Lorne Michaels and Gorillas
This has something to do with working for people and being what you think an artist or an entertainer should be.
I had a meeting with Lorne Michaels. He had seen me a couple of times and he was thinking about putting me on Saturday Night Live. I want to share this with you because it was really a fine moment to be had.
Along with SNL, Michaels produces Late Night with Conan O'Brien. I had appeared on the O'Brien show the night before. I was feeling like a player. I was waiting in the SNL lobby for about an hour and a half when then the head writer of the show came out and said, "Okay, he's ready to see you."
Lorne Michaels is a big presence. It was a private meeting in
his office. We walked into the office and Lorne was putting something on a bookshelf. The head writer and myself are standing there and he doesn't acknowledge us. He just continues to work at the bookshelf. He heard us walk in. It is already awkward. The head writer seemed more nervous than me. He says, "Lorne, Marc Maron is here."
And Lorne turns around and asks, "How was Conan last night?" And I say, "Fine, it was good. It was..."
"Did they laugh at you? Were they laughing?"
And I say, "Yeah, I did pretty well."
"It's better when they laugh, isn't it?"
That was the beginning, weird. Then we sit down. I'm sitting there in front of his desk. In front of me, right behind a picture facing him, there's a little bowl of candy. I was freaking out about the whole situation. So everything became very loaded and I was thinking, "I'm not going to take any fucking candy. It's a test of some kind."
I became very self-conscious.
I leave my head and check back into the situation at hand and Lorne is philosophizing. He was in the middle of a long discourse that I had missed because I was thinking about the candy. He says, "You know, comedians are like monkeys."
I laugh uncomfortably. It is a direct assault on my craft.
"People go to the zoo and they like the lion because it's scary. And the bear because it's intense, but the monkey makes people laugh."
I just couldn't stop myself and I said, "Yeah, I guess, if they're not throwing their shit at you."
That was the moment that I just knew that I wasn't going to be on SNL. I had responded. Lorne seemed taken aback for about a second and then commenced to stare directly into my eyes for a long time. So long that the head writer fidgeted in his chair and laughed uncomfortably. He said, "Lorne?"
Lorne said, "You can tell a lot from someone's eyes."
I was in a staring contest with one of the most powerful men in show business. I tried to exude some star-ness from my face.
I broke and I took a candy.
As soon as I took the candy I swear to God Lorne shot a look at the head writer that clearly connoted to me that I had failed the test. I walked out of there thinking I ruined my career because of a Jolly Rancher. I don't even like Jolly Ranchers. I festered about it for
The day after I have this meeting with Lorne Michaels, the day after I felt myself on the precipice of something great, I had to go to Washington, DC, to perform. I was the big headliner at the Comedy Cafe in Washington, DC. What I didn't know before going is that it was the last weekend that the club would be open and they didn't want to blow any money on publicity.
The first night, Friday night, first show; nine people. Not
the worst thing in the world, but I'll just tell you something: As a comic, rarely do you walk off stage after performing for nine people saying, "Fuck, yeah! God, I made the right career choice! Man, I feel
good about myself."
Second show: three people, three. One of them was the opener and he heckled. So, needless to say after meeting with Lorne and
having this experience at the club, I wasn't feeling great about myself.
There was a strip bar right downstairs owned by the same guy who owned the club. I don't go in for strip bars, really. It's not because I have anything against them obviously. It's just that I'm a sucker. Yeah, I'm
always the one guy in the group of guys saying, "No, she really likes me, man. She gave me her real name. It's Candy."
I was feeling so sad so I went down to the strip bar. I'm sitting there. It was one of these really sad, old strip bar where they have one stage. Men had to stand on line like some sort of religious procession to tip the woman.
So it's bad enough that these sad little guys are sitting in corners in the strip bar, but then they all get in line in the light and meekly make an offering to the goddess of the pole. I couldn't even
get involved with it. I didn't want to be there. It wasn't working. If part of the stripper's job was to come up and say, "You're really funny." I would have been fine with that. That would have helped.
So what I ended up doing was I went to a convenience store and
I loaded up on the low budget anti-depressants: Cigarettes, chocolate doughnuts, magazines. I just got this stack of shit and I went to my hotel room and just started in.
I was reading a magazine, I was listening to a CD, I was smoking a cigarette, drinking coffee, having a doughnut, watching television, all at the same time. I was like some sort of Indian god with six arms and it wasn't enough. I chose not to do any drugs or alcohol because I wasn't doing them at the time. And I'll tell you the honest to God truth, when you've done any amount of cocaine, you're real far away from saying, "Man, this is good coffee!"
It was just a sad, desperate situation. I was jerking off too. Everything was going. It was just awful. Then this weird thing happens. This show comes on television and it's about gorillas. It's about people helping gorillas in the jungle. Helping gorillas find better
living environments. Have you ever had those moments when you're just so fucking annihilated with despair that you think, "Oh, my God! That's what I should be doing. I should be out in the jungle with a shirt with
a lot of pockets and a pith helmet helping monkeys."
You've really got to stop yourself before you start making the phone calls, because you don't want to scare your friends.
"Guess what? I'm quitting comedy. No, gorillas. I'm helping the gorillas now. No, I'm fine."
I've had moments like that before. That's really how you find out who your friends are. One time when I was in San Francisco I called my friend Louie and I said, "Lou, It's Marc, yeah, I just drank a pot and a half of coffee. I've smoked two packs of cigarettes. I've
masturbated twice and I've eaten an entire pie and it's not even 11 in the morning here."
My friend Lou without missing a beat says, "What kind of pie?"
Disarmed the fucking panic thing immediately.
Then the screen fades to black and the title, "Ivan's Story," comes up on the screen in white letters. It was about this sad gorilla in this concrete environment. He had no toys and he'd been there for 20 years, this old gorilla. And he was just sitting there tapping on the
wall. I thought maybe at a different time it was a much more passionate display but now it just seemed like an empty existential hobby.
Then I realized that I'm sitting there on my bed with my empty existential hobbies. And I actually had this bonding moment with
this abandoned monkey. If he had a monitor in his little cell he'd see me just sitting there flaunting the full range of distractions that an opposable thumb offers us.
It was awful. I turned it off and I went to sleep. The next morning I had to get up and do morning radio at six in the morning. I get there and I'm all covered with sugar and cum and it's just disgusting. My hair is all fucked up and it's really just hammered into me that I once thought that I was going to do something great in this life and here I was with "Bob and the Something Man."
With morning radio there's always a guy with a regular name and then the Something Man. You know what I mean? Like, "Jack and Gas Man here on 102!" And there are always two or three other people that sit around laughing uncontrollably through the whole fucking show.
So I'm sitting there with Bob and the Gas Man thinking, "If Rimbaud were alive he wouldn't have had to do this, you know?"
"So Artie you're in town doing some poetry huh?" [RASPBERRY]
You know it just wouldn't happen.
That night I get to the club and the restaurant connected to the showroom is packed. I get excited. Then I notice there's a guy in a gorilla suit dancing around presenting someone with some balloons and throwing candy around. It was a private party. I have a moment. I look
at the guy in the gorilla suit and think, "That's that guy's job." That moment is followed immediately by the thought, "My job is really not that far from that." I'm just one or two evolutionary steps away from dancing around in a monkey suit with balloons.
I guess what I'm saying is that there is a fine line between telling jokes and smelling your own breath inside a plastic head.
At least with stand-up comedy you have some choices. I could be on TV, I can write my own material, I can comment on the world, and I can express myself. Where's the room for creative growth in a gorilla suit? When was the last time someone said, "The guy in the monkey suit is a genius"?
Certainly not since Roddy McDowell brought passion and brilliance to the screen as Cornelius in The Planet of the Apes.
Picture the sad moment when the guy is at home after the gig. The head is on the coffee table and he thinks, "Hey, this is working out. This is last time I rent. I'm gonna get my own suit."
I made my way through the crowd. I passed the man in the gorilla suit and walked into the showroom. That night I did one of the best shows I'd ever done for twenty-three people. The club closed the following day.
From, Why is The Clown Yelling at Us?
New York City, 1998. © Marc Maron