Set Up, Joke, Set Up, Joke

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

A friend of mine called me the other day. He has a show on the air and that afternoon, he got a call from his network-s president. It was intimated, but not said outright, that his show was about to be cancelled.

Because I don-t have a show on the air, and because the failure of his show can in no way - even in the remotest possible sense - help me, when I say to him, "I-m sorry, my friend, it was a good show you did and it deserved better" what I actually mean is "I-m sorry, my friend, it was a good show you did and it deserved better" rather than what I usually mean, which is "Does this event help me in some way?" I need to think about this for a moment.

But he-s hard to feel too sorry for. He-s a friend, of course, but friends are the people you see most clearly. And according to him, the network complained early on that his show wasn-t funny enough and he rather arrogantly ignored them.

"So I told them," he said to me over lunch one day, "that I think jokes are easy. It-s easy to be funny."

"Really?" I asked him. "It-s always been kind of hard for me."

"That-s because your shows are supposed to be funny. They-re like the filler between the good shows that are supposed to mean something."

I would have felt insulted had I not been flattered. I have worked very hard to make our shows funny while avoiding -meaning- anything. That, actually, is my working definition of -entertainment.-

"Still," I said, "you could put in a few more jokes, right?"

"Aren-t we all just bored of jokes?"

"I-m sorry?"

"What-s so great about being funny? What is this obsession with funny funny funny all the time? It-s all just -set up, joke, set up, joke.- I mean, just a string of hilarious one-liners? How easy is that?"


My friend went on. "I said to them, -Don-t you want something different? Something that really breaks the cookie-cutter mold? Something edgy?-"

"What did they say?"

"They didn-t say anything. But I think I won them over."

But of course, he didn-t win them over. When they don-t say anything, what they-re saying is, -you-re cancelled- But my friend didn-t know that yet. He still thought he was doing fine. He-s like a lot of people in Hollywood: they all want to do the marquee products; they all want to do the Oscar movie; they all want to make the loss-leader. No one wants to do the filler. No one wants to be simply funny.

Except me. I know that it-s the filler that pays the bills and buys the yachts and builds the houses by the sea.

That-s it for this week. Next week, we-ll Google ourselves.

For KCRW, I-m Rob Long. This has been Martini Shot.



Rob Long