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Posts Tagged ‘Academy Award’

Help Fund Child Of The 70’s Starring Michael Vaccaro, Bruce Vilanch, And More…

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

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Hi Everyone! We’re sill busy busy busy raising money to complete season 3 of Child of the 70s! A web series is just like any independent film, raising the money ourselves in order to complete the project is a necessary evil…. eeeeevil Season 3 is shaping up to be the best yet… great scripts, great actors and a great crew… a lot of people working very hard… but in order to make it happen so all of you friends, family & fans can enjoy it, we need money. Please visit our Indiegogo campaign page and make a donation… some of the perks are Michael Vaccaro CDs (which are fantastic and you’ll love them), “Thank You” credits, signed photos, IMDb credits, various levels of Producer credits, your photo prominently displayed and your name written into the dialog in an episode, dinner with cast members (who doesn’t want to have dinner with Ann Walker, Bruce Vilanch, Susan Olsen, etc), seasons 1 & 2 DVD... many perks to choose from! No matter how much you donate you will have our love forever! Also be sure to share the link with all of your friends and help us spread the word! Let’s do this!! Donate here:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/child-of-the-70s-season-3

Great New Interview With Bruce Vilanch

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

Edge
We’ve Got Bruce
Saturday Aug 16, 2014

4-27-2013 3-56-01 AM

When it comes to Hollywood insiders, few come close to Bruce Vilanch. Over his thirty-year-plus career, he has worked with virtually every major talent in the entertainment industry: Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Elizabeth Taylor and (famously) the late Robin Williams. He has also been writing special material for the Oscars since 1989 – a collaboration that has had its ups-and-downs, but also given Vilanch an insider’s view on the film’s industry’s biggest party. He is also no stranger to other award shows, having written for the Emmys, Tonys and Grammys. Or Broadway, where he starred in “Hairspray” after taking it on the road.

Vilanch may be best-known for his stint on “The Hollywood Squares” on which he appeared for four seasons as well as being the show’s head writer. He has been in numerous films (including having made his film debut in “Mahogany” with Diana Ross in 1974). He has even been the subject of a documentary film – “Get Bruce” – which has one of the most star-studded casts in history. For Vilanch, they were his friends.

He’s been a tireless supporter of LGBT causes over the years, including being one of the first to take part in benefits for AIDS in the 1980s. It was from those experiences that he found himself working for the Oscars. And speaking of awards, Vilanch has won some six Emmy Awards for his writing.

That he one of the funniest celebrities in Hollywood is no secret. Part of what has made his solo dates, such as the one that comes to Club Café on Saturday, August 16 at 8pm, so endearing is his ease at making good-natured fun at not only Hollywood royalty, but himself. “I am frequently mistaken for Shelley (Winters) by people that don’t know she’s dead,” he said recently in a freewheeling conversation this week from Saugatuck, Michigan, where he was performing.

EDGE: So what are you wearing?

Bruce Vilanch What am I wearing? Hmmm. A t-shirt with an actual photo of Batman and Robin kind-of embracing. It’s a still from the old show. And they have this expression on their faces that make it seem they’re fascinated with each other. So the caption reads, ‘Batman and Robin: Let’s Hook Up.’ You look at their faces and you think, that’s what they’re really thinking. They’re in love with each other. Look at those expressions! And is there anything better to wear in the Provincetown of the Midwest?

EDGE: Speaking of Provincetown, did you hear that a ferry was nearly capsized by a wave this week?

Bruce Vilanch Really? No. But are you sure it wasn’t a convention of Shelley Winters impersonators just hoping to get capsized? If it was, I would be one of them because I am frequently mistaken for Shelley by people that don’t know she’s dead. They think she still slinks amongst us.

EDGE: Did you know her?

Bruce Vilanch Yes. She was a great actress and a hysterical person. Literally a hysterical person – when I would see her she shout, ‘my God… you’re all sweaty? What are you doing?’ Every meeting was an Academy Award winning performance. Most people didn’t realize she was a bombshell when she was a kid. Or realize how great she really was. She was one of the prime movers of the Actors’ Studio with Brando and James Dean. And a lot of her really good work was on stage… And on screen? There’s always ‘South Seas Sinner.’

Maybe I could do a one-woman show about Shelley Winters. When she wrote her book it was all about her many affairs and everyone she had an affair with was dead, because she didn’t want to write about anybody that was still alive because they would deny it. I think she could have called the book ‘Fuck Shelley and Die.’ My show will be like that. ‘Shelley Winters, Killer Pussy.’

EDGE: What are you doing in Boston?

Bruce Vilanch: What can I plug? How can I get them in? Tell some rude stories about Justin Bieber? I don’t have any of that. I do have stories about my life and times – my illustrious career in show business and all the bizarre people I met and all the backstage stories. It’s funny and dishy. Funny and dishy. (Slipping into a professional phone voice) ‘Funny and Dishy… could I direct your call?’

I don’t know what I am going to say and I’m not so sure what I say now would look good in print, so it’s a good idea not to say anything. But I’ve done 23 Academy Awards shows and everyone has trooped through that extravaganza, so there are stories about plenty of them.

EDGE: You dished James Franco when he did the Oscars – will you mention him?

Bruce Vilanch: Yes. Sure. Why not? I’ll get in trouble again. They’ll never ask him back, so why do I care?

EDGE: Have you started to work on next year’s Oscars?

Bruce Vilanch: Oh, no. Not yet. It starts around October when the producer comes in and gets active and figures out how he or she wants the show to unfold. And then the host comes onboard and it gets deeper as it goes along. Most of the show is written after the nominations come out in January because you don’t really know what you are going to talk about. It doesn’t make sense to prepare stuff about movies that get shut out; and you don’t know who is going to actually appear on the show until after the nominations come out and people sort out their feelings. Whether they want to be on the show or exercise the ritual taking of umbrage because they or their friends were not acknowledged. There use to be the honorary awards, but they made the show so long, so they moved them to separate event – the Governor’s Award – in November that I wrote this year and show excerpts on the awards.

EDGE: Do any of the celebrities as the Oscars take umbrage with the jokes you write?

Bruce Vilanch At first, yeah. A lot of times. But first you have the gauntlet of their people – their manager, their agent, their publicist, their holistic pet psychiatrist, their gardener, their Pilates instructor. Everybody has an opinion. Then they get back to you with what they want changed. By the time it gets to the show, they’ve signed off on anything, so it’s rare if somebody goes off-book on the night of the show. The spontaneous moments come from the winners, who can be depended upon to do something ridiculous because they’re over-excited. And the host commenting on what’s going on during the show. That’s where the spontaneous moments come from.

EDGE: How did Ellen’s selfie-seen-round-the-world happen at last year’s show?

Bruce Vilanch I don’t know. I wasn’t on the show last year because it was all Ellen and her staff. She has ten dedicated people that write her show every day and they did the Oscars. I did Ellen’s first time in 2007 and we did a version of the selfie that year, so I suspect whoever had the idea to do it again watched the show that year.

She did it with Spielberg. She had Spielberg take a picture of her and Clint Eastwood. It was the exact same bit. All that was missing was the dozen stars chomping to be in the shot, which they knew would be seen around the world. So you don’t get to see poor Liza, who was too short to get in on the thing. But on the other hand we got a nice full face of Lupita Nyong’o’s brother, who oddly didn’t capitalize on that. I would think his people would have had him all over the place; but somewhere good taste prevailed. Either that or she said, ‘this is my night. Stand back.’ Maybe she let him wear all her dresses.

EDGE: Every year there seems to be different producers of the Oscars, but you remain a constant with the ceremony. What’s the key to your longevity?

Bruce Vilanch It’s like inventing the wheel every year, yet every year it looks pretty much like the year before; because it’s the nature of the beast. It’s a format to which you must adhere, that makes the show pretty much like every other show. New producers come in and say they’re going to change all that, but they can’t. As they go along they realize it’s a big, unwieldy piece, and it helps to have people around that have done it before; which is why you end up doing it for 23 years. That and various relationships you have with performers – hosts and what not – they want you to be around with them.

EDGE: You’ve also been involved with the Grabby Awards…

Bruce Vilanch Yeah. I’ve done them many time. Of course, they’re porno, and I love the porno business… and the people in it. Fascinating to me. But how I got initially – a lot of those award shows were the first AIDS fundraisers because a lot of the people involved in them was affected by the disease at the beginning. They weren’t raising money and wanted to find a way to raise money, and it was an easy way to do it. And it was an industry willing to chip in. So I ended up getting involved in it because it was a fund-raising device, and then, of course, once I got to the picnic I didn’t want to leave until I had every corn on the cob.

EDGE: What do they look for with a good host for the Oscars?

Bruce Vilanch They’re always looking for someone peaking at the box office at the moment, but what really helps with the ratings is a good year at the movies. It hasn’t been a good summer, but they’re not the kind of pictures the Academy pays attention to except for technical awards. And the year is back-loaded with the stuff they want to win awards, so people haven’t seen anything that will be talked about on the show next year. They’re have been a couple that will get included; but most of the stuff reveals itself in October. I just saw a trailer for “Into the Woods” that comes out on Christmas Day with that tornado movie.

EDGE: You mean, ‘Into the Storm?’ Wasn’t it hilarious when the storm hit that international airport in the middle of nowhere and started picking up 747s…?

Bruce Vilanch I loved that. Suddenly it was ‘Sharknado.’ I want to do a politically-aware disaster movie and call it ‘Ralphnado.’ A group of left-wing lawyers get picked up by a tornado and become Ralphnado, crashing into corporate America.

EDGE: Wasn’t it a terrible movie?

Bruce Vilanch Yes, but I love terrible movies. I use to go with a group to the movies every week back when going to the movies was a ritual and we’d go see a piece of shit movie. That was back when going to the movies was more of a rituals, and we’d pick terrible movies, like ‘Killer Fish’ starring Karen Black or ‘The Lonely Lady’ with Pia Zadora. So we decided to go to a movie and see ‘Into the Storm’ at the Mann’s Chinese Theatre. It wasn’t on the big screen, but on a smaller one; and it was heaven. We were half the audience – there were six of us and the audience was 12; so we could talk out loud, that was if you could be heard over the tornado. There was girl that was like Sandra Bullock and I said, she was going to have to take over the van but won’t be able to go over 50 because there is a bomb on it. They should have borrowed anything from every other action movie ever made.

EDGE: Didn’t the high school principal in the film look like President Obama?

Bruce Vilanch He looked exactly like Obama. It was hysterical – is the subtext of this that Obama winds up a high school principal? Is this what we are suppose to take from this? Is this a right wing moment here?

And the girl in the Helen Hunt part – the weather expert – she was a little bit too old for it and had a little too much work done to be that woman and pretend to be the mother of that baby. It was just enough to put it into The Asylum territory.

EDGE: And the vice principal, who was the movies hero, didn’t he look like Mitt Romney?

Bruce Vilanch Now that you mention it, yes. About him. He was this single guy raising two boys single-handedly and working as a vice principal at the school, but found time to get to the gym. He was really built under the white shirt and tie, which came in handy when he had to move Volkswagon buses off of people and stuff like that. This man knows how to multi-task! At least they spared us how he ended up with the weather expert. Here they were – he’s a single dad with two kids, she’s a single mom with a baby; I thought they were going to end up together, but they didn’t, which violates a cardinal rule. But then there will always be a sequel because they’re always be a tornado somewhere.

EDGE: My question is, why do people live there?

Bruce Vilanch I get the same criticism from people about living in LA. Why do you live where you know there’s going to be a fire followed by a mud slide; which is true. We all know that, but it’s nice while it lasts. Like people say, why do you build where there are coyotes and bears? They build these subdivisions in the hills, then wonder why there are coyotes roaming the streets. They’re surprised – ‘oh, gee. Isn’t this LA?’ It was, until they built out there.

I am waiting for the movie about the wild packs of coyotes invading the suburb. It’s perfect for The Asylum, but they’re too busy doing ‘Mega-Octopussy.’ Oh, what is the one that’s they’re doing? ‘Pteracuda’ – it’s a pterodactyl barracuda combo that can fly and swim. And the only thing that can get it is ‘Sharktopus,’ which is a shark and octopus combination, which cannot fly, but can do a great slither.

EDGE: What is The Asylum?

Bruce Vilanch The studio that makes all those movies for the Sci-fi Channel. Leading up to ‘Sharknado 2,’ they ran a week of all those movies. The giant piranha one, ‘Mega Piranha.’ They’re cautionary tales about creating creatures in a lab. ‘Mega Shark’ was created to get rid of submarines – it can bite through the hull. And, of course, ‘Mega Shark’ goes wild and attacks Acapulco and chomps his way through the hotels.

EDGE: Have you been going to the movies this summer?

Bruce Vilanch Of course. In fact, my new drag name is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I couldn’t resist her – she was too perfect. They’re carrying on out here that it’s been a terrible summer because not enough people went to the movies. I went to watch Helen Mirren in ‘A Hundred Foot Journey.’ It was a wonderful movie and I had a huge meal afterward. It sent you out looking for a French place or an Indian place or a really cute Indian boyfriend that can make a hollandaise sauce.

Bruce Vilanch appears Saturday, August 16, 2014, 8pm, at Club Cafe, 209 Columbus Avenue, Boston, MA. For ticket info, visit the Club Cafe website.

Kritzerland to Celebrate 4th Anniversary with Special Guests Kerry O’Malley and Bruce Vilanch, 9/7

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Broadway World
Kritzerland to Celebrate 4th Anniversary with Special Guests Kerry O’Malley and Bruce Vilanch, 9/7
August 14 2014

4-27-2013 3-55-20 AM

Kritzerland at Sterling’s Upstairs at The Federal presents its fourth anniversary show—THE SONGS THAT GOT AWAY III —on Sunday, September 7, 2014 at 7 p.m.

Evan Buckley Harris (Li’L Abner, (Abner) LACC; Memphis (Huey); Grease 40th Anniversary (Kenickie); South Pacific (Lt. Cable).

Kimberly Hessler (La Mirada/McCoy-Rigby, Les Miserables (Cosette); El Portal Spelling Bee (Olive); Most Happy Fella (Rosabella).

Travis Leland (Norman Rockwell’s America, Freedom Machine, Justin Love, The Giver, Fly By Night, Adding Machine: A Musical.)

Bruce Merkle (McCoy-Rigby, Les Miserables; The Tonight Show with Jay Leno; Rules of Engagement, How I Met Your Mother.)

Hadley Miller (National: Cathy Rigby Is Peter Pan; Tiny Tim; A Christmas Carol, South Coast Rep,www.hadleybellemiller.com)

Madison Claire Parks (Oklahoma! (Laurey), Musical Theatre West; Phantom of the Opera (Christine); Lil Abner (Daisy Mae).

Jenna Lea Rosen (Disney’s Sofia the First (Shelly, Singing Voice of Clio & Hildegard), Parade 3DT (Monteen, Ovation Award.)

Sami Staitman (Annie, Annie, Pioneer, Utah;Young Cosette,Les Mise?rables;Singing in the Rain, Cabrillo; L’il Abner. TV: House of Lies)

Adrienne Visnic (BFA Acting USC, The Most Happy Fella (Cleo), USC Outstanding Actress, LA’s Next Great Stage Star Finalist)

Robert Yacko (Broadway: Fiddler on the Roof; Company with Carol Burnett; Sunday in the Park; Ovation Award, Parade)

Kerry O’Malley (Broadway/Off-Broadway: White Christmas; On A Clear Day; Billy Elliot; Into The Woods; Annie Get Your Gun; Promises, Promises (Encores!); Finian’s Rainbow; How I Learned to Drive; Dublin Carol. TV and film: Upcoming: Terminator: Genesis; Case 39; Earth to Echo; Those Who Kill; Masters of Sex; Shameless; Brotherhood; Boardwalk Empire.)

Bruce Vilanch (Primarily known as writer for a variety of celebrities, including Bette MidlerLily TomlinBilly Crystal, and many more, he went to write for the Academy Awards, and scored acting roles in the film Mahogany, Bosom Buddies, Law & Order, his own one-man show, and starred on Broadway as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray after playing the role for two years in the show’s first national stage tour.)

Music DirectorJohn Boswell

For our 49th Kritzerland show, we celebrate our four-year anniversary of doing monthly shows. We began in September 2010 at the Gardenia. We moved to Michael Sterling’s room at Vitello’s for only three months, before finding our new home here at Kritzerland at Sterling’s Upstairs at The Federal. As with our past three anniversary shows, this one is a potpourri – no theme other than the songs have been recorded by producer Bruce Kimmel on various albums that we haven’t gotten to yet or songs we weren’t able to include because of time. But it’s also the ten-year anniversary of Bruce Kimmel’s hit musical revue, What If, so we’re celebrating that, too, by doing a few of its parody numbers. We’ve assembled an amazing cast, and have two great guest stars – Kerry O’Malley and the wonderful Bruce Vilanch. It will be an evening of wonderful songs, lots of humor and fantastic performances. As with our past anniversary shows, as our gift to our loyal and incredible audiences, this show will have no cover charge. These anniversary shows sell out in about ten minutes so don’t delay because when they’re sold out they’re sold out, although we will be taking a waiting list and usually we have no-shows and the waiting list usually does get in.

This show is likely to be jam-packed. We recommend early reservations. Don’t wait until the last minute!

The only way to reserve: 818-754-8700. Your phone reservation will be confirmed (usually a few days before the show). Dinner reservations: DOORS OPEN 5:30pm. SHOW STARTS 7:00pm! Reservations have already started coming in, and are highly recommended. FOR THIS SHOW ONLY: NO COVER CHARGE! $10 food minimum + $4 facility charge. Yes! You can eat dinner and see the show for only about $15!

Sterling’s at The Federal is located at 5303 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. The Federal Bar is adjacent to the El Portal Theatre. The North Hollywood Stations for the Metrolink Red Line and Orange Line are directly across the street, north of Chandler on Lankershim. Parking is available—entrance for Federal lot
is on Weddington Street (directly behind the building) at $3.50. There is also available street parking.

For information about Sterling’s Upstairs at The Federal, visit: http://www.msapr.net/Sterling-s-at-The-Federal.html.

How to Write Jokes for the Academy Awards

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

Vulture
6/23/2014 at 10:30 AM 3 Comments
How to Write Jokes for the Academy Awards
By Mike Sacks

4-27-2013 3-51-51 AM

Have you ever wondered how the Academy Awards gets written every year? Bruce Vilanch is the man to ask. Starting as a writer on the broadcast 25 years ago, Vilanch has been the annual show’s head writer since 2000. What he specifically writes varies from host to host, but ultimately, everything you see on the telecast goes through him. Below, in an interview with Vanity Fair writer Mike Sacks, Vilanch dishes on trying to make celebrities seem funny, the “cock joke” that Steve Martin refused to tell, and why exactly James Franco, Ellen DeGeneres, and David Letterman each bombed as hosts of the Oscars. The conversation is an excerpt from Poking a Dead Frog, Sacks’s new book of interviews with notable comedy writers such as Amy Poehler, Mel Brooks, and Adam McKay,which he put together as a follow-up to his similar 2009 collection, And Here’s the Kicker. You can buy the book in bookstores starting June 24, or preorder it here.

What’s the joke-writing preparation for a televised awards show such as the Oscars? How much time and effort are we talking about?

A tremendous amount. People have no idea. Billy Crystal came up with the idea of creating a huge playbook, almost like a football team would for a big game. The script itself is three hundred pages. It’s a big hefty tome, and it’s kept offstage, generally offstage left. The host will leaf through it during commercial breaks. It’s most based on what might happen during the broadcast. “Suppose this happens. What if that happens?” You know, just in case. So, you end up creating a lot of material: “Oh, if that happens, we’re covered.” You study who’s nominated to win all the awards, the movies these people are associated with, everything that’s necessary to come up with jokes. A ton of research.”

How many of these jokes, on average, end up being used during the performance?

Out of the hundreds that we write — really, hundreds — if one or two are used, it’s a big deal. We’ll start the actual writing process about two months before the ceremony—usually in December for a February or March broadcast.
It must be frustrating to come up with some many jokes each year, only to have about 2 percent used.

Have there been any jokes you wished had been used but weren’t?

There’ve been a few. We had one joke [in 2003] that involved Steve Martin coming out after the monologue, and he was going to say, “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that my fly was open throughout the monologue. The good news is the camera puts on ten pounds.” But Steve wouldn’t say the joke; he said it was a “cock joke.” He just didn’t feel comfortable doing a cock joke on the Academy Awards. I said, “But it’s not a cock joke! It’s a camera joke.” Everybody loved the joke. Even the network censor thought it was hilarious. We could have gotten away with it because it didn’t cross any kind of line, but the fact that the network censor thought it was hysterical meant we had done something right.

It might very well have become a classic if he did say it.

I know, but Steve felt it was just a little too anatomically correct. You can see the visual a bit too easily. I can understand why he would come to that conclusion. The host has to decide, “Do I want to take the audience to that place?”

The Academy Awards is a strange show to work on as a comedy writer. You’re writing jokes for over one billion people, of all ages, countries, backgrounds. How do you determine what is and what is not appropriate, without sapping out all the humor?

You have to be careful not to cross that weird line. There are celebrities you just can’t make jokes about, whether because it’s cruel or because they’ll be in the audience, or just because it’s too embarrassing a situation. Keep in mind that whatever a host says is going to live with them for the rest of their career. The choice you have to make is, Do I, as a comedian, want to be remembered for this joke or not? You can’t un-ring that bell.

Can you tell me about the backstage writing process during an Oscars broadcast? How do the writers work? Together or separately? Writing down jokes? Pitching them out loud?

It’s frantic. It’s chaos. It makes the fall of Saigon look tame. It’s all happening so, so quickly. My favorite example is from 2003, when Steve was hosting. Now, this goes back to something happening just before the commercial break that you can work off of. Michael Moore had won for Best Documentary Feature for Bowling for Columbine and he made a speech against the second Iraq War. Some in the audience booed, but we also noticed that some of the stagehands started booing him, too. When we returned from commercial break, Steve came out and said, “It’s so sweet backstage, you should have seen it. The Teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo.” That was a joke that we came up with in the wings.

Who are you writing for? The live audience in the auditorium? Or the audience at home?

You’re playing to the auditorium because they’re the ones who are giving the immediate reaction that the home audience will hear. You’re always playing to both of them, really, but I think what you want most is a reaction from the live audience, clearly.

The problem is that the vibe in the room changes as the night progresses. As the night gets longer, there are more and more audience members who have not won an award. Their high hopes have disappeared. For every winner, there are at least four or five who won’t win. It gets chilly. The audience is not really paying attention. At this point, you’re getting down to the big awards; its been a long day. The audience would like to get out of there and start drinking—those who aren’t already potted, that is. So, by the end, the audience is not really paying close attention. Also, there are a hefty amount of seat fillers, because have children, have to relieve the babysitters, they get bored, they just leave. Say, for an example, there are ten supporting actor nominees and those categories are given early. Those ten faces will be gone, generally, by the middle to the end of the show. And they’ll be replaced by secretaries from Paramount who might not be too keen to laugh.

Were you responsible for some of the jokes that bombed the night Letterman hosted, such as the Uma/Oprah joke?

No. The Uma/Oprah joke was written by Rob Burnett [executive producer, Late Show With David Letterman], who lethally takes credit for it. Just lethal. I told Rob not to do it. I thought it was a bad idea to have David Letterman from New York TV making fun of these huge stars from Hollywood. Hosts are vital to the show’s tone. It’s a very specific role that the host plays. You have to bring your personality, but you have to do it in a clever way so it doesn’t feel like a retread of what you do at your other job. I think that’s what happened with Letterman. The comedy didn’t translate well. It takes a very specific type of performer to do well at the Oscars. Ellen DeGeneres [in 2007] had a different approach, and I don’t think it worked. She was very daytime. There wasn’t a sense of occasion. She was scared, I think, and wasn’t willing to go the extra mile. James Franco [in 2010] didn’t work out well at all. He was really out of his comfort zone. He’s not a live stage performer. It’s better if the hosts are comedians. They have to have a bit of an attitude. It’s easier for us writers to find words that suit a comedian’s attitude. Actors tend to act. It’s tough for them to play themselves, to have a persona. You’ll never see Johnny Depp performing An Evening With Johnny Depp.

What’s it like to write for celebrities presenting awards, many of whom are not used to performing comedy before a live audience?

It’s tough. It’s constantly a negotiation of some sort. Each of these celebrities has a flotilla of assistants who are advising them or what to say and not to say. A lot show up with their own writers, depending on who they are. And it’s hard for me to bitch about that. That kind of goes with the territory. So that doesn’t surprise me. What does surprise me is when you get people who don’t do this kind of performing for a living and they go into a major panic and every single word has to be edited by everybody. By their hairdressers, their yoga instructor, their publicist, their pet psychiatrist. Everybody’s got an opinion. And all of those people who are supposedly helping are really enemies of comedy, because they don’t want anybody to get into trouble. You can’t be funny by saying, “I’m not going to get anybody into trouble.” You know, that’s the risk you run. Read Freud on jokes and tell me that you’re not ever going to get anybody into trouble.

From Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers, by Mike Sacks. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) LLC. Copyright © 2014 by Michael Sacks.

Bruce Vilanch: How To Write For The Oscars

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Vulture
How to Write Jokes for the Academy Awards
By Mike Sacks

4-27-2013 3-50-43 AM

Have you ever wondered how the Academy Awards gets written every year? Bruce Vilanch is the man to ask. Starting as a writer on the broadcast 25 years ago, Vilanch has been the annual show’s head writer since 2000. What he specifically writes varies from host to host, but ultimately, everything you see on the telecast goes through him. Below, in an interview withVanity Fair writer Mike Sacks, Vilanch dishes on trying to make celebrities seem funny, the “cock joke” that Steve Martin refused to tell, and why exactly James Franco, Ellen DeGeneres, and David Letterman each bombed as hosts of the Oscars. The conversation is an excerpt from Poking a Dead Frog, Sacks’s new book of interviews with notable comedy writers such as Amy Poehler, Mel Brooks, and Adam McKay,which he put together as a follow-up to his similar 2009 collection, And Here’s the Kicker. You can buy the book in bookstores starting June 24, or preorder it here.

What’s the joke-writing preparation for a televised awards show such as the Oscars? How much time and effort are we talking about?
A tremendous amount. People have no idea. Billy Crystal came up with the idea of creating a huge playbook, almost like a football team would for a big game. The script itself is three hundred pages. It’s a big hefty tome, and it’s kept offstage, generally offstage left. The host will leaf through it during commercial breaks. It’s most based on what might happen during the broadcast. “Supposethis happens. What if that happens?” You know, just in case. So, you end up creating a lot of material: “Oh, if that happens, we’re covered.” You study who’s nominated to win all the awards, the movies these people are associated with, everything that’s necessary to come up with jokes. A ton of research.”


How many of these jokes, on average, end up being used during the performance?
Out of the hundreds that we write — really, hundreds — if one or two are used, it’s a big deal. We’ll start the actual writing process about two months before the ceremony—usually in December for a February or March broadcast.


It must be frustrating to come up with some many jokes each year, only to have about 2 percent used. Have there been any jokes you wished had been used but weren’t?
There’ve been a few. We had one joke [in 2003] that involved Steve Martin coming out after the monologue, and he was going to say, “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that my fly was open throughout the monologue. The good news is the camera puts on ten pounds.” But Steve wouldn’t say the joke; he said it was a “cock joke.” He just didn’t feel comfortable doing a cock joke on the Academy Awards. I said, “But it’s not a cock joke! It’s a camera joke.” Everybody loved the joke. Even the network censor thought it was hilarious. We could have gotten away with it because it didn’t cross any kind of line, but the fact that the network censor thought it was hysterical meant we had done something right.


It might very well have become a classic if he did say it.
I know, but Steve felt it was just a little too anatomically correct. You can see the visual a bit too easily. I can understand why he would come to that conclusion. The host has to decide, “Do I want to take the audience to that place?”


The Academy Awards is a strange show to work on as a comedy writer. You’re writing jokes for over one billion people, of all ages, countries, backgrounds. How do you determine what is and what is not appropriate, without sapping out all the humor?
You have to be careful not to cross that weird line. There are celebrities you just can’t make jokes about, whether because it’s cruel or because they’ll be in the audience, or just because it’s too embarrassing a situation. Keep in mind that whatever a host says is going to live with them for the rest of their career. The choice you have to make is, Do I, as a comedian, want to be remembered for this joke or not? You can’t un-ring that bell.


Can you tell me about the backstage writing process during an Oscars broadcast? How do the writers work? Together or separately? Writing down jokes? Pitching them out loud?
It’s frantic. It’s chaos. It makes the fall of Saigon look tame. It’s all happening so, so quickly. My favorite example is from 2003, when Steve was hosting. Now, this goes back to something happening just before the commercial break that you can work off of. Michael Moore had won for Best Documentary Feature for Bowling for Columbine and he made a speech against the second Iraq War. Some in the audience booed, but we also noticed that some of the stagehands started booing him, too. When we returned from commercial break, Steve came out and said, “It’s so sweet backstage, you should have seen it. The Teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo.” That was a joke that we came up with in the wings.


Who are you writing for? The live audience in the auditorium? Or the audience at home?
You’re playing to the auditorium because they’re the ones who are giving the immediate reaction that the home audience will hear. You’re always playing to both of them, really, but I think what you want most is a reaction from the live audience, clearly.


The problem is that the vibe in the room changes as the night progresses. As the night gets longer, there are more and more audience members who have not won an award. Their high hopes have disappeared. For every winner, there are at least four or five who won’t win. It gets chilly. The audience is not really paying attention. At this point, you’re getting down to the big awards; its been a long day. The audience would like to get out of there and start drinking—those who aren’t already potted, that is. So, by the end, the audience is not really paying close attention. Also, there are a hefty amount of seat fillers, because have children, have to relieve the babysitters, they get bored, they just leave. Say, for an example, there are ten supporting actor nominees and those categories are given early. Those ten faces will be gone, generally, by the middle to the end of the show. And they’ll be replaced by secretaries from Paramount who might not be too keen to laugh.


Were you responsible for some of the jokes that bombed the night Letterman hosted, such as the Uma/Oprah joke?
No. The Uma/Oprah joke was written by Rob Burnett [executive producer,Late Show With David Letterman], who lethally takes credit for it. Just lethal. I told Rob not to do it. I thought it was a bad idea to have David Letterman from New York TV making fun of these huge stars from Hollywood. Hosts are vital to the show’s tone. It’s a very specific role that the host plays. You have to bring your personality, but you have to do it in a clever way so it doesn’t feel like a retread of what you do at your other job. I think that’s what happened with Letterman. The comedy didn’t translate well. It takes a very specific type of performer to do well at the Oscars. Ellen DeGeneres [in 2007] had a different approach, and I don’t think it worked. She was very daytime. There wasn’t a sense of occasion. She was scared, I think, and wasn’t willing to go the extra mile. James Franco [in 2010] didn’t work out well at all. He was really out of his comfort zone. He’s not a live stage performer. It’s better if the hosts are comedians. They have to have a bit of an attitude. It’s easier for us writers to find words that suit a comedian’s attitude. Actors tend to act. It’s tough for them to play themselves, to have a persona. You’ll never see Johnny Depp performing An Evening With Johnny Depp.


What’s it like to write for celebrities presenting awards, many of whom are not used to performing comedy before a live audience?
It’s tough. It’s constantly a negotiation of some sort. Each of these celebrities has a flotilla of assistants who are advising them or what to say and not to say. A lot show up with their own writers, depending on who they are. And it’s hard for me to bitch about that. That kind of goes with the territory. So that doesn’t surprise me. What does surprise me is when you get people who don’t do this kind of performing for a living and they go into a major panic and every single word has to be edited by everybody. By their hairdressers, their yoga instructor, their publicist, their pet psychiatrist. Everybody’s got an opinion. And all of those people who are supposedly helping are really enemies of comedy, because they don’t want anybody to get into trouble. You can’t be funny by saying, “I’m not going to get anybody into trouble.” You know, that’s the risk you run. Read Freud on jokes and tell me that you’re not ever going to get anybody into trouble.


From Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers,by Mike Sacks. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) LLC. Copyright © 2014 by Michael Sacks.

Bruce Vilanch, Jeff Bowen, Drew Gasparini, Joshua Salzman, Phoebe Kreutz, and More at Work on New Musical

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Playbill
Jeff Bowen, Drew Gasparini, Joshua Salzman, Phoebe Kreutz, Bruce Vilanch and More at Work on New Musical
By Andrew Gans
17 Jun 2014

4-27-2013 3-49-54 AM

UnsungMusicalsCo. will present a workshop production of the new musical revue The Passing Show June 26–29 at MTC Creative Center.

Conceived and directed by Ben West, The Passing Show features choreography, tango and music hall dances by J. Austin Eyer, Shannon Lewis, Mark Stuart and Ryan VanDenBoom. Fran Minarik serves as musical director and dance arranger.

The revue is being written by a team that includes Obie Award winner Jeff Bowen, Sam Carner and Derek Gregor, Drew Gasparini, Rick Hip-Flores, Phoebe Kreutz, Sam Salmond, Drama Desk nominees Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham and Emmy Award winner Bruce Vilanch. The work also features a newly adapted comedy sketch by Arnold B. Horwitt, an unpublished melody by Tony winner Albert Hague and three trunk songs by the Academy Award-winning team of Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn.

The cast will comprise Holly Ann Butler, Nick Gaswirth, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Andrew Hodge, Stephanie Martignetti, Ruth Pferdehirt and Clifton Samuels.

“Hard-boiled Broadway agents, tap-happy temps, and deliriously lustful in-laws raise a racket in this outrageous fun-fest filled with an exciting nod to the British music hall, a pair of celebrity-crazed theatre producers, and all-new material! Borrowing its name from what is considered the first American revue, The Passing Show puts a contemporary spin on the classic form,” according to press notes.

Tickets, priced $15, are available at www.SmartTix.com or by calling (212) 868-4444. MTC Creative Center is located at 311 West 43rd Street in New York City.

For more information visit www.UnsungMusicals.org.