Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Here's to the comedy writers who lunch

The Algonquin Round Table was this legendary rendezvous for witty playwrights, columnists, authors, and actors. They would meet for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in New York on a regular basis from 1919 to 1929. Out of these fabled luncheons would come classic quotes like Dorothy Parker's -- “Let me get out of these wet clothes into a dry martini.” I’d list the names of the participants but you’ve probably never heard of most if not any of them. I only bring it up because these lunches have become so storied that you would think they were the Justice League of Comedy.

I’m sure witty zingers would be uttered from time to time. And pithy lines. Pith was very big back then. But I bet, for all the hoopla, the Algonquin Round Table was no funnier (and probably less funny) than any six TV comedy writers getting together at a deli. Or comedians for that matter.

If you love to laugh (and kill yourself with fatty meats), there is no greater way to spend a couple of hours. The following topics are always discussed:

Actors who are monsters that we’ve worked with. And trying to top each other with our actor’s horribleness.  It's not a fair fight when Roseanne writers join. 

Who died.

House repairs as a result of a natural disaster. Retaining walls only collapse on comedy writers.

Other comedy writers who are funnier than we are.

Agents.

Shows we hate.  (This can take up half the lunch.) 

Vacation horror stories. (which usually includes lost luggage and more natural disasters.)

Cars we’ve sold.

Cars we’ve bought. Comedy writers are cutting edge. They’re among the first to have electric cars, hybrids, and now hydrogen cars (which sound like four-wheel Hindenburgs).    If they make a car that runs on human waste, comedy writers will buy it if they can get a sticker allowing them to drive in the carpool lane. 

Lexapro.

Chuck Lorre.

Ex-wives, ex-husbands, child support, private school tuition, orthodontia. 

Jury duty (ways to get out of it).

Former writer/crazy man Pat McCormick stories. None I could repeat here.

Projects that we’re working on – real and imagined.

The upcoming WGA strike. There’s always an upcoming WGA strike.

Who else died.

Great jokes we’ve heard – all told really well. At least one pertaining to Bea Arthur.

Stupid network notes we’ve received.

And new this year…

How fucked we all are with Trump in the White House.

I bet for every laugh they got at the Algonquin we get four (although our pith level is shamefully low). Never has anger been so hilarious. It truly is an honor to sit at a table with great comic minds. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been doubled over… although that’s probably the pastrami.

27 comments :

YEKIMI said...

If they make a car that runs on human waste, comedy writers will buy it.

And as long as you stay in Hollywood...free fuel forever from all the shit you get from producers, directors, actors, movie/TV studio heads, etc.

Tim W. said...

The "wet clothes/dry martini" line is usually credited to Robert Benchley, not Dorothy Parker. Benchley, in turn, credited it to Charles Butterworth, who delivers a variant on the line in Mae West's EVERY DAY'S A HOLIDAY (1937), meaning the line probably came from one of the anonymous Paramount writers who gagged up West's screenplay.

Bill Jones said...

I've always figured that the Algonquin Round Table is more a product of myth than fact. Yes, there were some witty playwrights and commentators. Yes, I'm sure that witty things were said now and then. But most of the time it was probably mundane chatter. And likely most/all of the witticisms were said outside the actual gatherings (it's not like there was a reporter sitting at the table with them). My guess is that there were maybe a couple news articles written about them back in the day, and as a result the "Table" developed into this towering sentry of humor. Kind of like how everyone thinks the first five years of Saturday Night Live are the pinnacle of comedy and can never be topped. Um, if you go back and look at full episodes from that period, literally 95% of material is painfully unfunny.

benson said...

Maybe I'm the only one, but would it be possible to identify who these people pictured are? These are some of the best comedic minds of the past half century (or more).

Thanks.

Bill Avena said...

Some of those pix could be Mob meetings, except for the presence of phones on the table. How much meal time is taken up by people talking on their freaking phones?? [huff, grunt]

ChipO said...

At some point in history, even for the casual gathering, you probably would have all been in coat and tie. Ken - are you old enough for the transition from coat and tie to comfortable to have occurred? If so, did you notice it? etc.

Amy B said...

How I would love to be a fly on that wall.

VP81955 said...

Are the Chuck Lorre stories sympathetic or otherwise? Consider all those stars he's had to put up with: Roseanne, Brett Butler, Cybill Shepherd, Charlie Sheen, etc.

Andrew said...

For some reason this reminds me of the Inklings - J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, sometimes Chesterton, etc. That would have been great company to listen in on.

Or perhaps it would have been a great disappointment. Maybe they just ranted about all their mundane frustrations all day long as they got drunk. Like Ken and his buddies.

Jim said...

It's not a car, but such a vehicle DOES exist...

http://metro.co.uk/2012/08/24/poo-powered-toto-motorcycle-toilet-bike-neo-kicking-up-a-stink-in-japan-549656/

Waste not, want not...

Nick said...

Who slept with who to get a role......

ADmin said...

Man, that sounds like a dream field trip to me. To be THAT fly on the wall ... would almost make it worth being a fly!

Holly said...

Why do Hollywood people always talk about lunches. Power lunches, working lunches, now here funny people lunches plotting the next strike :)

There is a list published by 'Hollywood smut' Hollywood Reporter on where power brokers lunch, best restaurants that Hollywood lunches and all.

I wonder if all those social workers and doctors and volunteers working in famine ravaged countries have such lunches.........

Gary said...

Maybe a combo lunch-podcast sometime?

The WBC has been very good this time.

Ian said...

Is the food Kosher?

LouOCNY said...

Bill Jones - even most of the Algonquin people have said in various places that it was overrated - lots of shop talk, inside jokes and so on. However, the one that would have been amazing to see, would have been the lunches at the Hillcrest Country Club in Beverly Hills. THERE, it was the cream of Hollywood comedy - George Burns, Jessel, any number of Ritz Brothers, most of the MARX Brothers....Benny...Danny Kaye, and so on.

SharoneRosen said...

Alexander Woolcott, Harpo Marx, the Gershwin brothers... but I'd come share a pastrami and a Dr. Brown's with your bunch anytime!

Charles H Bryan said...

There is probably a very large book of stories about Pat McCormick that could be collected and sold to me.

D. McEwan said...

"I’d list the names of the participants but you’ve probably never heard of most if not any of them."

I would dare you to come up with the name of even one Algonquin Round Table regular I've never heard of. When you read the biographies of Harpo Marx, Alexander Woolcott, and George S. Kaufmann, as I have, you come to know all the Algonquinites well.

Csteinkellner said...

Hey, there's no girls in these pix. Call me!

Doug said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Greg Thompson said...

Looks like Bob Ellison top picture, right.

He consulted on a show I worked on in the mid-'90s and I was amazed how this old guy (he was old even then) kept pitching great jokes. He didn't stay past midnight, though!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

D. McEwan: me, too. I discovered them through a friend in high school.

wg

steve said...

I hope/believe that a large number of your blog readers would be very familiar with several members of the Algonquin Round Table, charter and guests. They were, in fact, the Justice League of Comedy during the 1920's. I was surprised, Ken, that a comedy writer with your pedigree would dismiss these writers so easily. Trying to compare your lunches with those in the Algonquin dining room is an impossible task. It's as if you are comparing one movie you have seen with one you have not, but have heard about from others. George S Kaufman should be studied, F.P. Adams, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Heywood Broun, Alexander Woollcott, Marc Connelly -- all very funny people in the dining room and out. Most of their writings are readily available and I encourage everyone to look at their work. In 100 years, I hope some writer does not dismiss your work in favor of the more current crop of comedy writers...there is more than enough room at the table for everyone.

Ken Levine said...

Steve,

I wasn't dissing the Algonquin Round Table. I was just suggesting that there are other tables in other venues with equally funny people. And I fully expect in fifty years there will be comedy writers just as funny or funnier than us clogging their arteries at delis.

Wow. Why do people have to take offense at just about anything?

steve said...

Ken --

You should not be offended that I, for probably the 1st time in years, didn't agree with your post...that was not my intention. And I would hope, if someone does discount your work in 50 years, there will be someone to tell everyone to watch Mash, Cheers, Frasier, to read this blog and, certainly, to read "The Me Generation...By Me", one of the funniest book of essays I've read in years. I sincerely believe that you would have been welcomed at the Round Table.