Friday, August 31, 2018

"Anything For A Laugh"

In one of his most celebrated silent movie stunts, the falling side of house topples in the direction of comedian Buster Keaton, finally landing, not on him, but – due to strategic positioning – around him, an unharmed Buster Keaton, standing in the frame of an unflattening window.

This classic sequence triggers an explosive outpouring of laughter.



An awestruck reaction to a brilliantly executed “comedy bit.”

And, perhaps – adds this chronicler – the amazement that anyone would deliberately risk life and limb… 

Simply to get a laugh.

The thought came to me recently, concerning the lengths – and probably widths as well, though that is less widely popularized – that a comedian will go to, to get an audience to respond.

“We got a rise out of ‘em thattime, didn’t we, Jocko?”

“Getting a rise out of ‘em.” The comedian’s insistent objective. Leading me to ponder what exactly that might require of the comedian.  Remembering that comedians are people too.  Notwithstanding the memorable line from The Producers,

“Oh yeah?  Have you ever eaten with one?”

Before proposing an abbreviated list of “How far will you go in pursuit of a laugh?” allow me to add in the middle, or shortly before that, I am not sure how long this will go – the most important consideration in this investigative arena.

Which, it appears to me, is not a consideration at all, as defined as a conscious decision by the comedian concerning what they will or will not be willing to say.

It is more an innate personal characteristic, reflected in their type of performance onstage.

To the question, “How can he say that?’ – or, in the Buster Keaton example, “How can he do that? – (which, of course, also includes “she”, Amy Schumer), the studied response to that question – at least studied by yours truly – is, 

Because they can.

And it apparently does not bother them a bit.

It seems to me that different people have varying proclivities – depending out how you perceive it – for being totally outrageous or, from the other end of the telescope – having no governing “monitor” on when to judiciously “keep it inside.”  

It depends entirely on the individual.
It occurred to me that comedians not only say things regular people don’t think about.  They also say things regular people may think about but make a conscious decision not to share.  (Or to become comedians at all, for that matter.)   
Since there are some people who may think things but would prefer surrogate others to proclaim them onstage, appreciating comedians becomes a matter of individual taste.  Some live vicariously through the “let it all hang out” comedians; others prefer comedians who share things, but not allthings.  Leaving, still other others with nobody to laugh at besides Jerry Seinfeld, who shares virtually nothing, besides the things he has noticed.


Three examples in the exploratorial context of “How can they say that?”:

“Insult” comedians.  (“How can they say that about strangers?”)

“Bedroom Activities” comedians.  (“How can they say that in public?”)

And “Self-Deprecating” comedians.  (“How can they say that about themselves?”)

And there you have it. Three categories of what in “polite society” – if that actually exists anymore – would call “unsavory utterances” – are, for comedians, their habitual stock-in-trade.   

And they are totally comfortable trodding that terrain.

The majority of current comedians show a minimal aversion to saying questionable things.  If you asked them, “Aren’t you embarrassed?” they’d go, “About what?”  (Larry David, anyone?)

And because they can do what the rest of us can’t or choose notdo, like the Caughnawaga Indians, who have the natural facility to walk the “high steel” of skyscraper construction sites with no accompanying fear of falling,

Comedian who can say anything make a very comfortable living.

Pondering this issue, a related thought came to mind, concerning the question of, “Is that really them?”  But I shall save that for next time.

(It means nothing to you – nor should it – but it feels great to know I have something to write about next time.  The pressure’s off… till I think, “Is that really that good?”)
Reminder:  Ken Levine's podcast interview with me is now available for listening.  You can hear it by going to Ken's blog, and pressing the gold star.  There are a couple of others ways of getting to it but I no longer remember what they are.

I hope you enjoy it.


Thursday, August 30, 2018

"Hidden Nugget Of Wisdom"

My older brother has this wonderful joke where he says about a guy,

“He had a mustache but he didn’t wear it.”

I love that joke because it sends dueling realities crashing against each other, the essence of a sublime subsection of comedy.  You can have a mustache.  And you can not wear whatever you want.  

Except a mustache.  (Which sprouts straight out of your face.)

That’s why that’s funny. (It is also why I don’t care to dissect comedy.  It invariably vaporizes the laugh.)

I rejoice at the blissful absurdity of that joke, a sparkling example of “pure comedy.”  It is simply a joke for the sake of a joke.   

Or is it?

(He queried, not knowing where this is going but pretending he does so as to proceed with this post.) (And possibly discover he knew more than he’d originally believed.  Time – and further exposition – will tell what is ultimately the case.)   

Curious happenstances supporting this thoughtful investigation…

When I was 27, I passed my driver’s test in Toronto, after failing miserably twice before.  (Meaning both that I drove miserably during the driver’s test and I felt miserable after I failed.  You know you’re a “gone goose” when you wait ten minutes for the four lanes of oncoming traffic to adequately clear – as required by the “Manual” – and the examiner squirming impatiently beside you goes, “Come… on!!!”)

Before this unpromising third effort, I happened to mention that my driver’s test was scheduled for tomorrow morning.  Where I happened to mention it was at the production offices of Canada’s national television broadcasting network.  (The CBC, above Bassel’s Restaurant on Yonge Street, home of the square hamburger and their incomparable chocolate cream pie.)

The next thing I knew – if “the next thing” can be extended to the following morning and in this sentence it can– there was a ring at my apartment doorbell, and when I opened the door, standing there was a full production team from a network public affairs show called Of All People, coming to film my final driving lesson and my driver’s test itself.  For the entire country of Canada.

And you know what?

I passed.  

(Unless the examiner did not want to ruin the segment by failing me.  Let’s say I succeeded on my own.  For which I had proof.  There was no restricting “Passed on TV” stamped on my new driver’s license, limiting my driving to televised filmings.

Yes, I had changed Motor Vehicle venues, tested on College Street rather than Keele Street, the site of my previous failures, though I am unaware people drive better on different streets. 

All I knew was I had finally passed my driver’s test.

And that I had successfully done so on television.


Seventeen years.

I am standing on the mound at Kovaleski Stadium in South Bend Indiana, a part- owner of the home team South Bend White Sox, honored with throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the game.  (A last-minute replacement, as the more famous person they expected failed to appear.) 

I am no athlete. Which may be the biggest understatement in my almost eleven years of blog writing.  (I will not go into specifics.  I engage in this exercise to cheer myself up.  Trumpeting my physical deficiencies would surely trigger the opposite effect.)

The stadium’s loudspeaker – as well as the electronic scoreboard – announces my name.  I am identified as “The creator of Major Dad” – I actually “developed” the series, though only the scrupulously nitpicky would demand credit clarification when one stands prominently on the mound.  

My “Moment of Glory” finally arrives.  The catcher crouches behind home plate, his targeting mitt poised for my ceremonial delivery.  I judiciously “toe the rubber”, rock into my “wind-up”…

And throw a perfect strike to home plate.  

The catcher does not even move his glove; my offering lands dead center.  (A gentle “rainbow” offering, but still, right on the money.)

I have no business making such a pitch.  I had not previously warmed up.  I had not thrown a pitch off of the mound since… I have never thrown a pitch off of the mound.  And yet there it was.  Returning the souvenir sphere to its honorarial hurler, the catcher announced, “You t’rew a helluva pitch”, surprising even himself with his unforced sincerity.  

So look what happened here. (It would evidently appear.)

I passed my driver’s test. 

Because the cameras were rolling.

I threw a perfect strike.

Because the assembled South Bend crowd was watching.

Who knows?  (He summarizingly concludes.)

Maybe you canhave a mustache and not wear it.

I am a natural showman. 

And I don't let it show.

Batter Up!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"Crazy Rich Asians - The Seeming Forgivable Stereotype"

I don’t know... 

If it’s a sustained hit, I guess the backlash will inevitably arrive.  But right now, the prevailing response to Crazy Rich Asians, the first major studio motion picture with an all-Asian cast in 25 years and “the highest opening romantic comedy since 2015’s Trainwreck” is a universal “Hooray!”

I was not going to write about Crazy Rich Asians, which we saw last weekend, not because I did not care for it – I thought it was fine – but because… you know how you drink a milkshake without a straw and it leaves a telltale mustache of froth on your upper lip?  Well… who wants to write about froth?

Before I turn this over to the Asian perspective I have yet to hear, let me set forth my prejudice.  Not against Asians.  Against conspicuous consumption.

Full Disclosure: I have walked out on maybe half-a-dozen movies in my entire life.  (And, to my credit, I have never loudly demanded the theater manager return a pro-rated portion of the ticket price.  Although I’ve wanted to.)  

One movie I precipitously departed was Pretty Woman.  Why?  Because the ’”Block Comedy Moment” was a borrowed credit-card-backed shopping spree on Rodeo Drive.  

I just hated that!  (And so did my feet, which, without instructions from my head, immediately headed for the exits.)

I was okay with Julia Roberts being a prostitute.  But I draw the line at buying everything in sight!

That’s the sine qua nonof our cultural aspirations?

“Acquisitive Gluttony”?

Okay, enough preachery. For now.

Crazy Rich Asians depicts wall-to-wall luxury.  First-Class plane rides include complimentary pajamas.  The film’s opulent galas make Disneyland look like traveling carnival.  Everything ostentatiously screams “Money!”  Who arethese people?  And where’s “”Madame Guillotine” when you need her?

Anyway… I appear to have lost my way here… oh, yeah.

It seems there are stereotypes, and there are stereotypes.  And “Acute Workaholism” and “Rejecting Snobbery” are not considered to be negative ones.   

In Crazy Rich Asians, two of the family’s sons get married at separate weddings.  The driven Dad is a conspicuous “No-Show” at both of them.  The film’s (albeit highly accomplished) “Cinderella Character”, cuttingly told, “You will never be a ‘Young’” – ultimately submits to that banishing decree.  

(Until the end where – Spoiler Alert! – the lead characters struggling to choose between love and unimaginable affluence wind up – thanks to a generous screenwriter – not having to choose, an ending that offends me as a writer andas an audience member.  (“You made me think “It was one or the other’ and it turns out they get everything?  I want a pro-rated portion of my… okay, never mind.”)    

The question is – and it is not my question to ask but there is nobody else here– why aren’t the members of the ethnicity portrayed in Crazy Rich Asians upset by this generally unflattering portrayal of their culture?

Back in the fifties, an irate organization of African Americans got Amos ‘n’ Andy cancelled because of “offensive racial characterizations”, even though Amos entrepreneurially owned a cab company and “The Kingfish”, though a recognized “Trickster”, was always trying to better his economic condition.  Only Andy was characteristically “iffy.”  As if all oppressed minority members have to be role models.

The offended organization complained that, since there were at the time a paucity of black characters appearing on television, Amos ‘n’ Andy produced an unbalanced negative representation.  The show unequivocally needed to go.

The thing is, speaking as a student of comedy (and not as an African-American, though I am sure a(n unspecified) number of them would agree with me), Amos ‘n’ Andy was inarguably hilarious.  It didn’t matter.  Amos ‘n’ Andywas decreed a destructive stumbling block to racial understanding.  

And yet – returning to Crazy Rich Asians – it’s okay to portray, without alternate balancing representations, money-grubbing Asians who reject Chinese-Americans for being not sufficiently tough-minded?  (Because they believe in “personal happiness” over “the best interests of the family”, all of which, apparently, involve becoming as gaggingly rich as you possibly can?)

Call me crazy, but I’m seeing negative stereotypes here.  Granted, the behavior is not criminal – simply free enterprise on “Overdrive” – the film no more culturally offensive than, say, movies like “Crazy Cold Eskimos”, “Really Fast Black People” or “Jews With Cramps – The Ashkenazi Nightmare” would be.

I get it.  It’s a fantasy.  Audiences are a lot savvier than to think Asians are all obsessed capitalist kingpins.  (An attribute some may secretly admire.)  

Crazy Rich Asians is entertainment-oriented, summertime “fluff.”  It is not meant to be taken seriously.

The thing is,

Neither was Amos ‘n’ Andy.

And, believe me, that was a heck of a lot funnier.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

"Got It!"

I begin with, among many available options, three ways a person can learn things.


“I know seven people who ate those mushrooms and died.  I am not touching those mushrooms.”

Personal Experience:

I crashed two cars on the first day I bought them, showing them off to people I was trying to impress.  What I learned was, being unable to control my proclivity to impress, I would show off my new cars only after they were parked.

Incorporated Wisdom:

“The consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.”

Seemingly true, although how that works – the magician enchanted by their own trick – is seductively shrouded in mystery.

Okay, that’s three.

I now add a fourth avenue of illuminating awareness. 

You can learn things from a joke.

If it is the right kind of joke.  (You will learn nothing from comedian Gallagher, slamming a watermelon with a sledgehammer, except “Don’t sit near the front.”)  (An old reference?  Tell that to folks with permanent watermelon stains on their sports jackets.)

A recent example of what I am talking about…

I have recently told the story of my fellow “student” at Oxford fixing my suddenly defective cellphone – the screen had turned milky, and I was unable to call out.  After a startlingly brief interval of educated tinkering, Fan returned my cellphone, now fully and healthfully operational.

I am relievedly thrilled by its functional recovery.  (My effusive “Thank you!” topped by an unplanned kiss on the hand.)

Only shortly thereafter did I notice that, subsequent to Fan’s heroic efforts, the twenty or so icons on the “Home Screen” – or whatever you call it – had been reduced in size, and were now smaller than they had previously been.  My reflexive – and juvenile – reaction was to gracelessly return the phone, asking, “Could you fix the icons?”

But I didn’t, an act requiring considerable restraint on my part, being, by nature or perhaps habit, a shockingly ungrateful individual.  (An illumination alsogleaned from personal experience.)

The reason I held back, I was consciously aware,

Was because of a joke.

A well-known joke. You may have heard it before – possibly even in this venue – its current reprise confirming the case that jokes can tangibly better your behavior.

Here’s the joke that kept me from putting Fan unnecessarily back to work.

The (comedian) Henny Youngman Version:

“A little Jewish Grandma is at the Florida coast with her little Jewish grandson.
The grandson is playing on the beach when a big wave comes and washes the kid out to sea. The lifeguards swim out, bring him back to shore, the paramedics work on him for a long time, pumping the water out, reviving him. They turn to the little Jewish Grandma and say, “We saved your grandson.”  The little Jewish Grandma says,

“He had a hat.”

Swear to Gosh, it was that joke that restrained me from demanding further repair work on my cellphone. I did not want to be, “He had a hat.”

Call it educational teamwork.

Henny Youngman,

Philosopher and teacher.

And me,

Student of comedy, and life.

Although if anyone knows how to make the icons bigger…

Monday, August 27, 2018

"The Secret II (Because There Is Apparently Already A Post Entitled 'The Secret'"

There is a secret television comedy writers have, a truth so fiercely protected, it is often concealed from to the television comedy writers themselves, including – sans doute – thisone.  It is, in fact, quite possible that the funnier a television comedy writer you are, the more likely you are to succumb to that secret.  (Not that I was that funny, so I guess there are other succumbing reasons as well.)

What is that secret?

The secret is this.

A gifted comedy…

Wait.  First, let’s take a moment to answer a related question that may have arisen reading blogs like mine and, say, Ken Levine’s.  (The reliable and always funny

We have often written about – and whiningly bemoaned – sitcom rewrite nights lasting till two, three in the morning, or later.  Have you ever wondered, “How come?”  Not how come we whiningly bemoan – that comes with the territory – but how come rewrite nights are so long?

Here are three reasons for “How come?”:

The script, playing insufficiently funny “on its feet” during rehearsal runthroughs, requires arduous and extended “punching up.”  (I myself have suffered through forty-five minutes searching for one joke before discovering an upgrading replacement.  I have also occasionally settled for “That’ll work” so we could move on, with the rewrite and with our lives.)

Sometimes, the story itself feels frustratingly “off”, which, as with a malfunctioning timepiece, must then be painstakingly taken apart and meticulously reassembled it so it will run more efficiently. (Thatwill get you late to the parking lot, your waiting car huffing an exasperated “Finally!” on your arrival.)

Sometimes the story “lays out” just fine.  

It is simply the wrong story.

Bringing us now to “The Secret”, which in a nutshell, though don’t count on it, is this:

A gifted comedy writer is fully capable of – as is said in less humorous contexts –  putting lipstick on a pig.  (Which itself is a humorous descriptive, if you are comfortable with, metaphorically, disfiguring a pig.)

That’s the unrecognized reality.  An experienced comedy writer can use their reliable joke-writing facility to obscure the deficiencies of “Reason Two” and “Reason Three”, delivering an exquisitely-iced birthday cake, camouflaging a brick.

And you might not even know you are doing it.

Case in Point:  Because what’s a good post without a clarifying example?

“A good post without a clarifying example.”

Is that really possible?

“If it’s entertaining enough.”

Which is exactly my point.  If you are sufficiently skillful, you can satisfactorily entertain, even with a structural hole in your narrative balloon.  (Though some will have the nagging impression that things are not right.)

Okay, so here’s the example, which could be right, or merely my personal reaction.  (And one must always include the insidious “Envy Factor.”)

I am invited to a filming of Everybody Loves Raymond.  I have an acquaintance on the writing staff, and I ask him if I can visit.  (Truth be told – though only in brackets – my late-period career trajectory is shaky and I am casually – although semi-seriously underneath – fishing for future employment. Forgetting I dislike working on writing staffs, even on admirable sitcoms like Raymond.)

I meet Raymond’stalented creator/show runner, Phil Rosenthal, my host (and possible future employer?) escorting me to the pre-show dinner, and later, rather than seating me in the gallery, honoring me with a coveted show-watching position on the soundstage floor, behind the cameras. (Of course, behind the cameras.  And yet I still said it.)

The episode, entitled, “What’s with Robert?” finds the family grappling with the dawning possibility that brother and older son Robert is gay.

During the filming before the live studio audience, the episode plays like the proverbial “Gangbusters.”  The actors are sharp, the story is skillfully unfolded, the “touching” elements are genuinely “touching”, and, most importantly, the peppering punchlines are consistently hilarious.  

What’s the problem, at least for me?

“What’s with Robert?” is “Episode 12” of “Season Four” of Raymond.  That’s like 80 episodes of Raymond already “in the can.”  

And in that whole time, I never once thought Robert was gay.  

I can imagine the episode’s “pitch” being enthusiastically received.  The comedic – and dramatic – possibilities are irresistibly enticing. And tonight, their original appraisal of the idea was rewardingly vindicated.

And yet, I’m standing there, thinking,

“What the heck are they talking about?”

For four-and-a-half seasons, the idea Robert was gay was never legitimately set up, or even casually alluded to.  And now it’s like – Boom! – they’re doing the episode.  Because it’s funny.  And because they can.

The evening’s filming ends, everyone’s happy with the results.  I tell Phil Rosenthal “Well done.”  The thing is, my unsmiling face is conveys a contrasting message.

“What’s wrong?” the show runner anxiously asks, reading my dissatisfied visage.

Quickly, I improvise a non-reaction reaction.

“Why?  Are you doing it again?”

No good.  The creator/show runner wants to know what I think.  A response I insistently fudge.  What did know? I was thoroughly outnumbered.  The audience loved it.  Everyone’s celebrating its success.  How would it look, a contrarian “invitee” going, “A well-executed mistake”?

Maybe I was wrong.  Maybe I missed the myriad “gaydar”-ing signals embedded in earlier episodes.  To me, “What’s with Robert?” didn’t feel honest.  And though my mouth diplomatically demurred, the righteous remainder of my physiognomy transparently spilled the beans. (Which, of course, meant no job.)

So that’s “The Secret”, right there.  With enough talent – and unconscious self-delusion – you can deliver an episode that should never have been made.

Says the man with a much smaller house than Phil Rosenthal. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

"Considering The Source"

Screenwriter William Goldman once famously proclaimed about the movie business, 

“Nobody knows anything.”

I’m beginning to think “nobody knows anything” about anything.

I have this (increasingly largening) compartmentalized pill container, holding a growing number of prescription drugs and nutritional supplements I habitually take every day. I say “habitually take” – especially about the nutritional supplements – because I do not know if they actually work.

(A Canadian cousin once asked his pharmacist father, “What do vitamins do?”  To which his father cynically – or accurately – replied, “Make money for the company.”  Who knows?  Perhaps vitamins are better today.  But people – meaning myself – take them regardless, applying the “chicken soup” rationale, “It won’t hoit.” Though there is the ongoing financial burden.  Taking nothing costs nothing. 

Okay, so there are the prescription pills – blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. – which annual checkups reveal are successfully doing the trick.  But even there – when professional “Doctuh People” instruct us to take stuff – we are not entirely in the clear. 

Prescription medicines can have worrying side-effects, many of which go regularly unmentioned by the personal M.D.’s who prescribed them.  (In contrast to TV ads, where the drug companies – either by law, or the drug company’s attorneys to preclude subsequent lawsuits – are required to list all the medicines’ possible side-effects, to the cowering chagrin of the viewers, even viewers who don’t take them. 

Who knows?  Some day, I may need a medicine that can induce “suicidal thoughts or actions.”  “Suicidal actions!?!”  

Drug Companies:  “Hey, at least we warned you.”

They’re right.  My doctor prescribed a medicine to treat one thing that, without mentioning the possibility, put me on track for something considerably worse.  I stopped taking the medicine, and the potentially “worse condition” immediately disappeared.  You know what?  I switched doctors.

Apparently, even the experts don’t know the whole story about prescribed courses of treatment. Suddenly, “It did nothing” sounds like a “Best Case Scenario.”

Though there are lots of medicines and supplement out there, I myself felt personally protected.  Inventorying my burgeoning pill container, I saw that everything I was taking had come scrupulously endorsed.

Let’s see now…

My former gym trainer insisted I take minerals.  (“Former” because she was crazy, but I still took her suggestion.)

My piano teacher touted a cold inhibitor.  (“Haven’t had one in years.”)

Our building contractor recommended turmeric, which I ignored.  Who listens to building contractors about health issues?  Piano teachers?  That’s a whole different story.

Examining the contents of my pill container reminded me how easily we can forget where the knowledge we assimilate and act upon originally came from, which, in this case, had me ingesting their untrained recommendations into my body.  

Seven days a week, I take pill promoted by my piano teacher.

Somebody – okay, somebody you take seriously; I’m not talking about loonies (“Every day, I swallow a penny with my orange juice.”) – anyway, somebody thinks they know something. (Perhaps picked up from somebody else.)  They convey this knowledge to somebody else, and now twopeople think they know something.  And on it goes – a widening ripple of transmitted wisdom, everyone in the expanding cohort thinking they know something.  

But do they? 

Consider the things we usedto know.

“No swimming until an hour after eating.”

“Conventional Wisdom” forever. 

Now we eat in the pool. 

A guy I knew played high school football.  Players were ordered not to drink water during sweltering summer practices. Ballplayers were dropping like flies; they’d call them “malingerers.”  “Take your salt tablets!” they were instructed.  Sun, salt and no water?  That passed for State-of-the-Art “Sports Medicine.”

“We didn’t know.”

We stilldon’t know.  I mean, we know about water, but for hundreds of other things?  

We’re them!

Which leads to “The Expanded Consideration.”

It’s easy to look through your pill case, remembering who originally told you what. It’s harder – harder still with the extending passage of time – to look in your brain and recall where your core thoughts and beliefs originally came from.  

The ideas that comes out of our mouths – are they originally our ideas?  Or are they repeated opinions, assimilated from believed “Reliable Sources” long ago, and we continue to spout them, now insisting they’re “our views”?

Just asking here, but wouldn’t it maybe be helpful if once in a while, we did some “Cranial Housekeeping”, dumping reflexively held ideas and opinions subsequently proven to be wrong?  Maybe they were right once.  Maybe they were neverright.  But doesn’t it all deserve an occasional scrutinizing “Revisiting”?

I’ll tell ya, sometimes, I rebel against passive acceptance of “Received Wisdom” and I aggressively take charge.  A while back, I stopped taking my piano teacher’s cold-stopping capsules, after I ran out.  

It felt good being the boss.

The thing is…  

I have gotten a few colds.

That’s what happens sometimes.

You get stubborn.

And you stop taking the wrong thing.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"My Randy Newman Story"

I only met him once.

Look out!  Here comes my “name-dropping” sentence.

I ran into the incomparable Randy Newman while attending a “Premiere Party” for a show hosted by the legendary George Burns – whom I had visited at length in his dressing-room trailer – held at (the show’s Executive Producer) Steve Martin’s sumptuous Beverly Hills home, at which, at my request, Lorne Michaels – whom I have known personally for decades – generously brought us together.

(That’s it for “egregious name-dropping” which, you may notice I rarely indulge in, only partly because I know hardly anyone famous.  Which is good.  Dropping names is exhausting, especially when you are pretending you’re not.  Which is not what I just did.  It’s the non-satirical version that’s exhausting.  This one was just fun.)

Setting the scene…

We are at this big Hollywood party, feeling uncomfortable, not because there are famous people around but because we feel uncomfortable at allparties.  It’s nice when your spouse shares your anti-social proclivities.  There is no, “What’s the matter with you?” 

Anyway, there we are… you know the song “Mr. Cellophane”, from Chicago?  We are the evening’s quintessential “Cellophane Couple” – You can look right through us; nobody knows we’re there.  Which is fine.  We are busy. Counting the time till we can politely go home.

It is then that I spot Randy Newman.

(Note:  Here’s why Randy Newman was attending the party.  {As well a Lorne Michaels.}  George Burns Comedy Week debuted on television in 1985, coinciding with Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels and Randy Newman’s classic collaboration on The Three Amigos.

I say to Dr. M, “There’s Randy Newman.”

And she says,

“Why don’t know go over and talk to him?”

Like suddenly she’s shy but I’m not.

I tell her I can’t do that. To which she responds,

“Why not?  You’re both in show business.  Go on.”

The “You’re both in show business” rationale makes no sense to me.  It’s like if I told (future) psychologist Dr. M,

“Isn’t that Freud over there?  Go over and say hello.”

I want desperately to talk to Randy Newman.  

But I can’t.  

Then I see him, getting ready to leave.  Suddenly, I propel myself into action.

I do not approach Randy Newman, but I do approach Lorne Michaels, asking him to introduce me to Randy Newman.  Lorne Michaels, lacking my constricting inhibitions, immediately says, “Sure.”

And before I know it, Randy Newman’s standing in front of me, and I am telling him this story. (Making this “a story within a story.” Same charge.)

I attempt to relate this personal anecdote without insinuating “You owe me.”  You know how you sometimes say “You owe me” but you don’t really mean it except a part of you actually does?  That’s probably how it came out.  (Although it is possible my story began with, “You know, you owe me.”  Hoping he’d catch the “unserious twinkle.”)

Anyway, here’s the story I told Randy Newman.

I had a date once.  I believe it was my third.  Ever.

This was back in Toronto in the early seventies.  We were new together, and I wanted to impress her.  A night on the town seemed like a plan.  “We’ll see Randy Newman at this local coffee house.”

At this point, Randy Newman says, “Grumbles.”  I was amazed he remembered.  Such a trivial venue.  People in Toronto didn’t know “Grumbles.”

Okay, back to the story…

So there we are, wining and dining, the remarkable Randy Newman on deck.  I am thinking great rewards – undefined at that juncture – must inevitably follow.

I remind Randy that his opening act that night was the late Jim Croce, who, ironically, had more hits that the headliner.  Randy himself alluded to that, introducing one of his songs saying, “This song is Number 143 on the Billboard charts”, a self-mocking comparison to Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, then slotted at “Number 9.”

Till then, the date couldn’t be going better.  The conversation was relaxed, the shared glances encouraging, there may even have been even hand-holding involved.  The show, as I knew it would be, was sensational.  Small crowd in an intimate setting, relishing one of the best singer-songwriters of his time.

Yeah, this was going to be good for me.

Finally, Randy concludes his prepared “Playlist.”  He then swivels to the audience and says,

“Anything you want to hear?”

This is my “Seal The Deal” moment.  Randy Newman’s asking for requests.  And I have a truly impressive one.

I explain to Randy that I am normally not a request-shouting person.  But I was sure my esoteric suggestion – of a moving, meaningful song – would brand me a savvy Randy Newman “savant”, after which, it would be clear sailing for the rest of the date.   

Finding a opening, I confidently shout out my request.

“Old Man.”

And with not a moment’s hesitation, Randy Newman sonorously replies,


At which point, the night’s upbeat ambiance suddenly altered.

And it never changed back.

How couldit?  I had shouted a request and the performer had said, “No.”  That does not happen; they are supposed to do the requests.   Unless it is some kind of “stink bomb” of a request. Which mine, apparently, was.  Casting an instant condemnatory shadow on the “requester.”  

Whose date suddenly wanted to go home.

The unspoken message of the anecdote:

“That’s why you owe me.”

Listening patiently to my story – maybe he thought there was an agonized biographical song in it – “I was doin’ all right till I opened my mouth…” – a gracious Randy Newman confided the reason for not accommodating my request.

“When I do it,” he explained, “I can never get the audience back.”

And that was our meeting. No suggestions of staying in touch, but still memorable nonetheless.

Maybe he was right not to do “Old Man.”  It might have been tough getting the audience back.

All know is,

It really messed up my evening.

And now, at the risk of not getting you back, here’s “Old Man.”  
I can't do it.  They changed the way you "Embed" things from YouTube, and even with direction, I am unable to pull it off.

Go to YouTube and "Search" for "Randy Newman "Old Man."  Don't be lazy, like I'd be.  The song with stay with you.  It's stayed with me since 1972.

As an alternative, call me up and I'll sing it over the phone.

P.S.  Somebody helped me.  Maybe this will do the trick.  If not, try it the long way.  I mean, how busy are you?

Enjoy.  (Either way.)

<iframe width=“450" height="344" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>

And, in a blizzard of blogatorial postscripts, birthday "Shout Out" to my big brother, my personal hero, inspiration, and comedy superior. 

You still got it, "Double Sevens."

(Hart's birthday was actually yesterday but I moved this post without remembering to relocate the birthday "Shout out."

And a reprise of "Sorry."

Ken Levine's podcast interview of me will appear next Wednesday the 29th.  I guess I jumped the gun because I was so excited.  Or I'm just stupid.  Pick one. (Although the previous postscript may give you a clue.)  


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

"Audio Earl"

Okay, so… “Announcement.”

Ken Levine – of the esteemed blog – has informed me that the podcast interview he recently conducted with me will be available to interested ears tomorrow.  If you have two of those – or even just one, the other amenable to going along for the ride – here are the instructions concerning what to do.  (I am copying directly from Ken’s e-mail.)  (In case you think I have any idea what I am talking about.)  (Though if you are regular followers, why would you?) 


“They can go to this link:

Or they can go to ITunes and get it as one of their podcasts. Or they can go to my blog.  (See:  Above blog-“handle.”)  There’s a player right underneath my masthead.  Have them just click on the big gold arrow.  Or search for it on practically podcast app.  So they can listen to it on any device.


So that’s it.  

And now – hold onto your hats – an additional “Bonus Feature” you will not hear on the interview, because…

I forgot to say it.

I felt good about the interview.  Generally focused and unhurried.  (Thank you, meditation.)  Still, on the ride home – as invariably happens post facto– an excluded wonderful answer to one of Ken’s questions popped into my head.  It was readily available; I was just not aware of it at the time.

EARL’S BRAIN:  “We sent the message.”

EARL:  “It must have fallen into my nasal cavity on the way down to my mouth.”

Here now is the answer the people who listen to Ken’s podcast but eschew reading this blog will never receive.  


It was Ken’s first question, and I flubbed it.  Maybe I was not entirely relaxed with the physical setup, or that I remained mentally dazed that anyone wanted to interview me.  For whatever reason, I was embarrassingly thrown by Ken’s opening question, which was the following:

“What is your process?”

I immediately panicked. 

Flashback to my exam-writing days.

“I did not study that question!”

At first, I was unclear as to what Ken was talking about.  “What process?”  It only gradually became clear he meant my process for writing scripts.

“It’s been a while,” I replied, answering both truthfully and stallingly.  Truth is, I was totally lost for an answer.  Which is a problem in a “live” interview.  There are no salvaging “escape routes.”  You can fumblingly funferthrough it.  (“My process, you say.  Hm.  You are inquiring about my process...”)  You can try to joke your way out of it.  (“I have heard of the word ‘process’ but only in relation to cheese.”)  You can try something less English – where, incidentally, they say “proh-cess” –  and go deadly silent, leading people to think their devices have suddenly stopped working.

You know, in all my years of writing, I had never once thought about my process.  Which itself is an answer, although hardly a helpfully instructive one.  

ASPIRING WRITER:  “An award-winning writer never thought about his process.  I’m going to not think about my process, and with any luck, I’ll be as successful as he was.”

I have no idea why I felt blindsided.  Ken’s a writer.  He speaks to writers – on his blog and on his podcast.  I’m a writer.  Why would I surprised by a directly “writerly” question?  It wasn’t molecular… whatever it is.  It was writing, for heaven’s sake.  I dothat!

And yet there I was, struggling for a viable response.  (If you listen to the podcast, you may actually hear me swallow my tongue  It is not a pretty sound.  And you can imagine how felt, letting Ken down on his first question.)

And then, I am sitting in the Lyftcar taking me home… and a honey of an answer casually rises to the surface.  

I thought of Tom Jefferson.

Notthe third president of the United States.  My analogical reference derived from 
Canada, where the name does not immediately suggest the author of the Declaration of Independence who had an affair with his late wife’s half-sister who happened to be black. 

This was “Grade 10” classmate Tom Jefferson from Bathurst Heights Collegiate and Vocational School.  Tom’s awesome distinction was that – “Pop quiz” or year-end “Final” – he always got a hundred on his math exams.

Tom’s mathematical achievement was astonishing to me.  And, though hardly close friends, I mustered the courage to try and discover his secret.

“Hey Tom, can I ask you something?  How do you always get a hundred in math? 

Tom Jefferson would contemplatingly pause.  Then, finishing pausing, he’d speak.

“How do I get a hundred in math?  Well, I sort of… look at the questions, and I kind of… figure out the answers.”

That’s when I realized – not in “Grade 10” but when I remembered Tom’s answer – 

That was my process.

Call it “educated blundering.”

I do not know what I’m doing, and then it begins to come clear to me… and I do it.
With the added years of experience, I “educatedly blundered” progressively faster.  But the essential mechanism was always the same.  

I have no idea how to do it. Then I do, and I do it.

And now you know.

And the people ignoring this blog don’t.

Not to be maddeningly repetitive, but


And for good measure, 

“Ha!” again!*

(* Sour grapes for getting the answer in the car.  Mostly.)

I made a mistake about the podcast interview of me.  It will be available next Wednesday at 9 P.M.