Monday, September 9, 2013

"Something I Didn't Say At A Birthday Party"


I adored the birthday celebrant.  But when, after the cake and chatter, we had to go around the room and each of us had to say something about her, I decided to punt, offering a touching but innocuous accolade before passing along the “Talking Stick” – yes, there was an actual a “Talking Stick” which, when in your possession, meant you unilaterally held the floor.  And were required to tell the Truth.

I felt excruciatingly “on the spot” when the “Talking Stick” was handed to me and the room came alive, at least to my ears, with one of two responses, the more pervasive “Now we’re going to hear something” mixed with a minoritarian undercurrent of “Here comes the TV show writer showoff.” 

My impulses, or at least the more aggressive of my impulses, encouraged me to “play the moment”, reinforcing the prevailing impression that I would rise to the occasion.  It occurred to me to begin my remarks with a truthful though self-effacingly delivered,

I can be very entertaining.”

I would get my laugh.  And then unexpectedly “turn the tables.”

“And I can be blisteringly tedious.”

It was unlikely they had seen that coming.  Nor the ensuing “payoff”, which is this:

“And I can’t tell the difference.”

the laughs – in the form of relief that I would not be descending into mea culpa-ish confession – rewarding the surprising revelation.

I would then finish with my deeply felt, totally accurate, compliment to the Birthday Girl:

“(The Birthday Girl) does me the great generosity of acting like she can’t tell the difference either.”

That’s what was in me to say.  But instead, I fumphered a sincere but generic compliment, referencing love and appreciation, before unburdening myself of the “Talking Stick” to the next speaker on my right.  There was a palpable feeling of mumbled disappointment.  I was happy to be off the hook. 

I still think about that.  About not taking the risk, fearing criticism and abuse.  Ah, well.  It was fine.  Nobody remembers.

Except me.

The moment returned to me recently.  There is a message of significance in what I had thought but not said, beyond the truth that (the Birthday Girl) always treats me as if I am sagely insightful and endlessly entertaining (I know that a number of my views stand in direct contrast to her own.)  That is her great gift to me.  And I kind of wish I had acknowledged it at the party.

But the more pervasive issue reflected in my undelivered remarks is this:

A lot of the time, I am clueless as to what effect I am having.

I truthfully quite often have no idea if I’m connecting, or if I am unwittingly digging my proverbial grave.

I write in this location five days a week.  I express my views, I look back on my experiences, I engage in comedic experiments of various sorts.  There are people out there who read this.  Sometimes, there are comments, sometimes, there are not.  I am not beyond wondering, on occasion – for example, this occasion – as the late mayor of New York, Mr. Koch, used to say,

“How’m I doin’?”

I think I’m doing okay.  But I'm aware that I’ve been off-base before.  You see, I’m inside here.  And I'm not sure I'm the best judge.   For example, if somebody asked, "What do you consider to be your best posts?"  I'd say, "I have no idea.  I think they're all good." Do you notice a certain lack of discrimination in that statement?  I mean, I have my favorites.  But that doesn't mean they're good.  They may just be the ones I fooled myself most about.       

Maybe you could help me with my perspective. 

It’s not that I’m fishing for compliments.  I may well get the other stuff.  Which I am really not excited about, for two reasons.  One:  It doesn’t feel good.  And two:  If, by adjusting to external feedback, I surrender the best thing about blogging – the unfettered freedom to write whatever I want – it might inhibit my productivity, and diminish the fun.

A lot of my career was anchored by my belief that I knew what I did best, keeping assiduously clear of straying from the formula and paying the price.  (A Three Amigos reference.  Did you get it?)  But thinking back, I am not now certain I was the most accurate adjudicator of what I did best.  

My misjudgments, in fact, may have unnecessarily deprived me of exciting opportunities.  Also, sticking strictly to “being me” may have come with an unknowing “down-side.”  As I did not say at the party, unlike show business, not everything about me is appealing. 

Take a moment.  If you’re a regular reader, let me know why that is.  If you’re new – welcome – and what are you noticing?  And to those of you who’ve stopped reading…yeah, that’s not gonna work.

Once, at the end of the filming of the pilot of Best of the West, I (uncharacteristically) asked a departing young audience member, “What do you think?”  To which he replied, “It’s better than I can do.”

The answers may not be exactly what I’m hoping for.  But, if you want to know something that requires going outside yourself to find out, every fourteen hundred and forty blog posts or so, it’s not a terrible idea to ask.

9 comments:

Rory W. said...

Hey Earlo,

I look forward to and read your blog every day.

I was initially attracted to your tales from "behind the scenes" of show biz, but have grown increasingly fond of your "telling it like it is" from your perspective.

So, I'm firmly in the "keep doing what you're doing" camp.

Forgive my overuse of quotation marked phrases.

Sérgio said...

Hi,

What first attracted me to your blog, was that you were a writer of my most favorite sitcom: Cheers. The post that captivated me the most, and still makes me laugh so much, is the radio-interview with the giraffe. I think that it's brilliant! Actually, just thinking about it, gives me the biggest smile. Anyway, I continue to follow your blog. Kind regards, Sérgio

Anonymous said...

If you actually look at the comments, I'd like to hear you respond to the Senior Show ones, both specifically and in general.

Mac said...

I read your blog every day and find it reassuring that there's someone as neurotic as me out there who's able to function, nay - flourish - in polite society.
I was drawn to it as you're a Larry Sanders Show alumni, but as the years go on I find you have many interesting, funny things going on in your current life and funny memories. As a failed writer I'm always fascinated by the stuff that works, and the 'how?' and the 'why?' of what makes it work. Sometimes I leave a comment, sometimes I intend to go back and leave a comment and forget, and sometimes there's nothing to say - it was a good read and that was that.
So the answer to 'how am i doing?" is "good, please keep doing it and thanks for all the great reads."

Rebecca said...

You're doing well enough to keep me coming back consistently. And I only do that with a small number of the blogs I go to the trouble of saving to my feed reader. I'm pretty sure I've been reading your blog for more than two years, so I can truthfully say you've been doing well enough to keep me coming back for years!

But, you know, a fairly easy way of getting that answer is to just look at your blog statistics. If your numbers stay fairly steady, then you're keeping your core audience. If you gain at all over time, then you're doing well, indeed. You can even tell who some of us are by looking at the time of our comments and then looking at the information of whatever visitor you had right about that time.

If you don't have a program tracking your blog stats, and don't know how to go about using one, just have one of your family set it up for you. Once it's set up, it's very easy to look at. The only thing is, some of us have a habit of moving on a regular basis. So, for instance, you would have been seeing Rebecca comments coming at the same time as someone visited your site from Las Vegas the last couple of years. Then, today, a Rebecca comment shows up from New Orleans. Is it a different Rebecca? I know you have at least one other reader with that name. Or, if it's the same, is she traveling? Or did she move? In this case, the answer would be: she moved.

But when I was blogging regularly, I got to know where my most frequent commenters lived. Since most of them were blogging anonymously at the time, and still are, it felt like a little trusted secret. Of course, I was blogging anonomously, too, but I never needed to go so far as to hide my location. Anyway, blog stats are nice to have access to. That way, you know we're here even when we aren't saying anything. And you know you are doing well, because we keep coming back.

Max said...

More show biz and work-related stories, the low down on celebs. Enjoy the movie reviews even tho I quit going to the show (but do rent movies). I've personally tired of camp stories - but understand why you do them. It is your blog and I hardly want to tell you what to do - but you did solicit in-put...I'm not sure how many years I've been reading your work but it's more than a couple. So overall, your topics have kept me coming back. Now I have to go return that grand piano...

Frank said...

I dig it all Earl so keep writing what you write eh.

Guy said...

Enjoy your blog most of the time, so keep doing what you're doing. As a working writer, I particularly dig your insights on the writing craft, like the piece you just did on the jokes in Mary Tyler Moore, etc.
That kind of thing is invaluable.
Thanks

Greg said...

Earl
I am an occasional reader. Found your site through a link on Ken Levine's blog (as an avid TV viewer, I remembered your name as a writer for some of my favorite sticoms). I admire your talent and appreciate the time and effort that you put into this blog. I usually come away with a smile or a laugh (a great reason for reading your blog more regularly). Since I presume that is one of the goals of Just Thinking..., I say "keep doin' what you're doin' cause you're doin' great."