Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Happy Ending

Yesterday I told you about losing a radio gig because my “friend” stole my material. Now flash forward four years. I’m writing on MASH and doing a Saturday night disc jockey show on KTNQ (Ten-Q) in Los Angeles. Yes, I finally got to be on the radio in my own hometown. The station wasn’t in a high rise, it was in an abandoned mortuary in Koreatown but still!

I’m on the air for about six months when I get a call on the station hot line. It’s Rick Carroll, who was the program director of KKDJ. He asked if I remembered being thrown out of his office. I said, “Yes, I still have the tic.” He went on to say he owed me a big apology. He had been listening to me every week on Ten-Q and clearly his DJ, Bobby had stolen the material from me, not the other way around. It was a lovely gesture on his part and I appreciated it greatly.

The truth is, the only way I could get respect in radio was by leaving it. Before I became a writer I was always being told by my program directors to stop trying to do schtick. Just shut up and play the damn records. I can’t tell you how many memos I got insisting I was not remotely funny.

And then a strange thing happened. I sold a couple of scripts, quit radio full-time, and suddenly I was a comic genius. My content was fresh and original and hilarious.

It was the same schtick. In some cases the exact same jokes.

The point is this: don’t let other people tell you you’re not funny. What the hell do they know? Yes, your material and/or delivery might need a bit of polish, but the first step to success is believing in yourself. All you gotta do is find one person who likes you. Then the ones who didn’t will start going around telling people they “discovered” you. Trust me, it’s a beautiful thing not to take their calls.

And maybe if you're lucky, the first guy to recognize your talent, won't steal all your material. 

23 comments:

Sean Gaffney said...

Spike Milligan once talked about reading his jokes to friends in a pub, and nobody laughed. He briefly agonized about it, before he realized the problem: the friends weren't funny and he was. Realizing your own sense of humor is wonderful.

Angry Gamer said...

I thought you were going a different way when I read the title. :)

Stealing Jokes is bad... stealing patentable inventions is worse. I have literally been in front of tech review boards after someone has taken an idea of mine.

I think with humor or any other creative area it's an iceberg paradigm. No one sees the 50+ ideas that "didn't work" they only see the one that did. I just get the thief to explain his process to get to the winning idea... usually that's all it takes... unless they "collaborated" with you.

I am more careful in that area these days.

Friday Question for ya:
Do you feel that your jumping from station to station in Radio and then moving to TV helped your creativity?

In my field I have noticed that some of the most creative people I have worked with are vagabonds. These creative people have moved from design group to design group from company to company. They ooze new ideas and directions because of their varied experience.

Any thoughts?

Angry Gamer
- be Angry be very Angry

Jay said...

Today's genius HuffPo headline: "Miley Is Actually A Really Good Singer"

Hamid said...

What became of "Bobby"? Have your paths crossed in the years since? I hope karma caught up with him and he's now a server at Jack in the Box. That's right, even in the UK, I know of Jack in the Box's reputation.

Mister Charlie said...

Good story, Ken...

Robert Pierce said...

Charlie Tuna???

Ken Levine said...

It's not Charlie Tuna. This person is no longer in radio.

Bob said...

Either that, or maybe you're really not funny, even though you think are, and you'll never find success, and will grow old and bitter dwelling on how the world failed to recognize your genius and cheated you out of the success you deserve.

David Schwartz said...

Reminds me of when I was just starting out working in television and the show I was working on was very regimented about "who did what." Heaven forbid if you showed you had an expertise that wasn't within your job description. And since my job description was Xeroxing scripts and running errands, there wasn't a lot of opportunity to shine. So... one day there's a music edit that needed to be done, and I knew how to do it, so I made the edit and handed it in to my supervisor. I got reprimanded because it wasn't my job and they had someone else (much higher paid) who was supposed to do that. Flash forward about 3 years, and all of a sudden the music director of the show leaves... and they need someone who knows how to edit music. I get the job because the same people who told me not to do that, remembered I knew how to do that. So... I guess the moral of at least my story, is that if you show people what you can do, they may not appreciate it at first, but tend to remember it for the time that they may need it.

Anonymous said...

"...don’t let other people tell you you’re not funny". Except if you're Dane Cook.

GrouchoSparx said...

Why continue to post as Anonymous when we all know you're "Yarrum" now?

Johnny Walker said...

Bah. I got my hopes up. Marilu Henner better be as entertaining as you.

Pizzagod said...

This is terrific, I can't thank you enough for recounting it and sharing. There are just too many times that things go sour and nobody ever knows the difference, nobody ever stands up and takes their lumps-kudos to Mr. Carroll for having balls enough to apologize to you. I can only imagine how good that felt.

VincentS said...

Great story, Ken. Thanks!

Brian Drake said...

Oh, how I remember being told "don't do any bits, just shut up and play the hits" and the PD who uttered those words thought he was sooooo clever. PDs are usually the hacks who couldn't make it on the air so they tell the rest of us how to "do it right" but I digress.

Flash forward for me, 20 years later, and I'm doing traffic in the Bay Area, a nice, easy gig. I get a call from the PD. "You don't talk enough. I need to you elaborate on what's going on during accidents and stuff."

"Wait, are you telling me to talk *more*?"

"Yes."

"I've never had a PD tell me to talk more before."

We had a good laugh.

Pat Reeder said...

To David Schwartz: Your story reminds me of a video production company where I was once head writer. They finally fired me with a letter explaining that my "creativity could not be contained." That was the best endorsement I ever got.

BTW, after they fired me, they continued using the ideas I left behind from my uncontainable creativity to produce several more videos, which, along with the stuff I did when I was there, went on to be the basis of the Barney the Dinosaur show and made them about a billion dollars. I didn't get any of the money, though. Apparently, Barney's oft-stated eagerness to share with others COULD be contained.

Kent said...

Well, I guess I was an oddball listener. I never gave a damn about the DJ being funny. I just wanted him to shut up and play the record.

Mike Barer said...

Great story.

Robert Pierce said...

I apologize. I shouldn't have tried to guess, and in doing so, potentially besmirching a good radio personality's name.

Anonymous said...

That's a gem of a story, Ken. Or is it the story of a gem?

Cap'n Bob said...

To make a long story short, a guy stole a quip of mine and ended up in jail. No, I had nothing to do with his arrest.

jcs said...

FRIDAY QUESTION
The other day I noticed that BIG BANG THEORY doubled its ratings over the show's seven year run and is still doing very well. Clearly the other Levine (aka Chuck Lorre) is doing something right. Do you know whether the network has contributed to the show's success in a meaningful way?

SkippyMom said...

I find it hard to believe people wouldn't think you're funny.

My husband and I watch Fraiser everyday and even after seeing every episode at least 10 times, we still laugh out loud, praising the heavens for your and David's comic genius.

Kelsey, David, Jane and John are great comedic actors, but the words are yours.

FWIW - we watched the episodes with the RV, the brothers writing a book and "Slow Tango in Paris".

Valentine's Day and Niles sleeping with Lilith becomes a family affair. We drop everything and grab the kids to watch those episodes. And still laugh to tears.

Thank you for not listening to the naysayers.

As another commentator said "It's not that you're not funny, those around you aren't."