I Hope Meat Loaf Forgave Me For Hanging Him In A Meat Locker

Singer and actor Meat Loaf died today apparently from COVID. I’ll stick a pin in his anti-vaxxism for a moment out of respect for his musical contributions. He was an icon of a particular kind of rock n roll. When I was at Vassar College in the 1978, we danced with complete abandon to Meat’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”. Same went for “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad”, “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth”, the title song “Bat Out Of Hell” and the couple of other songs on the album. I was a drama major and we loved that album and its glorious, over-the-top theatricality even more than the rest of the student body. That made it super special when – as a writer and producer on HBO’s “Tales From The Crypt”, I got to not only meet Meat, I got to hire and work with the man. And what did I do with that opportunity? I hung Meat Loaf in a meat locker.

The episode’s called “What’s Cookin” and it starred the late Christopher Reeves and Bess Armstrong as a down-on-their-luck couple who’ve put all their money and energy into their failing restaurant that has only squid on the menu. They tell Gaston (Judd Nelson), the homeless guy who sweeps up for them, that they’re closing for good which motivates Gaston to provide a different kind of protein. Meat Loaf played the couple’s landlord Chumley – who suddenly goes missing just as a mound of fresh steak suddenly appears in the restaurant’s walk in refrigerator – and whose intoxicating aroma as it cooks on the grill suddenly brings in the customers they’ve never had before. Of course, what Gaston’s done is murder Chumley the landlord and use him as the source of the steak.

The second our casting director Victoria Burrows suggested Meat Loaf for the part, it had to be. First, of course, because the whole idea of a show about cannibalism having Meat Loaf in it – well, that was just too funny not to do. And the fact that it’s Meat Loaf’s character3 who gets eaten? Second, I wanted to work with the guy whose music gave me so much pleasure.

Writing and producing “Crypt” was an amazing experience in part because I got to work with so many people whose work I adored: Tom Hanks, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Zemeckis, Richard Donner, Walter Hill, Kirk Douglas, Dan Ackroyd, Michael J. Fox, Tim Curry, Steve Coogan, Ewan McGregor, Billy Friedkin, John Frankenheimer and (for me, the best of the best), Buck Henry who adapted “The Graduate” for the screen. Buck acted for us and I got to put words into his mouth!

So – Meat Loaf says yes, he’ll do the part but we won’t have access to him until the day before he works. That presents an immediate problem: we have a make up special effects gag in mind that will require a full bodycast of Meat.

The gag is the big reveal – that Meat Loaf is the source of the steaks. It happens when Judd’s Gaston leads Christopher’s Fred into the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator where Mr. Chumley’s naked, already carved-up carcass is hanging. As Fred gapes in horror, Gaston chops two fresh steaks from the body (in theory, Meat Loaf, hanging in the shot’s foreground).

It’s a great gag! To me, “Tales” was always black comedy rather than horror and this scene is one of my two or three favorite things we ever did. That’s Meat’s bodycast hanging in the foreground. Here’s another angle —

But, as I said, it got complicated… As I said, Meat couldn’t get there in time for us to use his body to do the bodycast. So, as we normally did under such circumstances, we hired a body double – calculating in our heads the correct body type to hire. Meat was a “well built” man. There was lots of him to love. Except, unbeknownst to us, there was now LESS of him to love.

Meat had been on a crash diet and he was proud of how he now looked – a sveleter , leaner and meaner Meat.

When Meat arrived at our production office for his wardrobe fitting, we saw that we had a problem. Then Meat wanted to see the the special effects bodycast we’d made without him – more out of curiosity than anything else. He was pretty upset when he saw how heavy it was. The body double we’d used looked like the old Meat, not the new, improved, lower in fat Meat. Our actor no longer looked like our bodycast. And the bodycast no longer looked like our actor.

To his infinite credit, Meat remained a consummate pro. We ended up using the heavier bodycast and, so that the actor would match, Meat agreed to wear a fat suit under his wardrobe. That was very menschy of him.

Meat’s great in the part – small though it is. Hey, you know what they say – there are no small part, only small actors. Meat Loaf was a big talent no matter what size he came packed in.

Rest in Peace, Meat. Thank you for being part of our journey. And thank you especially for being part of mine.

Now – with that all said? Meat was anti-vaxx. There’s a possibility that COVID got him. If so, he absolutely did not have to die right now. And that sucks more than anything.

“TRUMPOCALYPSE: THE MINISERIES” Casting Office — UPDATED Casting: “THE INSURRECTION CAUCUS”

U.S. Vice-President Biden smiles as he speaks with Croatian PM Milanovic in Zagreb

So far, we’ve cast the Trumps — father, sons, daughter/sex partner & wife/handler. They’re all below today’s casting thoughts — THE INSURRECTION CAUCUS!

I have a feeling we’re going to end up expanding this part of the story exponentially. What we saw, live on TV, was the tip of the iceberg that was planned; most of it failed to happen the way it was drawn up in the days preceding the insurrection. That’s the brick wall the Republican Party and Trump are rushing headlong into: the insurrection didn’t occur spontaneously (the way they all hoped it would seem). The insurrection was planned, paid for, coordinated and carried out as a joint effort whose participants included everyone from useful idiot MAGA foot soldiers swept up in the moment to Right Wing money donors to Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani to a slew of Republican members of Congress to Donald Trump himself.

Hell, the January 6 Insurrection might just warrant an entire season unto itself. But, let’s start with our principals, shall we? The casting office is right over here…

CHARACTER

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE

Always happy to demonstrate that she is, in fact, dumber than any box of rocks – even if that box is empty – Marjorie Taylor Greene called the historic, bi-partisan, infrastructure bill the House just passed “communism”. She called the NBA “fascist” for refusing to let unvaccinated Kyrie Irving play in a basketball game and for letting Magic Johnson play when he had HIV. She insisted people being forced to inoculate themselves against a deadly virus were “just like the Nazis force[ing] Jewish people to wear a gold star.” This woman is wrong about literally everything. I bet when she says “hello” — that’s wrong, too. Or a lie.

Here’s MJT –

And, to play this larger-than-life lump of certifiable loser? I suggest the mega-talented SARAH SNOOK (most recently Shiv Roy on HBO’s excellent “Succession”.) Sarah understands how to play a duplicitous, intelligent women who aspires to get a piece of her soul back one day. I bet she’ll figure out how to play this trailer trash Lady MacBeth.

Sarah Snook to play trailer trash Lady MacBeth Marjorie Taylor Greene?

MATT GAETZ

Matt takes being “smarmy” to places smarmy never thought it could reach. He’s white, frat boy privilege on steroids. He’s a drunk and a skunk with a taste for underage girls. Under different circumstances, Matt would be seen as nothing more than a clown. Insurrection can turn even clowns deadly.

To play Matt? I’m thinking of The Big Bang Theory’s JIM PARSONS… Jim has a bunch of things going for him here. He can play Matt’s clownishness & the pathos of his humanity (even Matt has humanity — it’s what will make his bitter tears so bitter (and so enjoyable because they’re bitter). Jim Parsons also has the requisite amount of forehead.

Can Jim Parsons fill Matt Gaetz’s forehead? I say “yes!”

JIM JORDAN

Jordan and Gaetz always feel like they can’t decide who’s the wing man and who’s the wing man’s wing man. Gymbo looks like he couldn’t get comfortable inside his own skin if his life depended on it. How ironic then that just hearing Jim’s voice makes everyone else’s skin crawl. Imagine you’re the Fly-By-Night Diploma Mill that gave Jim Jordan a JD. How proud they must be of having trained a legal mind as fine as Jim’s.

To play Gymbo, I like former Doctor Who/Duke of Edinburgh MATT SMITH. Like most British actors, Matt can slip into an accent like Jim’s as easily as slipping into Jim’s awful wardrobe. It takes a bright actor to play a stupid person and it will take every ounce of Matt’s considerable talent to plumb the depths of Jim Jordan’s considerable stupidity.

Matt Smith could definitely pin a characterization of Jim Jordan to the mat.

KEVIN McCARTHY

Kevin is like the greyest of grey men. Aside from being able to march in lock step with other Republicans, Kevin McCarthy has zero useful skill sets. Kevin still needs to answer for “There are two people I think Putin pays — Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” which he said out loud (it was recorded) as he entered a roomful of GOP leaders on June 25, 2016, a month before the GOP nominated Trump to be POTUS. If Kevin even suspected that Trump was compromised by a hostile foreign power engaged in active cyber war against us, he had a responsibility to say something. Not only didn’t Kevin say anything about this secret, he agreed with then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to keep that secret a secret. “That’s how we know we’re family,” is how Ryan put it, feeling every bit the cosa nostra gangster he was alluding to.

To portray this soulless waste of carbon? I’d go for Mad Men’s JOHN SLATTERY. Slattery’s great at playing grey men who are hollow at their centers.

John Slattery would knock Jim Jordan out of the park — and doesn’t that sound well-deserved?

STEVE BANNON

For a guy who supposedly doesn’t drink, Steve Bannon always looks like the world’s sloppiest drunk who just went on the bender to end all benders. The Department of Justice needs to get off its ass and stand by the January 6 Commission’s subpoenas. Bannon honestly thinks he and his democracy-hating religious zealots will get away with betraying America. We The People look forward to disabusing Steve of this mistaken idea. The more Steve cries about it, the more we’ll like it!

Bannon’s an interesting character. We could go John Goodman here, but I’d cheat the age a little and cast someone who’s always seem to capture a certain “living rough” dynamic. I’m all for NICK NOLTE. Nick’s a good actor but I ain’t buying him as a Wall Street type. Nick’s better at squirrely, old bastards who either had too much to drink or they’re off their meds and need to go back on them. Bannon’s a squirrely old traitor drunk on authoritarian Kool-Aid.

PAST CASTING THOUGHTS

DONALD J. TRUMP

How do you play the most notoriously corrupt, bloated orange scumbag to ever befoul the planet? How do we even cast it? Carefully, of course… Some thoughts: BRENDAN GLEASON as Trump…

NOTES: Gleeson played Trump in “The Comey Rule” on Showtime.

WOODY HARRELSON as Trump

NOTES: I’ve always liked Woody Harrelson’s “interior” range. It’s amazing and we’re going to need an actor with incredible emotional range to play a character with VIRTUALLY NONE.  It’s like getting an actor to sing off key.  The ones who can actually sing will automatically do it better.  They even know where off-key is.

NOTE ON ALEC BALDWIN: Alec Baldwin is a talented actor who is caught in a terrible circumstance . It breaks my heart (personally and as someone who’s produced movies and TV shows), what happened because it shouldn’t have. Baldwin’s Trump was always caricature over character (by design). That’s not to put him out of the running just… not now.

IVANKA TRUMP

SCARLET JOHANSSON as Ivanka Trump

NOTES: There’s a kind of irony in an actress great at playing Black Widow to play the part of a woman who acts like an actual black widow spider.

AMANDA SEYFRIED as Ivanka

NOTES: Some things just seem so natural…

DONALD TRUMP, JR

MIKEY DAY as Donald Trump, Jr

NOTES: Presently, the actor who’s gotten closest to nailing Don Jr’s unctuousness is an actor satirizing him. That’s probably not a coincidence. Still — we need some competition here. I’ll put my mind to it if you will…

ERIC TRUMP

Alex Moffat as Eric Trump

NOTES: As with Mikey Day’s Junior, SNL’s version of Eric — and I love Alex Moffat’s Eric — stands for the moment as “the” Eric. Competition’s good for everyone — Trump’s included.

MELANIA TRUMP

CASTING OPEN!

Awaiting Picture, so here’s the real Melania — in the one photo I can find of her smiling like she means it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Melania’s smiling this way at Putin. Not cos Melania respects international relationships but because she worked the whole damned time as Donald’s handler on Vlad’s behalf. Hey, how do you say “I don’t care, do you?” in Russian?

VLADIMIR PUTIN

MADS MIKKELSON as Vladimir Putin

NOTES: Mads played the Bond Villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. By all accounts, Vlad Putin is the Bond Villain America fully deserves.

RUDY GIULIANI

KATE McKINNON as Rudy Giuliani

NOTES: Personally, I’m not sure a human can play the entirely humanoid Rudy but my mind’s open. Kate McKinnon can do anything. I bet she could do a fully deep dive into Rudy and actually pull off an amazing, lifelike (without being cartoonish) characterization. But still — for the moment, the part’s wide open.

Another thought:

To play crazy…

…HIRE crazy…

MORE CHARACTERS TO COME!!!!!

Because It’s Halloween: The Deep, Dark Secrets Of A Horror Movie Writer

How do you scare people (who want to be scared)? It’s harder than it sounds because horror movie fans know horror movies the way evangelicals (think they) know the Bible. First confession: if you IMDb me, the impression you’d get from my credits is that I’m purely a horror/sci-fi guy: “Freddy’s Nightmares” (the Nightmare On Elm Street TV series)… “Children Of The Corn 2”“Tales From The Crypt” (5 seasons on HBO)… “Demon Knight”“Bordello of Blood” (oy!)… “Outer Limits”… And then nothing for two decades (a whole other story)… But (here’s the confession), I’m not at all a “horror guy”. I’m not organically attuned to horror. I’m not organically attuned to science fiction either. Circumstance not choice dictated the direction my career went (and that is why I spent a decade and a half doing nothing (a whole other story itself — but, I digress). I had a career writing horror because I understood (as a storyteller) how to set it up and pay it off. Nuts meet bolts.

The reason horror endures has less to do with any particular horror character or story itself than with how successful horror stories as a whole work inside our heads. As important as the payoff is, the moment you spring it, it’s sprung. All the tension releases and either the story’s done or, if you want to build another moment to match it (and it better be bigger) you’re going to have to do it almost from scratch. That’s why the secret to great horror is all in the build up. It’s all about uncertainty and dread.

Haunted houses are built upon foundations of uncertainty and then filled to the studs with dread. If a writer understands that — as, say, a Steven King does — then they will convert their computer keyboard into a veritable cash machine their entire creative lives (and deservedly so). In The Shining, alcoholic writer Jack Torrance accepting the job of winter caretaker at the remote Overlook Hotel in Colorado is the story’s “spring” — the uncertainty about what could happen there. Jack’s son Danny’s psychic abilities plus the hotel’s nefarious past (plus the fact that the nefarious past is “alive” inside the hotel!) — that’s King slowly coiling the spring — the dread — as tightly as possible before releasing all its stored, terrifying energy at the book’s climax (ditto Kubrick’s adaptation).

Uncertainty overflowing with dread (think of the blood bursting from the elevators) — that’s the trick.

“The Shining”: Uncertainty plus dread equals horror

The first movie that ever scared me was “Wait Until Dark” (a psychological thriller, not a horror movie) — seen at Camp Skylemar in Naples, Maine (the sleepaway summer camp I went to) sometime in the late 1960’s.

Audrey Hepburn plays Suzy, a blind woman who lives with her husband (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) in a basement apartment in NYC. A doll with heroin inside it ends up at the blind woman’s apartment. The bulk of the action takes place as the vicious criminals the heroin belongs to try to get it back from the unsuspecting couple. In the end, there’s a kind of showdown between Audrey and the head criminal Roat (played by Alan Arkin). Suzi’s leveled the playing field by throwing a chemical at Roat’s face and by turning off the apartment’s power. Regardless — and like every great horror movie villain — Roat stalks her in the darkness regardless, a monster with an agenda with only one way to stop it. But Suzi has been stalking Roat, too, trying to use the (familiar to her) darkness to her advantage. Suddenly Roat leaps out at Suzi from behind the refrigerator door.

I have a distinct memory of the entire audience of campers (aged six to sixteen plus counselors) leaping to our feet, hands at our mouths. Whether or not we all really did suddenly leap to our feet, that’s how it felt. That’s how that manufactured moment impacted that audience. Stories don’t have to “be” horror to play by horror’s rules.

Second quick example (and it’s my favorite “horror movie that’s not a horror movie”) — Nic Roeg’s brilliant “Don’t Look Now”.

Donald Sutherland is art restorer John Baxter. Julie Christie is his wife Laura. As John begins a restoration project on a church in Venice, Italy, he and Laura are still mourning the recent drowning death of their young daughter Christine. At a restaurant, one night, two elderly sisters — one a blind psychic — approach Laura when she goes to the bathroom: the psychic sister insists she “saw” the Baxter’s dead daughter standing by them at the table — and wanted them to know she was happy. That (understandably) freaks Laura out. She wants to believe it. John is the cynic. He insists it’s all nonsense. Thus the spring and all its uncertainty is set up. Does the blind psychic woman really see Christine? Is Christine really trying to warn her parents — her cynical-about-the-sisters father especially? I won’t give away the ending, but the red coat Christine wore when she drowned plays a critical role in building the dread that the audience begins to feel about John. Water… the color red… grief and how it plays inside the grieving — it all builds to a truly breath-taking — and outright horrifying — crescendo.

And it’s not a horror movie.

Whether it’s the zombies of “Walking Dead” or “Train to Busan” or the cult in “Midsommar”, the uncertainty their threat poses to our heroes — that’s the spring. The longer the storyteller can hold the audience while coiling that spring, the better. And, if the coiled spring can resonate outside the story environment itself? Never mind turning your keyboard into a cash machine. You’ve just reinvented Bitcoin.

Maybe the best (smartest) recent vintage horror movie is Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”. The uncertainty/spring: Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris (he’s black) visits the home of his white girlfriend’s family to meet them for the first time but realizes that something body snatchers-like is happening to all the Black people in the community where they live. Chris’s slowly building dread is the spring being loaded. See? The simple formula works regardless of characters or story environment.

There ya have it: “how to write a horror movie”. I expect I’ll be hearing shortly from every other person who made a buck (or tried to) in the horror biz, pissed off at me for giving away trade secrets. I expect — being crazy to begin with — a few of them might actually begin to stalk me. What if one really got all Annie Wilkes (the hero of King’s “Misery“) on me? Geez — what kinda goddamned can of worms have I opened here?

Why Do Movie Quotes Keep Popping Into My Head?

We’re all “Mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!”

I know I’m not alone in this. Something happens in my day, either ordinary or extraordinary, and my initial reaction, the first thing that pops into my head, is a movie quote. Mostly, to be honest, I hear Homer Simpson’s voice — “D’oh!” — every time I screw something up. Homer puts it better, more accurately and more succinctly than I ever could. But, I also hear Howard Beale’s voice shouting “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” every time a Republican opens their lie-hole. Hell, as I contemplate what the Republicans are doing right now to America, Edward G. Robinson at the end of “Little Caesar” suddenly pops up: “Is this the end of Rico?”

Edward G. Robinson asks at the end of “Little Caesar”: “Is this the end of Rico?”

As I look around at the madness on all sides, Paul Newman’s Butch Cassidy slides into frame, shaking his head in mild exasperation (because Sundance has just chuckled “You keep thinking, Butch, that’s what you’re good at!”): “Boy, I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals”. It sure does feel that way more often than I care to admit.

Sundance: “You just keep thinking, Butch, that’s what you’re good at!:” Butch: “Boy, I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”

But then, “Butch’s” insistence — a few minutes later in the film when Ted Cassidy as Harvey Logan forces Butch into a do or (literally) die knife fight. Butch breaks Harvey’s momentum by demanding that, first, they go over the rules. I become Harvey: “Rules? In a knife fight?” And, boy, do I feel what comes to Harvey.

Butch is smart. So was Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest”. Faye’s Joan may not have won any “Mother Of The Year” awards (“No more wire hangers!”) but she certainly knew how to put a roomful of hostiles on notice (or a roomful of anybody not on your side as a hard negotiation begins): “Don’t f*ck with me fellas, this ain’t my first time at the rodeo!”

Hey — how many times has someone walked in the door bringing chaos with them and, as you look at them, Crash Davis’ voice inside your head demands in the middle of their insanity: “Who dresses you?”

At the end, of course, Crash falls for Susan Sarandon’s Annie Savoy though, considering how wonky Susan Sarandon’s politics are, it probably won’t be too long before Crash starts thinking like Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jack Twist wishing he “knew how to quit” Heath Ledger’s Ennis Del Mar.

Ah, the human mystery. That’s what movie quotes nail better than almost anything. They’re pithy word Mcnuggets that capture the universe or life or living perfectly. “We’ll always have Paris”. “Oh dear, I have trod in monsieur’s bucket!” “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me… aren’t you?” “You’ve got me? Who’s got YOU?” “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”. “May the force be with you.” “Go ahead, make my day”. “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night”. “I’ll be back”. “They’re here!” “Houston, we have a problem”, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”. “It’s alive!” “Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into”. “Here’s Johnny!” “Is it safe?” “Nobody puts baby in a corner”, “Of all the gin joints in all the world, she walks into mine”, “What a dump!” (which gets bonus points for being referenced by Elizabeth Taylor as Martha in “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?)”, “Say hello to my little friend!” and “Show me the MONEY!”

Here’s one I say literally EVERY TIME I drive through LA’s Chinatown: “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown”. It’s stupid, I know — but I can’t help myself.

Finally, there’s one movie quote I wish popped into my head. Malcolm McDowell as Alex, the “hero” of Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”. It’s at the very end of the movie — it’s the very last line and the irony sums up everything, well, perfectly: “I was cured alright!”

Oh, to be cured of this madness!

Republicans And Treason Kabuki

Sometimes, you just have to give Republicans their due props: when it comes to getting away with literal murder (I’m thinking of our democracy here), they are stone cold geniuses at getting We The People to see them as they want us to and not at all as they are. Actors do that because it’s their job. They pretend they’re someone else. They look like em, sound like em… I’d always heard that Robert De Niro thought “holitically” about acting — that he believed he had a character nailed down when he knew what the guy had in his right front pocket… But, of course, actors like De Niro aren’t really their characters. Unless they’re Daniel Day Lewis getting into and (insisting on) staying in character for the duration of the shoot

— or Dustin Hoffman on the set of “Marathon Man” where Laurence Olivier helpfully suggested that instead of staying up for three days to “look” exhausted, Dustin “try acting” it instead, when quittin’ time comes, the actor slips out of their character as they slip out of that character’s wardrobe.

Acting is acting is acting. And — though I’ve hired thousands of actors in my career and I really do love them — we’re hiring them to bullshit us. And the better they bullshit us, the better we like it and like them!

Republicans have taken this core tenet of acting — making believe on purpose that you’re something you’re not — to an obscene, okay, “CRIMINAL” extreme.

Like I said — I’ve hired thousands of actors. I even studied acting in College (I went to ONE audition after graduating and realized that wasn’t me). I studied all the different kinds of acting there have been throughout history. Hell, I even wrote a paper while at Vassar wherein I tried to pinpoint the very first time in Europe where an actor got paid to act (I suggested it could have been for a performance of the 15th century morality play “The Castle Of Perseverance”). As I look at Republicans performing in public, I see Kabuki. From Wikipedia (because I really couldn’t put it any better): “Kabuki theatre is known for its heavily-stylised performances, the often-glamorous costumes worn by performers, and for the elaborate kumadori make-up worn by some of its performers.” Hey, does that not sound like Republicans?

When Matt Gaetz or Jim Jones or Kevin McCarthy get up on their hind legs and bray at the press (or even at their own supporters), we are watching the picture definition of “stylized performances”. They absolutely dress for the part and what would Donald Trump be without being orange? Matt Gaetz walks in the door a convicted drunk driver and a man inches away from being indicted for statutory rape among other nastiness. Jim Jordan, while a wrestling coach at Ohio State University, looked the other way while a pal sexually molested the wrestlers under their care. Kevin McCarthy knew Donald Trump was compromised by Russia well before the Republican Party nominated Trump to be their standard-bearer n 2016 (“There’s two people I think Putin pays — Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” is how he put it). There’s no way to be delicate (not that I’d try): these three men are all scumbags. But they pretend to be something OTHER than scumbags. That requires an awful lot of acting. Subtlety will not help much. They need to 1) put the idea that they’re honest into our heads however they can and 2) distract us from the truth when their guilty behavior convinces us it’s there.

And the truth? In this story? C’mon now, everyone, we know what this story’s about. Treason.

Voila the Republican Party’s reliance at all times upon “Treason Kabuki” to keep from getting held to account for their remarkable run of criminality.

Also worth noting — our news media ADORES Treason Kabuki so much that they’ve normalized it. What should be seen as, well, theater, our news media sees as genuine. Hmmmmmmmm… that can’t turn out well. Our truth-tellers (the media) don’t understand that regardless of whichever actor is now playing Batman, Spiderman or Superman, none of those actors actually is any of those super heroes. The capes and the costumes should give it away, no?

Of course, the one, true master of Treason Kabuki is Donald J. Trump.

I say let’s give the man his acting award and then stick him in the “acting venue” he most deserves to play in for the rest of his stinking life: the federal penal system.

For our next course on Republican acting styles, let’s visit “Republican Kabuki’s” evil twin: “Bullshit Kabuki”.

Guns Are Death Machines — Especially On Movie Sets

Having physically produced a few movies and plenty of TV shows — having been intricately involved in the safety protocols whenever you bring danger to a set (fire gags are even scarier than gunplay) — what happened last week on the set of “Rust” hits me where I live. Storytelling is incredibly important to the world (that’s why it’s worth so much money to so many people) but how we make storytelling should never be harmful to the people making it. Creating make-believe for others’ enjoyment should never hurt people (let along kill them). There are protocols! If you follow them — to the letter — nothing bad will happen. No one on your crew will get hurt or die. It’s that simple. But guns make people stupid. Those who handle them often get cavalier. They think of themselves as “responsible gun owners”. In their hearts, I do believe, “responsible gun owners” really do aspire to never hurt anyone with their firearm. But, the very real truth is (and that truth keeps getting proven!) there’s no such thing as “responsible gun ownership”. It’s one of those things that one is until suddenly, one isn’t.

Nancy Lanza — mother of Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter — believed herself a “responsible gun owner” right up to the moment her son shot her to death with one of her own legally purchased, fully licensed guns. So much for HER being a “responsible gun owner”. But that is the problem when human beings assume powers they don’t have and justify behaviors they’ll never live up to. Consider the misery, unhappiness and utter destruction Nancy Lanza caused all those families who didn’t even know she existed. Just because she wasn’t quite the “responsible gun owner” she assured herself and everyone else she was.

Guns are death machines. That’s a fact. They are designed from the ground up to send a piece of metal flying at speed into a living target so as to kill it. They’re not designed to sit in gun lockers. Though it’s a safer place for a gun to be than out in the open, the gun’s designers never looked at their creation from that perspective. Why would they? It’s like trying to assess a baseball bat’s usefulness as a broom. The only way to truly measure one’s “responsible-ness” as a gun owner is to take it out of its gun locker and into the world where it CAN be used per its design specs to kill living things.

Now, a responsible gun owner has something real to measure their responsibility against instead of that unarmed straw man living inside their gun locker.

From the very first narrative film ever made (Edwin Porter’s “The Great Train Robbery” made in 1903), guns have been part of the storytelling.

In the film’s coda, Porter put the above sequence where the movie’s villain fired his gun directly at camera. While a modern audience is used to seeing things like that (having seen it a kajillion times), when Porter first did it, it shocked his audiences. Many ducked out of harm’s way or screamed in genuine fear.

Didn’t take long though for movie audiences to adore gun violence on film because watching it put them in the middle of something they had never experienced before (and might never in their real lives) in a way that was dramatic, visceral and emotionally compelling. Moviemaking made gun violence essential to its storytelling. And dangerous to it, too.

TMZ is now reporting that members of the “Rust” crew used the gun that killed cinemaphotographer Halyna Hutchins for “target practice” in between shots. That’s insane. That’s utterly insane! But, the fact that it happened reflects so much about our whole culture’s cavalier attitude toward guns. To the crew, that gun was a “pretend death machine” one moment then a real one the next and then (it was supposed to be) a pretend death machine again when the filming re-started. Too bad no one thought about that. But, they didn’t. No one on the crew who’d used the gun to shoot real bullets apparently bothered to check — when they were done PLAYING WITH THE GUN (which is insane that they were) before sending it back to the set where it would be used with actors.

This suggests why there could have been a live round in the prop gun First AD Dave Halls personally handed to actor (and one of the film’s titular producers) Alec Baldwin for a camera rehearsal.

When Baldwin — just going through the scene — pointed the gun at camera and pulled the trigger, he expected nothing to happen (except an empty click because the gun’s chambers were supposedly “cold” or empty. The gun, prior to that moment should always have been under the control of the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed. Though Reed has something of an armorer’s “pedigree” (her dad is veteran armorer Thell Reed), and despite the shock some co-workers expressed, Reed was guilty of earlier failures to adequately do her job.

On a previous job, “The Old Way”, two production sources claim, Gutierrez-Reed ‘once gave an 11-year-old actress a gun without checking it’: The sources said “she was seen loading blanks in an ‘unsafe’ fashion and that she was ‘green and inexperienced’ on set”.

People getting badly hurt or killed on movie sets is a rare, rare exception as it should be. That it happens at all is unacceptable. Still, when you consider the staggering amount of gun play and gun violence that moviemakers have produced over time, it’s just a fact that the overwhelming majority of that gun violence was done (relatively) safely. We’d have heard otherwise. How we normally depict guns is absolutely safe.

And maybe that’s the problem. If there were way more gun-related deaths on America’s movie and TV sets, we (probably) would have done something about it. The fact that we’ve tamed most make-believe representations has delivered a false sense of security — that most guns are actually “make believe” and therefore harmless. Heroes regularly take multiple hits without dying or even being as incapacitated as real gunshot wounds would make them. Somehow extreme blood loss and almost no blood pressure doesn’t effect movie characters.

America’s love affair with guns didn’t start at the movies but movies sure knew how to kick that love into outright adoration.

In The TV Ad Wars, Progressive’s “Flo” Kicks “Doug” (And His Emu’s) Butt – Fight Me!

If you’re a regular consumer of cable TV news, you’re also a consumer of all the ads the news channels run in a constant, mind-numbing cycle. Big Pharma and Big Insurance own the bulk of the real estate; at least, that’s how it feels inside my head. Big Pharma’s “slice-of-life” ads beg to be satirized, especially the part of each ad where — as we watch our characters living their best lives (now that they’re cured!) — a Voice O’ God narrator speed reads a list of the “cure’s worse than the disease” side effects. See how happy these formerly afflicted people are now? They wouldn’t be so happy if any of this drug’s side effects ever kicked in. While Big Pharma stokes our fear of getting sick, Big Insurance stokes our fear of every other bad thing that could ever happen to us: car accidents, natural disasters, death (especially death). Living life each day, it turns out, carries the risk that something bad or expensive could ruin all our hopes and dreams. What’s that old joke about how to make God laugh by telling “him” your plans?

Big Insurance wants to inflame every latent fear cowering in the shadows of your mind — and, like an arsonist who’s also a fire fighter, their whole deal is to step forward as the loving savior who’s got your back!

For a price, of course.

Insurance is an essential concept to our capitalistic way of life. But, talking about insurance — geez, could anything be more “middle aged” and dull? The insurance industry is run by bean counters to whom the green eyeshade look is “a look”. And their product, essential as it is, is boring. For a long time, insurance companies took an entirely “adults in the room” approach to marketing their product to the unwashed and uninsured masses. Nationwide was “on your side”, You were “In Good Hands” with Allstate. If something bad happens, “Like A Good Neighbor State Form is there”. According to the New York Times, that all changed in 1999 when the Martin Agency created the Geico Gecko “to both reinforce Geico’s name and help the public figure out how to pronounce it”. The Gecko clicked however. He was funny and strangely human. An audience that didn’t care about insurance stopped to watch the ads not because fifteen minutes would change our lives but because we wanted to know more about the guy pitching it at us (lizard though he may be).

Before too long, Progressive Insurance — who no one even knew existed — created Flo (and her team), Allstate created Mayhem, Farmer’s Insurance rolled out J. K. Simmons as Professor Burke and Liberty Mutual created the LiMu Emu and his partner/friend/wing man Doug.

What all these insurance companies did was create IP (intellectual property) — characters who, they hoped, would encompass essential elements of their “franchise” within it. When you see the character, you’ll think of that insurance company. If the character made you laugh — in a good way — you’ll not only remember the insurance company, you’ll remember them fondly. If that’s all that happens, the insurance company is already ahead. Branding is a massive undertaking. But, if you end up buying insurance too? Back up the Brinks truck.

Now, I can claim a little bit of real world expertise when it comes to marketing and creating a franchise character. I’ve written and produced TV and feature films within certain franchises. My first produced TV show script was for “Freddy’s Nightmares: The Nightmare On Elm Street TV Series”. I’ve put words into Freddy Krueger’s mouth. I’ve also written and executive produced “The Outer Limits” for Showtime. OL’s franchise is more thoughtful than Nightmare On Elm Street’s. The “Control Voice” was always the weakest franchise character among all the anthology series that ever succeeded. I mean, who is he? What is he? I wrote and executive produced that show for two whole seasons and I still don’t get that character.

I also reinvented “Tales From The Crypt’s” Crypt Keeper when I took over running Tales going into its third season on HBO. Here’s a muuuuuuuuch younger version of me in the middle of a writing session with the dude. Love-hate. Yup. That was us.

When I took over writing the Crypt Keeper, Kevin Yeagher (Kevin created the CK) had gone as far as he could with his amazing puppet (run by six puppeteers) as the Crypt Keeper sat in the same chair wearing the same burlap sack outfit cracking the same painful puns for 25 episodes. In fact, when my partner Gil Adler and I took over at TFTC, it was supposed to be the show’s final season. We were caretakers wheeling the body to the TV show graveyard. Except that’s not what happened. Gil and I reinvigorated the show, I reinvigorated the Crypt Keeper and HBO went on to order four more seasons, Universal ordered three Tales feature films, the Crypt Keeper got merchandised and co-branded with Budweiser beer (among other products) and the Crypt Keeper even got a kids’ show. Not bad for a literal “dying concern”.

The question I asked — it’s what got me hired — was “What does the Crypt Keeper do when he’s not being the Crypt Keeper?”

What does he do when he punches the clock and goes home? What are his hobbies? What does he like to eat and drink? Who are his friends? What does he think about? Giving the Crypt Keeper an interior life gave him a life. Having a life made him more viscerally real to the audience who embraced him as they hadn’t before.

That’s my operating principle. It’s the bar characters have to clear (in my mind) to be “successful”. If we measure success by durability, that some characters endure while others don’t — that’s a good enough yardstick for me. Once you create a good character however, the real hard work begins: casting. Get it right, you’ll create a magical feedback loop that continually builds upon itself and its own invention. Get it wrong and begin to plan on getting fired.

In the current TV ad environment, these characters are succeeding because of superb casting: Geico’s Gecko succeeded beyond every expectation in large part because actor Jake Wood imparts so much humanity to his character. The CGI people gave the Gecko great eyes. Jake Wood makes every emotion the CGI guys invoke play for real inside our heads. That’s way harder than it looks. Bravo, everyone involved, bravo!

Jake Wood, the voice of the Geico Gecko

Not every great character can be “filled in” with great detail. Allstate’s Mayhem — like Farmers’ Professor Burke — is a good running joke but not really a character. Dean Winters, the actor who plays Mayhem is always fun to watch and the spots are usually clever. But, does Mayhem have a family? What must a family of Mayhems be like? Uh oh… am I about to make somebody rich?

Dean Winters is Allstate’s Mayhem

Similarly, J.K. Simmons’ Professor Burke is a great comic conceit more than a character. I’m not sure this character’s inner life is crying out for further exploration; I’m not sure this character has a meaningful interior life. In order for his home life to be interesting, Professor Burke would have to be something completely different in his off hours. Like a sex addict or a serial killer.

J K Simmons is Farmers’ Professor Burke

That brings us to Flo v Doug.

It’s not a fair fight; Flo and her crew win hands down. I’m not sure if Flo’s creators — copywriter John Park and art director Steve Reepmeyer, at the Boston-based agency Arnold Worldwide — anticipated how successful their creation would be. In 2008, in that very first ad, It’s just Flo, incredibly upbeat and super helpful.

The team at Arnold got it spot on when they hired Groundling alum Stephanie Courtney. Courtney has an improv player’s ability to make every environment believable simply by how she’s “being”. How she’s “being” creates the environment for the audience. Courtney sells Flo’s hyper-realness by believing in it so utterly herself that we do too. That’s how improv works: the actor literally wills the world in their head into ours. Being a good improv player, Courtney also fills her character with inner life (to justify how the outer life should look and sound).

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Here’s the Flo character’s first appearance —

You get the feeling she really, really lives to work.

It took a while for the Flo character to move from the retail floor to the corporate offices, for her crew to arrive and become distinctive characters unto themselves (the character Jamie especially). To its credit, the creative team at Arnold didn’t quit at Flo. Each and every member of Flo’s team is a distinct character with a distinct inner life; each time we get a glimpse, it makes sense — even when it’s completely surprising as it is with the Jamie character. Improv can only flourish in a “Yes, and!” environment. If I begin a scene by asking my scene partner “Do you like my hat?” She better say something like “Why, yes — I do! And I love the tropical birds! What are their names?” That will keep the improv going whereas if she says “What? You’re not wearing a hat”, the whole thing will die right there, on the spot. Progressive has “yes, and-ed” Flo into a whole believably organic world.

Over time, Progressive would sell itself by extending Flo’s world — including Flo’s family (Courtney usually plays the whole clan herself). There’s a Thanksgiving spot that gives the concept plenty of room to run around in.

A believable inner life. That’s the key to a great franchise character.

Before we shift to Liberty Mutual’s Doug, I want to give a shout out to another great Progressive character with a deep (I’d even say “profound”) inner life — the “Motaur” — half man, half motorcycle —

Throw in the Dr. Rick character (the guy trying to teach people not to turn into their parents) and you have a whole network’s worth of great characters.

By contrast, Liberty Mutual sure does try hard. Their various spots include the “Park With A View Of The Statue Of Liberty” world (it’s like a half-baked idea generator) and the Doug-Emu teaming. Goodby Silverstein & Partners developed Doug and the LiMu Emu. Per Liberty Mutual’s own web site: “The humorous and over-the-top duo who appear on the scene to share their knowledge and help protect people from paying too much for insurance coverage. LiMu Emu and Doug bring a new twist to the classic buddy-cop duo – partners guided by the notion that it’s a crime to pay for things you don’t need – going above and beyond to ensure they do their duty.” 

Okay — a simple enough concept but… oy, if you have to work that hard to sell or explain “funny”, it means the thing you’re selling probably isn’t. It’s not that the idea of a solid blue collar guy being partnered with an emu isn’t side-splittingly hilarious… oh, wait — maybe that’s the problem. Doug and his Emu partner are amusing. They’re a single funny thought. A sketch with a solid if unremarkable guffaw in it — and that’s all. The idea simply can’t support much more than that. This isn’t a casting issue. Not at all. David Hoffman does everything he can with the character. He works wonders with very little meat on his character’s undernourished bones.

Giving Doug and Emu girlfriends was cute. Clever even. They’re awkward and awkward is funny. But even awkward needs somewhere to go. What makes an awkward scene funny is that we, the audience, wouldn’t want to be in such a scene because even just watching it is cringey-funny. In the commercial below, the series achieves something remarkable.: a moment of genuine humor that works within the concept but also points to the concept’s limitations. It occurs at the end, when Doug offers Emu some food…

The awkwardness of Doug offering Emu chicken is terrific because it’s real. It points to how inorganic all the other awkwardness is. It’s a testament to Hoffman’s acting chops that he gets a great underplayed moment from an overplayed character.

By contrast, the Progressive ads are a master class in squeezing every last drop of painful humor from awkwardness. Jim Cashman’s Jamie is a fabulous creation with a completely unexpected off-stage life. It’s the contrast between an awkward character and a secure, confident inner life that makes Jamie compelling and infinitely watchable.

Jim Cashman as Progressive’s “Jamie”

Now that that’s off my chest, I can turn back to MSNBC. Hey, look! A Big Pharma ad’s on! And I am grateful as can be that I don’t (think I) have any of the diseases those characters have. And, damn if the side effects don’t sound horrifying enough to make even the Crypt Keeper fear for the worst.

“TRUMPOCALYPSE: THE MINISERIES” Casting Office

U.S. Vice-President Biden smiles as he speaks with Croatian PM Milanovic in Zagreb

Back at the early days of the Trump madness — in the middle of his term — back when we thought our world had gone pretty much as bonkers as it could get, I wrote a post called “Trumpocalypse: The Movie”.  I smile now at my charming naivete — to think that the Trump madness could be contained within one measly feature film.  Re-thinkiing “Trumpocalypse” as a mini-series also threatens to be too small a vehicle to contain the “Trumpocalypse” story  but the thing about a mini series is it has an end point.  After the last episode, it’s done.  If we do this right, there should be no more — no sequels, no spin offs, nothing.  Whereas, if we made “Trumpocalypse” an on-going series with no end date in sight… You see what I mean?  We NEED this show to be finite because this can’t be our only show.  There’s great stuff – important stuff — on other channels that we need to get to and quickly.

Not only has the “Trumpocalypse” mini series got way more storylines in it, it’s got way more characters.  How do we organize our casting process so that, when we get to “the day”, we have not only a great cast but a great cast that will complement each other?  

I’d like to start by casting first the Trump family.  Then those immediately around it — the “inner circle” if you will.  Then, I would begin to cast the mini-series — going chronologically — major story by major story.  As this is going to be an ongoing project that’s changing on the fly, I’ve no doubt some stories will demand to be cast in the right here, right now.  Hey — welcome to life in a casting office!  Things change all the time.  Actors drop out and new characters and whole storylines suddenly get added.  If ya can’t stand the heat…

So, without any further ado, please welcome to our Casting Office! You’ll see where I’ve left the casting door open for everyone else to bring their suggestions and their casting notes…

CHARACTER

DONALD J. TRUMP

ALEC BALDWIN as Trump…

NOTES: Baldwin’s is probably the most familiar Trump. It’s an excellent caricature. And, considering that Trump IS a caricature of a human. playing Trump as a caricature makes a certain kind of sense. I wonder if there’s not a way to “multiple-cast” Trump since he worked in so many different ways on our psyche. Just a thought for later discussion…

BRENDAN GLEASON as Trump…

NOTES: Gleeson played Trump in “The Comey Rule” on Showtime.

WOODY HARRELSON as Trump

NOTES: I’ve always liked Woody Harrelson’s “interior” range. It’s amazing and we’re going to need an actor with incredible emotional range to play a character with VIRTUALLY NONE.  It’s like getting an actor to sing off key.  The ones who can actually sing will automatically do it better.  They even know where off-key is.

IVANKA TRUMP

SCARLET JOHANSSON as Ivanka Trump

NOTES: There’s a kind of irony in an actress great at playing Black Widow to play the part of a woman who acts like an actual black widow spider.

AMANDA SEYFRIED as Ivanka

NOTES: Some things just seem so natural…

DONALD TRUMP, JR

MIKEY DAY as Donald Trump, Jr

NOTES: Presently, the actor who’s gotten closest to nailing Don Jr’s unctuousness is an actor satirizing him. That’s probably not a coincidence. Still — we need some competition here. I’ll put my mind to it if you will…

ERIC TRUMP

Alex Moffat as Eric Trump

NOTES: As with Mikey Day’s Junior, SNL’s version of Eric — and I love Alex Moffat’s Eric — stands for the moment as “the” Eric. Competition’s good for everyone — Trump’s included.

MELANIA TRUMP

CASTING OPEN!

Awaiting Picture, so here’s the real Melania — in the one photo I can find of her smiling like she means it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Melania’s smiling this way at Putin. Not cos Melania respects international relationships but because she worked the whole damned time as Donald’s handler on Vlad’s behalf. Hey, how do you say “I don’t care, do you?” in Russian?

VLADIMIR PUTIN

MADS MIKKELSON as Vladimir Putin

NOTES: Mads played the Bond Villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. By all accounts, Vlad Putin is the Bond Villain America fully deserves.

RUDY GIULIANI

KATE McKINNON as Rudy Giuliani

NOTES: Personally, I’m not sure a human can play the entirely humanoid Rudy but my mind’s open. Kate McKinnon can do anything. I bet she could do a fully deep dive into Rudy and actually pull off an amazing, lifelike (without being cartoonish) characterization. But still — for the moment, the part’s wide open.

MORE CHARACTERS TO COME!!!!!

In Scriptwriting, We Call It A “Yes-No-Yes-No” Argument; In Cable News They Call It “Cable News”

A confession: though I write scripts for a living, I despise reading the damned things. It’s not necessarily the scriptwriter’s fault; the screenplay format itself defeats many a talented writer. But, storytelling itself can defeat writers too — especially when they’re mediocre at it. Journalists are storytellers first and foremost. Their canvas is the present or a deep dive into something from the past that helped shape and explains the present. But, regardless of when the story you’re telling takes place, the principles of storytelling remain the same. It’s all about adding information, scene by scene, to propel the story forward through all its good parts to a satisfying conclusion. Scenes that don’t add information don’t belong. Instead of moving the story forward, pointless scenes bring the story to a halt — or tell a different story — their own. Or, more likely, no story whatsoever.

The epitome of the utterly useless scene is two characters engaged in a “yes-no, yes-no” argument that literally goes nowhere. Scenes don’t necessarily have to have the words “yes” and “no” to be “yes-no” scenes. They just have to contain an argument that goes on and on without actually getting anywhere. You know, like the American news media reporting any story that isn’t a royal wedding.

With the Donald Trump story, the “yes-no, yes-no” scene often began with Trump doing something outrageous — like giving away secrets or backing Vlad Putin’s agenda over our own. The news media would look to the rest of the GOP, expecting them to be just as shocked as the press was pretending to be. Yet the Republicans never flinched. Their loyalty to Trump never faltered. “Why do the Republicans remain so loyal to Trump?” our news media talking heads would demand to know.

The talking head panel would then kick the question around — same as they did the day before and the day before that. That they kept having the same damned conversation wasn’t because an answer was so elusive and hard to tease out from the shadows. No, it was because our news media — insisting that “both sides do it” — have made themselves incapable of framing any story correctly. If you truly believe that “both sides do it”, it’s because you think that people are all, at the core, alike; the fact that they take differing sides is just them being “political” — which, of course, “both sides do”. But the two sides in this conversation — conservatives vs progressives — are entirely different in their vision for the future and for America.

Trust me on this — conservatives want one thing for the future (they want it to look like the past as much as possible — the thing conservatives want to conserve) while progressives want the diametric opposite. Unlike conservatives, progressives don’t fear the future. It’s the past that progressives want to get away from — our racist, misogynist, corrupt (and now treasonous) past. Of course, we want to prosecute all those the people who did these terrible things first (as we must). If cable news shows really wanted to, they could make these conversations on their air much more meaningful. But, first, they’d have to put down their cynicism and see the world they’re reporting on as it actually is.

In a movie or television script, the goal always is to move the story forward toward its conclusion. Every scene must both build upon the scenes that came before it and then add new information that will propel the story into the next scene. This requires the storyteller to continually aggregate all the new information into the story — baking it into the architecture in essence. Otherwise, every new scene would start — as cable news shows do — by returning to square one where we didn’t know the things we’ve subsequently learned. That’s how we get to a place where our news media can’t decide whether or not Donald Trump is/was/will always be a racist.

Anyone who says and stands by “Mexicans are rapists” is a racist. He’s telling us so. All we have to do is listen to the man. It’s stupid to ask racists if they’re racist to begin with. How the hell would they know? They have zero perspective on racism BECAUSE THEY’RE RACISTS. And racism, like beauty, isn’t in the racist’s eye, it’s in the “beholder’s”. In racism’s case, that will be the racist’s victim. THEY’RE the only people qualified to answer that question. They’re the only ones who actually know.

Our cable news talking heads can’t decide if Republicans are honest actors or not because they can’t aggregate the information that would tell them they’re not. Honest actors don’t obstruct justice the way Republicans do. They don’t stand with seditionists and traitors. They don’t do everything within their power to undermine our democracy because — being so regressive — no one will vote for them. But Republicans do. And we know that because they’ve been doing it for almost five years now. That’s a pretty reliable data set.

In a movie or TV show, the presence of a “Yes-no, yes-now” argument is evidence that the storyteller isn’t up to the job. In American politics, it’s evidence that a Republican is nearby. And so is corruption.

“Whatever It Is, I’m Against It!”

We all have a special song. Okay, we all have lots of special songs but there’s one in particular that, as you go through life, it never stops being deeply relevant. It’s the one that pops into your head with remarkable regularity because it applies in so many ways to so many things. This is the song that spoke TO you and FOR you in equal measure like no other song. The trick is, you have to get pretty far down the road to realize which song that is and why that song was “it”. The first instant I saw the Marx Brothers — Groucho in particular — I knew they were kindred spirits. And then, after decimating the room with a barrage of brilliant barbs, Groucho starts to sing.

The movie is “Horse Feathers” The setting is Huxley College — an institution of higher education successful enough to have a faculty and a football team but, apparently, no capacity to do any sort of meaningful executive search considering as they just hired Groucho’s Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff to take over running the joint. But then, real life logic doesn’t play inside a Marx Brothers movie. That, too, made them appealing when I was ten years old. At ten, you’re starting to fall into line, doing what the adults tell you to do even as you’re just starting to sense (your teenage years not too, too far ahead) that every adult is full of shit. When, suddenly, one of the adults wheels around — breaking the fourth wall — and tells you some stone cold truths about adults that makes them look foolish? I’m all ears.

Groucho’s Professor Wagstaff sings:

I don’t know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway
Whatever it is, I’m against it
No matter what it is or who commenced it
I’m against it

This born contrarian heard those words and felt immediate kinship. The target was always authority. In every Marx Brothers movie, the rich look fatuous and silly. In “Horse Feathers”, academia gets hosed. In the brilliant “Duck Soup”, it’s political power. In “A Night At The Opera”, it’s stuffy, white culture and rich people again. Groucho best summarized the persistent sentiment this way: “I would not want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member”. I’m even against me if ever I become the power.

The song’s theme is reflected in the name of this blog. “How to live bullshit free” has focused its attention on bullshit itself as the “it” in the “whatever it is”. And, if we’re talking about bullshit –mine especially (since my bullshit is what matters to me as yours should matter most to you) — then I am absolutely one hundred percent against it.