Monthly Archives: February 2008

Another Placeholder

Sorry, readers, here’s another tease without a payoff.

If you can believe it, after only 18 days of working after the Writers Strike (that missing apostrophe is going to kill me one of these days), we are going on hiatus all next week.

So, while I dig away at the mountain of tasks before me, you can relax in the knowledge that, yes, the much-anticipated “My Dog Is A Freak” article, and plenty of others, are on their way.

A Fish Underwater

Just a quick note to let you all know that I have been crushed with work these past few days. On the Tonight Show, we are doing a “Dealing With the Public” segment, and I do the packaging for that so I spend a lot of time getting that right. The Microsoft project is ongoing, as is the Strike TV stuff and correcting tests for the kids’ school, so I haven’t been able to get through my planned articles on the weird genetic experiment we call Our Dog.

Stay tuned, dear reader, for some delightful insights into my Suburban Life. I’m like Erma Bombeck without the huge following or the coffin.

No Journalistic Standard?

Hillary Clinton as Godzilla destroying the real Japanese island of Obama.

It is awards season, and some of us find ourselves at red carpet’s edge, making with the TV alongside a flock of reporters.

Some of you might be thinking that this is a position to be envied: please allow me to disabuse you of that thought. Not only do you literally have to dress for the party but don’t get to go in, you have to cool your heels with the other stage-door Johnnies, and they all hate you.

They don’t hate each other, they hate you. You, with the Tonight Show job. You, with the Tonight Show microphone that attracts so many stars, so easily. You, with no journalistic standard to uphold.

That’s right, I have my ENG crew (short for Electronic News Gathering), I have my on-air talent, I have all the trappings of a news report, I even have a press pass. I just never took that Hippocratic Oath or whatever it is that journalists do when they get sworn in. I have all the freedom in the world to rearrange soundbites so they’re funny, or do a half-dozen takes until the talent gets it right, or turn Hillary Clinton into Godzilla, as seen above.

These poor guys have to actually be reporters.

And they get really upset about it, too. I was once shoved to the ground at a Lenox Lewis press conference in Memphis by an ABC News producer, because Lewis broke off an interview when he saw I had Dave Chappelle with me. At the Olympics in Salt Lake City, a German reporter ratted us out for having four guys in the press line, when only three were allowed (there were only the two crews at the venue: there was room for 125 total crews). And an ESPN reporter smacked me on the side of the head to get me out of the way at the baseball All-Stars game last year, to clear the way for his crew to shoot our Cookie Lady talking with Barry Bonds.

But then I look at the monologue and I realize that, in many ways, the Tonight Show has a higher journalistic standard than most. The depressing fact that one third of our viewers get their news from the monologue is made slightly better by the notion that, until you get to the punchline, the facts are facts.

If a story sounds preposterous, Jay calls you on it. You have to give a source. There’s no distorting the story to make the premise work better. And the reason is simple: it’s always funnier because it’s true.

So the next time you read a half-page of corrections in the (now, sadly, wafer-thin) Los Angeles Times, the next time you see a story reported on Headline News from an earlier breaking story on Fox taken from an on-the-scene spot by a local affiliate, don’t despair. If it’s a big enough story, just wait until 11:35, 10:35 Central, and turn on the Leno Show. Chances are, if it’s in the monologue, we got it right.

And God willing, it’s funny too.

On The Yard

Don’t stick your finger inside a garden hose. It’s stupid.

When we first moved into our house six years ago, I decided to wire the whole place for a computer network, TV – the whole bit. And being the kind of do-it-yourselfer with no actual common sense, I decided I was the perfect guy for the job.

About four hours into it, I was crawling through the (appropriately named) crawlspace, when I got wedged under a beam and was stuck, face down in the dirt. At first, the force with which I was wedged seemed to be all that was keeping me there: after a moment, however, the beam felt to me like the entire weight of the house was on my back. Having just signed a 30-year mortgage, the metaphor was not lost on me.

So now, after battling the elements around the house for two weeks, I now see why they call the outdoor areas of prisons “The Yard.”

Let’s not even talk about moving the fence: that’s a discussion for another day. I’m just talking about what should be the normal maintenance of a normal yard, with all the modern conveniences and labor-saving options installed. And yet, everything seems to contradict everything else. Nothing makes sense.

Take the pool, for example. When we moved in, we had drainage problems in the back yard. So, for umpteen thousands of dollars, we had a complex drainage system installed. Then we decided we wanted a pool, which is essentially a hole in your backyard where the water doesn’t drain. But to put it in, we had to have the complex drainage system taken out and moved. Okay, par for the course.

But it’s not. The overflow to the pool doesn’t drain (which we found out in our recent torrential Southern California rains). One of the drains in the yard drains into the overflow. The downspouts from the garage make the drain by the grill gush out like a geyser, and if you throw a leaf in one drain, it could turn up anywhere. Plus, there’s a hole in the ground that only seems to jet a slurry of mud directly into the pool.

But hey, I can do the Rubik’s Cube, right?

I have made it my credo to embrace complexity. Our understanding of the world doesn’t come from the likes of Dr. Phil: I go in knowing how knotty the problem can become, and proceed unafraid.

I will spare you the horrible details, but suffice it to say I bought a 50-foot drain snake and started flossing my backyard. I couldn’t tell what was where and which was what, until I struck upon the idea of shouting into the drains and having my family members listen at the other ones, like the communications system on a World War II submarine. Mapping it out, I realized exactly where the clog must be, and how to dislodge it. I would jam the garden hose down that drain, force it along until it got to the clog, and let the force of the mighty Los Angeles Department of Water and Power do the work for me.

All was going well until the hose got clogged. I tried to clear it with my pinky, the results of which can be seen above.

As I watch the red sky, just after sunset, I pray it doesn’t rain for the next few years, which should give my drains enough time to dry out. Then I can get that air compressor hose down there, and really clean it out.

WARNING: Contains Graphic Images

Valentine’s Day graphic

There is still plenty of lingering resentment coming from certain staffers on the show, though I can’t say it’s all that bad being treated like I’m invisible. There are even comical moments, like people pretending you’re not in the kitchen so they can talk loudly to each other and say how they really feel (when it’s written all over their faces). And the glares and whispered “fuck you”s are going to be there at any job. If they want to put their energy into that kind of thing, I say let ‘em.

But it’s getting better. A few angry folks are at least making the effort to be nice, that sort of red-in-the-face, “I’m thinking about you in a coffin” expression that you see on little leaguers’ faces during the “good game” handshake, but I’m willing to take it at face value. And someone finally took down the “Jay is Better Without Writers” article in the kitchen, giving me more time to think about jokes while putting cream cheese on my onion bagel.

Putting that aside, getting back to the grind has been strange. The feeling is like walking out of a movie that takes place at night, only to remember it was a matinee and it’s suddenly daytime again. And one thing that has certainly changed is the new, permanent 4pm tape time: that’s early!

From a writing standpoint, I can deal. When it comes to main pieces and monologue, that stuff is done well ahead of time. But I also do graphics for the show, from the titles you see before bits to special effects, mostly in drop-ins. And those get approved late, or shot in the afternoon and have to be turned around fast.

Take as an example the Valentine’s Day Products title shown above. The day before, I built the 3D beating heart, the flying scroll and the product letters and let them render overnight. I comped the whole thing together the morning of the show, rendered to Teo’s Avid for about an hour, and was ready to wash my hands of it. Then they changed the title.

Yesterday it was worse. I was trying to do a special effect that shows Hillary Clinton tripping a reporter, but the footage was handheld and the copy was low-quality. I jammed on that thing for three hours, and actually finished, but I was literally one minute late. I was furious, mostly out of frustration, and lost my temper. I apologize right away, realizing that I hadn’t felt the deadline pressure like that in a while. It worked out okay, because the joke worked without the effect.

This morning gave me a chance to step back and be objective: So I have to work a little faster sometimes. So the wall between creative and production has never been higher. So what? At least I’m not holding a picket sign and mooching off of Drew Carey. And so what if there’s a little more pressure when I’m doing graphics? At least I get to do them with my door closed.

You don’t have to talk extra loud to be heard through the door, either. At this point everyone has made it clear how they feel.

Back to Business

A view of the stage that doesn’t show anything

I’m guessing that, if you’ve been paying attention, you probably know why I didn’t have a blog entry yesterday: WE ARE BACK TO WORK!

Now that I’ve gotten that enthusiasm out of the way, I will attempt to describe what it was like.

You may recall that I have been extremely nervous about coming back, knowing that there are plenty of hard feelings flying around from all sides. And even though most of the writers brought the message that we are grateful to the staff for going above and beyond the strict call of duty, I think a lot of grumpy assumptions remain.

It wasn’t as bad as the staff wearing black in mourning over our return, but if you buy into Freud’s train car theory of group dynamics, you can understand a little bit of what’s going on. That theory explains how, if someone has a train compartment to themselves and another passenger enters and sits down, the first immediately feels resentment toward the second. If another person enters, the first two share an unspoken camaraderie, based their shared hatred for the new guy. And so on.

If anyone leaves the car, no matter where they might find themselves in the pecking order, the remaining passengers feel hatred afresh upon his return.

And so we returned.

The territoriality was minimal in my view, it was mostly deserved. After all, hadn’t they taken the writers’ place in Jay’s circle? That’s hard enough when you’re hired to do it, let alone being shanghaied in a panic. A lot of these guys turned out to be really good at it, too: last night’s main piece was produced by a non-writer.

Look, the strike threw a grenade into the workings of a well-oiled machine, and these guys had to put it back together without all the parts. Necessity breaks iron, and in this case it broke a lot more than that. But it also reinvigorated the show and the ratings are the best they’ve been in a while, and you can’t argue with that kind of success.

In every negotiation, something is gained and something is lost. The Writers Guild gained internet residuals for the next generation. The Tonight Show writers — well, it remains to be see the full extent of what we’ve lost.

Until then, I’m going to go write some jokes.

The Big Vote

Writers gab while a hot Fox talking head waits to file a report

It was voting day. Two days after the big meeting at the Shrine Auditorium, we were due to turn out at the WGA Theater and vote. Not on the contract, mind you, but on whether or not to go back to work before the contract was signed.

Sound confusing? It gets worse.

WGAW members were to report in person to the Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, or send in a proxy form, naming another writer as their proxy holder. In most shareholder elections of this kind, they usually offer the names of different board members who will vote the way you want. Here, it was Pat Verrone for Yes, and a couple of other guys, presumably zanies, for No.

So, about a dozen of our guys signed their proxy over to me. I mean, it probably wouldn’t make a difference, they could send it directly to Patric [sic], but they wanted to be sure their vote was counted.

I showed up early with John, Marvin and Larry, and we got in the end of the line, getting ready for the trudge toward the news cameras and into the building. Things got going pretty much on time, but when we got inside, there were two pieces of bad news.

1. Marvin is a member of the WGA East, and was not allowed to vote.
2. They lost one of the proxies I was supposed to vote.

Of course, they had no records of proxies, membership rolls, nothing – it was all back at Guild Headquarters. I was informed by an extremely stressed-out woman that there were a lot of proxies that were illegible. A lot? Oh my God.

I left my name and the list of proxies with someone at the help desk, and came home to wait it out. About an hour later, I got a call to come back – the missing proxy had been found. In fact, it had never been lost, it was in my packet at the Guild, but the person putting together the ballots had miscounted.

Whew! And just in time, because the Guild workers were all heading over to the WGA Theater to count the ballots. Wait a second, to count… the ballots…

Oh man, I hope there isn’t a recount!

If Only the Strike Had Lasted Longer…

What I’m looking at right now

With the end of the strike in the offing, I am jammed up doing some last-minute stuff. As you can see from the above, that includes some jokewriting, plus I am trying to complete all of the Strike TV graphics I have on my plate. I only had the one freelance marketing job during the strike, and that will be ongoing so I’m not looking at Wednesday as a deadline.

I could give you a list of all the things I have to do, but it’s just boring crap like Make New Files, and Clean Out the Pool Drain. So instead, I will give you a list of all the things I had hoped to accomplish over the strike, but did not:

1. Build another boat, either an unlimited-class hydroplane or a 60mph+ hydrofoil sailboat.

2. Read War and Peace.

3. Read anything.

4. Write a movie that has the critical appeal of “American Beauty” and the box-office/franchise appeal of “Indiana Jones.” Working title: “Indiana Jones and my Gay Neighbor Whose Kid Sells Me Pot.” (Never got past the treatment on that one)

5. Work my way up to 6.5 mph on the treadmill.

6. Get on the treadmill.

7. Create a YouTube sensation by casting famous people in a one-off idea in which they say the F-word a lot.

8. Take my old clothes to Goodwill.

9. Get my old clothes for Goodwill off the treadmill.

10. Sleep through the night.

Well, I gotta go make some Mitt Romney jokes before people forget who he is. If I can’t build it, then goddammit, I’ll EARN enough money to buy that unlimited-class hydroplane.

Then I’ll get on the treadmill. Wish me luck.

How To Use a Vespa to Go to Costco

I love Costco. Who doesn’t? It is a shining example of America, a big-box store that actually treats its workers right, a place to buy goodness and happiness in such quantity that you have to freeze some when you get home, so it doesn’t spoil.

There’s only one thing about Costco that isn’t big enough: the parking lot. And though I have a Business Membership, and can get in early on Sunday Mornings, the joint is always thronging with a few thousand people looking to save money on roast chicken, power miter boxes and caskets.

Our closest Costco is in Marina del Rey, over there on the West Side. Just because it’s closer doesn’t mean it’s better: they have herring in wine sauce, but no Dremel Moto-tool bits, for example. And that’s not the worst of it. Those Westsiders are a cutthroat bunch, let me tell you.

Could be the ocean air or the falling housing prices, but this morning was particularly bad. There were two cart rage incidents in the meat section, the roast chickens were being grabbed as fast as the cooks could shove them under the heatlamps, and the worker serving samples of the salmon spread had to fold up her table and hightail it to the stockroom before someone got hurt.

A woman was rifling through the blackberry flats so ferociously I thought she had dropped her wedding ring in there, until she pulled out a box of berries that was indistinguishable from all the others, clutched it to her chest in a bear hug and shoved her way out of the refrigerator section, kicking a cart with a kid in it a good 10 feet. The kid bumped up safely against the juice refrigerator, and started filling his cart with Odwalla. I wonder if Mom got a surprise at the register.

But the worst thing about it is the parking lot. And I figured a way around it.

I take the Vespa. I park it right next to the door, walk in, do my shopping , and leave. No waiting for a space. No thinking there’s a spot just past that Expedition, only to find a Mini Cooper.

The only problem? There’s no trunk. I just have two racks and a shopping bag hook. But you might be surprised what you can hold. Next time you see a documentary about the Tsunami, check out those fish peddler with the 70-gallon tanks of live Harlequin Rasboras on their motorcycles: they’re Vespas.

Take a look at today’s haul:

This is nothing. The only thing I haven’t brought home from the Costco on that thing is a piano. And that’s only because they didn’t have any uprights, only baby grands.

So your next question is probably, “Don’t you feel embarrassed, driving through town, looking like an Indonesian fish peddler?” And the answer is, of course I do. I hate turning heads, especially like this. In fact, the manager of Surfas on Washington was out setting up the bargain table when he saw me stopped at the light, and he took a picture of me with his cell phone. But that’s only one funny look, out of hundreds.

Those other looks, of course, come from prospective shoppers, looking for parking at the Costco. They drive around, complaining into cell phones, gunning their engines past senior citizens who are just there for the buck-fifty hotdog and bottomless Coke.

These poor jerks take the single greatest thing about being an American – going to Coscto – and turn it into a nightmare. Do they linger over the folding bowl sets or wonder, “Am I an electric razor guy?” No. Do they tell themselves, “Today’s the day I buy those Alaskan King Crab Claws?” No. Are they amused by the fact that the 4th of July products are already out? No. Not even the unbridled joy of being at Costco can penetrate their parking-fueled depression.

And all the money they save on Costco gas, they burn in the parking lot driving around for 45 minutes.

And so, to them I say, “I win.” Home, to Costco and back in under an hour. Happily sipping Diet Coke and eating chicken thighs. So what if I look stupid? Hell, I might be the manager of Surfas’ screensaver for all I know.

The thing is, I need that win. Especially now. It feels good to feel the tape break across your chest once in a while. And if looking like an Indonesian fish seller may be a bit silly, looking like Satan while I scream at the kids looks a lot worse, trapped in my car, driving around the lot at Costco.

The Fat Lady is Warming Up Her Voice…

The Negotiating Committee during a standing ovation

I wish I had more to tell you about the Strike, but whatever you’ve read or seen, you’re way ahead of me.

According to the negotiating committee members who visited the line this week, the purpose of the meeting last night was to inform the members of the conditions and terms of the deal, and to “take the temperature of the room” (preferably orally) to see whether or not they should recommend to the Guild board to lift the restraining order and let us all get back to work tomorrow.

So we mobilized. Got out the vote.

The Guild set up phone banks to call members who have not been out on the picket line, but how they were able to call that many people in two days I’ll never know.

The Strike Captains were also to get the word out to their guys, as ours did. So we all turned out at the Shrine Auditorium last night, with the expectation that we would be there to moderate any extreme voices, and make sure the temperature of the room was nice and cool, baby.

The event was to begin at 7, but they didn’t let us in until just after that, giving perfect strangers the opportunity to ask me if we’ve been scabbing for Jay. That unpleasantness over, we sat, mostly as a group, to wait for another 40 minutes while the most intense networking in the history of mankind took place. It was like watching the Borg do speed dating: everyone was saying the exact same thing, just out of sync, the come-ons couched in friendly, celebratory terms.

Finally, the negotiating committee took the stage. One of the cameramen who was shooting the event to be projected on the big screen behind the dais must have been drunk, or have worked for NYPD Blue, because it was super-shaky and people kept calling for him to stop touching the camera. It was shaking so violently at one point it was like watching incredibly boring footage cut from “Cloverfield.”

Anyway, after the first of 31 standing ovations, President Pat informed us that, after receiving many calls and emails from “vocal members,” the temperature of the room was now beside the point. We would not be going back to work on Monday, instead participating in a proxy vote by fax and email to see if we want to go back. That vote will take 48 hours, after which every writer is sure we will be back on the job. In fact, they’re even more sure than they were that we would be working tomorrow, so that’s sure, baby.

After the presentation of the deal, during which the speakers laughed at inside jokes and we were on our feet and in our seats 30 more times (having been raised Catholic, I knelt a couple of times, just for good measure), and we all beat it outside when the it became Open Mic Night in Zanytown (to be fair, we stayed for five questions and two of them were good, but every speaker gave the sense they were there to state they were not ready to ratify).

By the way, the minimums discussed were the same for all categories except for Late Night Comedy and Variety, which were less. Hey now!

So the mouth-watering meal of a Monday start was denied us. As a staff (minus a few with the flu), we assembled in the parking lot, and a few of us tried to get the group to motivate to Swingers for one last free meal on Drew Carey. There were only five takers.

About 3am, I woke up, as I’ve been doing a lot lately, to think about things and let my eyeballs dry out watching the clock projected on the ceiling. I came to the following conclusions:

1. I’ll have to hold off on putting jokes in the blog until I figure out if it’s kosher;
2. 2. I’ll have to ask someone before submitting any jokes I’ve written on the blog before the strike was ended. They were not written for Jay, and technically I own them, but I don’t want to get anybody in trouble;
3. It ain’t over.

So here I sit, waiting for my proxy to arrive by email so the 48-hour clock can start. Maybe I’ll take a ride on the bike and try to take my mind off of it.

Ahh, who am I kidding?