you could have a hard time with persuasion and yet get people to accept your ideas when there is a team of writers all thinking they know the best way to write a funny line. How did you get them to use your words? Or did they?

I'm not questioning your statement. After all, you know how this all happened. It's just that this is one of those fine line things where persuasion of one form works differently from persuasion in a different form but I don't see how.

Thank you for your insights on writing, show business and life.

Jim Dodd

Mac said...

I suppose if it's what fascinates you and you've figured out how it works (as much as anyone can) then that becomes your tool(s) which compensates for your other deficiencies - for want of a better word.

In short, they maybe think; he's lacking in the traditional characteristics of showbiz-people, but he knows what he's talking about - so let's not fire him just yet.

Olive Oil said...

I still love you Popeye!

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