The Comic Truth About Hollywood – A Letter From the Trenches
1581 thought out words
Originally published in Drama-Logue, 1998
(“Funny Bizz” – weekly column by Jaz Kaner)
The Comic Truth About Hollywood –
A Letter From the Trenches
As the pilot season came to a close here, I received a letter that spoke so perfectly for so many of us, that I felt it would be best answered here from my pulpit. From Beverly Hills, James writes the following:
Dear Mr. Kaner,
I thoroughly enjoyed your article in the “Drama-Logue” newspaper, for the week of February 5th to the 11th. Like millions of others last year, I have moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting; however, I have found I have a special knack for writing as well. At the present time I am writing a novel, which I started in October. Only a few days ago did I feel I could write comedy sketches, and that was the day I picked up your article. However, I do have some questions. Having lived here for just over six months, and not knowing a soul in the entertainment business (except for the other out-of-work actors in my acting class), I’m having trouble finding the best places to start. I have already been deceived by a “management” company and a “casting” company, and I keep encountering the same lying bastards (excuse my French) time and time again. I am 100% certain I will succeed in this business, but Î would like it to go just a little smoother and quicker than it is right now. What do you suggest? How do I get into a comedy club? How can I go about meeting the right people, or at least somewhat genuine people? Any information (other than that in your brilliant article) would be greatly appreciated.
Dear James, Welcome to Hollywood:
For starters, don’t move; the Beverly Hills address (and its now famous zip-code) will undoubtedly impress the icicles off all of your friends and relatives back in Woonsocket. They’ll all spend countless years staying up late to catch you on Leno or Baywatch, and then write you during the holidays to say they still haven’t seen you on TV, driving home your continued failure like a stake to the heart.
More importantly, if you move to Yucaipa, the industry will roll their eyes and treat you like you’re from another planet. They want to keep you real close at hand so you can be yanked out of a warm slumber for the fourth callback.
Keep an eye out; your best publicity gambit might be if your wealthy landlord unexpectedly invites you out for a burger and crack.
Your complement about my “brilliant article” is revealing in that you’ve either A) acquired the Hollywood penchant for stroking people, or B) you too, have become a “lying bastard”. So thank-you, and/or be careful — it sneaks up on you.
How Do I Get Into A Comedy Club?
Jeez, I can’t start over for everyone who walks in late, so you might call Drama-Logue for some of my other epic writings (many are now provided in hotel rooms). All are 1998, Vol. XXIX. My Charter column – “Why stand-up?” is #4. The issue you saw was #6 – “Standup 101”. #8 is “The Ten Commandments of Comedy”. If you qualify for the abuse, “Crashing the College Circuit” is #10, and #12 is “My Worst College Shows”, which might convince you not to buy #10.
The current situation looks like this: Comedy clubs will open their doors to anything that has a mouth that they can pour booze into. That mouth doesn’t even have to laugh, but it must be accompanied by a wallet.
Ah, but to get in as a performer, you’ll have to hire another mouth with a commanding phone presence to call-in and inform the club of your comedic genius and new HBO special. So you see, those “lying bastards” have their place.
With the amount of idle talent in this town, I’d be surprised if anyone is still doing an (amateur) open mic nite. Here’s an equation I borrowed from Einstein; The further you get from this city, the better your odds of getting stage time, and pay. (And what would it matter if you bombed in front of the Yermo Rotary Club.)
You say that you’re “100% certain that you will succeed in this business.” That’s GREAT! One hundred percent?! That’s pure!! That beats Ivory soap! Goddamn, you make me feel like a lazy pig! Most days I hover right around the forty-two mark, but I’ve been here a while.
As this city starts to beat you up, I want you to carry with you, these powerful words that came to me from a great theologian (well actually, this guy did some extra work as a great theologian): Success lies in the journey. Life is what happens while we’re making other plans.
Millions of Actors ?
Your estimate of “…millions of people moving here to pursue acting careers” is actually quite close, but the numbers are misleading. 452,639 of them came here hoping to make their fortune on a game show. 753,280 have no particular focus, but cling tenaciously to a thread of hope because somewhere, somebody told them they had “a look”. 24,878 of them will piss-off the script writers by changing things at the audition, saying “it’s funnier my way”. 348,698 will get married and have kids, and have to move to more affordable housing “near the folks”. 592,744 will, in their struggle to pay the rent, be side-tracked into multi-level marketing schemes and become a pain in the ass to all of us. And 179,372 are just looking to sue someone.
That leaves you and me, James, and I think that together, we can RUN this town.
First thing is to fix your lingo and speak like an insider. You’ll have to lose this “special knack for writing” thing. “Special knack” applies better to jingles or crochet. Next time you’re at the bar, try this: “…Yeah, Warner just optioned my last willis, and promised to ten/thirty the next one.” Look around the room while you talk, like you’re waiting for someone BIG.
You’ve also got to scratch that “comedy sketch” thing. It’s just “comedy”. It’s more vague that way — less commitment. Don’t commit to anything. Go to your car and shoot out the turn signals.
Don’t use “No”. NObody uses “NO” here. Try instead, “sounds good..”, “..next week..”, or defer the question to some nebulous higher authority; “The people of my planet will decide…”.
Meeting The Right People
Well James, when you speak of “meeting the right people”, that would infer that there also exists the wrong people. But as I have already shown, within this rich Hollywood eco-system, there is a special symbiotic place for the wrong people. In much the same way that nature has provided us with sharks, hyenas, and maggots, the “wrong” people serve to thin out the weak and gullible, and insure that only the fittest predators survive. It is these fittest predators that will mate during the pilot season, and produce the next generation of fine Hollywood product.
If you still think you’ve encountered the wrong people, then try this acting thing while sporting a pair of breasts.
Meeting The Real People
Now, meeting some genuine people, that’s something else altogether. Rest assured, my friend, there are a ton of genuine people in LA, and through my years of vigilant networking here, I have met and continue to meet many of them. For only $39.95, I will sell you my list of genuine people. For another twenty-five, I’ll send you the quarterly updates, as people tend to fall off that list.
That list, by the way, also includes a couple of the “right” people, one of which is my wife. Mostly she watches the kids, but she was right for me, and would be happy to meet you.
The funny thing is that genuine people is exactly what THEY (casting) are looking for. It’s unfortunate that the genuine people tend to get chewed up by the machinery. You may find one right beneath their battle armor.
My last piece of wisdom to you, Jim, is about milking the most out of your resources. For instance, in order to get a publisher interested in that novel you’re writing, you’ll need some impressive credits to convince them of your literary greatness. You know, like maybe you slept with somebody famous or stabbed someone.
But did you know, Jim, that as of this issue of Drama-Logue, which includes your letter, YOU are now a PUBLISHED AUTHOR?! Be sure to include THAT in your resume, pal!! That stuff goes a long way when you’re pitching the book deal.
Also, being as you gave consent to use the letter, well, according to my contract, you granted all rights to print, publish, reproduce, edit, reuse, and sell the Work in any form.
In fact, down here at the paper, we were so enamored with the passion and underdog theme of your letter, we’re now developing it into a TV pilot and a feature film starring Jim Varney and the Spice Girls.
I’m sure you’re good for a few points on the back end. Welcome to Hollywood!
PS – You can write me at JazKaner@hotmail.com, but I can’t promise that all of your letters will develop into movies.