MAKE EM LAUGH
Maybe it’s selfish because I want to keep talking about him to someone or maybe it will help me stop crying and actually change my clothes, wash my hair and try and reconnect to the world, or maybe it’s because I think it’s what Blake would want, but there are so many touching, heartfelt declarations of love and loss from so many places out there, and it’s all so sad. How could it not be? It’s a tragedy of the highest form.
But I’ve been thinking Blake was so much about laughs. If you knew him he was funny and if you spent time with him you would literally roll on the floor laughing. I don’t know that I have ever shared as many laughs with anyone as I have with Blake Snyder.
So I’ve decided I’m going to share some Blake stories, funny stories, stories he would want people to hear.
I feel like he would say, “Come on, Tracers, make ‘em laugh, please. I hate the idea that so many people are crying about me.” He was a man, he was human and he had an ego, he would love the fact he was this loved, but he spent so much of his life spreading happiness the idea of causing heartache I think would really cause him pain.
As you know if you read my tribute, Blake and I go back to nursery school. At that time he wanted to be Daniel Boone and I wanted to be Barbie. We both ended up being comedy writers. Though we had totally separate careers; he often wrote with others and I wrote alone. In fact, the only person I would ever share credit with that didn’t involve an arbitration was Blake.
For years we always talked about forming a company. For a long time we couldn’t as either he was tied up with a studio or I was under contract as a solo player, but long before we had our company we knew what we would call it – MARCHING ANTS PRODUCTIONS.
See, when we were young all our birthdays and many family holidays were spent together; being from California the car rides were long, the kids impatient and the parents cranky. We used to fill the empty time with a lot of noise — the primary noise being a song called THE ANTS GO MARCHING. If you don’t know it I’m now singing it for you. Imagine the worst voice you’ve ever heard belting out these words:
THE ANTS GO MARCHING ONE BY ONE HARRAH! HARRAH!
THE ANTS GO MARCHING ONE BY ONE HARRAH! HARRAH!
THE ANTS GO MARCHING ONE BY ONE THE LITTLE ONE STOPS SUCK HIS THUMB AND THEY ALL GO MARCHING DOWN IN THE GROUND TO GET OUT OF THE RAIN
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
You get the idea; it’s a ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall with ants. And you can keep going until you run out of breath, reach your destination or get tossed out of the car.
We could really keep it going, “the ants go marching two hundred by two hundred” and our booms would escalate and our parents – who were all three of them legitimately teetering into the land of crazy to begin with – would be driven even more insane than they already were.
It was our theme song. If Blake and I have a song it’s THE ANTS. So when the time finally came that were able to legitimately join forces and have a little company, the first thing we did was go out and get stationary with ants crawling over the sides with one lone ant falling off the page. It was really fabulous and I what I would give for one piece today.
Blake designed it, and if you knew Blake he was not by nature a big spender, but when it came to the ant stationary we had thousands of pieces and envelopes and business cards and buck slips and thank you cards and post its. You’d think we were a hotel we had so much of the stuff.
Our first gig was a terrible pilot we wrote for ABC. In a twenty-year history I think it was the worst thing I’ve ever turned in. I don’t know why we failed so but we did. And Blake in his usual effervescent sometimes-delusional way would say, “ This is great stuff. I’m seeing Emmys!” To which I’d reply, “ I’m seeing them too– for CHEERS.” I was always the-sky-is-falling to his the-sun-will-come-out-tomorrow; in fact, it’s out today despite the hurricane. But in this case I was the voice of reason and guilt and felt it was so bad we shouldn’t take our final payment.
“Are you kidding Tracers, you know the kind of crap they get? This is golden crap.”
Let’s just say ABC agreed with me and I don’t think either of us ever got hired there again. I know I didn’t.
You have to be old enough to remember that during this period Howard Stern was at his peak – he was everywhere and he had just sold the rights for his superhero Fartman to be a film at NEWLINE.
I happened to be, like much of America, a huge Howard Stern fan. Blake…not so much. But this was a case when my enthusiasm was enough for both of us.
One day, I heard from my agent–we always had separate agents, like couples with their own bathrooms– that they were taking pitches for Fartman. They wanted well known writers, or writers with a decent profile, but they were open. We were both big enough writers that we could get on the list.
I told my agent GET US ON THE LIST … before I even told Blake.
That morning, as I opened the door with the ants crawling across it, Blake was there with his coffee and trades. I excitedly said, “Guess what, we’re up for the Howard Stern job!”
I expected him to leap out of chair and hug me. Instead I got the confused, slightly annoyed Blake look, followed with “That Fartman thing?”
“Yes. Blake, we could write Fartman!”
“Come on Tracey (in moments like that I was Tracey) we have standards.”
“We do?” I said. “Call me crazy but your last credit was STOP OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT and mine was BABES” (a FOX show about three obese sisters.) “We may hold ourselves in high regard, but we aren’t exactly Nichols and May.”
“I don’t know….Fartman?” There was actually a prudish side to Blake and that stuff offended him at times. This was clearly one of those times.
“Blake,” I pleaded, “it’s one of the biggest jobs out there. Everyone wants it. If we get it, it will make us the hottest writers in town. We can follow it with any gig we want. We can get on the Howard Stern show; the ants can march for years and years to come.”
Of the many things Blake and I shared was an extreme desire for fame and attention for our work. Otherwise, let’s face it, we would have been holding marching ant poetry readings. The fame part got him.
“OK, I’m in.”
The great thing about him was once he was in he in was in, and we spent the next two days with me typing and him pacing, which anyone who worked with him knows was the pattern, and we came up with what I think is one of the funniest movie ideas I’ve ever heard. As bad as the ABC thing was, this was gold.
I can’t remember all the details, it was sixteen years ago, many stories have passed through my brain, but the center of it was a series of murders called The Barry Manilow Cheese Grater Murders. I know it sounds lame, but trust me, trust Blake, it was hilarious. To this day– or up until this week– every time we brought it up, we would just crack up, crack up. And we’re tough on funny.
There was this series of murders and we stole bits from other movies – SEA OF LOVE had just been a hit, so every time there was a murder, they left the song MANDY playing. That in itself is not that funny, but as Blake told you movies are in the details and this was impeccable. Suffice to say, tons of writers were vying for the job. I think three got in front of Howard. We were one of the three teams that made the cut.
We took it into Newline, and we were on an MGM Grand plane within twenty-four hours.
Well, actually it was forty-eight because I’m a bit of princess, and I demanded they fly us on MGM Grand. They wanted us to go United Coach and Blake was fine with that. I was yelling and screaming to my agents we have to fly MGM – in those days I was a cliché of bad behavior when it came to those things. By that time Blake was so happy he said, “We can take a bus.” I was yelling, “WGA rules say they have to fly us first class! I want MGM.” These are the times he would shake his head and leave the fighting to me.
I won and once he was sitting in his faux leather swivel chair with his first bloody bull (pre-sobriety days) and he was surrounded by a bevy of gorgeous flight attendants, he was in heaven and grateful for the fact I can be such a pain in the ass when I want something.
Blake loved a pretty girl, we hadn’t buckled our seat belts and he was already picking out the one he was gong to ask out. I forgot to add that we were not alone – traveling with us was my sixteen-month-old daughter Taylor. Newline would not spring for my nanny to come along and I wouldn’t leave her so I brought her and got a babysitter when we hit New York.
At one point on the flight I had to go to the ladies room. Blake was on his second drink and flirting madly with the hostess when I plunked Taylor in his lap.
“I can’t keep her,” he said looking like one of the guys from THREE MEN AND A BABY. “She’ll think we’re married and it’s my kid.”
“Well I have to pee and we’re only over Kansas, tell her she’s your niece.”
I came back and clearly I wasn’t the only one who had to go. Taylor had to go too and I returned to a horrified looking Blake holding up a screaming Taylor whose full diaper had leaked all over him. I don’t think he got the date, but he did get another drink.
So we arrive in NY to a waiting limo, and champagne in our suites and we were convinced that we were going to get this job. There were times when one of us was nay saying and the other was cheerleading, and then there were the times when we were like the Laker Girls on steroids. This was one of those times. We could not have been surer of ourselves or more impressed with ourselves, we were meeting Howard Stern and using our unadulterated genius, we had come up with the greatest story any one would ever hear, except Thelma.
Who was Thelma? Thelma was the woman I had hired through the hotel to watch Taylor while we were working. Although she came highly recommended, she struck us both as quite odd. It didn’t help that she looked like a cross between Rosanne Barr and Linda Hunt. I kid you not, and she had the voice of Harvey Fierstein. She arrived with a basket full of toys and a very strong set of opinions about films and how they worked. While Blake and I were doing practice runs on our pitch, and she was supposed to be playing Tickle-Me-Elmo with Taylor, she kept interjecting with “Don’t you think that’s been done before?” or “Maybe the murder should take place in the elevator.”
Studio exec notes are hard enough; temporary baby sitter notes are intolerable. Blake started seething. I was staring to get nervous. He yelled at her, “We’re meeting Howard Stern, this is very important, can you please stay out of it?”
“Howard Stern,” she roared, “he’s not going to go for this!” I swear to god, the babysitter, already shooting down our pitch.
I sent her to the park immediately as we headed up to meet Howard. Now, this was a huge deal, we were pitching to Howard Stern, self-proclaimed King of All Media.
We were that weird combination of nervous as shit and totally excited and actually–unusual for us–star struck. I mean we were pitching to Howard Stern. We were the number one contenders to write FARTMAN.
Thelma be damned. We were going to nail this!
TO BE CONTINUED…