Monday, November 3, 2014

"It Takes A...Well, Not A Village But Sometimes Three People"

Here’s a hopefully meaningful recollection that rose to mind while I was walking at the beach the other morning.

(The beach has nothing to do with this story.  I just enjoy the remembrance and providing the unsolicited reminder that I reside close to the ocean.)

(Also – and you may feel free to disagree – I choose not to wear headphones or the like when I’m out walking so as to allow thoughts to come to mind unimpeded by external interference.  Plus, rather than walking to a mixed tape, I prefer to sing to myself.  Not infrequently, out loud.)

Anyway… meaning apologies for the slow start… it occurred to me that my career, such as it was, would never have gotten off the ground without the direct participation of three people, only one of whom was myself.  The precipitating incident that got things rolling appears trivial in its specifics, but it led, as an essential first step, to my being invited to work in Los Angeles, and the magnificent adventures that ensued.

Setting The Scene

I am in my second year of college at the University of Toronto, and they are putting on a show, an annual revue entitled UC Follies.  (“UC” stands for “University College”, one of the satellite sub-colleges that collectively makes up the University of Toronto.  And by the way, what kind of name is “University College”?  Isn’t that just “university” twice?  This “double-up” is not surprising, I suppose, in a city, one of whose primary thoroughfares is called “Avenue Road.”)

Anyway again

I want to be in the show.  (As an undergraduate several years earlier, my older brother Hart had appeared in UC Follies to memorable acclaim.  It is possible I may be the tiniest bit competitive.) 

I audition for the show’s writer/director, a man who will become Lorne Michaels, but at the time was Lorne Lipowitz.  (Surname notwithstanding, Lorne was the one who eventually invited me to Los Angeles.  The audition marks our original encounter.)

I am later informed that I was extremely funny at the audition.  There was only one problem.  I was not at all funny while performing the material in the script.  I was hilarious around the material, masking my anxiety with convulsing improvisations, such as, after failing to evoke laughter from the part I had been assigned to read, moving to a different position in the room and saying, “Maybe I’ll be funnier over here.”  Trying again, failing again, and then observing, “I guess not.”

Unable to bring the scripted material to life, I was understandably rejected for the show.  But as it turned out, the revue’s script was a little short, and additional material needed to be found.

Lorne called up my Hart – I am not certain of their relationship, if any; it is hardly beyond Lorne to “cold call” a stranger.  (Hart and Lorne would eventually team up for five or so years as writer/performer/producers, mostly in Canada, but in the States as well, most notably as writers on the hit variety show, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.  But that happenstance is substantially down the line.)

Lorne asked my brother if he had any suitable material Lorne might be able to his revue, thus bringing it to its appropriate length.  At the time, my brother had been writing “spec” (audition) material with somebody else (who went on to producer Sanford & Son.) Hart informed Lorne they had just the thing Lorne was looking for.

“We have written a ‘Blind Date’ sketch.  You can have that for your show.  On one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“My brother has to be in it.”

If you are scoring at home, that was “Participant Number One.”  If my brother had not provided that material linked to a non-negotiable caveat, I would never have appeared in UC Follies.  (And never have met Lorne, and yada, yada, yada, yada.)

So there’s that.  (For which “Thank you” brother Hart.)

But it wasn’t just that.

When Lorne subsequently called to inform me that I had been, belatedly, included in the show, he, entirely out of the blue, proposed that I write an additional piece of material for myself – a stand-up comedic monologue for the Second Act, as a follow-up the “Blind Date” sketch, scheduled for the First.

Lorne had fulfilled his obligation to my brother by including me in the show.  The additional monologue was entirely his idea.  And at that point, he didn’t even know I could write!  I didn’t know I could write.

“Participant Number Two”:  Lorne Lipowitz/Michaels, showing faith in and support for an entirely untested commodity.  (This insightful assessment of talent would serve Lorne well in his subsequent endeavors.  And by the way, "Thank you" to Lorne as well. )

“Participant Number Three”, of course, was me.  (You're welcome.)  First, I said, “Yes”, both to the “Blind Date” sketch that I had never seen and to a seven-minute monolog that had yet to be written.  No small accomplishment for a congenitally frightened individual. 

And then, to my surprise, though apparently less so to others’,

I did it.  (Successfully, others have said.)

It occurred to me that it might be instructive to pass along that story.  Three people got me started on my way.  (Possibly even more.)  It could not have happened without me.  But it could equally not have happened without them. 

That is simply the way it works.  


Jeremiah Alvarez said...

A 7 minute monologue, that's a week in performance time, isn't it? For an 'amateur' That's Incredible!

I was an early fan of SNL, their opening years, but, eventually, I could no longer stay awake much past dinner. Somewhere around Dana Carvey I lost consciousness. So, congrats to you and your benefactors, Lorne and Hart. And eventually, Rogers. And Greene.

Most of us probably have at least one person to credit/blame for our careers. Most of us don't have the big names to drop, truthfully. But you done good!

PG said...

You were a riot as 'Percy Neeps' in the UC Follies, Earl. You have no idea what a 'fan base' you had, back in the day. You coulda been a contender....oh wait, you were!