Sunday, January 20, 2008
"I wanna have my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames"--Jim Morrison
I'm not sure what's going on with me right now. I am dirt poor. I have no romance in my life. Talentless assholes and obtuse businessmen still jealously guard the gates to material success. Despite all of this, or perhaps because all of this, I have been exceedingly and uncharacteristically happy these past five days.
Perhaps it is because I have been performing constantly and know that after three excruciating days of rest, I will embark upon another delightfully maddening itinerary of shows between New York, Ohio, and San Francisco.
Perhaps it is because I am free to say or do whatever I want on stage. Or am simply reminding myself of this freedom.
Perhaps it is because I am fast approaching that mystical point where I no longer give a rusty fuck what "The Entertainment Industry" can or cannot do for me and my career.
I am surviving on a thread. And I've never been happier.
There is something so liberating about literally having nothing left to lose.
I am living each day as if I'm dying of a brain tumor.
And I live these last days only to serve my art.
For too long, I have tried unsuccessfully to straddle the fence between art and business. But now I am tired. My pockets are empty. And my spirit is thirsty.
THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY IN A NUTSHELL
The general comment I always get from people who work in "The Entertainment Industry" after they've seen one of my shows is this:
"We really like the smart stuff you do. We just don't know what to do with it."
What I want to say is:
"Of course you don't. Because you're stupid. If you were smart, you'd know that the smart thing to do would be to put the smart stuff on television and make more people smart."
Honestly, how stupid do they think I am?
People who work in The Entertainment Industry are generally lazy people. To be sure, they might play racquetball or go for a jog after sushi. But their minds are lazy. And a lazy mind is a stupid mind. Furthermore, when stupid minds are employed in major television networks, they indirectly help create millions and millions of like-minded stupid minds. All this, of course, makes it extremely difficult for a smart mind to succeed anywhere in this whole stupid world.
This is why people who work in "creative development" at major television networks ask me for ideas. They don't have any of their own.
It's always the same. I get invited to come down to a fancy high-rise office and a hot chick takes me to a meeting room and asks me if I need anything. Or want, I always forget.
Want. Need. It's so easy to get those confused in the offices of a major television network.
I ask for a glass of water because I'm a little nervous and don't want to get cottonmouth when I talk with the creative development people of the major television network.
Sometime after the hot chick leaves the room, the businessmen enter.
"So, Will. If you could do anything, what would you do?"
The answer is always the same, "I'd do what you saw me do last night on a television and get paid lots of money for it."
And it's never the answer they want. Even though, given the open-ended utopian rhetoric of the question, it perfectly fits. "Well, what we were thinking was, what if we could take one of your two-minute ideas and stretch it out over ten years?"
I wince. "That's an idea. Or I could just do what you saw me do last night on a television and get paid lots of money for it."
Now they try to sweeten the deal, "Okay, what about this? What if we assigned you a team of fifteen professional writers to take one of your one-minute ideas and stretch it out over twenty-five years?"
"I hear what you're saying," I say. Although it isn't true. By this point, I'm usually hearing ragtime music in my head or thinking about a new one-man show or how I might turn this depressing corporate bullshit into a poignant satirical vignette.
I'd probably listen to them if they weren't so adamantly opposed to my main idea. "Come on. Let me do what you saw me do last night on a television and pay me lots of money for it. That way, you can get all of my ideas exactly the way they're supposed to be delivered--in their purest and most enlightening form. And the best part is, being employees of a major television network as you are, you guys can disseminate this artistic purity across the nation via television! And all I ask in return for this service is that you pay me lots of money."
"Okay," they fume, "what if we assigned you a Head Writer to oversee a community of twenty writers who would take one of your thirty-second ideas and stretch it out over forty years?"
This is lunacy. If they're the ones in creative development, why aren't they bringing ideas to me?
Ideas like: "So we saw your show last night, you did a lot of funny voices, a lot of different characters, and you seem to have some acting ability--how would you like to play The Guy With The Rake?"
Now that would be cool. "The Guy With The Rake? You bet! How much would that pay? By the way, I can also play The Girl With The Shovel or The Dog Who Won't Eat His Dog Food!"
I would play anything. Raking is pretty good money.
But playing The Guy With The Rake is even better money.
No, I wouldn't mind acting at all. That way, my ideas wouldn't get ruined. And if anybody complains about how stupid the show is--don't look at me. I'm just The Guy With The Rake!
But they never give me the rake. No matter how willing I am to clean up the leaves. They want me to work for my work. "Easy there, champ. We just want to know, if you could do anything--anything at all--what would you want to do?"
Again with the hypothetical utopia. "I'd fly. I'd kiss the moon. I'd travel back to the early 19th-century. I'd turn concrete into money. I'd--"
They sigh, "We mean as far as ideas go."
"Oh, as far as ideas go? Well, let's see. How about I do what you saw me do last night on a television and get paid lots of money for it?"
If you've never been in this situation before, trust me, it can be quite a challenge providing people in creative development with creative ideas for them to develop.
Unless you're that magical combination of good businessman and mediocre artist. That seems to be the type of person that creative development people generally hire to do their creative development for them.
A good businessman is a businessman. But a mediocre artist is not an artist. The only kind of art is good art. Everything else is just business.
O! Brothers and Sisters, that which we call "mediocre art", after the revolution, let us call it what it really is: shit.
There is no "glut of talent". There is a glut of people who think they have talent.
And there are lazy businessmen.
These twin demons are the gatekeepers to the hell in which you and I live.
And I want out! Deliver me up from this evil, O Lord! Deliver me up from this stultifying wasteland, My Lord and Keeper!
Until that day of redemption comes, O Lord, just help me stay busy. Give me a rake.
"If I get a haircut, will you let me play The Guy With The Rake? Or The Guy That Mows The Yard? I'm a hard worker and I'm looking for some sort of job until the day comes when I can get my ideas on a television exactly the way they should be delivered and get paid lots of money for it."
My throat is starting to get dry. The hot chick never brought me my water.
"Well, you see, Will, we've already got A Guy With A Rake to play The Guy With The Rake. We're thinking of you more as an Idea Person."
My heart sinks. "Aw, fuck. I'm already an Idea Person. I've been an Idea Person my whole life. That's all I've got in the bank right now--my ideas. I've been saving them up for the day when I could perform them on a television, exactly the way they should be delivered, and get paid lots of money for them. And if I can't do that on a television, then I'll do it in a theatre. And if I can't do it in a theatre, I'll do it in a comedy club. And if I can't do it in a comedy club, I'll do it front of the fucking mirror and pay myself with laughter. This is my life, you understand?"
I'm really starting to get thirsty now. Where is she?
"So honestly," I continue, "if you're not into that idea, I completely understand. All I ask is that you give me a rake. Or a garden hoe. Or a lawnmower. Put me to work. Seriously, don't you have anything in this entire major television network for me to do other than compromise?"
They think for a second. "Well, what sort of ideas do you have?"
"Jesus fucking Christ! Is my business card the one that says 'Creative Development'? If not, it should. But it doesn't because I don't have any fucking business cards. Now, if you were to loan me some money, I could afford to get some made that said 'Creative Development'. Maybe I could do that, you guys could hire me, give me a fat salary, and then we could talk about some ideas."
They think for another second. "Okay, let's say we did hire you. What sort of ideas would you have?"
"See, you think I'm stupid. You're trying to trick me into giving you free ideas."
They think for a third second. "Here's ten bucks."
I take it, because I'm a starving artist. Then I give them an idea, "All right. Now out in the hall, you've got The Girl That Gets The Water. Well, what if she had a boyfriend?"
Their eyes light up. "Tell us more about that."
"Yeah, she has a boyfriend. His name is Will. He's this poor working-class comedian who grew up in the backwoods of Missouri and has never seen the inside of a major television network before, much less a trust fund account. The Girl That Gets The Water gets the water for Will. Next thing you know, they start talking about water. . .about wetness. . .about when things get all nice and wet. . ."
Their mouths begin to foam, "This idea has legs!"
I caution them. "But this is no smut tale. This is high-class romance. True, they've got a deep physical connection: both of their bodies are made up of three-quarters water. But they've also got a spiritual connection. They're both water signs. She's an Aquarius. He's a Cancer. Their love is forever inscribed upon the stars. The cosmos, that is. Not celebrities."
They put their fingers to their lips and squint their eyes in an illusion of deep thought, "This idea is down to earth."
I caution them again. "But this is no junk reality-TV bullshit either. All the characters and stories will be sculpted to perfection within the framework of a singular artistic vision."
They vomit. "That might be a little difficult."
At this point, the hot chick enters the room and cleans up the vomit. Then she leaves, forgetting my water again.
It's so hot in hell.
"Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink."
It's so hot in hell.
But I can hear a trickle.
Somewhere beyond this godforsaken Hades, there's a stream.
It's so hot in hell.
They move their lips and I can't hear a thing. I have to find that stream.
It's so hot in hell.
I'm never going to get any water here. I'm never going to feel refreshed here. I'll never be clean here.
It's so hot in hell.
Where is that stream? Not out here, O Lord.
It flows not here to ease my pains.
It's so hot in hell.
Let my soul be quenched, O Lord.
Deliver me, O Lord, my spirit to sustain
with nourishment coming from your heaven-sent rain.
Deliver me, O Lord, from all that's the same.
If Art is my water, my soul shall be sated
imbibing God's drink, for this has been fated.
Posted by Will Franken at 7:39 PM