I said this when I was twenty-one years old and have always behaved as if it was true. (Question: If you believe a thing your entire life and it does no harm to you or anyone else – and may even be helpful – does it make any difference whether that thing is actually true? Heavy stuff for an opening paragraph, but I have always wondered about that. Possibly alone.)
(Which is so long ago it sounds like 1066.)
I had departed Toronto to attend UCLA’s Bertolt Brecht Summer Theatre Workshop. It was the first time I had ever traveled on my own. Also the first year I did not go to camp since I was eight when I refused to be sent because, among other reasons, the stalls in the Men’s Washhouse had no doors on them. (The situation changed when I was nine – the brochures loudly trumpeting: “Camp Ogama – Where The Toilet Stalls Have Doors!”
I went to camp and continued going till I was twenty, awaiting a similar announcement: “Camp Ogama – Where We Never Serve Liver.” Unfortunately, that one never occurred.)
My American acting debut met with encouraging success:
I auditioned the first night after I arrived (offering a crowd-pleasing oration from Inherit The Wind), and was cast in three of the four plays they were presenting. I had to ultimately drop out of one of them due a scheduling conflict. Still, nobody appeared in more than two productions. (Including myself.) What’s important is they wanted me to. (Although is it really “important” if no one recalls any of this but me?)
I played a featured role in A Man’s A Man – an acerbic Buddhist monk who smoked cigars, suggested by me as an identifying characteristic. And a way of getting complimentary cigars. “I believe he smoked good ones”, I explained after “thoroughly researching” the role. That idea went surprisingly unheeded. I also played several ancillary personages in The Private Life of The Master Race.
One role in that show required me, through the course of a scene, to repeat the same line three times:
“Some people are careless.”
During some performances, I would deliver it the same way three times. On other occasions, I would vary my line readings. Either way, the audience consistently approved.
And when the reviews came out – our college productions were critiqued in the Los Angeles Times, big part or small, I was invariably acknowledged.
(Flushed by my accomplishments, I approached my professor, requesting a scholarship for additional study. Turning me down, my professor replied, “You have a ‘certain quality’, but I would not call it ‘acting.’” I confine this discouraging setback in brackets, separating it from an otherwise upbeat presentation.)
Okay, so here it comes. The thing I said and have always believed.
One evening prior to a performance late in the show’s run, an actor playing a leading role wondered in front of me why I was received so enthusiastically, both by audiences and reviewers, the “… and I’m not” going unmentioned, although implied in his petulant inflection.
“I don’t know”, I began self-effacingly. “But I know this.”
What then followed was a blurted pronouncement which I had never previously proclaimed as it had never occurred to me before. Explaining my recognized appeal, I said, somewhat incongruously though not entirely beside the point:
“Nobody does ‘me’ better than me.”
And that’s it. To me, that was the secret.
You offer something genuine and people generally respond.
Owing to deficient courage and tenacity, I never tested that hypothesis in professional acting. But my best writing, despite network TV’s inevitable homogenization, reflected, in isolated flashes, an unmistakable uniqueness.
Culminating in this kind of writing, where “doing me” is what it is arguably all about.
My abilities may be limited. Not may be; they unquestionably are. But in one designated category I cannot possibly be surpassed.
As a writer, I am the best “me” there ever was.
Take that, William Shakespeare!
Now, since “me” is the only thing I do better than anyone else, my best shot at “making my mark” is being the me-ee-est me I can possibly me. You want “me”, there is absolutely no place better to go. You just gotta come to me.
Now, before you track me and punch me angrily in the nose for being annoying – although accurate – let me remind you of an equally accurate corollary:
Nobody does “you” better than you.
Congratulations. For topping the one category in which you indisputably unsurpassable. Forever. This is one crown it is impossible to lose.
It’s a wonderful gift – indisputable uniqueness, a gift making no tangible difference perhaps in the grand and disproportionately rewarding scheme of things, but as they say in “Do You Love Me?” from Fiddler On the Roof…
It’s nice to know.
And by the way, you’re welcome.
(For me reminding you about it.)
Are we not all simply spectacular?