Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Watching The Slippage"

No addiction is easy to overcome.  But one of them is substantially harder to overcome than the others.

You’re an alcoholic?  You give up drinking.  (Please return to “Sentence One” for my “Global Disclaimer” – “No addiction is easy to overcome.”  Just in case you think I’m an idiot.)  But you don’t really give up drinking, meaning you are not required to give up all drinking.  You give up all drinking, and you’re dead and dehydrated in a couple of days.

Drinking lots of water?  That’s a good thing.  Drinking lots of water won’t get you into a “Twelve Step Program.”  It will get you into a “Nutrition Program.”  Standing on stage wearing that skinny-wire-down-the-side-of-your-face microphone that big-time singers wear during their concerts, saying, “Drink lots of water!” and signing copies of your “Best Seller”, Drink Till You Slosh in the lobby.  (And spending substantial time in the bathroom, making room for more water.)

Alcoholics can’t drink alcohol.  But they can drink – they better drink – anything except alcohol.  Meaning, of all the available potables, there is only one category of them alcoholics are prohibited drinking.  (Time again to repeat of my “Global Disclaimer” – ”No addiction is easy to overcome.”  I get it.  I really do.)

Smoking?  Nobody needs to smoke.  In fact, if you want to avoid a greater likelihood of lung disease and correlative heart problems, what you really need is to not smoke.  What I’m saying is that smoking, though an addiction – and therefore, as twice mentioned, not easy to overcome – is in no way essential.  I mean, It’s not like breathing.  It’s more like breathing with a hacking cough.

Drugs?  The vast majority of people go their entire lives without feeling the slightest compulsion to jab a hypodermic needle into their arm.  So you obviously don’t need to do that.  Ditto for snorting stuff up your nose which you also do not need to do, barring serious stuffiness, and then only till you’re better.  (Though all are admittedly addictions and so “See Above”, three times.)

Moving from the generic to the personal, I have now discovered that I can live quite contentedly without watching MSNBC (whose shows I have not watched for six months) or Law & Order SVU (which I quit “cold turkey” a couple of weeks ago.)  Even if I momentarily drop by for a cursory peek, I have not found myself falling ignominiously off the wagon.  I am there, and then I’m gone, feeling no driving urgency to return.  And believe me, I was once helplessly addicted to both. 

Not watching certain programs is hardly the end of all television watching.  There are tons of other programs on the air; I can always watch those.  (How about not watching any television at all?  Yeah, not yet.  Hey, that medium made me a handsome living – I owe them.  And besides, although there are worthy alternatives –like reading a good book – I am, as yet, unable to break free. 

“Let me go, television!”

Sorry, I just lost it for a second.  I’m back now.

There is one addiction left in this acknowledged hardly comprehensive list.  And this one is the hardest.  (Do we need the disclaimer again?  They’re all hard.  ‘Nuff said.)  Why is it the hardest?  Because, although there are certain issues you may unquestionably need to get under control

You cannot, in an effort to do so,



You can stop the other stuff – often with prodigious difficulty – because, though you may have once believed otherwise, those activities are in no way essential to life. 



Meaning, unlike any other addiction, you have to bring your eating problem under control

While still eating. 

You can’t stop eating.  Your body won’t let you.  Barring, for some of us, Yom Kippur.  And don’t think you don’t hear about that.

EARLO’S STOMACH:  “Where’s the food!!!

Oh, my.  Once again, my “setup” has extended too long, and I have to end just when I was about to get started.  I apologize for that.  You can see why I’d be useless on Twitter. 

Tomorrow, I shall discuss in detail my determined efforts at getting my eating concerns under control, and my increasing awareness of my best laid plans, as the Scots say, ganging hopelessly aglae.  (Translation for non-Scots:  It doesn’t work out.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Just Thinking About Heaven"

I have neither the right nor the intention of disparaging anyone else’s belief systems, but when I think about it, which I confess is not often, I cannot get my head anywhere near around the concept of “The Afterlife.”

(Note:  I don’t know why this is, but it is a virtual certainty that if a person holds an opinion that differs from another person’s opinion – they don’t even have to entirely differ; they can simply express insufficient agreement – then the person who holds that differing opinion will inevitably get mad at the other person and occasionally want to kill them. 

I don’t entirely get that.  Nobody gets upset if I say that my favorite color is orange and theirs is a different color.  But in numerous arenas – and it doesn’t have to be ideological, it can be “I can’t stand tomatoes” or “I despised the ‘Hangover’ movies, even the first one” – holding a differing opinion can get you ostracized, attacked, and, if religion is involved, burned at the stake. 

This “Note” is entirely self-serving, as I am asking you to restrain yourself from doing those things – especially the last one.  Thank you.)

To me, the idea of Heaven is the ecclesiastical equivalent of

“I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” 

You want something from someone now – the price of a hamburger, their acquiescing acceptance of a terrible, horrible life, etc. – with the promise of repayment in the future that they, from a probability standpoint, are unlikely to receive.  

And a lot of people buy into idea of Heaven, many of them smart people.  So you know…(and I ask this sincerely and respectfully)… Why?

I am imagining a conversation between a “Christian Slave Owner” (not necessarily a Southern slaveholder; they had slaves in other places as well) and a recalcitrant “Converted Christian Slave”, which might go something like this.



C.S.O.:  Blasphemy!

C.C.S.:  Why?  I’m not talking back to God.  I’m talking back to you.

God made you a slave and made me your benefactor.

My slave owner.

Point taken.  But a beneficent slave owner.  Look how I am allowing you to talk to me. 

Thank you.

Now go to work!

You go to work!

Look here, Unpaid Underling.  There is a “Divine System” at play here, a “Celestial Arrangement” not to be tampered with.  You have seen how each animal fits into a…call it a “Circle of Life” – even though it is actually a “Circle of Death” but it is in place nonetheless – where every animal has an animal it eats and another animal that eats them?  That’s how it works.  Challenge that “Deistic Construct” and it falls entirely to pieces.    

What’s that to me?

The analogy is staring you in the face, Man!  We too are participants in a “Divine Arrangement.”  I am the slave owner, and you are the slave.

I don’t care for it.

Irrelevant!  Do you think the gazelle cares to be eaten by the lion?

Why would they?  Still, you don’t see a gazelle going, “Oh, here comes a lion.  Ah, well, that’s just the ‘Celestial Arrangement.’  I may as well just stand here and let him gobble me up.”  They don’t do that.  They run like crazy!

Yes, because gazelles are unaware of the magnificent reward that awaits them.  But as a Converted Christian Slave, you are.

(SKEPTICAL)  Oh yeah.

Do I sense doubts?

Is it still twenty lashes for “Doubts”?

At a minimum.

Then, no.  But I do have questions.  You’re allowed to ask questions, aren’t you?

As long as they do not impugn our long-established and deeply held beliefs.

And who determines if they do?

I do.

What a surprise.  All right, I have one highly respectful question.

That is entirely acceptable. 

But first, here’s what I understand, and you tell me if I’ve got it right.

Fire away.

I work for you.  For nothing.  You can do whatever you want with me – work me to death, punish me – often severely – for the tiniest infraction, split up my family by selling them off to other slave owners and, if you have the inclination, do stuff with my wife. 


And it’s a one-way street, so to speak.


I can’t work you to death, punish you for infractions, split up your family or do anything with your wife.

Again, totally correct.  And I’m being atypically generous by permitting you those thoughts.

One might wonder why I put up with this distinctly unbalanced situation, aside from the fact that you have the law on your side, which screamingly begs the question because the slave owners write the laws.

Have you been secretly educating yourself?  Because you know that’s not permissible.

I was a lawyer in the other place.  When this is over, I plan to write a book about my experiences called “So-and-So Years A Slave” – I’ll put the number in later.  Anyway, you ask me to accept this one-sided situation without complaint because – correct me if I am mistaken – after I’m dead…which if I say the wrong thing here could be almost immediately…there’s this “Afterlife” – which to the pre-Christian “me” is already a contradiction in terms – ”After…life” – there’s a place you call “Heaven” where I will receive my just and eternal reward.

Gold star!  You have the entire concept down perfectly.

And because of this “Heaven” – my eternal reward being well worth the crap I am required to take for a comparatively short period of time – it behooves me to know my place here on earth and to remain contentedly in it.


Which leads me to my question.

Which is…?

What if there’s no Heaven?

Well, there’s the problem, you see.  If you question the existence of Heaven, you will be forever banned from experiencing it.

You mean, if it exists but you don’t believe it exists, you can never go to Heaven?

You can recant on your deathbed, but otherwise, no.

So I can’t even have doubts.

You can have doubts.  But why would you want to?  Suppose I concede that slavery is no fun.  What you are then left with are two choices – you can endure your discomforts in the full and liberating knowledge that the bounties of eternity are waiting for you, or you can endure the discomforts of slavery and then die.

But what if the whole thing’s a big fairy tale deliberately concocted to keep me from rising up? 

Forget about “rising up.”  We have all the guns, and you don’t even have shoes.  Your only choice here concerns how you decide to feel about your horrible existence – will you experience it as meaningless torture, or as meaningless torture where the books are magnificently balanced in the “Great Beyond.”

Okay.  I will toil in your fields.  And sing catchy spirituals while I do.  But there is one thing you will never know.

What’s that?

You will never know if I am singing them ironically.  Hah!

I believe I can live with that.  Now sir, I have one question for you.

Shoot!  Though not in the literal sense.

Were you just stalling right now, so you wouldn’t have to go to work?

Why, Master!  Heaven forbid!


CONVERTED CHRISTIAN SLAVE:  You actually believe this is okay, don’t you?

CHRISTIAN SLAVE OWNER:  “This is God’s Plan.  God’s Plan is perfect.  This plan is perfect.”

CONVERTED CHRISTIAN SLAVE:  Wow, that almost persuaded me.  No wait.  It didn’t.

POSTSCRIPT:  If a belief in Heaven gets you through, maybe it doesn’t matter if it actually exists.  As a stickler for consistency, however, I am relegated to believing that it does.

Monday, April 28, 2014

"More Innocent Times"

Alert the media:  I have stopped watching Law & Order SVU. 

I may momentarily sneak back for a peek at the incomparable “Olivia-Stabler” acting chemistry, but that’s it.  I will no longer watch an entire episode.

Why?  You know the saying, “You lie down with dogs; you wake up with fleas”?  I got tired of waking up with “sex crimes entertainment” cooties.  It admittedly took a while, but I started not to like the “creepy-crawly” way that my binge-viewing made me feel. 

The SVU world is a dark and frightening affair.  If it even close to approximated reality, people would never let their children out of the house.  Or their grandmothers even.

When you come down to it, SVU is “disgusting-behavior-on-a-platter” as a show, unlike the original Law & Order which presented moral dilemmas in a courtroom setting. 

Jack McCoy puts a gun company on trial for murder for manufacturing a legal weapon that could easily be converted into an illegal weapon.  The jury finds the gun company guilty, but, in a surprise climactic twist, the judge throws out the verdict on the grounds that that the jury egregiously ignored the evidence. 

Now, that’s entertainment!

Here’s the thing.  And I have talked about it elsewhere in the comedy context.  The shorthand version:  Laurel and Hardy is not Curb Your Enthusiasm. 

Comedy has changed.

Sometimes, as an explanation for this change I hear, “Those {the Laurel and Hardy days} were more innocent times.”

I honestly do not understand what that means. 

I am aware that the entertainment was more innocent.  Partly because of a production code that restricted what you could show on the screen.  And partly because of the accepted mores of the culture.  As Cole Porter once lyricked,

“In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
Now heaven knows
Anything goes.”

And that was in 1934!  So presumably there were even more innocent times before that. 

(My parenthetical “two cents worth”?  You can debate based on specific criteria whether the times were more innocent then or whether the times are more innocent now.  If you singled out our “behavior around death”, for example, one could credibly argue that the times are more innocent now.) 

My hunch is that consciously favored “unreal” entertainment back then the way Torontonians favor going to Florida in the winter – for a much-needed break from a punishing reality.)

As the culture progressed – I had to restrain myself from putting quotation marks around “progressed”, social commentator that I am – comedy got “realer”, meaning its understandings and behaviors more closely approximated our experience of everyday life.  Anything else felt dishonest and jarringly anachronistic.  

I shall now stop writing about comedy which I know something about and write instead about drama, of which, when it comes to today’s TV drama, I know nothing about.  I like to make things harder for myself.  (And to opine ignorantly through my chapeau.)

Barring the aforementioned exception, I do not watch American TV dramas, not on networks, not on cable.  (I specify “American” because of my predilection for British murder mysteries.)  My examples, therefore, come from one source – Law & Order SVU.

A little girl has been kidnapped (and most likely abused.)  The “perp” knows where the kid’s (usually buried alive), but he refuses to say where.  An SVU detective sticks the “perp’s” head in the toilet to get him to talk, so that the little girl can be discovered before it’s too late. 

Years ago, I wrote for the Canadian comedy team Wayne and Shuster, who once did a Clint Eastwood “Spaghetti Western” sketch entitled  “A Fist Full of Fingers” in which the opening line was:

“I’m mean and I’m rotten and I’m vicious and I’m ornery.  And I’m the Good Guy.”  

That’s primarily what’s changed in drama from the earlier “more innocent times” –
what the “Good Guy” is willing to do.  (For a virtuous purpose, but still.  Ew.) 

You’ll have to fill in the blanks for me here.  Think of today’s TV dramas with their protagnonists’ brutalized pasts and questionable morality, and then compare them, if you will, to

Jim Rockford


Barnaby Jones

The Tom Selleck character in Magnum.

The “McGarrett” character in Hawaii-Five-0.

Peter Gunn

Johnny Stacatto.

“Joe Friday” in Dragnet.

And every single cowboy from The Lone Ranger to Matt Dillon. 

All of them fought for justice.  But always

Within the law.

Now it’s flush his head down the toilet and “persuade” him to confess.  (And get the case subsequently tossed out of court because of a “coerced confession.”  And, more often than not, the little kid’s already dead!)

Do we really want our Good Guys to be indistinguishable from the Bad Guys?  Perhaps we do.  Perhaps it makes us feel safer.  To know our protectors are not playing with one hand tied behind their backs.  (The hand that does things the right way.) 

Me?  I greatly preferred the more innocent times.  It is quite possible that they never existed in everyday life.  But did they have to remove them from my entertainment as well? 

It may be arguably more realistic, but now I don’t have a “Florida.”

Friday, April 25, 2014

"Answering Wendy M. Grossman"

What is this, “Letters Week?”

It appears to be.  Though I am simply going with the flow.  (And I’ve been criticized for not being spontaneous.  Ha!)

In response to a response of mine concerning I no longer remember what, reader Wendy M. Grossman – and I thank you for your patronage – writes:

“I guess the obvious question is can you still write characters like yourself when they do things that embarrass or scare you?... So if you are writing characters who are close to you, do you have the problem of a protective instinct kicking in or are you able to let them crash to the ground if that’s what they’re going to do?”

Various thoughts come to mind in response to Wendy’s question.  Clearing the underbrush before wading into the jungle:

“Can you still write characters like yourself when they do things that embarrass or scare you?”

Answer:  Allow me to divide that question into two parts.  I can write about characters that embarrass me, because, in real life, I am not (at least not retrospectively) ashamed of being embarrassed.  As a regular reader, Wendy, you have seen me express embarrassing opinions (though I have kept a couple of the “doozies” to myself) and seen me admit to behaviors that were decidedly less than commendable.  (A recent e.g.:  I abandoned Major Dad after producing its twenty-second and, I had been led to understand, season-ending episode and decamped to a health spa, even though the network order was expanded to twenty-six episodes.  My “Finest Hour”, that was not.)

I can therefore write embarrassing moments for my characters because I am not neither unfamiliar nor uncomfortable with that unfortunate emotion.  As for “scary”, I do not recall a situation where I wrote a character who was legitimately frightened.  “Nervous and anxious”, absolutely.  But, for me, comedy and “really scared” have never inhabited the same venue.  (Of course, there is always “funny-scared” – see almost any movie starring Abbott and Costello – but I never wrote for Abbott and Costello – I was too young which is possible even for me – nor for anyone else in comedic jeopardy.)

My next point, I shall excavate more deeply on another occasion, perhaps even tomorrow.  But for today, responding to Wendy’s

“….do you have the problem of a protective instinct kicking in or are you able to let {your characters} crash to the ground if that’s what they’re going to do?”

This question appears premised on the idea of “failing” being a negative, and that I would consequently want to insulate my characters from it, either because I am proprietary on those characters’ behalf, or because my characters are a reflection of “me” and portraying their failure may be disquietingly “too close to home.”


Answer:  As I am no stranger to embarrassment, I am at least equally if not even more familiar with failure.  Although I shall delve into failure in greater depth anon, let me simply assert here that though “handling failure” is measurably “Light Years” from my shiningest attribute, my difficulties in that department have never kept me from examining the issue in my scripts.  (With hopes of possibly learning something.)  (And also, we should remember, comedy is virtually entirely about failure.  Deleting “failure” from the “play list” leaves you with successful people who aren’t funny.  “How did that work out for you?”  “Magnificently.”   Where’s the big “ha-ha” in that?)

Here’s the thing, and, as with “failure”, it probably deserves a blog post of its own, but I am not busy, so I’ll keep going.

One of the great distinctions between the “new” and “old” comedy is that the line has been moved concerning “what’s acceptable to say”, and whether you as a comedian are willing to say it. 

Starting with Richard Pryor (with a nod to Lenny Bruce and Professor Irwin Corey), the boldest practitioners ventured uninhibitedly into areas other comedians steered scrupulously clear of, feeling either too uncomfortable themselves or fearing they would make their audiences uncomfortable, therefore failing at their intended goal of entertaining them and summarily getting fired.

Taking one recent example of “The New Comedy”, judging from Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David appears to be almost entirely shameless, and, as a result of his apparent shamelesness, comedically liberated.  (At this point, though the narrative requires it, I am too uncomfortable to offer examples.  I suggest we go “interactive” at this point, and you fill in with examples of Curb Your Enthusiasm taste-barrier obliterators of your own.)

“But Earlo,” you say, “you are confusing ‘Larry David’ the ‘comedic construct’ with Larry David the actual person.”

Am I?  (He replied skeptically.)

Who made those ideas up, or at least approved them when they were proposed by one of his writers?  And who went in front of the camera and delivered that material?  And what was the name of that “comedic construct”?

The answer to all three: 

Larry David.

The less you feel required to conceal – that the regular person reflexively conceals – the more “cutting edge” funny you can be.  As long as there’s “taboo” – and comedians willing to “go there” – there will continue to be comedy.  We hit “Anything goes”, however, and all bets are off.  The Supreme Court sanctions “inter-species marriage”, and it is “Game Over” for comedy.  (Though there will always be “Take my ewe – please!”)

Which is not exactly what Wendy was asking about but it peripherally came to mind.

Overall, in response to your question, Wendy:  I do not protect my characters.  I primarily protect myself.

Did that inhibit my writing ability?

Within my range, I was pretty good.  But, in retrospect, I may have left too much of the playing field to Larry David.

And perhaps I still do.