Disposable Media Whore
By Kurt Weitzmann
Los Angeles, one can only see the orange cloud
of smog from the outskirts. Once you're inside it's all sunshine
and denial. It's where the legend of Sally Fields was born and where
Elvis should have died. I have driven from San Francisco, LA's rival
Sister City, into the bowels of the beast to further my career;
and like anything that's supposed to be good for me, it makes me
gag. In Hollywood whatever the public likes is considered art. I
have come to the land of Da Da tits and existential tans to tape
a stand up comedy spot on MTV; and to make sure I never want to
On my way to MTV's corporate headquarters for
a meeting I spot a woman in a pink dress. Her feet are stretched
out three yards from a tree, leaning into it and hugging the trunk
with a freakishly content self worth found only in Californians,
Taoist monks, and fanatical Christians sects about to take their
life in a mass suicide. Down the road I see a man with breasts.
Everything is bigger in Texas, but in California men have breasts.
They're probably not even real.
There is an ancient rivalry between San Francisco
and LA as to which has the most freaks. San Francisco has great
street crazies. But Los Angeles has the functional freaks. The kind
that, according to Darwin, shouldn't have survived the first day
of high school, but none the less seem to thrive on the streets
of Los Angeles. There is a certain arrogance one finds in the functional
LA nut case. They strut like Hollywood players - red-hot product,
and seem quite solvent. Some may have bought Disney stock in the
70's after winning big on the Gong Show, but I assume that most
of their plucky demeanor is just good old fashioned California denial.
Surfs up! Time to put the colander on your head, do your positive
affirmations in the nearest car's side mirror and... GOOO GET 'EM!
But this is not why I hate LA, If anything this
is what gives it its charm, the same way intolerance and incest
give my hometown its je ne sais quoi. No, it's not the freaks. It's
the bright young actress behind the yogurt counter. It's the manager
in the B of A on Sunset with her boyfriend's framed head shot turned
away from her so as not to deny access to the possible casting agent
in line, who will undoubtedly use it as an excuse to ask her to
dinner and late night ruffies in his bungalow. It's the 29 (always
29) year old business man in the red sports car blasting rap music
with the windows rolled up to prevent a car-jacking, singing along
to "fight the power". It's Chinatown.
As I walk into the corporate offices of Music
Television Inc. to be told what I can and can not say on the 'hippest'
television station in the free world my eyes connect with the little
cartoon man in the censorship is un-American poster for our own
private joke. I am soon told by the talent coordinator, chip let's
call him- my new best friend, that my allotted Worholian 15 minutes
has been cut up into two tight sets of five without the word fuck
How can I describe my liaison to the Hollywood
combine? Smarmy frat-boy seems too polite. A ferret with the intellect
of a 12-year-old seems too cruel. Let us just say that the old Hollywood
credo rings true: "never work with children or animals."
This is especially true in the lower rungs of the entertainment
ladder, such as comedy and porno.
"Oh, by the way", He hums, "we
checked with standards and practices and you can say... what is
it? ...'I wish I were gay because my apartment would be so much
"O.K...." I did not know this was a
bone of contention.
"Right. As long as you follow it with that
tag: 'See, some
stereotypes are good'.
Jesus! Don't they realize that saying stereotypes
are good is twice as wrong as some innocent little observation about
gay ifestyles? Oh well, that's one for me. By the end of the meeting
my Nazi psychologist bit was out but I was allowed to keep my Dr.
Seuss fist fucking reference and condone the killing of a bus load
By the time I left the office my stomach was in
knots. The taping was in a few hours and my set list had been whittled
down to just the type of 'outrageous' comedy the station was looking
for. I felt sick. This is supposedly the edgiest stand-up allowed
on the air and I can't even find ten minutes of acceptable material.
I am doomed. I do not want to do this. Must I do this? I hate TV.
I hate MTV most of all. They destroyed rock and roll. Wasn't that
enough? Why do they have to mess with comedy? Television is ruining
stand-up with its safe little, tight little perfect sets of tepid
But as I'm silently shouting, ranting, and obsessing
there are literally hundreds of comic friends and associates cursing
my act, just
dying to do the show. I know this because I would feel the same
way if I were in their shoes. Although I must admit that the contempt
of my colleagues may have some merit. I've been told I have a 'good
look' for MTV.
An hour and a half before show time I crash. I
suddenly realize how exhausted I am. My back aches from the four
hours of sleep I got on my friend's floor after driving down late
last night. They don't put the comics up for this little TV party.
They spend more money on the rental of smoke machines than they
do on the talent for this show. It's disposable talent- biodegradable,
environmentally friendly, comedy compost.
The site of this event is a huge warehouse. To
my credit I do arrive with a flurry of confidence and I must admit
to a slight surge of hubristic elitism as I walk through the door
marked "Talent". I'm directed to a cramped white room
with bare walls, a tan loveseat, and a card table. I behold the
array of celery sticks and rolled deli meats so artfully arranged
on white plastic trays embossed around the edge with little daisy
peddles and sigh. My first green room.
Through skilful eavesdropping, I learn that the
audience consists of actors piped in from an 'audience service',
industry people, and friends of industry people. Great. A professional
audience. What could go wrong? These people are professionals! Jaded,
snotty, bitter professionals all sitting in the corner of a warehouse
made up to look like a bistro from a bad sit-com. I watch in horror
as the crew films all the introductions, reaction shots, and applause
for about two hours before the show with an audience that is being
paid not to leave.
I have a long time to think about the ramifications
of these observations as I am late on the bill. I also have the
watching my comrades perform for an audience who are completely
entranced with the spectacle of their own images in the monitors.
After wrestling with indifference the comics leave the stage defeated,
or in the rare instance saunter off with the radiant glow of a bloated
tick. One comic actually says to me: "It's not so bad."
My time has arrived. I take the stage and begin
my act. I can't
help thinking how synthetic this all is. What am I doing? I'm reciting
a script at this point. This has nothing to do with being funny.
It's just television. It's about fame and mediocrity. All through
this out of body comedic experience one thought pushes through the
panic ridden chaos: how did it happen that of all the shitty audiences
in all the world, this one had to be the worst? But this is not
about the audience. I give two shits about this crowd. This is about
me and that monitor over there. And ignoring internal dialog. "You
fuckers better laugh! You better not fuck up my TV spot! Laugh you
sons of bitches! You're getting paid more than I am!"
About two minutes into my set my frozen smile
seems to have a slight effect on the crowd and I get my first laugh.
The sound actually jolts me a little. They have accepted me ("One
of us One of us"). I begin to relax and the last four minutes
seem to go OK. -"Then he killed a bus load of kids!... Thank
you Good night". It's over.
Now I know how a prostitute must feel on her first
day. I walk in a daze to the back of the warehouse where I am congratulated
just like those who have gone before me. They assure me that they
will 'sweeten' the laughs up in post and that I looked great, as
if it is comforting to know that there will be a laugh track over
the act I spent the worst years of my life perfecting.
It's over. Driving up Laurel Canyon I wish it
would snow as a sign from God or Disney to quit, as if the voices
in my head weren't enough. "Get out of show business... get
out of show business... kill Bud Freedman... get out of show business".
But first I must drink. Then it's time to go
to my room and think about what I have done.
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