Shortly after arriving in West Hollywood, Calif. In 1985, I managed to land a job writing jokes for a new TV game pilot called “Word Play,” which would later be hosted by the friendly Tom Kennedy. It was my first introduction to the inner workings of show business in that when I arrived to be interviewed by the producers of the show, there was no question – or interest – as to whether I had a college degree or previous writing experience outside of my own. standing routine. I just made them laugh during the interview and they hired me on the spot.
Well that was easy, I thought, floating out the door in the bright sun. Why isn’t everyone doing this?
In a nutshell, the show had a panel of three celebrities only one of whom had the true definition of an obscure word. The other two celebrities would try to mislead the contestants with made-up definitions that they would explain in a way that would hopefully get a lot of laughs.
After developing the pilot with a small army of other writers (one who would go on to become the best-selling author, another, an executive producer of “Roseanne”), we learned that the pilot had been taken over by the network and I stayed on board for 10 months, arriving at our sparse office in the San Fernando Valley, writing 10 jokes a day before leaving at 5pm. that was not what I wanted to do. The point of doing stand-up comedy was having my days off to ride my horse and not being chained to a 9-5 office job.
I gave my opinion the next day.
The pilot, however, had been a lot of fun and had been studded with stars to impress the network, including a very young Pat Sajak, whose “Wheel of Fortune” was already a huge hit, Stuart Pankin of “Not Necessarily the News” and sort of making The place to appear with us despite filming âGolden Girlsâ was Betty White.
Writers were forced to meet with every celebrity on set during Strip Day to review the jokes they delivered – explain them, throw them away if they didn’t work, rewrite them if necessary. Oddly enough, for that entire first year of the show, the only celebrity I specifically remember interacting with was Betty. Is it because she stormed into our meeting with a little basket of chocolate chip cookies and chirped, “I just baked them, do you want some?” or her graceful, beaming face and her innate ability to bring perfect comedic timing to every joke presented? It was definitely all of the above and it was one of those satisfying encounters where you learn that a celebrity is as kind and natural as you would expect.
âOxymoron,â she began to read our definition of a joke, nibbling the edge of a cookie. âOxymoron means eight personalities. For example, when Sally Field was playing “Sybil,” she would play eight people and walk into a restaurant, order a table for one, and ask for separate checks. She loved it and started improvising the character chatting with each personality about who had the tuna salad, who owed more, etc. If you are inclined to watch his delivery, you can follow this link: youtube.com/watch?v = mCPsX3sFd6A
For the showbiz neophyte that I was, it was an important lesson in presenting oneself in a professional and pleasant manner. This ego had to be checked at the door and what was conducive to comedy was that everyone worked together diligently and lightly. Betty was adorably genuine and sharp in her acting skills. In the hour I spent with her, she created a beautiful, lasting impression that has remained crystal clear to this day. What a gift to leave with a group of inexperienced young writers. What a gift to leave with anyone. And the greatest achievement is that while none of us can replace the wonderful actress and humanitarian Betty White, anyone can replicate this cuteness.