Live From New York Book Excerpt

EUGENE LEE, Set Designer: I can remember Lorne - he would not remember - saying to me, "God, this is going to be so great! We all get to just hang out in New York together." I was living on a sailboat in Rhode Island, working with what was then called the Trinity Square Repertory Company - where I still work - and someone called my boat about this Canadian producer doing a comedy-variety show. They wanted to know if we - my wife, Franne, a costume designer, and I - would be interested in talking. He was at the Plaza, we could call and make an appointment. Well, why not? Franne and I both came in to see Lorne. We brought along, as designers do, a few things to show him what we did. He didn't seem that interested. I don't think he ever looked at any of them.

ALAN ZWEIBEL, Writer: In 1975 I'm this Jewish guy slicing God-knows-what at a deli in Queens and selling jokes to these Catskill comics for seven dollars a joke. At night I would go on at Catch a Rising Star. I had taken all the jokes that the Borscht Belt comedians wouldn't buy from me because they said the stuff was too risqu? for their crowd and made them into a stand-up act for myself, hoping that somebody would come in, like the material, and give me a job in television.

Everybody hung out at Catch a Rising Star and the Improv in those days. And I'd just met Billy Crystal, who was starting out the same way. He lived on Long Island, three towns over from where I was living with my parents; he was married and had a kid already. We would carpool into the city every night. One night about four months into this horror show, it's about one in the morning and I'm having trouble making these six drunks from Des Moines laugh, and I get off the stage sweating like a pig and I go over to the bar, and I'm waiting for Billy to tell his jokes so he can drive me home to Long Island. And this guy sits down next to me and just stares at me. Stares at me. And I look over - "What?" And he just looks at me and he goes, "You know, you're the worst comedian I've ever seen in my life." And I went, "Yeah, I know."

I said that I wanted to have a wife and kids someday but they'd starve if something else didn't happen soon. He said, "Your material's not bad. Did you write it?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Can I see more?" And I said, "You bet." I didn't even ask who he was; I mean, I would have shown it to a gardener at this point.

But it was Lorne, and he was combing the clubs looking for writers and actors for this new show. So I went back to Long Island and I stayed up for two days straight and I typed up what I thought were eleven hundred of my best jokes, jokes that I wrote for the Borscht Belt comics, jokes that I practiced writing for other comics, jokes I heard in third grade - I mean, I just went nuts. And so I took my phone book full of jokes and went into the city for my interview with Lorne.

Oh, but first I called Billy Crystal, because he had been talking to Lorne about him being a part of the show from the beginning, either as a cast member or some sort of rotating player. So I said, "Look, I'm supposed to meet with this guy Lorne, can you tell me anything about him?" So Billy told me he used to submit jokes to Woody Allen, he's produced a Monty Python special, and the new show is going to have these little films by Albert Brooks. Oh, and he hates mimes. Lorne hates mimes. So I said fine, I went over to the Plaza Hotel and met with Lorne.

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