Friday, January 4, 2013

"Why Am I A Better Blogger Than I Was A Sitcom Writer?"

Once, at the age of twenty-one, in a moment of illuminating clarity, I heard myself proclaim:

“Nobody does me better than me.”

It was an electrifying insight.  It made me tingle with its veracity.  I remember clearly when I gave birth to it.  It was the summer of 1966.  I was attending the Bertolt Brecht Summer Theater Workshop at UCLA.  I no longer recall exactly how it arose, but it was in the context of my explaining the enthusiastic reception I had received during the previous night’s performance of The Private Life of the Master Race.

“What were you doing out there?” asked a classmate, with a mixture of curiosity, envy and annoyance.

“I was just being myself,” was my response.  After which I added, “Nobody does me better than me.”

(The foregoing is a “recreation of events.”  But it could very easily have been that.  And if not that, close to that.  And if not close to that, it still makes a colorful story, don’t you think?  What I know for certain is that I said it.)

I was never fully “me” in my sitcom writing, or at least not very often.  If I had been, you’d have really seen something.  Because…reprising today’s thematic catch-phrase…

“Nobody does me better than me.”  

(It’s in quotes now.  It’s immortalized.  I expect a call from Bartlett’s at any moment.)

There is a purity in expressing yourself as totally and undilutedly yourself.  People intuit the vibe.  They detect the authenticity.  It’s intoxicating.  Okay, maybe not intoxicating.  I was thinking of pure oxygen; it’s not that.  But it’s a close relative.

There were widely dispersed moments in the scripts I have written where my unadulterated “me-ness” came hurtling to the fore.  I recall one from Phyllis (1975). 

Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman), a widow after the passing of her husband Lars, is living temporarily with her former in-laws, Jonathan and Audrey Dexter.  It is late at night and Phyllis is returning from a date with a man who has shown a serious interest in her.  Phyllis tells Audrey, who is still up, that her date had proposed to her.  Audrey, immediately aflutter, shouts, “Jonathan, wonderful news!  Phyllis is getting married!”  Jonathan races out of the bedroom in pajamas and bathrobe, crowing.  “Congratulations, Phyllis!  I could not be happier!”  Phyllis tells them to slow down; she’s not getting married.  At which point, Jonathan, his elation melting into confusion, turns to his wife Audrey, and asks,

“Was this a drill?” 

That was “pure me.” 

Another “me” moment was recently quoted in this blog.  A forlorn character from Taxi, finding himself unexpectedly married, laments,

“I used to think they were all connected: you get married, you have kids, you get old and you die.  Somehow, I believed, if you didn’t get married, you wouldn’t die.”

That’s also “pure me.” 

I will not burden you with the complete compendium of “original me.”  Okay, one last one.  Best of the West (1981).  The series villain, Parker Tillman, perched on a horse with a rope around his neck, is about to be strung up by a lynch mob led by a man named Kincaid.  As a “dying man’s request”, Tillman asks to share a few final words with his slow-thinking henchman, “Frog”, whom he, for the first time ever, refers to as his “best friend.”  Frog approaches Tillman.

FROG:  (DEEPLY MOVED)  I’m your best friend?

TILLMAN:  Frog, listen carefully…

FROG:  I didn’t know I was your best friend.

TILLMAN:  Frog, just…

FROG:  If I’da known, we coulda done more stuff together, palled around, gone –

TILLMAN:  Frog, shut up.

FROG:  That’s how you talk to your best friend?

TILLMAN:  Pay attention.  I want you to go up behind Kincaid, put your gun in his back and say, “If he hangs, you die.”

FROG: (NOT UNDERSTANDING)  If who hangs, who dies?

TILLMAN:  If I hang, he dies.

FROG:  You want me to say, “If I hang, he dies?”

TILLMAN:  No, you say, “If he hangs, you die.”


Three different styles of comedy – one observational, one philosophical, one verbal tomfoolery.  None of them exactly blows up the sitcomical playbook, but I cannot imagine them emanating from anybody else.

Considering my thirty-year career, there are not a lot of these “pure Earl” moments.  When I wrote for television – as I mentioned yesterday – I was so enmeshed in the suffocating snarl of rules, that, even in the shows I created myself, I was never able to unleash, full throttle, the alive and inimitable “me.” 

The result?  A disappointing trickle of Earlful explosions.  Sporadic high points among mountains of formula and predictability. 

My blog, on the other hand?  “All ‘me’, all the time.”  No myriad of rules interfering with my “me-ness.”  No comedy-challenged higher-ups to answer to.  Blogs may be my ideal medium.  They reward the “me-ness” television didn’t want, and somewhere along the line – possibly at the beginning – I abandoned as a priority.  Not consciously, but still.  “Pure Earl” made guest appearances, but was never a “regular.”

Is blog writing art?  The answer, I would opine, mirrors Woody Allen’s answer to the question, “Is sex dirty?”, the answer being, “Yes, if you do it right.”

I write, I rewrite, I tighten, I focus, I rewrite again.  With blog writing, I’m the network, I’m “Standards and Practices”, the difference being that I perform my evaluative duties employing qualities the real life counterparts invariably lack:  Talent, taste and touch. 

Sometimes I wish I could bust loose in my presentation, but, as with my sitcom-writing experience, I am not clear on what that would entail.  In the end, I may be lacking in imagination, or just congenitally conservative.  In any case, you should not count on a post written in transliterated Hebrew or a spewing out of stream of consciousness meanderings anytime soon.

Even though, of all the writing outlets, blog-writing seems to fit me best of all, I am not saying I am better than everyone, or better than anyone, for that matter.  I am only saying that if you’re partial to the distinct recipe I dish out here, you can stop sampling, and stay right where you are.

Because nobody – and you can takes this to the bank – does me…

Better than me.

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