By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
DID YOU HEAR THE ONE about the striking comedy writer?
He’s no joke.
He’s there in the flesh, clanging a cowbell on Pico Boulevard. Gangly, lank-haired Kit Boss is a sitcom scribe (King of the Hill, Carpoolers) who ought to be crying, given the paychecks he’s sacrificing during the Hollywood writers strike, but nooo! Instead, he’s out in a throng of picketers in Century City, yukking it up, tossing zingers at Nick Counter, the studio negotiator, and Jeff Zucker, the CEO of NBC Universal.
“Counter has managed to do something no one thought was possible — get 7,000 writers to agree on something,” Boss quips.
Seconds later, he is reciting a chant:
“Treat us fairly, Mr. Zucker,
We’re not your two-bit hooker.”
Okay, it doesn’t really rhyme, but this is what happens when you take hundreds of comedy writers, get them agitated and give them a foil as massive as big-buck Hollywood studios. Never mind that the writers aren’t writing — or making any money. Never mind that the walkout is serious business, with billions of dollars at stake. The barbs and one-liners keep on coming, mainly because it’s what these people do.
“It’s who we are,” Boss says. “It’s hard to live a day without seeing the irony or the idiocy and the humor in the world around us. And there’s plenty of irony and idiocy and gallows humor that comes out in a situation like this.”
While the picket lines are not exactly a bust-a-gut laugh riot, they’re not the Bataan Death March either. They’re more like an improv road show, a sensory assault of T-shirt slogans, inside jokes, honking horns and chants spanning the whole spectrum of good and bad taste — including one directed at the cryonically suspended founder of Disney (an enduring urban legend):
“Walt Disney was good,
But now he’s dead.
All that’s left
Is a frozen head.”
“I don’t know,
I’ve been told,
Made of gold.”
Nobody’s pretending to be Robert Frost here. “A lot of these are basically written between lines of the crosswalk. We’re all trying to outdo each other,” says Cooper, author of a black-comedy script, Mort, the Dead Teenager, that he wrote for DreamWorks. (“You take all the crap in high school,” he explains of his script. “One of the characters is dead — you just have fun with it.”)
Picket signs go by: “Suck my pencil!” and “Write this!” — below a photo of someone flipping the bird. A young girl hoists a message: “Pay my mommy! I need my allowance!” Another sign declares, “Nick Counter hates babies and puppies.”
“Even babies are picketing,” someone remarks. A new mother sits with her infant wrapped on her belly. “Writers get pooped on,” her sign says. Meanwhile, writer Elena Tropp strolls among the crowds with baby Rosie strapped to her bosom. Signs tucked into Tropp’s outfit jut above the child’s head like thought bubbles.
“Stop milking us,” one implores; the other alludes to one of the central strike issues, the writers’ demand — unmet so far — for a 2.5 percent share of future Internet earnings: “When I learn fractions, I’ll be pissed.”
“It’s the death of laughter,” Tropp says of the work hiatus.
Not really. It’s just that funny stuff isn’t showing up in living rooms, or being written down. Sarcastic cracks touch off pockets of laughter like showers of sparks, and then it’s gone.
“A lot of chants we did on Thursday we can’t even remember on Friday,” says Cooper. “So we have to make up new ones:
Write the show.”
A couple of dozen writers sprawl on the asphalt in the middle of a street blocked off by police, trying to use their bodies to spell out “WGA,” as in Writers Guild of America, their union. Except they can’t quite get the various arms of the “W” right.
“A bunch of writers who can’t spell — come on!” a writer says.
CONSUMER ADVOCATE DAVID HOROWITZ goes by, grinning: “They’re all doing their own shtick.”
It’s mainly a Rodney Dangerfield shtick — they get no respect. Alan Cohen (King of the Hill) takes a potshot at the president of Fox Entertainment Group, who, according to Forbes magazine, hauls down more than $8 million a year.
“How much do we wanna be earnin’?
One one-hundredth of Peter Chernin.”
Screenwriter Rodney Vaccaro quotes an observation from David Zucker, the noted writer of Kentucky Fried Movie and the Naked Gun series: Things aren’t so bleak, he says, “because we were asking for next to nothing and the producers were offering nothing — so we’re close.”
Erich Hoeber, whose broad-comedy features have been less successful than his action-adventure movies — he has one, White Out, due in theaters next spring — dusts off a few old jokes. “You know the one about the really dumb ingénue? She slept with the writer.” Or maybe you’ve heard about the writer who finds his home burned down. He’s stunned to learn that his agent did it.