Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Hello all you avid Earl readers.  This is Anna, Earl's daughter.  Earl is taking a blog break due to a run-in with Legionnaire's Disease, a rare form of pneumonia.  He's been in the hospital, but he's back home now taking in easy and just thinking...

To keep you company in his absence is another Earl.   We hope you will appreciate him just as much. 


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

"A Rookie Enthusiasm"

A short while ago, my daughter gave me a startling surprise.  I told her a story.  And she said she had never heard it before.

That is extremely rare.  (And also gratifying.  I have stories she hasn’t heard.  I retain value on this planet.)  I may have even mentioned this one to you.  But the recollection puts a smile on my face and you can never have too many of those especially when you have reached an age where when you wake up you are encouraged to discover that only three things in your body are bothering you.

So here we go.

It was very early in my Hollywood experience; I had arrived here less than three months before.  I was not exactly a show business novice; I had worked on nationally broadcast television (and radio) shows in Canada for five years.  But this was different. 

This was “The Big Time.”

A producer who had been running a variety/talk show in Toronto on which I had been writing and performing had invited me to provide those same services on a four-week 1974 CBS summer replacement series fronted by country singer Bobbie Gentry.  I was to play her boyfriend on the show.  (I was originally cast to play “Mama” Cass Elliot’s boyfriend on her summer replacement series, but she died.  Undaunted by this misfortune, the producer inserted Bobbie Gentry for “Mama” Cass, and he made me her boyfriend.)

My duties on the show involved writing material for Bobbie Gentry and her weekly guests (among them, singer Robert Goulet and singer Wayne Newton, who had a bodyguard who looked exactly like the celebrity he had been contracted to protect, in an effort, I suppose, to momentarily confuse the assassin.  “Oh my God, which one do I shoot?  And now I’m in handcuffs.”)

I would also perform in some one-man comedy sketches that I had written for myself.  I remember the “Peas” routine, where I did a “comparison shopping” report on “Peas in a Pod”, “Peas in a Bag” and “Peas in a Tin”…“and they give you a bag when you pay for them.”  Hardly cutting edge material, unless you cut yourself opening the “Peas in a Tin.”  Though it was a notch above my “Cooking tips for making a peanut-butter sandwich”, involving peanuts in a shell, a mouse – to frighten the elephant – and the aforementioned elephant – to go “Eek!” at the sight of the mouse, jump up in the air and come down heavily on the peanuts.  After which you “scrape the peanut residue off the bottoms of the elephant’s feet, spread liberally on bread, and serve.”  It seems redundant to report that I did not appear on American television again.  Although the “Peas” routine was not entirely terrible.

We were rehearsing a sketch involving me and singer Robert Goulet.  (Who accentuated every witticism that came out of his mouth by punching me repeatedly in the shoulder, until I punched the guy back and I insisted that he stop.  Still, I was not being harassed by some “Tech Boy” from Bathurst Heights Collegiate and Vocational School.  I was being abused by singer Robert Goulet)

Our rehearsals took place at Hollywood’s Falcon Studios, which I cannot find on Google, although there is a Falcon Studio listed in Qatar.  It is unlikely, however, that this is the same place, relocated to Qatar.

Falcon Studios, situated on famed Hollywood Boulevard, although in seedier section, rather than the ritzier “Frederick’s of Hollywood” section, was owned by a man whose surname was Falcon. 

The eponymous Mr. Falcon had apparently been a renowned fencing instructor for actors appearing in pirate pictures and as Musketeers.  (Can you imagine a more appropriate moniker for a fencing instructor?  “Who’s your fencing instructor?”  “Marty Teplitzsky.”  It just wouldn’t be the same.) 

As I walked down the Falcon Studios hallway to our show’s rented rehearsal hall, I passed mounted, 8-by-10 “action shots” of the likes of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Tyrone Power and Error Flynn, crossing swords with their (perhaps taloned and) talented instructor. 

I mean, was I in Hollywood, or what? 

Okay, so here’s the story.

After rehearsing for a couple of hours, we were “broken” for lunch.  Too shy to ask singer Robert Goulet – who, notwithstanding that he had punched me repeatedly in the shoulder was still the original “Lancelot” in Camelot – if he had any lunch plans, I went off to eat lunch by myself. 

I found some mundane coffee shop a few blocks away, close to the mythical (except that it’s real) intersection of “Hollywood and Vine”, keeping careful watch on the time as I ate.  Not that I was afraid that Robert Goulet might punch me in the shoulder for being late returning to work – I believe I had handled that situation satisfactorily – I am, by nature, an assiduously punctual kind of a person.

Emerging from the coffee shop on my way back to Falcon Studios – Falcon Studios; I cannot get over that name – I notice a growing crowd gathering at the south-east corner of Hollywood and Vine.  With a few minutes to spare before I have to be back, I walk over to that gathering, inching my way gradually to the front. 

There, I beheld this quintessentially “Hollywood” tableau.

Do you remember the TV series The Odd Couple, starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman?  Well, there they were!  Doing some location filming for The Odd Couple, whose locale was Manhattan, but they were clearly shooting a “Traveling
Episode” on the West Coast, during which they visited the mythical (except that it’s real) “Hollywood and Vine.”

Currently, there was nothing going on.  They were apparently between “takes”, Randall and Klugman were sitting casually in “Director’s Chairs”, reading the paper and getting last-minute touch-ups to their make-up.

I could hardly believe my good fortune.  Famous people, directly in front of me.  And I was watching them do nothing!   

I could not take my eyes off of them.

Late for rehearsal, I finally pull myself away from the excitement and I walk back to the studio.  I am not certain about that.  I may actually have skipped.

Bursting with exuberance, I race into the rehearsal hall, sputtering, “I’m sorry I’m late.  But I just saw Jack Klugman and Tony Randall.  Doing a television show!”

To which one of my co-workers dryly replied,

You’re doing a television show.”

I had not thought of that.  I was doing a television show.  Still, I was genuinely excited by what I had seen.  And I’ll tell you something you may find difficult to believe.

When I bump into location filmings today?

I feel exactly the same way.

Monday, August 17, 2015

O R's P"

*  Explanation to Come.  (Although you may feel free to guess.)

In an episode of the comedy-western I created called Best of the West, entitled “The Necktie Party”, the town villain Parker Tillman is about to be strung up for cattle rustling.  In a compassionate gesture by the lynch mob’s ringleader Kincaid, Tillman is permitted to deliver some final words to his previously unheralded “best friend”, Tillman’s ineffectual henchman, Frog.  Tillman’s last words, in a desperate effort to avoid the inevitable, are these:


Frog, I want you to go up behind Kincaid, put your gun in his back and say, “If he hangs, you die.”


(NOT UNDERSTANDING)  If who hangs, who dies?


If I hang, he dies.


You want me to say, “If I hang, he dies?”


No, you say, “If he hangs, you die.”



That, for better or worse – for me better, for you, possibly for worse – is an example, lifted from my oeuvre, of “pure comedy.”  Which probably requires no explanation, so I shall keep it short in case it might, while extracting minimal moments from your busy and hopefully satisfying lives.

“Pure comedy” is the “Dribble Glass” of the “Hilarious Undertakings.”  Consider, as a prime example of “pure comedy”, silent comedy, demonstrated at is loftiest level by the orchestrated mayhem of Charlie Chaplin (watch him roller skating convulsingly close to disaster in Modern Times) and Buster Keaton (the entire side of a building topples in his direction while Keaton stands obliviously – and safely – in the designated doorway.)

“Pure comedy” is the indecipherable “Double-talk” specialist.  The serial “sneezer.”  The Armageddonal pie fight.  The unconventionally-walking inebriate.  The hyper-exasperated paperhanger, unable to extricate himself from the insidiously glutinous wallpaper.  

It is also nonsensical wordplay.  (See:  “If he hangs, you die.”)

“Pure comedy” has no “soap box” intentions, no hidden agenda, no edicts of solidarity, no subliminal communication.

It is simply, generically and uninhibitedly…

Funny.  (For the premeditated sake of being funny.)

This, I believe – and have previously mentioned – is the most enduring comedy of them all.

Evidenced by the indestructible staying-power of I Love Lucy and, more recently, Seinfeld, whose syndicated reruns I continue to lap up because, despite the  specificity of its narcissistic characterizations – which we as a culture shall hopefully someday overcome – and by the way, my apologies for the stringing together of big words; I just could not think of a better way to say it – on Seinfeld the “funny” always came first.  Accentuated by Kramer’s signature, pre-verbal jabbering.

So, you might reasonably ask, if I have a predilection and a proclivity for “pure comedy”, why did I not assiduously stick with it?   (Good Lord!  I seem to have contracted an unshakable “Big Word” virus!)

Well, herein arrives the allusion to today’s post title: 

“O R’s P.”

Which stands for – and if you guessed it, vociferous kudos to yourselves –

“Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny”.

(Oh, dear.  Methinks I have reached the nadir of my “Big Word” afflictionism.)   (Though with a modicum of pride.  How often do you see “Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny” referenced in an every day blog post?  And you are getting this for nothing!)

Okay, so what do I mean by “Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny”?

First, let me answer my original question – why I did not stick with pure comedy.

The answer (though let the record show I never abandoned it entirely) is:

I couldn’t.  Not because of external pressure to move on.  But because moving on was a genealogical imperative.

As defined on Wikipedia:   “Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny” refers to “a biological hypothesis arguing that, in their development from embryo to adult, animals go through stages resembling or representing successive stages in the evolution of their remote ancestors.”

This natural and inevitable evolution happens in comedy as well.

Is what I am parenthetically adding to the mix.

Comedy bursts into our consciousness in its most unadulterated representation – “pure comedy” – and little by little, it becomes more grounded in reality, more
sophisticated, more psychologically attuned and more driven by a culturally articulated point of view.

Comedy went through those evolutionary stages. 

And so, recapitulating comedy’s inexorable phylogeny in my personal development,

Did I.

Advancing – though that descriptive may be debatable – from the generic access point of “pure comedy”, as in, “What is the funniest thing I can think of?” to instead asking myself, as a starting point to my writing, the comedic incarnation of “What would realistically happen in this situation?” and “What exactly is my perspective about that?”

You can’t help it.

It is a biological imperative, and you are required to adhere to it.


During my assiduous research for today’s blog post, I discovered that the “Ontology Recapitulates Phylogeny” hypothesis has been scientifically discredited. 

Meaning, the leg I’ve been balancing myself on has been unceremoniously kicked away.

To which I unregenerately respond,

In biology, perhaps.

But, based on personally accumulated evidence,

Not necessarily in comedy writing.

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Benny And Bernie"


You know, Bernie…


You’re Bernie.

(AFTER A BEAT)  I’m Bernie?  (AFTER ANOTHER BEAT)  Then who are you?

I’m Benny. 

You’re Benny?

I’m Benny, and you’re Bernie.

Are you sure I’m not Benny?

What are you talking about?

I have always been Benny.

You’ve always been Bernie.  I’ve always been Benny.

I could have sworn I was Benny.  And not just me.  This morning, that guy Sussman walks up to my table, he says “Good morning, Benny.”  If I’m Bernie, why didn’t he say “Good morning, Bernie”?

Are you sure he said, “Good morning, Benny?”

I have a very good memory.

You forgot you were Bernie.

(MOMENTARILY STYMIED.  THEN.)  Do you know who I’m talking about? 

Sussman.  I saw him this morning.  We said “Good morning.”

You said “Good morning” to Sussman?

I did.

And he said “Good morning” to you?

Of course.

“Good morning” what, did he say to you?

“Good morning, Benny.”

I don’t understand it.  He said “Good morning, Benny” to you and he said “Good morning, Benny” to me?  Why would he say “Good morning, Benny” to both of us?

Once he was right, and once he was wrong.


I probably told him once I was Benny, and he said “Good morning, Benny” because that’s who he thought I was.

That is precisely what happened. 


Unless we’re both Benny. 

Two brothers named Benny?

You’re right.  Our parents had little imagination, but they had enough for two names.
It’s just such a shock to me.  Your whole life, you think you’re Benny and it turns out you’re Bernie. 
(AFTER A BEAT)  You’re not pulling my leg here, are you?  Telling me I’m Bernie when I am actually Benny?

Why would I do that?

You were always trying to fool me.  I remember there was this actress, Spring Byington. 

December Bride.

Right.  You tried to convince me her name was Spring Bodington. 

I don’t remember that.

And when we both got Slinkies and yours broke, you made me believe mine broke.

How do you remember these things?

I told you, I have a good memory. 

You forgot you were Bernie.

I remember you already said that.  You know, I’m starting to think that I’m not Bernie, and this is just “Spring Bodington” and the broken Slinky all over again.

That’s ridiculous.  How could anyone convince you you’re Bernie when you are actually Benny?

You are extremely good at that.  You became a lawyer.  You know what?  I’m eighty-seven.  It’s over.

Fine.  You believe what you want to. 

I will.


Good night, Benny.


Good night.


Hey, Benny.

Who are you talking to?

You were right.  I was just kidding around.

You were?


Lemme get this straight.  You are actually Bernie?

And you’re Benny.

I knew I was Benny!  I was right.  You were just trying to fool me.

It’s what I do.

It is indeed what you do.


You know, Bernie…

Yeah, Benny?

You don’t usually give up this easily.  Which kind of makes me wonder:  Were you trying to fool me then?  Or are you trying to fool me now?


(Note:  This is the best I can do writing this alone.  With the appropriate partner, you’d have experienced magic.)