Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Review: Gasping for Airtime - Jay Mohr

I just finished reading this book by sorta-funny-maybe comedian Jay Mohr, titled 'Gasping for Airtime: Two Years in the Trenches of Saturday Night Live'.
Penises: Juvenile or Sophomoric? Discuss.
I know what you're thinking...who cares, right?

Well, if there's only one good thing about this book, it's the fact that Norm Macdonald is mentioned in several stories...I've decided to save you the time of reading the whole book by copying/pasting the best parts featuring Norm.

Mohr on Norm:
Norm was a guy who wouldn't be able to talk his way out of a mental hospital. If most people were com­mitted, they would eventually convince the doctor that a terrible mistake had been made. Not Norm. He would be there the rest of his life, saying things like "I notice I'm wearing a gown" and "So you really want me to pee in that bedpan."

Mohr on Norm's Food Poisoning:Slowly and deliberately, Norm lumbered onto the bus. He looked like a cross between death warmed over and a drug addict who had just woken up. Norm stood at the front of the bus for a while and looked out over all of us. He cleared his throat and announced that he had been sick with food poisoning the night before. He provided the name of the restaurant and positively identified the culprit as an avocado. Then he treated us to a blow-by-blow of the havoc that faulty avocado wrecked on his system.
The first sign of trouble, he explained, came when he was crossing the street after leaving the restaurant and started shitting in his pants. He leaned up against a lamppost and puked and shit in the street until he mus­tered enough strength to hail a cab. He explained that no cabs would pick him up because they thought he was a crackhead puking and shitting in the street.

After Norm had drained his system, a cab stopped and he told the driver to take him to a hospital. When the cabdriver asked him which hospital, he said he didn't know. Unfortunately, Norm had just moved to New York and didn't know the names of any hospitals, so he told the cabbie to take him to the best possible hospital. Apparently, the cabdriver decided to put his kids through college on Norm's dime and drove him all the way up to Harlem. Norm spent the entire ride telling the cabbie that he wasn't a strung-out druggie, he had just eaten a rotten avocado.
When Norm walked into the emergency room, he was ghostly white and shaking, causing the doctors to immediately put him on a gurney. As they wheeled him down the hall, the doctor kept asking Norm what he was on. Norm said that he kept explaining to everybody that he had food poisoning from an avocado. They pumped his stomach, hydrated him with an IV, and then sent him home. You could certainly say that Norm was a trouper. He had been up all night vomiting in a hospital in Harlem. and he was still on the bus at one o'clock. I was late, but I didn't almost die from eating an avocado.
Mohr on 'Norm vs. Writer':The one fight I remember was one between Norm Macdonald and Ian Maxtone-Graham. Ian was a writer who had graduated from Brown University. He didn't drink or smoke, and he came off as a bit of a square. Ian's pet peeve was smoking. He was extremely vocal about his displeasure with people who smoked in the building. [ao27 note: Ian went on to write for The Simpsons (a show he claimed he NEVER watched prior to being hired). He is partly responsible for the demise of this franchise show, by writing the episode where Maude is killed off...thanks for that one, Ian, you jackass. His earlier work (Homer in New York, and Lisa Gets An A) sorta makes up for this major fuck-up. Sorta.]
The entire building was a nonsmoking building, but that was pretty much ignored on the seventeenth floor. A lot of SNL people smoked, and they weren't about to wait for a night elevator to go downstairs and outside to have a butt. Oddly, there were no ashtrays on the seventeenth floor. Because of all the smokers in the history of the show, you would think that someone would've thought to bring up an ashtray.

Since most of the trash cans were filled with paper, tossing your butt in the garbage was not an option. Dave Attell and Norm both weren't bothered by the lack of places to put a cigarette. Whenever either would put a cigarette down, they would stand it up on the filter end and leave it on the desk or table. If they didn't touch it again, the cigarette would burn down to the filter and go out by itself.
One Thursday evening during rewrites, Norm was sitting on the couch by the door inside the writers' room. He was smoking and ashing into a soda can. Ian Maxtone-Graham walked into the room holding a cup of water. He stopped, looked down at Norm, and poured the entire cup of water over Norm's head. Shocked, Norm sat there soaking wet.
The room grew quiet and then Norm stood up and punched Ian in the face. He really blasted him. All six feet eight inches of Ian went down, and the writers quickly jumped up and separated the two. Ian went home right after the fight and didn't come back to work for about a week. I don't know if it was pride or principle, but my man was AWOL. I found out a few days later that Ian was planning to sue NBC for not enforcing the nonsmoking policy. He was also going to take Norm to court for assault and battery.
A few days passed and word filtered in from the out­side that Ian was doing well, wasn't going to sue anybody, and would soon be returning to work.
Mohr on Norm's Fake Pitches:
Nealon's fake pitches were done pro forma, whereas Norm Macdonald's were done to throw everyone off his trail.

Norm would pitch about five fake ideas in great detail, and then at read-through he would have one win¬ner that you never saw coming. When Bob Newhart hosted the show, Norm took about ten minutes to pitch "Literally vs. Figuratively." "I've noticed that people mis¬use the phrase literally when they actually mean figuratively," he began. "A guy will come out of a movie theater and someone will ask him, 'How was the movie?' and he'll respond, 'I literally laughed my head off!'"

Newhart stared at Norm thinking he was finished. We all chuckled, knowing that Norm had no intention of writing his "Figuratively vs. Literally" sketch. But the giggles didn't sate Norm. He wanted to win Newhart over. What happened next was incredible.

Norm kept adding example after example of what he meant trying to force Bob Newhart to crack a smile. Newhart was an idol to all of us in the room, especially to the comics. Norm fought like hell. He wasn't going to be able to sleep that night if Bob Newhart didn't laugh at his fake pitch. He plodded onward: "Sometimes, someone will say I literally cried my eyes out. . . but their eyes are still in their head, you know. Or someone will get some bad news and say, 'I literally died!' But there they are talking to you because they didn't die at all. They meant figuratively, not literally, you see." Newhart began to smile, and Norm tasted blood. Norm kept going and going until I was convinced that if this started as a fake pitch, it was now personal. Norm was going to write it, if only to prove to Newhart how funny it was. And it was funny. The longer he went on and on, the funnier it became. Soon we were all in hysterics. Norm felt satisfied with himself.

That week at read-through, Norm had one sketch on the table that made it onto the show. It was Norm as Charles Kuralt. I was literally blown away.
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Norm will be coming to Toronto (April 17 + 18, Yuk Yuk's Downtown, 416-967-6425) and Ottawa (April 16, Centrepoint Theatre). Tickets are still available, I believe.

Algonquin Radio (CKDJ) is giving out free tickets (the Theatre is a block west from campus). Remember to tune in, since the station goes off-air for the summer, starting on April 20th.

Check out Norm on Myspace and Facbeook, and his Facebook Fan Page.

Someone let me know how the shows go. I won't be going since I've got exams all 3 nights...one of the few chances to see an actually funny stand-up gig in Ottawa, ruined...DAMN YOU CARLETON EXAM PROCTORS!
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Anyway, back to the book, it was okay. Borrow it from your local paper-house. Or buy it on Amazon.

-JS

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you sir. I recently discovered Norm and am obsessed with his work

Anonymous said...

thanks