Saturday, December 27, 2008

Happy Holidays from Matt Groening and Larry David

Several years ago, I got the opportunity to meet the creators of two of my favorite shows of all time. The Simpsons, created by Matt Groening, and Seinfeld, co-created by Larry David are arguably two of the best shows ever made. They revolutionized the thirty minute sitcom, and paved way for a new path of comedy. The Simpsons and Seinfeld were shows that could be quoted at anytime; they could be related to everyday life. They were more than just shows. They became a part of you.

The Simpsons

In 1990, when the Simpsons first aired my buddy EG suggested that I check it out. I was 12 at the time. I remember sitting in the basement, glued to the TV. The episode was titled “The Call of the Simpsons.” Homer and Bart were starving and lost in the woods.

HOMER:
This is a trap. It's gonna catch us our dinner. Come on, boy. Shh. Just watch.

They patiently wait for their prey. A cute bunny steps into the trap and is catapulted high into the sky until there is a “thud” off screen. My buddy and I burst into laughter. After that, I was hooked.

When my parents asked me how many hours of TV I watched a day, I mimicked Bart Simpson: “6! 7 if there’s anything good on.” I watched hours of the Simpsons; the new episodes and the re-runs. In 7th grade history class, someone taught me how to draw each character; a tool which still comes in handy today when I’m bored. My parents continued to nag me asking how I could spend so much time watching a cartoon.

To further my obsession, I recorded all of the classic Simpsons episodes on one tape. When my Mom accidentally taped it over with Murder, She Wrote, I flipped out. I finally calmed down, forgave my Mom and Angela Lansbury, and convinced myself to start again. After 5 years, I compiled Volumes 1-8, and close to 200 episodes. It gained me mass amounts of popularity as people from college and high school would come over just to watch my homemade tapes.

My parents finally accepted my obsession when Time Magazine voted The Simpsons “The best Show of the 20th century.” I knew it since I was 12 years-old.

(The show has clearly become weaker, but I still re-watch my VHS tapes, and the re-runs on TV, and relive the magic.)

Seinfeld

Seinfeld was one of the shows that brought my father and me closer. Our relationship revolved around sports, but we also had another thing in common; we loved to laugh. The discovery of Seinfeld strengthened our bond. We split our sides over the expressions Soup Nazi, Mulva, Sparing a Square, the Bubble Boy, and These Pretzels are Making Me Thirsty. At social functions, my Dad and I could integrate a Seinfeld reference into almost any conversation. When my Dad met my friends, he immediately earned their respect by slipping in a line about Man Hands or Vandelay Inustries.

It’s still the same routine when I return home. We finish dinner, head to the living room, and watch a re-run of Seinfeld. We know what’s coming, but we still laugh. The show pulls off 3 or 4 sub-plots at the same time, and then smoothly blends them together as one. Seinfeld is pure genius.

So when I got the opportunity to meet Matt Groening and Larry David, I jumped on it immediately.

Matt Groening

It was the Spring of 2003. My friend, T-Bone, had been working as a production assistant for Futurama, also created by Matt Groening. He was able to score me a ticket to a table read for the Simpsons. All the actors sit in a conference room and would read the script aloud.

I arrived early to the conference room and had trouble containing my excitement. I didn’t want to be a stupid fan so I took a deep breath and attempted to stay mellow. T-Bone and the other assistants were setting up craft services (the food!) so I was all alone. I figured I would speak to a few people to pass the time. I spoke to one woman who was a producer on Frasier. Despite her success in the business, one of her dreams was to go to a Simpsons table read. I looked around the room and noticed the age range was from early 20’s to late 60’s. The Simpsons had a lot of fans. I sat next to an older man with graying hair, goatee, and a slight gut; he kind’ve looked like Comic Book Guy.

I said hello, and he nodded back.

ME: Have you ever worked on the Simpsons?

He gave me a half-smile and slight nod before he was called over by someone else.

T-Bone quickly sat next to me and had only one question.

T-BONE: So…..what did you say to Matt Groening?!

My eyes widened, and my jaw fell. I let out a sigh.

I had just met the creator of the Simpsons and asked if he’d ever worked on the show. There was only one thing I could say.

ME: DOH!

(I ran into Matt Groening at a Futarama reading one month later. I apologized and he laughed; he didn’t even remember. He autographed a Futarama script which hangs on my wall as I write this.)


Larry David

It was the fall of 2003. T-Bone, MB, and I all scored tickets to a screening of a movie called Envy. If anyone were to ask you what’s the worst Jack Black and/or Ben Stiller movie of all time, the answer would be Envy. My friends and I wished we hadn’t come. It was painful. We thought about leaving until we looked to our left and noticed Larry David was three seats to the left of me. I later learned he was one of the executive producers.

Envy finally cut us a break and ended. On the way out, my friends and I were chosen to be in a focus group. About a dozen of us were selected, and an interviewer asked us questions about the movie. Most of the people were idiots. I vividly recall a film geek saying: “This is Christopher Walken’s best movie since Pulp Fiction.” I couldn’t hold back. This movie was horrible. I went into a diatribe how this was one of the worst movies I’d ever seen. Within seconds, the focus group agreed with me. In retrospect, I wished I had shut my mouth as Larry David was in earshot of the entire conversation.

***A few fun trivia facts about Envy from IMDB.com***

1) The movie having been shot almost two years before it was released in theaters was in danger of being released straight to video due to poor audience response during test screenings. It was only due to The School of Rock (2003)'s huge success that it finally got a theatrical release.

2) Performed so poorly in US theaters, that it was released straight-to-video in Europe.

3) At the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, during a press conference for Shark Tale (2004), both Jack Black and Dreamworks' Jeffrey Katzenberg publicly apologized for Envy (2004).

Back to Larry David

The focus group ended, and Larry David was standing near the exit. I had to speak with him. My friends shook their heads begging I just let him be. He was the creator of Seinfeld. If I didn’t speak to him, I would always regret it.

The good news is that I had a plan. This is what I would say.

ME: I know you must hate it when people come up to you like this, but I’m a big fan, and My Dad absolutely loves you. And he’d be excited to know I got a chance to meet you. Congratulations on your success!

I took a deep breath and approached Larry David. His back was to me so I tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around and looked confused and paranoid. He stared at me waiting for me to say something, but I froze.

Then I uttered the five words that I’ll never forget.

ME: I KNOW YOU HATE PEOPLE!

He was shocked and so was I. That wasn’t what I had planned to say. There must’ve been three seconds of silence, but it seemed like an eternity. I realized I only had his attention for a brief moment. I could apologize or just go on with my speech. I decided on speech, but it didn’t get any better.

ME: I mean…I love you. My Dad loves you. I love my Dad. My Dad loves me. We love you.

Mr. David was no longer shocked; now he was afraid. I was turning red with trepidation; he was red with confusion; my friends behind me were red with laughter. He finally responded.

LARRY DAVID: I don’t hate people as much as you might think.

I went in to give him a handshake, but it turned into ½ handshake, ½ hug. It was even more awkward. He finally escaped my grasp, and slowly backed away like you would with a crazy person.

I think I wished him good luck, but I really can’t remember. My friends finally pulled me away.

First Matt Groening, and now this.

THE FUNDRAISER


Why do I bring this up now?

Two weeks ago, I held a fundraiser to benefit low-income high school students. One of my projects was a silent auction. I cold called every celebrity I could think of. I spoke to agents, mangers, publicists; just about everyone in the Hollywood scene. Some of the people sent small items while others (Vince Vaughn, Chris Rock, and Adam Sandler) sent nothing.

But the first two people to respond to my query letters were Matt Groening and Larry David. Within three days, packages were sent across the country for the fundraiser. There were autographed DVDs, scripts, and clothing. Mr. Groening and Mr. David helped raise a substantial amount of money for kids in need.

Five years ago, I embarrassed myself in front of two of my idols. But now I have a new story. It’s not quite as funny, but it’s definitely more inspiring. If Matt Groening and Larry David ever read this, I just want to say “thank you” and let you know: "I know you don’t hate people.”

Happy Holidays!