Two friends of mine went to see a new stand-up comic at the Equity-waiver Hudson Theater last week, and one of them asked if he could buy her baby. Actually, he asked if she was still interested in being an egg donor, the subject of her monologue, and also her former day job. No, she wasn't interested, thank you, not in the least. This would be the equivalent of asking me if I wouldn't mine running down to The Hollywood Reporter and taking a couple of subscription orders for fun and profit. It's one thing to use past humiliations as fodder for our creative work, another thing altogether to suggest we go back and re-live them.
This got me to thinking about the Warner Brothers Writers Workshop, the coveted and prestigious studio apprenticeship program in which I landed a spot. It was my first year out here, and I hadn't yet learned my way around the inviolate rules of a town so deceptively boastful of not having any. The first of these, my father warned me, is that there's always a catch. There was something suspicious, he said, about "winning" this rare and invaluable career opportunity over thousands of other applicants--only to be asked to pony up five hundred bucks for the pleasure.
Not everybody has a dad with a checkbook. During the first meeting of the two dozen of us who'd been chosen from the throngs to be groomed for a lucrative future in sitcom writing, I met V., who was eight and a half months pregnant. Had I known how the program worked, I would have wondered about the wisdom of timing two such blessed events--motherhood and a knock down, drag-out race to earn overpaid employment on the mangled bones of weaker competitors. However, as we went around the room to explain in thirty seconds or less why we were so clearly deserving of our seats, V. freely admitted to being a womb-for-hire. Actually, she said "surrogate mother," but the math was done either way. V. showed up a couple of weeks later no longer pregnant, put a big smile on her face and delivered a hijinx-driven Dharma and Greg script ready for tabling.
Fairfax Flea Market to make the rent, who was I to judge? Especially since I fell substantially short and had to borrow it from my parents anyway. It wasn't that they didn't have it to give, it's just that by then it came with The Big Lecture about how my life wasn't working and how much community respect and vacation time you get when you teach junior high school in Umatilla, Florida. My time at Warner Brothers hadn't gone so well after a series of political missteps that had nothing to do with the writing and everything to do with inadvertently insulting one of the sluttier studio executives. She'd given a script note about strippers at a bachelor party in an Everybody Loves Raymond spec, and I couldn't help quipping about her choice to go braless that day. This was supposed to demonstrate my comfort with becoming the scant girl in one of those unapologetically filthy little boys clubs known as sitcom writer's rooms. I was quickly shown the door, having failed miserably to "advance to professional status." Sadly, neither had V. I'm not sure what became of her, but she never worked as a credited writer.
I think the reason they want writers to be so painfully young in this town is so we don't know anything yet. Not who we are, not who they are. Not that some people sell their souls to the devil for one shot at making it, and others sell their unborn children. Certainly not that the luckiest of all just sell out. Or maybe it just looks that way. Maybe the real lucky one was the comedienne up on the stage in that ninety-nine seat theater, the one who lived to tell the tale, learned to laugh along the way and developed her own means of spreading it around. Yeah, that's the girl I want to be, the girl I have to be or die trying. Like Dorothy Parker, who famously quipped her way around Hollywood with a drink in her hand and a flagrant disregard for the whole damn lot of local naysayers, "I put all my eggs in one bastard."