He Didn't Have Cancer

Hosted by

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

A few years back, a well-known comic actor hosted his own late-night talk show. The show received dismal ratings, terrible reviews, and mid-way through its thirteen-week run, it was canceled.

So it was odd, only a few days after such a spectacular and public failure, to see the actor sitting at an outside table at the old Columbia Bar & Grill - now something called Pinot Hollywood & Martini Bar - having lunch with a couple of friends. Odd because in his shoes I'd be thousands of miles away for months.

It was a heroic performance - the bravest lunch I've yet seen eaten. And as he ate and chatted with his party, Industry types would pat him on the back or give him a &quotthumbs-up;" gesture as they passed. A few would murmur &quotgood; for you;" some would claim, loudly, &quotI; loved the show;" and some really smart ones would opt for the sophisticated surgical strike compliment: &quotMy; kids really were wild about that show."

It's often said about people in this business, mostly by people not in this business, that we're heartless and unforgiving. Not true. We relish failure. We wallow in misfortune. We live to applaud the down-and-out. When people are watching.

So it was not surprising to see the parade of well-wishers file by that afternoon. One of them, a guy in the international television distribution arm of a large studio - a guy I knew didn't know the actor from a hole in the ground - walked by him, stopped, put his hands on the guy's shoulders, leaned down, and kissed the failed talk-show host on the top of the head. And while I could not bring myself to go that far, the spirit of full disclosure requires me to admit that, when our eyes briefly met across the restaurant patio as happens occasionally in public places (I wasn't staring at the man, honest) I caught myself giving him, a man I haven't met either, a raised-eyebrow-rueful-smile greeting.

On the other hand, this happened the other day: I am in the locker room at the gym. I am dressing. A well-toned man with the locker next to mine has just come from the shower. He sees another friend a few lockers down. His friend is portly and balding. MAN
Hey! How are you?

I'm okay. You?

Not bad.

He stares at his friend.

MAN (Cont'd)
Jeez, you've gained weight.

Yeah, yeah. I know.

No, I mean it. Like, what? Thirty pounds?

(slightly defensive)


I had cancer. Didn't exercise for a while.


(moving off to the showers)
Nice to see you again.

You too. Let's have lunch sometime.

I'll call you.

They wave. His friend moves off.

(muttering to no one in particular)
He didn't have cancer.

For all I know, of course, the guy really didn't have cancer. Maybe he just ate too much pizza. Still, his friend felt under no obligation to a) believe him, b) pretend to believe him, or c) simply ignore the extra thirty pounds. He did, though, feel obliged to arrange a friendly lunch.

Charitable organizations capitalize on this weird kind of friendship. The Center for Unhappy and Misshapen Children will decide to honor the newly-installed chairman of a studio, not because the chairman has ever expressed the slightest interest or concern for the Unhappy and Misshapen, but because there are enormous numbers of people in town who are willing, for the price of a piece of leathery chicken and a pale yellow carrot to publicly express their friendship with the new studio chief in an ad in the program. These ads almost always have identical copy - something like: &quotTo; New Studio Head, Your passion and caring inspire us all, with much love, Person You've Met Only Once."

My writing partner and I got suckered into this recently. We shelled out $1000 each to place a similar ad in program for a charity dinner in honor of the CEO of the conglomerate that owned the studio where we used to work. &quotBest; wishes," we wished the guy. It wasn't necessary to append the phrase, &quotFrom; Two Guys You've Never Met or Laid Eyes On." That was implied.

What wasn't implied was the news, one week after the dinner, that the CEO had left the conglomerate that owns our studio for another conglomerate that owns another studio. So we were out two grand for kissing the wrong guy's butt.

For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long