Marc Alan Fishman: Mel Brooks, Jerry Ordway, and Me
Hey kiddos, this intro is a bit of a winding path. I feel it necessary so, please, bear with me. Due largely to it not being football season, my radio has been officially turned off the past month or so. As I trek into and out of my day job some 35-45 minutes away, I have most recently found a love of podcasts. Specifically, I’ve found WTF by Marc Maron to be the best of the bunch.
Within his hour-ish show twice each week, he interviews any number of comedians, musicians, or figures of pop-culture. But unlike your traditional interviewers, Maron always takes to a free-form conversation that usually drills down to the core of his interviewee… when he himself isn’t revealing his own intricately maudlin and beautiful sentiments on his own life. Recently I listened to such a conversation Maron had with Mel Brooks. Amidst the amazing discussion they shared on life, on being Jew-ish (yes… Jew-Ish), and the inherent entropy of life itself, Mel retorted a line that sunk to my own core: The only way to move in life is forward.
Mel Brooks’ career is legend. When I stumbled on my father’s VHS of Blazing Saddles, it absolutely changed my way of thinking when it came to comedy. Further study of the life and times of Mr. Brooks are staggering. But I digress. It’s this concept of “forward” that resonated with me.
Suffice to say, I hear many times in my e-mailing of various mentors and friends how young I am. But at 31, married, with a 1 year old butt-scooting about… I don’t feel young. I’ve changed day jobs so many times, it boarders on the hilarious. I’ve owned more cars in my driving life than either of my parents did in twice the time. And it seems like I’ve been trying to break into comics for over a decade.
To look at man like Brooks, who has worked now my entire life twice over, is a testament to who I’d like to be. My mother, whose Jewish Guilt™ knows no bounds, is never three connected statements away from telling me I work too much. And while yes, I spend upwards of 16-18 hours in front of a computer making stuff, it’s not as if I’m working for naught. Some of that time pays my bills, and fills my son up with pureed foods and waffles. The rest of that time though, is pursuing what Mel himself has for a lifetime; a way to connect to the world in an unforgettable way. Though I know my progeny is my immortality, I’m too much of an ego-centric bastard to be happy with that alone.
There was a time, not very long ago (all things considered) that Unshaven Comics got together – this was actually before we had a name – and made a sparking proclamation: If we didn’t make it by the time we were 30, we’d just go back to being fans. I wonder if Mel Brooks told himself when Sid Caesar hired him to write on Your Show of Shows: “If I don’t have something to hang my hat on by the time I’m 30, I’ll just go back to the garment district.” I sincerely doubt it.
The fact is that the need to create, and the need to be successful are not related. Breaking in is a myth. The fact is. the business itself is not an “in” or “out” industry. It’s “in”… and “not in.” In other words, when there’s work to be had, consider it a blessing. Not unlike acting, singing, or any other art form, making comics should be regarded as a state of being, and a state of notoriety.
Of course, making money sure helps the creative process go a bit further, don’t it? We need only look towards the aging creators in our industry to see how “breaking in” means a pile of bupkis when there are bills to pay and your name isn’t regularly on the racks anymore.
Jerry Ordway recently posted an online plea for work. One would think that by his résumé alone, the man was “in” and could regularly produce work until he deemed it unnecessary.
I could easily take this meandering rant and aim it towards this industry that is built (not unlike Hollyweird) to chew you up and spit you out when you’re no longer a profit machine. But let’s face it. I’ve not personally made it enough to feel that way. As far as I’m considered, the mountaintop is unattainable, and I no longer care to climb it.
The whole crux of this rant banks solely on the ideology of Mr. Brooks. It’s not about having my name next Robert Kirkman or Jeph Loeb anymore. We are living in a time of great change. If I were to be so bold, I’d squarely stand behind my tiny pulpit here and tell Mr. Ordway to choose to bet on himself rather than beg fans to bang down the door of DC on his behalf. Mel Brooks had to take Young Frankenstein to a young production company to see it make the light of day. So too, can we comic creators choose our destinies.
The purpose of life is to always move forward. There’s no time to sit still. The Earth doesn’t stop rotating because you need it to (nor does it reverse if you spin around it the other way a whole bunch). It’s coming to grips with the notion that we all have stories to tell; so long as we have the physical ability to produce them, we should.
And on that note… I have work to do.
SUNDAY: John Ostrander
MONDAY: Mindy Newell