With hits so elusive in Hollywood, those lucky and talented enough to be associated with one can spend much of their time glad-handing and marinating in the glory, with enough award shows and celebratory events to occupy every spare moment.
Which makes Christopher Lloyd’s disappearing act all the more surprising.
Lloyd, the co-creator of two-time Emmy winner “Modern Family,” has become something of an invisible man, recognized as much for his absence as anything else. While his “Modern Family” partner Steve Levitan is one of those comedy writers who’s as glib and funny in person as his shows, Lloyd has stuck to the shadows, almost stubbornly so.
Pick the event: Emmys, the Golden Globes, the Writers Guild Awards — where every “Family” scribe except Lloyd delivered a one-liner from the stage — even a recent PaleyFest tribute, Lloyd has stayed away.
This is even more unusual in an era where social media has facilitated fan access to producers and heightened their public profiles — and the most dangerous patch of ground often seems to be between an Emmy-winning showrunner and a microphone. Perhaps that’s why Lloyd’s Greta Garbo routine seems so intriguing.
As the son of the late comedy-writing legend David Lloyd (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” including its famous “Chuckles the Clown” episode) and the recipient of a dozen Emmys — including a slew for “Frasier” — Lloyd can hardly profess to be a neophyte about the process, or the town.
Yet in an interview, he stressed the explanation is “not all that jazzy” and less about principle than self-awareness. He’s simply chosen not to participate.
“I’ve never enjoyed award shows, and I’ve never been particularly comfortable in the spotlight,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t really great at giving speeches and getting up in front of people … I’m not constitutionally made to enjoy this sort of thing.”
Some friends and colleagues, Levitan among them, have nevertheless prodded Lloyd to show up and take a bow, feeling he may not receive enough credit for his role in ABC’s signature comedy.
“I’ve encouraged that endlessly,” Levitan said. “I felt a little self-conscious accepting awards for the two of us without him there.”
Lloyd admits he’s occasionally flinched at things he’s seen omitting or overlooking him and even had “civilians” (or in Variety parlance, “non-pros”) express concern — of the “Were you sick?” variety — because he skipped an awards show. The industry being what it is, some have wondered about his low profile, which is why it seemed fair to broach the question at this point in “Family’s” gilded run, before the statuettes pile up any higher.
Still, if he’s “the forgotten partner” on the show, Lloyd noted it’s a problem of his own making and a nice one to have. As for Levitan receiving all the curtain calls at “Family” gatherings, Lloyd said, “If there’s one person who dreads them, and one who enjoys them, that’s a good division of responsibility.”
For his part, Levitan conceded the co-creators’ contrasting personalities have probably contributed positively to the show, but he added it wouldn’t be all bad to “have a couple more cocktails and relax at these things.”
Lloyd insists he isn’t trying to sound coy and humble and said he derives plenty of joy and fulfillment from working with the cast and crew. If anyone’s underappreciated, he suggested, it’s the rest of the writing staff, who are seldom mentioned individually and whose lives “have been strip-mined (for material) as rapaciously as mine has.”
Without wanting to sound ungrateful, Lloyd also called the nature of awards “a little bit sadistic” — from compelling people who aren’t performers to occupy center stage to a structure in which, with five or more nominees, at least 80% of the contenders leave disappointed.
“At a sporting event, only half the people go home unhappy,” he quipped.
So instead of the customary victory laps, Lloyd is content to watch performers and peers walk red carpets from a distance. As for what goes through his mind at those times, he said, “That’s where they’re supposed to be, and I have a place where I’m supposed to be.”