Last November, A.J. Daulerio and I traveled to Los Angeles to spend a week working on the pilot for what would become the now-canceled Sports Show with Norm MacDonald. Here now are some quick highlights from that trip.
• The way the process worked was that the producers of the show were bringing in a bunch of writers from all over the place while the pilot was being written (I think they spent four to six weeks working on just the pilot alone). Writers were brought in in waves, essentially as a way of trying them out to be on the full time staff. A.J. and I went out for one week, well after many writers had come in, and before some other writers were to arrive. Among the others writers in the office during our week were Luke Cunningham, comedian Ritch Shydner (whose "HBO One Night Stand" special I totally remembered watching as a kid), and Dave Dameshek. Once the pilot was picked up, none of us from that group were selected to be part of the final writing staff.
• Every morning, writers were given a "packet" by one of the production assistants, which included virtually every relevant sports news story from the past 24 hours. I found this to be an obscene luxury. I wish there were someone available at all times to come and debrief me about the day's events should I require them. Like the President has. I'd like the President's briefing, only instead of telling me the economy is shit and the military's morale is low, I'd be handed dossiers of boobie photos and stories about Cam Newton painting his name on a stolen laptop.
• Once you were given the packet, you were then sent off on your own to go write jokes about whatever stories you found, or to build little bits and sketches from those news items. Or the head writer (whose name was Mike Gibbons) would give us a direct assignment, like to find certain YouTube clips that might work with a bit or whatever. For example, they were going to do a bit parodying Dr. James Naismith's original set of rules for the game of basketball. So this is what I submitted.
APPROVED NAISMITH BASKETBALL RULES
Rule: The game shall be played with a peach as the main playing object.
Rule: Please do not bruise the peach. It has been a terrible harvest and we fear young Randolph Naismith shan't live to see the New Year.
Rule: Please do not bite the peach. The winning team shall be awarded a replica peach made out of suet. This may be consumed after the contest is over.
Rule: If the peach should become rotted or covered in peach smut, please alert the town Rainmaker, who shall see if the peach is fit for continued play.
Rule: If the peach is lost, the game will no longer be able to be played. PLEASE DO NOT MISPLACE IT.
Rule: Are we all still on board with making sure the peach is safe?
Rule: The ball must be dribbled down the court. Why? YOU'RE ASKING AN AWFUL LOT OF QUESTIONS FOR A YOUNG SCAMP.
Rule: The game shall be played wearing Mrs. McFadden's famed boiled wool tunics, which rid the body of unhealthy excess water.
Rule: NO BAGGY OR OVERTLY FLAMBOYANT TUNICS
Rule: No one shall be allowed to "palm" or "carry" the ball when dribbling. Dr. Naismith insists this rule be followed. He would hate to die one day only to see that this rule was flagrantly ignored, or even openly mocked.
Rule: Any player wishing to depart from his current team shall announce that "decision" in the public square. He shall be lavished with hams upon his farewell.
Rule: You hit a half court shot? FOUR points. Nailed one from the marked star on the floor? TEN points. Pogo sticks? LEGAL IN THE LAST FOUR MINUTES OF EVERY GAME. This game is gonna ROCK! No way it'll ever become some boring procession of isolation plays!
Rule: The game shall be played on a rectangular gridiron with markings every 10 yards. The first team to cross the other's "zone of ends" shall be duly awarded six points. This shall be known as a TRY, or a TOUCHDOWN. (NOTE: Game since radically altered.)
You get the idea.
• At the end of the day, you gave your packet to the producer and then Mike and Norm Macdonald would sort through the piles and piles of jokes and ideas to see which ones they liked and which ones they didn't. The ones they liked ended up being written on index cards and tacked up onto a wall. As the week progressed, I kept peering at the wall to see if any of the shit I wrote had made the cut. It did not, which makes sense because I was relatively new at this type of writing and who knows if the crap I submitted was any good or not. Still, anyone who's ever written jokes or done standup or worked in any kind of creative field will tell you that your first instinct looking up at that kind of board and seeing jokes other than your own is to go, "What? They picked THOSE?! THASS BULLSHIT!"
• Once everyone was sitting in a room together, going through jokes and trying to improve them or come up with new twists on them, THAT was cool as shit. I felt like one of the writers on The Simpsons, if The Simpsons had been canceled after eight weeks. And if I wasn't good enough to actually merit a staff position.
• This was considered a "union" show, and as such producers were obligated to keep a fully stocked kitchen in the office at all times. I thought this was the greatest thing ever. I went back to the kitchen every five minutes to guzzle a free Coke Zero and eat a bag of free Pop Chips. They were delicious, and THEY WERE ALL FOR ME! Sometimes, I felt very self-conscious going and grabbing all the food. I'm like this in any office I work in that has food. I go to the fridge. I eat. I go back to the fridge ten minutes later. I freak out because I feel like everyone knows I'm a fat crap constantly scouring the fridge. Then I try to NOT go to the fridge, only to lose my willpower and head right on back. But the union card ended up costing $1,500, so I actually should have eaten more than I did.
• Writers were expected to collaborate on their own, so I spent a lot of the week roaming the halls and shooting the shit with A.J. and Luke and Dameshek and Shydner. But other times, people would be having intense conversations and I'd stand there on the periphery, looking for a good time to ingratiate myself but sometimes not finding it. Then I'd walk away from the room like an idiot. I do this a lot when I work in an office. Ever walk by someone's office to see if they're there, only it's a bad time to talk or they aren't there so you have to turn tail back to your lonely cube, and people saw you loitering? That's never a fun moment.
• Norm Macdonald walked by my desk the first day and I saw him and he glanced at me as he passed but didn't say anything. And that's always awkward. "Oh hey, you're a famous person and I'm looking at you but you don't know me and I'm in your office IF YOU NEED ME I'LL BE EATING ALL YOUR CHIPS."
• I finally got to introduce myself and everything was fine after that. Norm was very nice, very tall, looked perpetually unkempt, and if a game was on in the writer's room, he'd often randomly start doing an obscene play-by-play of the game in a very loud voice. AND THERE'S ROETHLISBERGER BACK TO THROW AND WHAT THE FUCK IS HE DOING? FUCK. Stuff like that. It was highly amusing.
• We were in one of the offices and Norm was chewing on these Pepto Bismol tablets. He had a bottle of them open in his hand and he was just eating them like they were Tic Tacs or something. Finally, someone in the room piped up.
WRITER: Norm, what are you doing? That's medicine. Did you eat the whole bottle?
NORM: (with pink foam literally coming out of his mouth) I don't know.
• When you work on one of these shows, and you see how much shit goes into producing just one 22-minute pilot for a show (and seriously, they must have used about .000000004% of the jokes that were submitted. LEGIT .000000004%), both in terms of effort and cost, it kind of boggles your mind. These shows are like small businesses that have to be up and running in weeks and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars if not more, and nearly all of them fail. Most of them don't even have the chance to air once for the general public. And that's kind of insane, the idea that your job is constantly on the verge of disappearing, and that you're never that far away from having to scrap for a new gig that's just as unstable. That's some crazy shit. No wonder people from LA are so weird.
• One morning later in the week, as he passed by my desk, Norm held up a printout of my packet and said, "Hey, this is pretty funny," which much made my week. I'm sure he was high on Pepto when he said it, and that he was mistaking me for Cunningham or perhaps a lamp. But still.
• There was a shitty Mexican joint across the boulevard from the studio that I went to for lunch with Daulerio one day. I ordered three chorizo tacos, a fried pork torta, and I think some kind of tongue dish. I ate everything in about three minutes. A.J. was disgusted. Mexican food in LA is the tits.
And that's about the long and short of it. Here are some other highlights from that week's packets:
"Time for this week's AFLAC trivia question: Which Hall of Fame baseball manager has also coached three different teams to a Super Bowl title, AND played on a Stanley Cup winning squad? The answer – NO ONE – might surprise you."
"Time for this week's AFLAC trivia question: Who made this Cajun remoulade sauce? (holds up ramekin of sauce). It's DISGUSTING."
"Time for this week's AFLAC trivia question: What do you do if your daughter falls in love with a man who clearly loves her back, but is taking a dangerous Peace Corps assignment in the violence-ridden slums of outer Rio? Obviously, he's a really nice guy. But he's not gonna be THERE for her for years. He could die, and what then? And what kind of salary does a Peace Corps guy make? Do you offer your support and say NOTHING of practical matters? Or do you dare broach the subject with her and risk having her shun you for decades? What is the answer? PLEASE TELL ME THE ANSWER. I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO."
"Sports Show With Norm Macdonald. Brought to you by Alonzo Spellman's pony chowder. With chunks of real pony!"
"Joe Morgan was fired by ESPN today. ESPN gave no statistical justification for firing Morgan. Kind of ironic, isn't it Joe? YOU DICK."
"Al Roker competed in and finished the 2010 New York City Marathon on Sunday. Al crossed the line in seven hours and nine minutes. Seven hours and nine goddamn minutes? Are you kidding me? You could be stationary for seven hours and the Earth's rotation would ADVANCE you that distance. Hey, you know what, Al? I ran a marathon, too. It took me two years, and I took frequent breaks for meals, sleep, watching television, and eating taffy. BUT ADD IT ALL UP. 26.2 miles. You aren't the only health nut out there, you bastard. You didn't run that distance. You DRIFTED it. Did you carry your old fat with you? What took you so long? Could you not find a parking spot for your loose skin flaps? You shouldn't be proud. You should be MORTIFIED. Look at this guy give himself a medal for this. A MEDAL! YOU DIDN'T WIN ANYTHING! IT TOOK YOU SEVEN HOURS! The Subway guy CRUSHED you. You weren't even the token one-legged participant! And then you were treated to foot massages, champagne and flowers for your efforts? You know what you would be treated with if you ran that time in the Army? THE GULAG. That would be your fucking "prize." My AOL dialup modem from 1996 could outrun you. You sicken me."
"Shaquille O'Neal said today that one of the secrets to his success was to chew at least four pieces of Big Red before every game. In other news, Shaquille O'Neal's Irish wolfhound, Big Red, died yesterday after a long battle with being chewed."
"A Gainesville, Fla., man has been denied his request to get restraining orders against Tim Tebow, Barack Obama and Jesus Christ. What an idiot. Jesus can't hurt you. He's DEAD. He's in the ground, with giant holes in his hands and feet! He can't get to you. If anything, you could easily turn the tables on him! Just dig him up and start whaling away. What's he gonna do about it? Pray to himself? Take some aikido classes and get yourself some heavy duty VENGEANCE. Jesus will need a restraining order against YOU! He'll be like, 'Stop! Sweet Me, stop! You're kicking my lifeless corpse! I'm the son of God! Have you no sense of decorum? This is horrible!'"
"The Guinness brewery has offered a trip to its famed St. James's Gate brewery in Dublin for Breeder's Cup loser and apparent Guinness fan Zenyatta. Hey, you gotta get that label on the bottle somehow."
"Clinton Portis spoke to reporters at Redskins Park on Thursday wearing a Philadelphia Phillies hat, a choice that offended many Washingtonians. Yeah, Clinton! Jesus. If you don't want people there to be offended, you wear a REDSKINS hat. There is nothing offensive about a REDSKINS hat."
RIP, Sports Show. You'll be missed.