Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lost in Translation

Some great comments on yesterday’s post. And since we’re trading unfortunate audience stories in sitcoms here’s a couple more.

I was directing a show for ABC called BROTHERS KEEPER in the late 90s. During rehearsals sometimes tours would come in, sit in the bleachers for ten minutes, get incredibly bored, and leave.

On this particular day I was blocking a scene where Billy Ragsdale (who played the dad) was scolding his eight-year-old son (played by Justin Cooper) for something he had done (lost his homework, killed someone, I forget). Since Justin was required to spend so many hours a day in school we would rehearse with a fifty-year-old stand-in who let’s just say was only Justin’s height.

A group of Japanese tourists came in and sat down in the bleachers. None of them could speak English. What they saw was this:

Me, making a guy in his 30’s scold a middle-aged dwarf to such a degree that the dwarf breaks down crying and runs from the set.

They were appalled! Outraged! As one, they got up and marched out, glaring at me and calling me things that did not need any translation.

Needless to say I have not been invited to direct any Japanese sitcoms. And I don’t think Billy Ragsdale has had too many offers to appear over there either.

And from my friend Dave Hackel comes this experience. (Among his many credits, Dave was the creator of BECKER and longtime showrunner of WINGS.)

The show was in good shape. Laughs were there. Actors were on the money. But after each joke -- nothing. Then fifteen seconds later, a titter. The writers were thrown off. The actors were thrown off. I couldn't figure out what was going on. Then I turned around and saw the man signing our show to a large group of deaf people.

The amazing thing is that every writer who has worked on a multi-camera show seems to have at least one story like this. It's why we all have facial tics.

The late brilliant comedian Mitch Hedberg said it best: "Y'know, you can't please all the people all the time... and last night, all those people were at my show."

15 comments:

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Mitch! Please God, it's Mitch!!!

*walks back slowly to his darkened room, barely lit by a computer screen that stays on for 52 weeks out of the year, and 365 of those days*

A. Buck Short said...

Lieber Herr Levine:
Sorry, I am just catching up on the Cowboys/Giants post. We here in Dallas have been sitting shiva at Tony Roma’s (but mit babyback beef). In Dallas it’s 2 weeks sitting for Cowboys, 1 week for Mavericks, Ranger “feh.”

But since you still seem to be focused on the Axis Powers --Note to Tony Romo from Tom Brady: Gisele Bündchen wanted me to tell you that if you had blitzed through Belgium, you could have picked up Bobby Knight in Lubbock “und sie hätten zerknittert” [and you would have CRUSHED] der Manning at the Bulge in the pocket. But that’s water under the Remagen bridge and may have only been das bier talking. After all, this is a Brazilian bimbo whose family couldn’t even make it all the way to Argentina.

And with regard to the David Hackel Becker sign language anecdote, one more Hedberg quote: "I was at a convenience store reading a magazine. The clerk came up to me and said,’"This isn’t a library.’ ‘OK,’ I said. ‘I will talk louder.’"

The Crutnacker said...

I didn't really get introduced to Mitch Hedberg until after he died. I tracked down some of his material. His delivery kind of annoyed me until I found myself laughing too hard to notice.

The Crutnacker said...

Do you realize that if you were to do a sitcom about making a sitcom and you put ANY of those audiences in there as a plot point, nobody would believe it?

Tom Quigley said...

Ah, the joy of having to deal with one of the greatest risks of three-camera fiming: What the hell is your audience going be like?...

I once worked handling the audience on a pilot where the booking company had booked a group of about 40 unwed expectant mothers, which was nearly half the crowd... And anyone who's been to a taping or filming of a sitcom knows how long it can be before the bell gives everyone the OK to enter or exit the soundstage -- and what kind of pressure carrying a kid is going to put on your bladder when you've been sitting awhile... Well, with this group, all evening long it was half of them out to the restroom (AND a cigarette break to boot, mind you! -- I wonder how many of those poor babies were born with nicotine addiction, under-development or immune deficiencies) and half of them back in... The warm-up couldn't even make jokes about it -- after all, who's going to make fun of a group of unwed expectant mothers?... Between the complaints of them having to pee (both from them and the producers) the whole evening and the fact that the show wasn't all that good (didn't get picked up as far as I can recall) the audience situation was a total mess... Forget about the fact that they could hear or understand English.... The majority of them weren't even inside the studio for two-thirds of the show...

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Ten years ago we were doing the dutch adaptation of the Mary Tyler Moore Show (25 after they were first made, but the scripts were still great). The main actress also did a game show for mentelly challanged people (I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but this quiz was really aimed just at the Dow Syndrome Crowd and actually quite a gentle and nice program). One taping we had half our audience made up of her fans. Of course they didn't laugh one at the scripted jokes. But they did have a lot of fun, when she played with them between takes...

jon_anderson said...

I always liked William Ragsdale - I am one of the 10 people who enjoyed Hermans Head, at least the first season. But the poor guy has dropped off the face of the earth. Makes me wonder what heppens to the actors you see reach a certain success level and then they get no more work - are they doing soaps or did they get a day job?

van said...

"I used to do drugs... I still do, but I used to, too."

I had the fortune of seeing Mitch Hedberg at a free show a few months before he died. He was trying out all kinds of crazy material, and I was laughing half out of disbelief at the strangeness of his humor.

A. Buck Short said...

To take this tangent and run with it...when we saw him at the Improv, my wife noticed that behind the sunglasses Mitch Hedberg did just about the whole set with his eyes closed. Great talent.

Mary Stella said...

Makes me wonder what heppens to the actors you see reach a certain success level and then they get no more work - are they doing soaps or did they get a day job?

Young Justin Chambers started in soaps (Lucas on General Hospital), but now that he's more grown up, I haven't seen him in much. I think he was in Liar, Liar with Jim Carey, but that's all I recall.

At least I don't see him on the billing for Celebrity Rehab.

Anonymous said...

Justin plays Dr. Alex Karev in "Grey's Anatomy."

Mary Stella said...

Ack! I thought Justin Cooper (the boy in Ken's post) and typed Justin Chambers. Thanks for catching my goof.

New dad Layne said...

"You know on TV, on the fishing shows, they catch the fish and then they let it go. They don't want to eat the fish but they do want to make it late for something.

Where were you?!

I got caught!

Liar, let me see the inside of your lip."

I miss Mitch.

Stratman said...

I think you may missed out on a chance at a hit show on the Nagano Broadcasting Corporation. You should have given them oranges.

BreckGirl said...

Can anyone please explain why so many young boys on television nearly always have that horrible Adam Rich bowl haircut?