Who Stole the Funny?: A Novel of Hollywood

Overview

A Hollywood insider draws from his four decades of experience to create a scathingly brilliant and caustically comedic bird's-eye view behind the scenes of comedy television.

A wickedly delicious roman-a-clef about the making of a sitcom called My Urban Buddies, this satirical romp of a novel portrays life on the other side of the television lens, hilariously sending up self-serious Hollywood stereotypes across the board.

Programmed-for-success...

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Who Stole the Funny?: A Novel of Hollywood

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Overview

A Hollywood insider draws from his four decades of experience to create a scathingly brilliant and caustically comedic bird's-eye view behind the scenes of comedy television.

A wickedly delicious roman-a-clef about the making of a sitcom called My Urban Buddies, this satirical romp of a novel portrays life on the other side of the television lens, hilariously sending up self-serious Hollywood stereotypes across the board.

Programmed-for-success director J. T. Baker has to bring an up-and-coming sitcom to fruition after its initial director shoots himself in the head with a nail gun. Comically annotated with helpful and enlightening Hollywood glossary terms ("Creative-type director: One who has no hope of working in this town again"; "Eccentric: Affecting a style of dress, coiffure, speech, mannerisms, etc., carefully calculated to give the impression of creative credibility"), Benson creates an exaggerated world of crazy writers; backstabbing executives, agents, and producers; foul-mouthed everyone-elses; and hardcore cynics—and the ridiculous inner monologues behind them.

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Editorial Reviews

Peter Bart
“An irreverent and hilarious stroll down the dark alleys of Hollywood’s TV landscape.”
Wall Street Journal
“’Who Stole The Funny?’ benefits from Mr. Benson’s deep knowledge of his subject matter...”
Publishers Weekly

Drawing on his experience directing Friends, Benson offers in his debut a derivative parody of behind-the-scenes Los Angeles that fails to skewer any of its easy targets. Has-been sitcom director J.T. Baker, a "passionate schmuck" in a self-imposed exile from Hollywood, is picked to helm the hit show I LoveMy Urban Buddies("the biggest sitcom in eons") after his predecessor meets an unfortunate end via an unfaithful wife, a hot tub and a nail gun. Desperate for money and health insurance to cover his son's kidney dialysis treatment, J.T. accepts the assignment and flies to California. Upon his arrival, he clashes with Debbie, the "voluptuous" sexpot network liaison; Lance, the underqualified studio exec; and the married terrors Stephanie and Marcus Pooley, the show's creators. J.T.'s only ally on the lot is his friend Asher Black, who helps J.T. survive Marcus's lecherous casting sessions, puerile assistant directors, an on-set pederast and a cast of babied egoists. Benson's flat, one-dimensional characters are hard to take seriously, and readers may have a hard time sympathizing with the long-winded J.T., especially after he anoints himself "the Sergeant at Arms of the Moral Police." Benson's background in the TV biz is apparent, but his roman à clef doesn't pop. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
The title asks a loaded question, for with the exception of a few sparse moments, someone definitely "stole the funny" from this featherweight roman-a-clef. The production staff of the sitcom I Love My Urban Buddies (a less-than-subtle allusion to Friends) is in panic mode because its director Jasper Jones accidentally shot himself in the head with a pneumatic nail gun. Called in to rescue the desperate situation is J. T. Baker, who agrees to direct three episodes, including the ratings-significant Christmas episode. The narrative consists of a week-in-the-life of rehearsal, rewrites, unfaithful spouses, cast members taking time off in Vegas and a maniacal and backstabbing assemblage of writers, producers and agents. Amidst the chaos J. T. tries to create some semblance of order and professionalism, but it's impossible to locate in the loopy and deformed "reality" of L.A. To help the reader understand the nature of this alternative cosmos, throughout the novel Benson inserts a boxed "definition" from "The Hollywood Dictionary" (Example: "Oh, We Love It": This sucks!"). J. T. accepted the limited contract because he needs just a few weeks of work to qualify for a desperately needed health-care benefit-he just wants to return to his farm and family-but his professional life constantly threatens to spin out of control. When on the set he's asked, "Who's in charge here?" he answers, "I'm the director, so that definitely would not be me." The one genuinely funny moment in the book occurs not on the sound stage, in casting or in the green room, but at the bar mitzvah of agent Dick Beaglebum's son, a secular extravaganza in which singer Phat Azz raps both "The Star-Spangled Banner" and a prayerfrom the Haphtarah. Tinseltown characters with no glitter. Agent: Manie Barron/Menza-Barron Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061245008
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/28/2007
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 909,762
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Robby Benson, actor, writer, composer, and award-winning star of stage, screen, and television has also spent years behind the camera as the director of more than one hundred episodes of such hit sitcoms as Friends and Ellen, in addition to being a highly esteemed professor of film studies at New York University. He lives in both the Blue Ridge Mountains and New York City with his wife, singer Karla DeVito, and their two children.

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First Chapter

Who Stole the Funny?
A Novel of Hollywood

Chapter One

The Phone Call

In the Beginning, there is always the Phone Call.

In show business, life-changing information is almost always delivered in the form of a phone call. The reason? No one in Hollywood has the guts to look anyone in the eye. There once was a good man who hung up his phone, smiled, went into his bedroom, and shot himself in the head. The reason? He lost his Cocoa Puffs account.

That incident later became an M.O.W.

Cocoa Snuff won an Emmy.

Every sitcom director pretends to be busy, having a wonderful life, while out of work. The truth of the matter is, unlike actors who sit and wait, staring at their phones, directors socialize, and buy cardigan sweaters and very comfy shoes. Most also have the annoying habit of behaving like directors in public and even at home ("Somebody get me some water, dammit!" "Yes, Daddy"). All the while, they pretend not to be waiting for their cell phones to ring.

Jasper Jones's cell phone rang.

Jasper Jones was a middle-aged man in perfect shape who'd had multiple plastic surgeries to hide the natural aging process and was in good standing in the Directors Guild of America.

"Y'hello," he said into his phone from his place in line at Saks Fifth Avenue's men's department in Beverly Hills. A fastidious dresser, Jasper was more fashion-conscious than—conscious. Jasper had a closetful of Bruno Magli gored loafers, but now they just weren't . . . in. Especially the gored line. He needed to wear a different pair of comfortable shoes every day of the week, and since the SalvatoreFerragamo Gazette loafers were only $420 a pair, there wasn't a single reason in the world why he shouldn't do what was right for his feet, and buy seven pairs. And a new wardrobe to match.

Why the fuck do I have to wait in line? Jasper thought as he fiddled with his earpiece and his up-to-the-millisecond-model cell phone/toy. "Don't fuck up," he said (his standard greeting).

"Jasperoonie!" his directing agent answered. "It's me. Dick."

"Dick—it's Sunday. Whassup? Somebody die?"

Dick Beaglebum handled the top writers and show-runners in the television business, along with a few directors—Jasper being one of them. He loved to work on Sundays. It gave him a legitimate reason to get out of the house.

The Beaglebum Agency sat on prime real estate in the middle of Beverly Hills. The spacious office (with bookshelves full of classics whose bindings had never been cracked) boasted a stunning 180-degree view on days when the smog (excuse me: haze) visibility was more than two-tenths of a mile. Dick had an oversized desk that he'd paid too much for because he'd been told it was made from the sea-cured oak of a sunken pirate ship, circa 1650, that was excavated from the floor of the Caribbean. Dick had bought it as a $430,000 tax write-off.

Dick leaned back in his chair and swiveled it from side to side. "Jasper," he began in his overrefined, I-swear-I'm-not-from-Hackensack-accent, "how's my wildly eccentric director?"

In Hollywood, eccentric is good. Full-blown eccentrics are even better. Eccentrics satisfy the public's appetite for showbiz buzz. And well-cultivated eccentricity gives an impression of creativity while avoiding the kinds of problems that actual creativity can cause, like the ones implied by the phrase "creative differences."

Jasper hoped Dick meant the brand of eccentric that the studios and the networks desired (required), one with eccentricities they could manipulate, influence, and regulate. The last thing Jasper wanted was to seem too creative.

He kept playing with his cell phone and earpiece while he had "the Help" carry his purchases to his Jag. He jumped into the car and roared off, leaving the Help with an open hand and an open mouth. "Son of a bitch," the Help mumbled, staring at the single grimy quarter in his hand.

Jasperoonie drove while rehearsing his director skills on Dick and trying to give the impression of being very much in control.

The ability to appear to be very much in control is an art form in itself, a survival skill everyone in Hollywood must practice until they are proficient at hiding their own shortcomings with false cleverness, pseudocompetence, and a finger trained to point at the other guy. It's the one skill a working director must have. It's more beneficial to a director than talent. As a matter of fact, talent, a rare and almost archaic quality, can get in the way of a director's function on a television sitcom.

"Look, Dick," Jasper said, hoping he sounded very much in control, "I know you love to chat, but why don't you just cut to the chase. Quicker, faster, funnier. Get to it."

Dick knew that even when Jasper was at the top of his game, he was creatively benign. In other words, he was the perfect sitcom director. Directors, even though they are considered to be somewhere near the top of the creative food chain, are thought of as schmucks by agents (and the showrunners and the studios and the networks). An agent who handles bipolar writers, megalomaniac showrunners, and a few schmuck directors must perfect the art of phony enthusiasm/compassion. The agent needs this talent to broker and package a sitcom that gets on the air, stays on the air, and then goes into syndication, so he can make millions upon millions of dollars off the hard work of all the schmucks. Enthusiasm/compassion gets the agent past the possible bitter negotiations or conflicts in egos to a point where everyone is excited about the Nielsen Jackpot, the Syndication Gold Mine of a hit sitcom.

Dick Beaglebum had the enthusiasm/compassion shtick down cold. He was a better actor than most of the actors on the shows he'd packaged. Dick's clients all thought he was the one person in a world of sharks who actually cared about the show and their needs. Dick was very enthusiastic and compassionate.

Who Stole the Funny?
A Novel of Hollywood
. Copyright © by Robby Benson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2008

    Hilarious

    This book is hilarious. If anyone is interested in seeing the inner workings of a hollywood tv show get this book. It's amazing the references to the tv show Friends and Ellen, but it's absolutley laugh out loud funny.

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