After a brief 25-year weekend in Los Angeles, where I either staffed, ran or co-created shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Mad About You, Full House, and The Wayans, I finally escaped Hollywood, screaming like a woman with her hair on fire, back to native New York with one clear purpose: to rediscover my soul which I had long ago sold to Satan for swag and a wad of Bubbilicious Watermelon gum, and to reclaim my creative muse (whom I apparently had buried alive along with my values, ethics and comb. That's where it was!)
Working in Hollywood is basically like working as a servant at Downton Abbey while you pretty much make the same annual salary as Lord Grantham. But the truth is, you may have a lot of pocket cash, but you are still no more important at any given moment than Daisy the cook. In TV, at best, you are more or less a professional mimic. You either imitate the voice of the actors or the voice of your captors... I mean showrunners. The showrunner (which I have been) is your boss, and let me tell you something kids: the fish stinks from the head. I don't care what you do for living. If you work for a good guy you have a good life. Work for a Napoleonic despot and your life is pretty much Gitmo with catered meals.
So once firmly East Coast entrenched, I decided to Etch-A-Sketch erase my past and pretend that NONE of it happened -- while maintaining all my show biz contacts. I mean, come on, I'm not an idiot.
I always dreamed of having a job that required no pants, so I decided to sit in my underpants and write fervently non-stop, not unlike an old jazz cat who had long lost his lip and was determined to stand on the bridge in the middle of winter, wailing on his sax, till blood came sprouting out it.
In a few years I had written features, a play (ouch!) and tons of drama and sitcom pilots, and even got me one hot shot manager in LA to represent the outpouring of my fevered imagination. But you know what? I still felt empty. I found myself still depending on the kindness of strangers to validate and rediscover me. And just like Tennessee's other clueless character, Laura, it became painfully obvious that the only gentlemen callers that were coming were the ones that were never coming at all.
I had to DO something, not just pitch or write or endlessly talk about it in Starbucks. So I created a company called "The Wit Protection Program" whose sole purpose is to protect the kind of wit that I grew up with (From Chaplin and Keaton and The Marx Brothers to Woody Allen, Neil Simon and Mel Brooks). You see, my parent's comedy was my comedy. Jack Benny and Burns and Allen's slayed me. There was a seamless link from radio to TV (with the very same performers) and I was there for the whole ride. Eventually I broke away and my heroes became Lorne Michaels, the cast of SCTV, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby and Steve Martin. Armed with all those voices, I knew that I needed to preserve and honor the effect that they all had on me.
I also needed to rebel against some of this generation's comedy that seems to linger somewhere between daycare and pre-school whose funniest go-to words are "dick" and "vagina". Snarky irony and sarcasm to me is just the easy joke. It's like a five-year old yelling "poop!" for effect. And yes there are exceptions like Louis C.K. and Key and Peele, Colbert, Stewart, Fallon and Ferguson.
So I decided to make short comedy films that I was willing to make along with everyone else who were willing to volunteer their time and talent. The budgets: lunch.
My first film was a beautiful mistake that while hilarious, was also relentless. It had no heart, soul or story. What it did have was a searing POV about the outright narcissism of today's idiotic reality TV shows. Armed with all those film festival rejections -- that they actually charge you to enter! (P.S. I could wallpaper a Trump apartment with all those) -- I recently set out to do it again, but this time armed with all the knowledge that I had learned from the first one. I was smart enough to listen to what all my mistakes and failures were telling me.
The biggest lesson of all: stay SIMPLE. Stay FUNNY. Tell a STORY in a unique or original way. Don't just DIRECT: LISTEN to everyone while remaining HUMBLE and filled to the brim with GRATITUDE.
But I did have one firm rule. To me, comedy and music are the exact same thing (which is why so many comics have theme songs). It's all about hitting the precise, correct first note from the very first beat and never straying from the melody from start to finish because if you do: the flats and sharps will kill you... and the audience's ear.
Many people ask me why so many brilliant and often employable actors and crew types like my brilliant cinematographer and editor Simon Feldman, are willing to work for nothing and the answer is simple: because when it comes to any kind of personal performance, we don't believe in the word "no." Neither did George Martin and look what he pulled off. Simple tunes -- with complex and original arrangements.
The lunatics deserve their asylum so what price do you pay for that? By the way we got to premiere at The Friars Club in New York (thank you, Lou Wallach!) and at the Aidikoff Screening Room in Beverly Hills (thank you, Josh!)
So how did we do? You tell me.
Head on over to Funny or Die and search: Dante and Beatrice: A Family Film. The first one is also there: That's News To Me. I'd love to know what you think.