Thursday, November 30, 2017

"Retroactive Recognition"

In the wake of the swirling headlines about show biz improprieties, someone asked me recently if, when I was somewhat “big in the business”, women ever threw themselves at me.

(I just smiled, typing those words.)

My response to them was,

It was unlikely.

But then I remembered a story.  Not a show biz story.  But one from my long ago days at Camp Ogama.

We were on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park, camped on an island, for an overnight respite.  I do not recall exactly how old we were.  My best guess is we were teenagers, maybe fifteen or sixteen.

While we were setting up camp, we looked out on the lake and saw this flotilla of teenage girls, paddling in our direction.  When they reached the edge of the island, without running aground, after some casual conversation, they inquired if we knew what time it was.  And we told them.

The girls’ canoe trip thanked us for that information, and then paddled away.

It was not long after their departure someone astutely noted,

“They had watches.”

That’s how it happens sometimes.

You miss the telegraphing signals until after the fact.

And sometimes,

You miss the signals entirely.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is... And Losing My Money Every Time"

I like my coffee black and unsweetened, so I can taste the pristine flavor of the coffee.  I mean, why drink coffee if you don’t like how it tastes?

“I have to ‘doctor’ it.”

I have a better idea. 

Drink something else.

I know.  That’s hardline.  And borderline doctrinaire. 

“Doc Trinaire.  You are wanted in surgery.”

“Call me Doctor Trinaire or I’m not coming.”

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yeah.

As with liking pristine coffee, I like my commercial entertainment, unencumbered by diluting illusion and artifice. 

And I have never once found anything close.  (I give acknowledging “passes” to the likes of The Wizard of Oz, but only if they are truly exceptional.)

I know funny people in actual life; I have occasionally been one myself.   Somebody says something funny, you laugh real hard.  Where is that paralleling natural exuberance in TV shows in movies? 

I saw the film The Meyerowitz Stories (subtitled, “New and Selected” as if they are actual stories when they’re not.)  All I experienced in that movie was “acting”, everyone furiously pretending to be “troubled.” 

The withholding father.  The bickering brothers.  The sister’s a basket case.

Bleh.  Bleh.  Bleh.

Who knows?  Maybe it was the writing.

“Look at this nightmarish family.”

I get it.

“You see how dysfunctional they are?”


“Unadulterated agony.”

Message received.  They’re unhappy.  Is this over soon? 

Our entertainment feels dismissingly fake to me.  The thankful exception to the
norm of slathered illusion and artifice:

Parts of Judd Apatow movies. 

It seems like they’re not acting sometimes.  Probably because they’re
not acting, they’re improvising, the freeing spontaneity of that approach according a welcome reality to the cinematic proceedings. 

However, like in Apatow’s The Big Sick, when they get to the obligatory “story points”, they’re acting.  And not particularly skillfully because they’re improvisers.

I know. 

I am extremely difficult to please.

Though I do not – the writer assures us – just “talk the talk.”  Like those intrepid, trailblazing pioneers of Yore – and elsewhere; sorry, I can’t help myself – I also, demonstrably, “Walk the walk.”  Insistently believing, if you don’t find it, do it yourself. 

Which I did.

Offering – as close as is humanly possible – unadulterated commercial entertainment.

Like the All Things Considered audition commentary I submitted, about “The people who do commentaries on the radio, they’re not talking to you; they’re reading to you.  And when I said, ‘They’re reading to you’, I read that.  And when I said, ‘I read that’, I read that too.  And when I said, ‘I read that too’, I also read that.  I am reading this whole thing!”

Ah, yes – an overdue expose, blowing the lid off the radio commentary racket.

All Things Considered turned it down.

Intrepid Experiment Number Two: *  (* Not in chronological order.)

I created a sitcom called Family Man, trying to replicate normal, everyday life.  That “normal everyday life” being my own.

The lead character was a comedy writer.  Married, with both a stepdaughter and a biological daughter.  Like me.  (I threw in a boy, to play “Young Me.”  Which sounds Chinese, but it isn’t.) 

I ordered a living room set built, duplicating our actual living room at home.  The house’s “Exterior Location” – the front of our Santa Monica craftsman bungalow.

I got rid of the live studio audience, liberating me from writing the obligatory “hard jokes” required to make live studio audiences guffaw, and giving me the freedom to garner laughs in a naturalistic manner. 

I told stories that had actually happened to me, in my earlier life and as a parent.

Family Man was the most exhilarating formula-free writing experience of my career, the closest I ever came to the kind of comedy writing I inherently believed in.

The show was cancelled after seven episodes.

And then there’s this blog.  Where if I mess up or change direction, I leave everything in, trying replicate, not manicured essay writing but the meandering flow of recognizable conversation.

My readers are precious to me. 

But they are tellingly few in number.

Sending the reverberating message:

“We like illusion and artifice.  Leave us alone.”

Maybe an uncontrived movie or TV show can’t be done.  It sure hasn’t been so far.  Possibly because it is effectively impossible to pull off.  Or because the “Smart Money” knows there is no money in attempting it. 

Yeah, well… (SIGH)

I’m going to keep at it, at least on this fragmentary level.

Who knows?

Maybe someone interested will pick up the torch, carrying it successfully to the box office “Finish Line.”  I hope so.  I know it’s worth attempting.


A more muscular champion to get the job done.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"Reality And The Story"

A writer friend of mine and I have this ongoing dispute about… wait.

You see? 


I just preempted my entire story with one word:


I described my writer friend’s and my particular contretemps as a “dispute”, which was the first word that came to my mind.  I could have just as easily called it a “discussion”, a “disagreement”,  or a “debate.”  And that’s… wait for it… okay, all together now…

“… just the ‘d’s’.”

I love a communal “Cliché Moment”, don’t you?

All of those words – and arguably words starting with other letters – could have equally adequately described what we were doing.  And yet, each of them colors the experience in a subtly different illustrative hue.  

“Debate” versus “dispute”?  There is a measurable variance in “heat”, the latter possibly presaging a duel.  Sad to say, it is entirely possible “sloppy writing” may have conveyed an inaccurate impression.

Which is, ironically, the subject of this undertaking.  Not sloppy writing.  But writing the truth.

The… whatever you call what my writer friend and I were engaged in – let’s say adhering to the “d” format, a “difference of opinion” – concerned his view that all writing is fiction, and my, ahem, more nuanced perspective that although no writing, fiction or non-fiction, indelibly mirrors actual reality – because, in non-fiction as well, the words the writer selects are potentially distorting, notwithstanding that conceded caveat, there remains the distinguishing issue of fictionalital degree, and, more importantly, the determinative issue of intention.  (I have gone absolutely “D-crazy” today.)

In fiction, the objective is to artfully communicate a compelling story.  In non-fiction, the goal is to relate what actually happened – a memorable event, an individual’s life – to the best of the writer’s research and structural organizational ability.

Both genres may include elements of “stylistic deflection.” (And in personal memoir, selective remembering.)  But one type of writing… hey, they call it fiction.  The other type is focused on accurately chronicling the historical happenstance.

So they’re different.  I say.  He says they’re not.  (Though I suspect he agrees with me more than he lets on and just enjoys getting my disputational goat.)  Feel free to weigh in yourselves on this issue.  All opinions are welcome.  (Those agreeing with me, more welcome.)

The thing is, in non-fiction – involving the commercial imperative to sell – the requirement to be interesting is invariably at war with (Dragnet’s) pedestrian “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Historians have to make a living.  And, more importantly, they’re writers.  With delicate, writerly egos.

“Your biography Chester A. Arthur was impressively comprehensive.  But, if you’ll forgive me, it was a slog.”   

To a biographer, “impressively comprehensive” is jubilant music to their ears.  But nobody wants to hear “a slog.”  Therein lies the continual conflict.  (Not to mention publishers not returning your phone calls.)  Precise accuracy may require one thing, artfully “wordsmithing” the story, another.

A Comedic Example:

Wait.  I’m going to check something on the Internet.  Talk amongst yourselves.


I found it.  Which is less funny than I didn’t, but we are going for accuracy here.

This is a quote from An American President, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Rob Reiner.

PRESIDENT ANDREW SHEPHERD (Last lines, walking with each other before delivering the State of the Union Address)

SYDNEY ELLEN WADE:   “How’d you finally do it?”


SYDNEY ELLEN WADE:  “Manage to give a woman flowers and be president at the same time.”

PRESIDENT ANDREW SHEPHERD:  “Well, it turns out I have a rose garden.”

Okay, so we’re doing this show Lateline, a sitcomical counterpart to Nightline, and in one episode (suggested not surprisingly by myself) meticulous journalist Al Freundlich (played by now Senator Al Franken) is hired as a consultant on a major motion picture, which he eventually causes to implode because his commitment to “verisimilitude” conflicts with the ever popular “Artistic License.”

In an effort to demonstrate his value, walking with Rob Reiner, who appears in the episode as the major motion picture’s director, Freundlich explains how, had he been onboard there, he would have prevented Rob Reiner from making an embarrassing faux pas in An American President.

“He gives her flowers from the Rose Garden before the State of the Union Address, (which is in January), saying, ‘It appears I have a rose garden.’  Roses in January? ‘Please!’”

To which a frustrated Rob Reiner sputters,

“It was the best line in the picture!”   

And there you have it.

The best line in the picture was screamingly inaccurate.

Yes, An American President was a movie.  And fiction’s entitled.

But non-fiction?


Despite the whispering impulse to stylistically “filigree”, telling a real story?  Your primary consideration is getting it right. 

Which sends me back to a recent post about my uncomfortable experience, working with a CBC radio producer. 

I hope I conveyed that fragment in (my personal) history as close to what actually took place as is humanly possible, telling the story without artistically “gilding the lily”, giving the experience the measurable importance it deserved.  No more, and no less.   

But I am not certain I did.
Two paragraphs up?  I changed a word so it would “read” better.

Hard as you try,

That stuff always gets in the way.

Monday, November 27, 2017

"Examining The Connection"

I don’t usually do “Torn from the Headlines!”  That’s for people who are trying to be popular.  Instead, I sort of do, “Torn from the headlines, and then it sits on my desk till I get around to writing about it.”  Which makes me proportionally less exploitational than the – generously described – predatory jackals.  At the price of being late to the party and nobody’s interested anymore.  Call it, “Breaking News – The Nostalgia Version.”

Okay, so… Louis C.K.

Here’s the thing.  His aberrant behavior? – Inexcusable.

But you know that already.

Powerful men putting women in terrible predicaments – Unacceptable.

Adequately covered.  (And more evocatively that I could.)

Appropriate punishment?

I don’t know.  Can we bring back “stoning”? 

I just remember hearing, in some class I took on the evolution of justice that a less mainstream interpretation of “An eye for an eye” was that it reflected a progressive upgrade in the arena of personal “retribution.”  Which works like this:

They knock out your eye: you retributively knock out their eye.  But you, more humanely, do not kill them. 

So there’s that, if you’re interested, and want to temper your justifiable anger with calibrated fairness.  Though I can understand if you are not in the mood.

What I choose to consider, not just to avoid covering old ground or inviting unwelcome controversy, although there is a little of that as well. is the peripheral “comedy perspective.”  Not of Louis C.K.’s behavior, I hastily clarify, but involving my longstanding curiosity about the relationship between who you are personally, and the material you create. 

I am aware that this terrain is exponentially less important than the other stuff.  That hurt people.  But I do comedy.  And I have always been drawn to the question concerning the giants of my business – Lenny Bruce.  Jonathan Winters.  Richard Pryor.  Robin Williams.  To name four.

That intriguing – to me – question is the following:

Do you have to be a little “funny in the head” to come up with the kind of groundbreaking comedy that people who are not “funny in the head” or, at least, not sufficiently “funny in the head” – not mentioning any names here – are, despite their best creative efforts, unable to deliver?

In Louis C.K’s case, we are referring to a comedian who has been accused of and confessed to – a subset of harassing sexual deviance.

Which brings me to a piece of material performed by Louis C.K., while hosting Saturday Night Live.

Let me preemptively acknowledge that when I originally heard this piece of material – I do not now remember where, but it was before the recent revelations – I was bowled over by its audacity and its “twisted reasoning” sensibility.  I thought it was hilarious, and I reflexively envied Louis C.K’s original mind for coming up with it.

Here it is, in part, transcribed from my viewing of the YouTube-recorded performance:

“When you consider the risk in being a child molester – speaking not even of the damage you’re doing, but the risk – there is no worse life available to a human than being a caught child molester, and yet they still do it.  From which, you can only really surmise… that it must be really good.  I mean from their point of view, not ours, but from their point of view, it must be amazing for them to risk so much.”

Laugh or don’t laugh.  I laughed.  Really hard.

Beyond the, literally, unimaginable idea, I admired the joke’s meticulous construction.  The way he identified with the appropriate side  “… from their point of view, not ours…” and the way he carefully distinguished between the plight of a child molester and the plight of a “caught child molester.”  And, of course, his willingness to stand in front of an audience and courageously “go there” in the first place.

I thought it was gutsy and wonderful.

Then the news broke, and I was like, “Hm.”

Time to re-think.

Dr. M, a trained psychologist with psychoanalytic certification, drew on decades of training and experience, calling Louis C.K.’s intolerable behavior “bent.”  Though she may have been simplifying, talking to a layman.  I do not think the DSM Manual of Mental Disorders includes the word “bent.”  (Though I have not myself read it.) 

The joke and the subsequent heinous revelation reignited my original question, applied now to this specific situation:

“Do have to be ‘bent’ to come up with ‘bent’ comedic material?”

This was nothing unusual for the comedian.  “Going to uncomfortable places” is at the heart of Louis C.K.’s comic persona.  That is pretty much his entire act, an intrepid “Truth Teller”, pointing an enlightening finger at our cultural hypocrisies.

Two comments, and I’m out.

One:  The comedic “Truth Teller” selectively neglected to tell the truth about himself

And Two:  There was, upon subsequent review, no “exposing cultural hypocrisy” in that joke.  It was funny “idea”, which made reasonable logical sense.  Until, upon further consideration, it didn’t

You can only “surmise” child molestation must be great because of the accompanying risk?  How about surmising, “It’s a serious illness, and, despite the punishing consequences, the molester can’t help himself”?

As it turns out, the joke was more “teenage dare” than “illuminating insight.”  You can actually hear that in Louis C.K’s performance.  At the end of his SNL monologue, he exults, “All right.  We did it.  We got through it.”  As if someone – perhaps Louis C.K. himself – had bet big money he couldn’t.     

A “bent” guy doing bent” material is a tradeoff I can easily live without.

Without abandoning the question,

“Can you get there without bending?”
Illustrative Bonus Addendum:  On a recent Bill Maher HBO show, Michael Moore commented that 99.9 per cent of mass murderers were men.  To which, Sarah Silverman mock-hopefully replied, “Some day…” 

That’s “bent” material that hits the bull’s eye.