HURRY UP AND WAIT
Despite David Perumut’s instructions to “make it snappy” we did not end up pitching the world’s grossest super heroes to Howard Stern the next day, nor the day after.
We ended up back on MGM Grand headed for L.A. See the thing about Hollywood time (about which Blake wrote the funniest piece ever) is that it does not run on standard Greenwich time. “Immediately” or “right away” which according to the dictionary or any normal human being means now or perhaps tomorrow, in Hollywood means when all parties involved have the same five minutes free and none of them has a better offer. This leaves a wide swath, like from here to eternity.
So we headed back to L.A. and were told we would get on the phone with everyone in the next week to give them our new improved pitch.
The good news about that is we needed some time to work out our story kinks. The truth is we didn’t have story kinks as to have story kinks you need an actual story. We might have had the heroes but if my memory serves me correctly we came up with little for them to do that wild night at The Lowell.
Remember this was pre-STC days, and early in our careers neither one of us had the story sense we ended up with years later. But this is what we came up with:
Howard, aka Fartman, was from this other planet where all the gross super heroes lived and he was in fact the least gross of the lot. So his father who I guess was, oh god, I really don’t remember, something truly vile, we’ll call him King Fart, decided if he (Howard) were to succeed him in the role of the ruler of the most disgusting planet in the solar system he had to be sent off for gross lessons -a coming of age story if you will. Poor Fartman kept getting beaten up by Lugey Lad and Booger Boy, he was a disgrace to the land of the gross-outs; something had to be done. As I write this I can’t quite believe it myself.
So Howard is sent off to another planet to be grossed-up. Big good-bye scene, all the main characters are introduced, and he sets off in his spaceship, which was a giant turd, I think. Oh Blake, I need you now. Was it a turd? It must have been. What else could it have been? I do know it farted its way into outer space where it was supposed to land on this other planet, whose name I have totally forgotten.
I do remember he had a list of people to help him out when he got there. And I remember Fartman asking his father King Fart, “How will I know when I have arrived on Planet Gross Out?” And King Fart said. “Look for Vaginal Discharge Girl, when you see her you will know you have arrived.”
Can you believe either one of us went on to have any sort of career outside of working in a car wash after this?
Alas, Howard takes off and not being the brightest Fartman in the skies makes a wrong turn somewhere near Uranus (come on, what else could we use?).
Those are the moments when writing is true bliss. I think for a while we thought of him actually landing on Uranus and everyone was a giant asshole, literally; their mouths were assholes, they were ass backwards so to speak. And then the Act Three kicker was he found out he was actually in Hollywood! But we weren’t in the business of biting the hand that would hopefully feed us.
So he makes this wrong turn, passes Uranus and ends up crash landing in Times Square. He climbs out of his turd-mobile and the first person he sees is a really skuzzy hooker wearing a spandex jumpsuit. Now this is the only line of dialogue I do remember. Howard looks at her and says, “Are you Vaginal Discharge Girl?” And she says, “I was last week but the medication has cleared it all up.” Makes me laugh sixteen years later.
The story went on and there were super hero fights with all the mucus and it was just crazy and nutty, though storywise it was nowhere up to the standards of the BARRY MANILOW CHEESE GRATER MURDERS. That one was tight, witty and original with real character arcs and suspense to boot.
I do recall on the plane back I had a moment of clarity, something I’m not too used to, and I said “ You know Blake, no matter who gets this job…” “ We are getting it!” he said as he handed the hostess his phone number. I ignored him. “No matter who gets it, Howard is going to want to write it himself. No one will ever please him, he will end up writing this film.”
Where that burst of knowledge came from I have no idea, but I meant it.
I had clearly picked up a vibe from Howard and knew this was his show and no one would really be able to deliver.
“Don’t start having us rewritten before we get it,” he said.
So we got back to LA and we waited and we waited and we waited some more. Every day we were supposed to have a meeting via the phone and every day it was called off.
Howard was tied up with his show. Permut was on the set. The New Line guys were getting the rights to Tolkien. It went on for weeks.
And we started going madder than we were to begin with and this is really saying something.
It’s also one thing to be up for a job and not get the meeting or wait for the meeting, but it’s another thing when you have to hear about it all the time. And this was the period when Howard talked about the movie on his show every day, non-stop. Driving to work you’d hear about it and and on Entertainment Tonight you’d hear about it and we were in Hollywood, everyone was talking about it. It was the job of the second.
And we started getting really paranoid that other people were going up for it and they were leading us on, which they were. Thus we’d moan and groan and fret our way through our days; feeding each other’s insecurities in ways we never had.
The thing about great partnerships be they in work or coupling, is it’s not how well you deal with someone’s good points, their generosity, their humor, kindness etc., it’s how well you deal with their underbelly, their neuroses, their peccadilloes. And for some reason going back to early childhood Blake and I had an easy time coping with each other’s issues.
My insecurities get to the restaurant ten minutes ahead of me and start demanding a better table.
Blake on the other hand, stuffs his in the trunk, parks the car himself and refuses to give the valet his keys.
He would pace and fume and worry and contort. I would make demands. I want phone calls, answers, meetings set up, explanations as to why they’re not, suites and first class tickets to make up for my inconvenience. Tattooed on my forehead is “Attention must be paid!” Tattooed on Blake’s is “Don’t stare, it makes me nervous.”
Plus we had too much time on our hands as we didn’t have another project. So we started obsessing and worrying and futzing with the story.
We had these deep discussions about should Booger Boy turn into Barf Boy? Or could they be twins? But boogers and barf are not really similar. Though they could be fraternal twins? And then was Menstrual Blood Mom pushing he envelope too far? Can you imagine we were worried about pushing the envelope at this point? We thought of making her Mucus Mom. But then what happens to her suit? Does she wear Kleenex? And these were not asides, these were long drawn out deep discussions, like the solution to the Middle East Crisis rested in the answer to how much mucus is actually in barf?
At this time I had a really sweet assistant named Michael Prescott, who was starting to lose his mind as well. Because since we doubted so much of what we had, we kept bringing him in to help us out.
We’d say things like “Michael look, lugeys are a form of mucus and boogers are dried mucus and if we change Menstrual Blood Mom to Mucus Mom do you think most of our main characters will have too many of the same mucus traits?”
And then I would wonder if there was mucus in menstrual blood and ask Michael to go research it.
One day he came in while Blake was pacing a runner in the carpet and I was making mucus charts and I asked him if he thought a vaginal discharge was all mucus or had other things in it? Today I would be brought up on sexual harassment charges. Michael calmly declared that he would not be able to work for me anymore unless we had the meeting quickly or if I continued to include him in these horrifying discussions.
Luckily for all of us, shortly thereafter the meeting happened.
We went over to David Permut’s office where a few of the big guys from New Line would be or maybe we would be at New Line where David would be. Who cares? We would all be in the room and Howard would be on the phone from New York.
The important part of this is because everyone had been so busy no one had bothered to listen to our new improved Howard story. So everyone in the room was hearing it for the first time.
We got there, knew the drills – no small talk, everyone is busy, Howard on the phone, and we pitch, we pitch all the grossest heroes anyone has ever heard and we pitch the disgusting story too.
The people in the room, the suits, they may have been in jeans but they were still suits, they were the guys who would have money on the line if this actually got made, I thought they were going to pass out. My guess is they were already a little put off by Fartman, by the time we got to Vaginal Discharge Girl I thought they might call security. Even David Permut, who like I said was one of those guys for whom the deal was everything was looking rather shocked and turned off.
There are producers who when you pitch, “Then we have to decapitate your mother and send the head to South Africa to make this work,” will come back with “ I think we can pre-sell foreign with that.” Not that David would decapitate his mom for a film, but you get the idea. Sam Mendes he wasn’t, and he was horrified. I also think it was doubly shocking coming from us. Part of the reason they loved The Barry Manilow version was it was sort of sanitized Fartman. We’d gone from making it slightly respectable to the grossest story ever told.
And Howard LOVED IT. He was laughing that Howard laugh, the one usually reserved for bad comics and strippers. He was roaring.
The guys in the room were downing Evian and shaking their heads in disbelief and he was laughing up a storm. We did it. We made him happy and he told us so. “YOU GUYS ARE GREAT!” he said. “I knew you could do it. You out-grossed me. Great job, I love this movie!”
And the coolest thing was he said it on the radio the next day. He talked about us, these two writers from LA who had pitched him the only version of the movie he liked so far. He said we were hysterical and talented. I almost drove my car into Book Soup when I heard him say it. It was worth all the worrying and watching Blake pace for weeks on end.
We got to the office and we were dancing and high-fiving and booking The Palm to take Michael to lunch to thank him for putting up with us.
The job was gong to be ours!!!!!!! YES!!!!
I remember another moment of clarity in all this insanity, as we were driving over to The Palm that day, I said to Blake, “You know – now we have to actually write this and put our names on it.” I was thinking of my kids and my filmography and how could I really write about a woman in bloody Kotex suit? Once the adrenaline had worn off we were left with Booger Boy and Lugey Lad and a hundred and ten pages to fill.
In true Blake fashion he said, “It will be great Tracers, you worry too much.”
It clearly doesn’t end there.
It dragged on for another month of pure insanity. We had it, we didn’t have it, another team had, Blake got paranoid and thought they got a hold of our notes. Did Thelma overhear it and sell it behind our backs? I accused my agents of putting up another writer at the same agency and giving them our ideas. Our paranoia was in total overdrive.
But what really happened were two things.
Howard did love it. He loved it a lot and he wanted the studio to hire us. At one point we had even heard they were going to hire us just to shut him up and hire another team to write something they could actually put on the screen without suffering global humiliation and an X rating. The studio at the end of the day could not go along with what we pitched no matter how much Howard liked it. It was ultimately too gross. We merely delivered what Howard had asked for. In Hollywood no good job goes unpunished.
By the time it was all over and we didn’t get it we were so exhausted it was a relief of sorts, at least they finally put us out of our misery.
And as you all know, my plane prediction turned out to be true. They couldn’t find anyone to do Fartman or they did and the script didn’t work (big surpris)e and by then enough time had passed that Howard’s memoir PRIVATE PARTS had become a best seller and he adapted that and it became a hit film.
I suppose in STC tradition Blake would want me to close on theme – it was a popcorn fart of an ending to a good story.
Despite the fact we didn’t get that job, like we didn’t get so many others, we had such a grand time trying. And in those moments, moments such as this when one is forced to look back, as one no longer has the option of looking forward, it was totally the journey and not the destination that will be remembered and cherished.
My advice to you darling Blake, if you happen to run into Vaginal Discharge Girl, you are not where you belong, and you should head in the other direction quickly.
I love you. I’ll miss you more than even I was aware. But thank you. Thank you for forty-eight years of laughs and love and just figuring out how to get from A to Z. From Sunshine Nursery School to the Howard Stern, who would have thunk it?
I think us. I think unconsciously at the age of three we spotted each other across a crowded playground (well, it may not have been crowded but there was always a line at the swings) and we knew, in that way that people just know, that we were going in the same direction. We came from homes that were far from perfect yet we knew that laughter was the only way in the end to deal with it. We knew that if you could make people laugh the world would be a little better for it and so would you. If we could make ourselves laugh we would survive. And for forty-eight years that is exactly what we did.
In Loving Memory of Blake Snyder
October 3, 1957 – August 4, 2009