Last month my Avengers Little Golden Book The Threat of Thanos (illustrated by Shane Clester) appeared in a Barnes & Noble ad in celebration of the film Avengers: Endgame! (Click on the thumbnail to see the whole ad)
Star Wars Adventures: Recently I wrote a Tales from Wild Space comic book story called “Majordomo, Major Problems,” which was illustrated by Drew Moss. “Majordomo” is an 8-page backup tale in Star Wars Adventures #23, which comes out on June 26th, 2019 from IDW Publishing.
Now that that’s out of the way, I believe you’re owed a humiliating anecdote about my writing career. And you shall have it:
As a writer, often I really try to get into the heads of my characters. For example, when I was a staff writer on the television series TruTV Presents: World’s Dumbest, I found that in order to write jokes for Gilbert Gottfried (who was one of the cast members), you had to yell the jokes out loud AS Gilbert Gottfried. In other words, you had to do an impression of Gilbert Gottfried, to figure out how he would say a particular joke.
And that’s something I’ve done quite a few times in my career. When I was writing the scripts for the House M.D. video game, I did an impression of Hugh Laurie, in his “Gregory House” voice. As “Hugh Laurie,” I acted out each scene, talking into a digital recorder. Then I played it back in order to see if it sounded like something the character would actually say.
When I used to write Bart Simpson comic book stories for Bongo Comics, whenever Krusty the Clown was in a story, I found that it was really helpful to brainstorm one-liners for Krusty by doing a terrible Krusty impression and ad-lib some jokes while talking into the digital recorder. More recently, when I wrote my LEGO Star Warsbooks for Scholastic, I liked to put a few Emperor Palpatine jokes in each book. And sometimes the jokes were written IN Palpatine’s voice, especially if Palpatine was narrating a section of the book. That meant doing a really terrible, over-the-top Ian McDiarmid impression, and it really helped make the Palpatine jokes and Palpatine narration even funnier.
But what I’m really getting at is that – as I type this – there’s a digital recorder right next to my laptop. On that digital recorder’s files there’s hours and hours of audio of me doing the absolute WORST Hugh Laurie, Krusty the Clown, and Ian McDiarmid impressions. And when I was writing the House scripts, I was also doing impressions of the OTHER House cast members. So there’s audio of me doing awful Omar Epps impressions, awful Lisa Edelstein impressions, awful Robert Sean Leonard impressions. Oh, you have no idea. And you WILL CONTINUE TO have no idea. Because nobody will ever hear those audio files. I guess this isn’t really a humiliating anecdote as much as it’s a POTENTIALLY humiliating anecdote.
But if you ever need something to blackmail me with, just steal the digital recorder, okay?
Some time ago, I was a staff writer on the television series TruTV Presents: World’s Dumbest. For those of you that don’t know, World’s Dumbest was a “clips show,” and that means that people would send us clips of themselves and their friends doing stupid things. And we (the writing staff) would write comedy sketches and jokes making fun of the clips.
Someone had sent us a clip of this moronic woman playing a prank on her boyfriend. She had bought a plastic mannequin’s head, got under the covers in bed and pretended to make out with it (no I’m not making this up). Her idea was that her boyfriend would come home and he’d be all like, “Oh no, my girlfriend’s cheating on me!”
I wrote a comedy sketch making fun of this clip, which featured cast member Amanda Landry. In the sketch, Amanda is in bed with the plastic head, and she’s ACTUALLY cheating on her boyfriend with it. So she keeps saying tender, sentimental things to the head. We keep cutting to the mannequin head who says nothing, then back to her, reacting as though the mannequin head has said something profound or romantic. It went like this:
AMANDA [moans happily]: That was A-MAZ-ING! [to mannequin head] Was it good for you? CLOSE UP ON: mannequin head, completely still and silent.
AMANDA [to mannequin head]: We almost got caught last time. We have to be more careful. CLOSE-UP ON: mannequin head, completely still and silent.
AMANDA [to mannequin head]: You always know just what to say.
You get the idea. Anyway, when we actually went to shoot this comedic masterpiece, we got a prop bed for Amanda and the mannequin head to lay down in. BUT…
When the bed arrived on set, it was missing two of its legs. The legs that go below the headboard. Someone had to CROUCH DOWN BEHIND THE HEADBOARD and hold up that end of the bed and play the part of the missing legs. Since I wrote the sketch, and all the Production Assistants were busy, I got drafted.
This is the way it went down: they would shoot a take, then they’d yell cut, I’d stretch my (real) legs, then I’d crouch back down behind the headboard and hold up my end of the bed by the time they yelled “Action” again. This went on for HOURS. They even tweeted a few photos of me popping my head up from behind the headboard between takes.
Over the years, I’ve taught screenwriting and comedy writing courses at quite a few different schools. And I often tell this story to my students. The moral of the story is that the entertainment industry is WEIRD. If you are lucky enough to make a living in show business, at some point someone’s going to ask you to pretend to be the two missing legs of a bed in a nationally televised comedy sketch. Or they’re going to dress you up in a turkey costume, like Paul Simon in that “Still Crazy After All These Years” bit on SNL. Or they’ll ask you to hold a sandwich between your legs while Kenneth Branagh shoots a scene in a Woody Allen movie (that happened to a friend of mine once).
And you’ll do it, because that’s show business, and there’s a line a mile long of other people who would kill to have your job, even if that job involves being the missing legs of a bed. So there’s no room for divas, and you’ve kinda got to get used to all the weirdness inherent in the entertainment industry or you won’t last very long.
Like Lee Strasberg says in The Godfather: Part II, “This is the business we’ve chosen.”