Sunday, October 09, 2005

Happy Birthday

To me.

Dead Celebs who share this cake & candles day: Jacque Tati, Peter Tosh, and John Lennon (Sean Lennon, too, but he's alive and not really a celeb -- is he?).

I normally don't get all that reflective on my birthday, but this year, for some reason, is different. I'm in my mid-40s inching toward five-0, so that might have something to do with it. In any case, please indulge me as I veer wildly about today. I'd planned to post some extended riffs on the Great Caliphate Threat that's about to engulf us (or so says the prez), and some added thoughts about the worsening state of sports fan conduct, but all that can wait another day or two. That's the beauty of insanity -- it's never dated.

Recently, I was offered a TV writing gig for a parody show that may or may not fly. We'll see. But it brought back memories of the days when I worked in NYC clubs, first as a stand-up, then as a joke writer and sometime improviser. Back then I deeply lived and breathed comedy. I was crazy ambitious, and within a year of moving to New York, I hooked up with a couple of guys who were writing for Letterman and we used to hang out at Saturday Night Live's Fri night camera blocking rehearsals (where the cast members s-l-o-w-l-y run through each sketch while the director decides which camera angle to use). It was like a dream. SNL was everything to me as a teen, and here I was, 23-years-old, walking around Studio 8H, mixing with and talking to cast members and writers, getting an up-close glimpse at how the show was done. The whole thing was heady and intimidating, esp when sitting around with performers like Terri Garr and Robin Williams, talking with a lump in my throat to Monty Python's Michael Palin (who put his arm around me to calm me down), and sharing an elevator with Jerry Lewis and his little dog (whose muzzle Lewis pushed near my face -- "You wanna pet my dawwwg?" he said in The Kid's high voice). A year earlier I was writing and performing for a sketch comedy group in a tiny Indianapolis theater. And then this. I couldn't fucking believe it.

Still, getting a staff writing position on Letterman or SNL was next to impossible, esp Letterman, most of whose writers were Harvard Lampoon vets. A very inside gig, and tough to crack for a high school grad from the Midwest. I had two different agents submit me to Letterman three separate times, and while my stuff got read, and I talked to then-head writer Steve O'Donnell, that gig just wasn't in the cards. After one of my concepts that I submitted appeared on the show -- Dave Starts a Showbiz Rumor -- I began to realize that comic theft was a common practice, and that the people writing for these shows, while extremely witty and smart, were some of the most cynical people you'd never want to meet. Not long after that, I went out to LA for six months, lived for a time with Ray Combs and his family, wrote for Ray while interviewing for jobs on various sitcoms, the prospect of which depressed me. Nothing dampens one's comedy spirit faster than sucking the same air as a sitcom producer. They truly are a reptilian breed.

After nearly going nuts in LA, I fled back to New York, renounced comedy as a profession, began writing media criticism for an East Village rag called Downtown (run by an old hippie out of the back of a copy shop -- the guy was convinced that the government was reading his rag, and would tone down my weekly blasts so as not to piss off the powers that be) while clipping newspaper stories for FAIR, which at that time operated in a tiny office in lower Manhattan.

The wife's somewhat convinced that I fear success. I could've easily had a job on a Top Ten sitcom back in the day (which, once you snag, pretty much guarantees a lifetime of steady work), yet I sabotaged every opportunity. She might be right. There are times when I regret not taking the leap, even though that would've meant writing cute one-liners for the girls on "The Facts of Life." I read profiles of up-and-coming comics, and I wonder what might have been. I suspect that I would have become extremely dark and cynical, succumbing to the horrid LA comedy writer cliché. When I see the Paulie G. character on Lisa Kudrow's marvelous HBO series "The Comeback" (which I'm sorry to see canceled -- buy the DVD box set!), I'm convinced that's who I would be today -- a fat, hate-filled gag writer who phones it in for a bunch of fresh-faced flesh tarts jumping around a soundstage while the tourists in the studio audience are told to laugh by the warm-up comic and to clap by the flashing APPLAUSE sign over their heads.

Not to be. Not for me.

Well, enough of this. I wanna spend the rest of the day with the fam -- my boy and I are going out to buy some music and maybe a couple of movies. Then a light dinner and homemade apple pie, just the four of us. When I look at them, I realize that I made the right decision those many years ago.

It's gonna be a good day.