Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Maybe We'll Have You Back

Today I’m plugging a book that’s not mine. MAYBE WE’LL HAVE YOU BACK by Fred Stoller. He presents a hilarious first-person account of what it’s like to be a long-time character actor on sitcoms.

You’ve seen him on a million shows, from FRIENDS to EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND to SEINFELD to DOG WITH A BLOG. Fred is tall, thin, nerdy and usually plays Annoying Guy, or Obnoxious Guy, or Pathetic Guy or worse, Pathetic Guy #2.   He was punched out in DUMB AND DUMBER.

He’s also very funny, which is why he gets all of these roles over other tall, thin, nerdy actors who are scrambling for the same parts.  How funny?   Fred was also a writer on SEINFELD for a season.

The bottom line: show business is a lot easier if you look like Simon Baker.

The brass ring for guest actors is that one of their characters break out and eventually become series regulars. Christopher Lloyd on TAXI and Bebe Neuwirth on CHEERS are two examples. But more often they deliver three lines (two of which get cut in editing) and have to park off the lot.

And if fighting for show biz scraps wasn't hardship enough, Fred once slept with Kathy Griffin. 

For reasons I’ve never understood, there are some casts that ignore or shun guest actors. It’s not like their series won’t end in two years and they’ll be guest actors themselves.

SIDE NOTE: And then there’s Ted Danson. One day on BECKER he was talking about a new Prius he had just gotten. One of the guest actors was curious about it, and Ted handed him his keys and said, “It’s right out front. Drive it around.” The man is a mensch (who gets great mileage).

I found Fred’s book hilarious and illuminating. Imagine a SEINFELD writer conducting a Starline Tour of Hollywood.

His section on SEINFELD was particularly interesting. Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld ran a writing room unlike any I’ve ever seen before or after. It sounded more like hanging around Elvis Presley and bringing him cakes when he was hungry.

There are so many aspects of show business that go unrecognized. To my knowledge this is the first book about those brave thespians who play roles that are numbered instead of named. Instead of reading the 400th star autobiography (as told to 400 ghost writers), check out this unique perspective of television production.

And then buy my book.  

29 comments:

Hamid said...

Ken, you should have a word with Amazon.co.uk. Apparently, "Where The Hell Am I?" is written by MR Ken Levine and Ken Ken Levine. :-D

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Where-Hell-Am-Trips-Survived/dp/1460979230/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1397653953&sr=1-1&keywords=ken+levine+where+the+hell+am+i

Anonymous said...

Ken, I think you're a real mensch for plugging his book. What a nice guy. I'm going to check out his book on your recommendation. (I've bought all your books, by the way and loved them all.)

~ Shelia

Rockgolf said...

Sounds like this would make a nice companion book for Judy Greer's " I Don't Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star", also very recently published.

Carol said...

There was a documentary I saw on Netflix called 'Hey, it's that Guy' (or something) that was similar. It talked to several guest star type actors.

I've often thought that being a 'hey it's that guy' kind of person wouldn't be a bad way to make a living. You get to act and get paid, and you don't have to deal with all the downsides that fame brings you.

PS: Ken, please don't ever stop writing books. I love your books.

Scooter Schechtman said...

I know Fred Stoller from the "Dr Katz" cartoons and loved him on "Raymond" for the How Now Brown Cow episode. And for playing Smoke On the Water on his accordion.

luciuspaisley said...

Fred was a guest on Norm MacDonald's video podcast last year "promoting" this book. I think the episodes are still on YouTube.

chuckcd said...

I always had to park off the lot

Kerrie said...

I read his book a couple of months ago. What was striking is that his personality truly comes out in his writing. I also really found the Seinfeld stuff interesting.

blinky said...

Speaking of guest actors, last night they just had Schmidt from THE NEW GIRL guest on THE MINDY PROJECT. He was just as mildly amusing as always. And to your earlier point, there was not a joke in either episode. Now that you have pointed out that fact I just watch these shows to try and figure out what they think is supposed to be funny. The answer is nothing, as far as I can tell. Compare these shows to 30 ROCK where you have to watch the episode 2 or 3 times just to catch all the jokes. I guess Zooey and Mindy are cute enough to attract the right audience who can safely text during the show without being interrupted with annoying laughter.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that if and when a good movie based on one of Donald Westlake's Dortmunder books was made that Ray Romano and Fred Stoller should be in the cast as one of the regulars. - Jeff Clem

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Kathy Griffin? Ugh! She is one of the most annoying human beings on television. She ruined every Seinfeld episode she was on.

I feel sorry for anyone that dated her, works for her, talks to her, or waits on her.

Gordon said...

I like Kathy Griffin and think she's funny.

You can't please everyone,?

Igor said...


Ken wrote: "And if fighting for show biz scraps wasn't hardship enough, Fred once slept with Kathy Griffin.

"For reasons I’ve never understood, there are some casts that ignore or shun guest actors."

See, boys and girls (are there any of them who actually read this blog?), this is why punctuation and paragraph breaks are so, so important.

For example, consider the above prose from Ken, but presented just a bit differently:

"And if fighting for show biz scraps wasn't hardship enough, Fred once slept with Kathy Griffin, for reasons I’ve never understood.

"There are some casts that ignore or shun guest actors."

Igor said...

Oh. And every time I've seen Fred Stoller on a show, he's nailed it.

Which is entertaining, and damn impressive.

I love seeing people hit their marks, even when (and perhaps especially when) those marks are "small".

Charles H. Bryan said...

@Rockgolf Judy Greer's book was the first thing that came to mid as I read this post. (I just saw a magazine ad for it last night.)

Charles H. Bryan said...

"mind" not "mid". Yeesh.

Ralph C. said...

That is an excellent book. Stoller also has a Kindle Single called "My Seinfeld Year" that gets into more detail about Fred's time writing for "Seinfeld". That book is excellent, also.

Cosmo said...

Great book, very entertaining.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, whatever money Fred made from this book is now going to fighting a defamation lawsuit by the real Kramer. Which actually proves Fred's account is true.

Johnny Walker said...

As Ralph mentioned (as I've mentioned here previously), Stoller's book detailing his year working on SEINFELD is a MUST read (and it's incredibly cheap, too).

My Seinfeld Year

As Ken has mentioned, they ran the show very differently to any I've ever heard. (They didn't really even have a writer's room -- the writers basically pitched ideas and then went off and wrote alone.) Stoller's account is unflinchingly honest (maybe too honest at times) and entertaining.

He's also being sued by the "real" Kramer, although I expect the suit will be tossed out as frivolous -- while he doesn't paint a flattering portrait of Kenny Kramer, he also doesn't savagely attack him, either.

A definite must read. Very quick and entertaining.

DBenson said...

I've come to assume the bar for guest actors is even higher than for established stars. A star is worth the occasional gaffe or blown line. The guest playing opposite had better be letter perfect every take.

courtney said...

The venerable Carol Leifer has written a book, too---everybody wants to be Ken Levine---and in hers, she offers some more insight into the comedy machine that was and is David and Seinfeld. Salon ran a little excerpt here:

http://www.salon.com/2014/04/11/seinfeld_backstage_secrets_how_i_crashed_larry_david_and_jerry_seinfelds_club/

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks for sharing that, Courtney! Another fascinating read!

Anonymous said...

I downloaded the Kindle version. Very good read so far. For a long time, I thought the young chef, Alfredo Linguini, in "Ratatouille" was modeled after Fred Stoller. I think they look a lot alike. Julie

billnyc said...

I also thought of Judy Greer's book when I saw this. She was a guest on Big Bang Theory once. Wouldn't Fred Stoller make an interesting guest on Big Bang Theory too?

billnyc said...

Friday question, perhaps: There was a time on Big Bang Theory when Sheldon, Leonard & Howard were single and it seemed to work so well. But ever since they have been coupled, I feel the series has lost a cornerstone dynamic. New girlfriends always brought an unpredictability and freshness. Is it more difficult to write for unmarried characters in stable relationships or alternating relationships? Since it seems like an important decision in a series, is there certain reasoning behind moving characters into more permanent relationships?

George said...

i read the stoller book awhile ago, if i'm not mistaken he says that cheers was notorious for being not nice to the guest actors.

Ken Levine said...

He said that's what he had heard but had no first hand knowledge. I do and the cast was lovely to guest stars. Ted is physically incapable of being anything but nice to people. The first year of CHEERS the regular cast would buy gifts for the guest cast. And in our blooper reel we always had segment featuring all the guest actors for the season, including them and thanking them for their contributions.

naderhasan said...

I loved this book. Fred Stoller is a name you might not recognize but he's the guy you've seen on many popular sitcoms and yell "I know that guy!" when you see him. His unique take on agents, auditions, stars of sitcoms you know and love (Drew Carey, Matt LeBlanc etc) are so dishy I couldn't put the book down.

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