WHEN JAY TARSES AND I were a comedy team in the late ’60s, searching for an identity and shopping our satirical sketches around Soho at such spawning grounds as the Village Gate and the Bitter End, Woody Allen (himself trying out material for “The Ed Sullivan Show”) told us that he had no specific identity either, until the critics handed him one.
He was just another standup comic, he claimed, until the reviewers pegged him as a nebbishy Don Juan, encouraging him to further develop his persona as the troubled but irresistible ladies’ man.
And so it goes for most of us — this “identity” thing. As we forge ahead, doing whatever it is we do — writing, acting, producing, you name it — it’s difficult to hang on to our uniqueness.
Our work, especially because we’re paid for it, is really not our own. It’s automatically subjected to the creative scrutiny of the payer, whose primary purpose on this earth is to satisfy the “needs of the marketplace.” Once the This-Is-Gonna-Be-Great lunch is out of the way, it’s open season.
A phalanx of well-meaning exex drop in to help us realize our full creative potential. Our name may end up on the script, but so do a lot of strange fingerprints. But we know all this. We’ve heard it before. We’ve lived it. We’ve been up, we’ve been down. We’ve been alternately praised and lambasted, praised and lambasted, praised and lambasted — we are in a cyclical business — and we get a little goofy. Especially when we’re remembered only for the last thing we did, be it “Alf,””Black Tie Affair” or, in the Wood-man’s case, that pesky ongoing domestic squabble.
Thankfully, as time provides distance, and we continue to accumulate a number of attempts, our work is judged not so much in pieces, but as a whole, the 20 or 30 things collected together — a body of work, a career. Perspective is gained.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of being angry. Especially when the people I’m angry at are totally oblivious to it. I mean, we know there’s plenty to he hopping mad about — we’ve been ignored, rejected, rewritten, re-edited, canceled for not doing it their way, rehired and re-canceled, this time after doing it their way.
WE’RE A SENSITIVE LOT, not too crazy about rejection, yet drawn to a profession that hands it out regularly. So unless we’re riding high, it’s difficult not to be sullen about the state of our victimization, especially if it’s our nature.
That said, I hereby announce that I amcurating a show of contemporary art at the Christopher Grimes Gallery in Santa Monica, starting Saturday. Unless, of course, it’s canceled. Putting this show together is proving to be a healthy departure for me for a lot of reasons, and I highly recommend it, should you be offered the same chance, or something similarly absurd.
You see, because we (you and I) are mainly in the business of selling ourselves, we’re not always adding to our storehouse of creative ammunition. Art , for one thing, can do that.
I admit to having become a bit of an art fanatic — I don’t know why, maybe because art doesn’t talk back. (No, that can’t be it, good art does talk back.) Anyway, art is great.
It’s a pretty bizarre exhibition. You might even relate to it. The title of the show is “Mr. Serling’s Neighborhood.” It’s a group show of paintings, sculpture, photography, etc., presented as “psychological portraiture — essences of people and personalities who frequent the blurred edges of our society,” to quote myself.
If not the show, you’ll relate to the curating process, because it’s kind of like producing a pilot, except you can’t fix it in “post.” The curator’s job is to somehow integrate the totally unique talents of a widely diverse group of individuals, each one’s work unconnected to any other’s except by the theme of the exhibition.
Then you turn on the lights, let the patrons in, and hope it works. The really exciting difference, and this may be the whole point, is that this experience has me reliving those pre-anger days when taking a chance was all there was, and one’s stature was enhanced by how different one could be.
Maybe that’s what’s so exciting about the work of these artists — it’s their own, from concept to execution, and they’re putting it out there knowing only what it means to them and not to someone else, at their own expenses, as yet unsold. No collaboration. No guaranteed paycheck. Just guts and good work.
JUST ONE MORE THING: Before you dismiss this essay as an exercise in simple self-aggrandizement (self-aggrandizement is never simple if it’s done well), there is something in this for everyone, at least theoretically. And that is the idea that getting away from the day-to-day frustration of “selling oneself” by doing something not necessarily for the Greater Good but for your own good is a good idea.
It should be something outside of, but related to your normal focus — whether it’s reading biographies, going to museums, or getting up at 6 a.m. on the third Sunday of the month and driving to the flea market in Long Beach to peruse the memorabilia and talk to people from ridiculous places. (Sure, you’ll run into Jonathan Winters, but he’s a one of a kind, too.)
At the very least you’ll learn lots of new stuff, which might seem useless at the time but can be recalled at opportune moments and integrated into your work. It might even add to the quality of your life, and in a fun way. Until the critics pounce. And they will.
Tom Patchett is CEO of Patchett-Kaufman Entertainment. As writer-producer, his credits include “The Bob Newhart Show,””Buffalo Bill” and “Alf.” The Christopher Grimes Gallery is located at 916 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica. “Mr. Serling’s Neighborhood” runs through Sept. 4.