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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Someone Else Who Didn't Want Paul Reiser.

That would be me.
In 1988.
Paul Reiser was currently co-starring in a sitcom called "My Two Dads".
This was a show I didn't watch.
But he was already well known as a stand-up comedian.
I thought he was a wonderful standup comedian.
He was also very good in the movie "Diner".

I was organizing a staged reading of my new play in Los Angeles.
Essentially, it was a backer's audition.
Larry Miller was going to do the male lead.
He offered up the idea of Paul Reiser participating in the reading as the second male lead.
This sounded like a swell idea.
Pretty much as a favor to Larry, Reiser agreed to do it sight unseen.
A few days before the reading took place, I met with Larry, Paul, and another actor who was going to participate at one of our places of residence.
Reiser didn't seem too keen at having to be there.
He didn't seem too keen at having to go over his scenes, of which he had two extended ones.
One in the first act, the other in the second act.
We began reading his two scenes.
That's when he really didn't seem too keen.
Nor did I.
He misread the material to the point that it was frighteningly unfunny.
It wasn't supposed to be.
It was supposed to be unfrighteningly funny.
It, in fact, was.

Everyone is different about how they rehearse.
It is legendary that Lee J. Cobb spent the first three weeks of rehearsal of "Death of a Salesman" just grunting.
But I didn't have three weeks.
I knew I had a good play, and I knew I was going to have to give Reiser line readings for it to seem that way, no matter how he would react to them.
I plunged into it.
He bristled, and said, "Oh, THAT'S how it's going to be".
But it wasn't.
After I gave him the line readings, he did it exactly as he had done it the first time.

"Oh, THAT'S how it's going to be".
That's also what Ellen Degeneres said to me when she auditioned for me a few weeks earlier for the same play and I had the same problem.
But there wasn't the same urgency.
I didn't feel obligated to cast her, and she certainly didn't feel obligated to want to do it.
She couldn't wait to get out of there.

Now, these are two people who later starred in their own very successful sitcoms.
And were very good in them.
They got people who knew how to write for them.
I could have written for them.
But in this instance, I hadn't.
The material already existed.
And they couldn't and/or wouldn't adapt.
The problem was mine, not theirs.
My material is very fragile.
If it isn't done a certain way, it stinks.
I'm sure that Reiser, after he read the scenes the first time, thought the material stunk.
And he was just hanging around to do this as a favor.
And he certainly wasn't going to accept line readings from a writer whose material he thought was shit.
So what was I supposed to do?
The reading was set for Sunday afternoon.
Reiser thought he was doing me a favor.
Larry thought he was doing me a favor.
I thought maybe there was a 20% chance Reiser would turn out to be
Lee J. Cobb.
Reiser has a lot of charm. Maybe he'll charm his way through it.
And I thought his name value would be worth something.
So I bit the bullet, crossed my fingers, and said, "Okay, see you Sunday".

Sunday arrived.
The first two scenes played very well.
Reiser was in the third scene, with the lead actress.
It went okay.
But it was a hard scene to louse up.
It was almost actor-proof.
But it wasn't as well received as the first two scenes.

It was the scene in the second act that I was worried about.
I knew THAT one wasn't actor-proof.
It was delicate.
Timing and likeability were everything.
We get to that scene.

It was exactly as he had done it in that one rehearsal.
There was no timing, wrong attitudes, and no likeability emanating
from Reiser.
We were in the crapper.

A close friend of mine, who had not read the play, whispered to me
"This scene isn't up to the other ones".
I whispered back "This is the best scene in the play.
It's not the scene. It's him."

We had two producers going into the afternoon.
After the reading, we only had one.
Pretty much because of that scene.
We were now like a Twin-Engine Cessna with only one engine.
But the other producer hung in there, and we got it on.
And we got an actor for the second male lead who listened to me, and was great.
And that same friend from the whispering at the reading, when that second scene was over on opening night,whispered to me "You're right.
It IS the best scene. It WAS him."

I'm just sayin'...........


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About Me

Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."