Archive for the Books Category

A Blaffair To Rememblack

Posted in Books, Comedy with tags , on August 30, 2010 by Tim Lee

[Book] I Am the New Black by Tracy Morgan (abridged version)

Every story starts at the very beginning, because like that white lady said in The Sound Of Music, it’s a very good place to start. In the 1950s America decided it was a good idea to try and fight Communism in tropical jungles on the other side of the world. The Russians were supposed to be some kind of new Hitler, and if we didn’t get that Communism out of ‘Nam, we’d be eating Kremlin Nuggets in McDonald’s. They had their ideals, and Lenin and Marx were like their Biggie and Tupac. When my dad got on the army transporter headed to Vietnam he sat next to an Irish guy named Tracy and they spent 24 hours talking. A day later and Tracy was dead – stepped on a landmine. And that’s how I got my name. I was sad to hear that story but glad too. Because let’s face it – Tracy Morgan? That’s an Irish female’s name. With a name like that I should have red hair, blue eyes and big titties. I should be in a green bikini on a float every March.

That is the heart and soul of my story. It’s not a very good place to start. You hear me, Julie Andrews? I learned how to become a man from my father. And because of what life had done to him, my father picked up bad habits over the years, just like I picked up bad habits in show business. Show business is my Vietnam and life is the war that I’m fighting.

So I’m strolling with my dad one day and I’m waiting for him to drop some science. “I’m going to show you something,” he said as we walked onto the high school field. He stopped in front of a set of metal bleachers at the side of the field. “You see these, son? This is where I busted a nut inside your mother and made you. I had your mother doggy-style and I gave it to her good too.” Nine months later on November 10 1968, I came into the world.

From an early age I took my humour as far as it could go, and sometimes that took me too far. Like one summer at the public pool, somebody stole my Pumas. I didn’t know who stole them, but I knew that whoever did must love swimming, so the only thing that made sense to me was to shut that pool down. I swam to the middle and took a shit the size of a Milky Way. They shut that place down like the beach in Jaws. I had gotten my revenge, but something else happened that I hadn’t planned on. I liked the feeling of shitting in that pool. This became a problem for me. I started shitting everywhere there was water after that. If I saw an open fire hydrant, I’d shit there. I had no shame, if the water was flowing hard enough, I’d drop the brown shark. This continued for two years, but once I got my first taste of pussy, my focus changed.

At the age of eight, I experienced sex firsthand. My brother Jim was ten and we had a babysitter who gave us both a piece. She was fourteen and while she was in the bath she told my brother to get on top of her. I watched him put his ding-a-ling in her and after that I got on and did the same. I actually cried after that. I remember she gave me a stack of Oreos to keep me quiet. Damn. Memories. From the age of twelve, I always had a piece of pussy around.

My mother was an amazing woman. But by my early teens she had been broken by three men – her father, who was very strict; my father, who let her down and broke her heart with his drug addiction; and Sonny, who was a married man. Sonny wasn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back, but he was the straw that sent it to the chiropractor. Mom just gave up after that point. That’s when I started fighting with her all the time. I moved in with my father and he was like a black General Patton. He made sure we were in the house early every night, and since I was playing sports, it was like I’d enrolled in his personal army. He had me lifting weights, running stairs, and when it came to my grades, he was even tougher on me.

I learned about life in the Bronx; it’s where I learned to get my mack on, how to get my comedy on. My friends and I would have these intense snapping sessions. We’d sit there in the lunchroom just snapping. If anything we were like battle rappers. Like 8 Mile. My comedy style was to elevate my insult by acting it out. It was some next level shit. In my stand-up I used to contour my body and bend it around like a crippled person because I grew up with a crippled person. But that wasn’t enough to make me laugh, so on top of that I’d act retarded. Then it was funny!

My father was diagnosed with AIDS in my senior year and his rapid decline in health altered my path. Once he was gone there was nobody to tell me what I was doing right and wrong. So I thought fuck it. In the end I quit school and I never looked back. After I dropped out, I learned a few lessons right away. The most important one was that in high school, pussy was free. That’s why they call lunch hour at a public school a box lunch. Out in the real world there was one thing that spelled P-U-S-S-Y and that was M-O-N-E-Y, so I turned to dealing drugs. There were parts of selling crack that I really liked. It was great for developing my comedy skills. I took to selling crack like it was an open mic night, and I was pretty good at it. After a year of standing on the corner I realised that I was following the herd – and if you follow the herd, you’re bound to step in shit. For me, the murder of my friend Spoon was a smack in the face.

A man can’t live without a woman. Any straight man will do what he needs to do to get himself some pussy. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the love of a woman. When a woman truly loves a man, he knows it. Pussy is just one part of it. Pussy and ass and titties are the frosting on that cake. A woman possesses the power to transform a man into something better that he would ever be on his own. When they do, that shit is magic.

I met Sabina when we were just kids. The last thing I wanted to do is settle down. Nineteen year old men are like farmers staring down a field of corn at harvest, and their dick is the tractor. Once I met Sabina everything changed. She put up a good fight, but no woman can resist me. Give me enough time and it’s a done deal, as long as she’s got ears, eyes and a pussy. She told me years later that the first time we did it, in a hotel, she’d been impressed that I washed out my drawers in the sink. Sabina made me wait three weeks before she gave me the good stuff. I wanted it so bad, I couldn’t even masturbate. I had three weeks of sperm backed up. And that’s where Tracy Junior came from – my big-ass nuts.

Right across the street from our apartment there was a chicken shop. It was open all night and out front I would get upward of thirty people standing around listening to me make fun of shit. I thought this could be my ticket out of the Bronx. I started rocking things at workshops, and within two weeks I was getting regular spots at clubs and killing there too. There was a hot scene and a guy from Fox decided to develop a show called Uptown Comedy Club. It launched a few careers, namely mine and Chris Tucker’s. I was kinda fat back then, so I used it in my act. Fuck sexy, I bought chubby back. It made me even cuter onstage than I already was. Today my stand-up material is based on observations, but back then I made bits up based on my daydreams, and came up with Fat Michael Jackson. I did all that “hee-hee!” stuff Michael did, and they loved it.

One night on Def Comedy Jam I met Martin Lawrence. He wasn’t my idol, but he was an inspiration to me. From the very first time I met him, I’ve always been able to make Martin laugh and I got a job playing Hustle Man on his sitcom, Martin. Whenever he came to New York, we’d hook up. I’d be the one to pick him up a couple of ravioli bags, if you know what I mean (I’m talking about weed.) After Martin, I went back to doing stand-up full-time, and got an audition for Saturday Night Live. For my audition tape I did some material about when I got arrested. This man my aunt Brenda was dating was beating on her, so I went and found him, and pointed an empty gun at his head. He called the cops and they took me away. I was scared to death, so once I was sitting in the squad car I just started farting. I blew that fucking car up with farts, because the night before I’d had pork and beans and franks. I was farting so much they had to roll the back windows down.

Landing a spot as a cast member on SNL was a gift from God, but staying there was something else altogether. When opportunity knocked, I pulled out the .44 Mag and said “Get in the fucking basement, bitch!” Opportunity’s still down there, ball-gagged and duct-taped up. If you listen hard, you can hear him whimper. I had my finger on the pulse of urban comedy, but when I brought Fat Michael Jackson to SNL, those motherfuckers couldn’t see a future for me. They were all a bunch of Ivy League faggots and I’d taken it to the street. All I have to say about that is where’s Chris Kattan now? That bitch can’t get arrested.

Doors had started to open for me thanks to SNL, but I was no Adam Sandler, so I developed the idea for The Tracy Morgan Show. The formula was perfect: it would be true-life funny, set against the backdrop of a low income family. In the end, the Tracy Morgan Show that aired wasn’t my show anymore. The producers took it out of my hands because they thought the original version would damage my career. They also reminded me they had more experience than I did. It was just like what the Republicans tried to do to Obama during the election.

My wife and my sons were my whole world for my entire adult life. That’s why, even when it was done between Sabina and me, I still didn’t really understand what I was losing. I had let alcohol rule my life and paid the price. I was the kind of drunk who was a completely different man to when he was sober. And the guy I turned into had a name: Chico Divine. Chico was the motherfucker who came out of the depths of my mind and took over my body after about three drinks. When Chico came out, somebody might get hurt and there was a chance somebody’s sister might get pregnant too. One time Chico threw up on the shoes of the lady who was the William Morris Agency’s publicity director.

When I started on 30 Rock, my life on and off camera became strangely similar for a while. I was going out, partying all night and acting crazy, and then showing up to shoot 30 Rock and portray a guy who acted crazy all the time. But I don’t have to be drinking and partying to play somebody like that – it’s called acting. I’m a comedian – everything in my life is material. My comedy today isn’t based on my imagination – it’s all real. It’s like a giant turkey that I cook onstage, keeping it nice and moist by basting it in reality. My success on 30 Rock allowed me to go back and guest host SNL – the pinnacle of my career. There are only twenty-five of us who’ve done that in thirty-four years. I’m up there with the greats – Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Chevy Chase. And Damon Wayans.

One thing that comes with success is money. I’ve always liked exotic pets, and now I can afford to fill my luxury apartment with them. I’ve got a jellyfish tank, tarantulas, eels, snakes, piranhas and sharks. I’m like Michael Jackson! I once asked my wife why she thought Michael Jackson liked to walk around with a fucking diaper-wearing monkey. Know what she said? “Because he’s a genius.” Having a jellyfish makes me a genius.

This point in my life is like the end of the second act. It’s not the end, because I’m far from over. If my life was the Star Wars trilogy, which is really a sixology, we’d just be getting going. Right now, the Ewoks would be dancing.

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Chasebook (part 2)

Posted in Books, Comedy with tags , , on February 7, 2010 by Tim Lee

Continued from part 1

A bevy of Chevy

An unusual prospect for a cult movie, Caddyshack is a movie whose lines have become very familiar, often quoted by Tiger Woods. Presumably either the line “You’re a lot of woman. You wanna earn $14 the hard way?” or “Wait up girls, I got a salami I gotta hide” are his personal favourites. Ironically he spoofed it in an American Express advert with the tagline “The official card of happy endings.” I’ll bet it is.

With Chevy there was always something funny happening on set, if not on camera. Executive producer Jon Peters demanded “We’ve gotta have a scene with Chevy and Billy together.” It was a scene which was very much the forerunner of De Niro and Pacino in Heat.

1980 was a busy year for Chevy. In Oh Heavenly Dog he showed his versatility by playing a private eye who is killed while on a job and is sent back to earth to solve his own murder. In the body of a dog! It’s a lost classic in the Chase canon, unlike Seems Like Old Times which even Chase concedes “wasn’t one of my favourite movies.” Although it did give him the chance to ‘team up’ with Goldie Hawn again. What a hawndog.

By 1980 Chevy’s marriage to Jackie was long since over, but it wasn’t long before the incorrigible Chevy was Chasing skirt again. He had his eye on a production assistant named Jayni and soon ensnared her with his silver tongue: “Tonight is the premiere of my movie. Goldie is in Paris and Jaqueline Bissett has the flu. I’m wondering if you’d go with me.” The seduction assured, the couple were soon married.

Chevy weather

Already suffering severe back pain due to years of highbrow pratfalls, Chevy was to endure further medical woes on the set of Modern Problems, a film whose high concept plot involves an air traffic controller who develops telekinetic powers after being exposed the radioactive soap suds. During a dream sequence Chase had stage lights strapped to his arms. When the lights were turned on Chevy juddered violently and screamed for them to be turned off. Of course the crew thought renowned prankster Chase was joking and thus left them on – a story they’ve stuck to in subsequent years. This near death experience left Chase weak and depressed for two years, much like those who viewed the finished film.

1982 saw an upturn in fortunes. Not only did he welcome the birth of his first daughter, but filming was completed on the first of the now seminal Vacation franchise, which in Chase’s estimation is “the funniest film of the franchise.” Bold claim. The script (!) had undergone a hasty rewrite by Chase and Harold Ramis because, as they put it, “John Hughes was obsessed with adolescent sex.” Of Chevy’s acting talents, Beverly D’Angelo reported, “Chevy worked in a way unlike any other actor. No-one ever gives Chevy credit for having anything to do with acting.” According to Chase the film is a misunderstood classic. “It was satire. The public saw itself in these characters instead of seeing a satire.”

Chasing the dragon

The pressure of fame was taking an increasing toll on Chase. “First I was the observer, then I was the observed.” Not only was he now battling an addiction to cocaine and painkillers, but he had a near debilitating obsession with the career trajectory of Martin Short. “I’m thinking, the funniest guy in the room is Martin Short, but where is he? He’s not a movie star. How many actors go through that struggle?” He needn’t of worried as Short would go on to star in Innerspace, Father of the Bride and The Santa Clause 3, amongst others.

In 1986 he finally took the step of secretly checking into the Betty Ford clinic, but he was soon exposed after a telephone call from a journalist posing as Timothy Hutton. Journalists. Despite this betrayal Chevy stayed for three weeks, finally leaving after an argument over the centre’s interpretation of the term “leisure time.”

Chasing box office

Despite these personal problems Chase was still surfing a wave of commercial and critical success. Fletch gave him the opportunity to showcase his talent for assuming many identities. Including a black basketball player. Warners took advantage of the ever-affable Chase though, as he would often do movies for them as a ‘favour’. One such favour was Fletch Lives, which Chevy wasn’t happy with. “Universal assumed that me in different costumes made Fletch work. In this one they put me in ridiculous looking costumes.” As opposed to the blacked-up basketball player in Fletch, clearly.

Chevy’s creative growth was now being restricted by the demands of the studios. Whilst he was keen to do more political hot dog material, Warners continued to put him in lowbrow, slapstick fare. Funny Farm is, according to Chase, his best film and one “with many quite good reviews.” But even here he had to bow to the demands of his fan base. “In one scene, I’m rushing and my wife is rushing. They each grab one part of the door and he gets hit in the groin. It was a big slapstick Chevy Chase moment and the audience laughed out of relief: ‘Okay, so this will be a slapstick Vacation type film.’ It became clear that the public didn’t want to see me do more conceptual stuff.” Of European Vacation he said, “It’s rather astonishing and kind of sad, isn’t it?” Yes, but continuing, “I thought it was pretty lame but it grossed $100m worldwide.”

Feelings about sequels aside, his Vacation co-star Beverly D’Angelo said, “Christmas Vacation was one I know Chevy loved and a lot of people think it’s the best one. It is outstanding in general, beautifully shot. The director kept telling everyone he was going to elevate the franchise, like the Vacation movies were dog turds that he was going to polish into pure gold.” In the end no amount of buffing could save it. It did however, mark the high point of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ career, before she had to slum it for nine years in Seinfeld.

Another highlight of Chevy’s career was filming Three Amigos, not so much for the quality of the work but for the friendships he forged. Starring Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short, it was very much the Ocean’s 11 of its day. Roger Ebert, however, wasn’t so keen, writing “The ideas to make Three Amigos into a good comedy are here, but the madness is missing. The movie is too confident, too relaxed, too clever to be really funny.” Foiled by his own pesky intellectual humour again; humour which was much in evidence at the premiere when he placed a pair of glasses on the back of ‘super agent’ Swifty Lazar’s head, causing “an explosion of laughter” in the auditorium.

Chasing rainbows

Despite hosting The Oscars in 1987 as part of the non-more 80s triumvirate of Goldie Hawn and Paul Hogan, Chase himself has never won one. There were rumours that Chevy was being considered for an Oscar for his uncredited guest appearance in Hero, but Oscar rules dictate that an uncredited actor cannot be nominated. Conversely, another rule dictates a film with Chevy Chase in the credits can’t be nominated either. He did finally receive the recognition he deserved in 1991, when he won a Razzie for Dan Aykroyd’s directorial debut, Nothing But Trouble. Chase’s acting style apparently ‘clashed’ with that of Striptease star Demi Moore and The Washington Post described it as “toxically unfunny” and “nothing but miserable.”

Although apparently no longer doing coke, Chevy was still inexplicably positive about the state of his career, and felt sure Memoirs Of An Invisible Man would give it the shot in the arm required. The film languished in development hell for five years and arguments about the comedic tone of the film (zero, apparently) meant its early promise was unfulfilled. The strain on his relationship with Warners was beginning to show and its termination was cemented after an argument with Warners head Terry Semel over the place settings at the Christmas party.

A change of Chase

The stagnation of Chevy’s film career was to mark the beginning of an exciting new chapter in his life: his own Fox chat show. However, he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to do the show and often went on air depressed; feelings which transmitted to the viewers. Despite the innovation of introducing a basketball hoop to proceedings, the show was not a success and was canned after five weeks.

Chevy’s increased free time has allowed him to become more politically active and has also given him time to enjoy the finer things in life. While guesting at Clinton’s inauguration he was able to observe Warren Beatty constructing a bagel. “So there he was, carefully, fastidiously preparing his bagel… a layer of cream cheese, the smoked salmon, next the capers and a little egg yolk. Now carefully placing a slice of tomato, a slice of onion, and closing up the toasted bagel. It looked beautiful.” And when not answering the oft asked question, “Where were you when Warren Beatty was constructing his bagel?” Chevy would retire to Clinton’s private quarters to discuss Bosnia or other pressing issues of the day, like Clinton’s joke about a threesome between “a black guy, an Arab and a Jew.” With those two guys at the helm, it’s a wonder the Republicans ever got back in.

With film roles now drying up Chevy moved the family back to New York in 1995. After moving there he began seeing a therapist to get to the root of why his chat show, which should have been a big success, did so poorly. How long have you got? His family are also much happier there, although daughter Caley confides, “I don’t tell anybody who my father is. Sometimes it’s appropriate to share it, but if people don’t ask, I don’t share.”

Chasebook (part 1)

Posted in Books, Comedy with tags , , on February 5, 2010 by Tim Lee

[Book] I’m Chevy Chase… And You’re Not by Rena Fruchter

It’s that time again; yet another abridged version of an execrable celebrity biography. This one is in two parts because reading the whole thing has proved more challenging than watching the National Lampoon’s boxset in one sitting. As even the author noted, “One might assume that interviewing one of the world’s top comedians might be a barrel of laughs. But it was only half a barrel.”

 He ain’t Chevy

Born October 8 1943, Cornelius Crane Chase was the son of wealthy New York couple, Cathalene Vanderbilt Crane and Edward Cornelius Chase. His parents divorced when he was young and his mother then married Dr John Cederquist. Growing up in a wealthy neighbourhood, he often saw Marlene Dietrich walking with her grandchildren. “She wore a white nurse’s uniform and white hoes.” So far, so Gossip Girl, but Chevy and his brother Ned were often beaten by their parents. On one occasion Chevy was locked in the basement for a week, where his only contact with the outside world was the occasional glimpse of Marlene Dietrich’s shins on the street above.

Chevy was also often in trouble at school, in one instance biting a bully who pulled his hair while he stood at a urinal. “Apparently I had bit him so hard that when I saw him 20 years later at a cocktail party he showed me the scar… I don’t remember knowing any biters, I never hung out with the biters, and I’m against it!” In short, he’s a lover not a biter.

Rumour has it that Chevy’s Haverford College career ended abruptly when college officials had to deal with a cow on the second floor of a dormitory building. Whether they ever got it downstairs again has been lost in the annals of history. His early education had been spotty, and the discrepancy between the brilliance of his mind and the quality of his work continued for many years (about 50). It was at school, however, that his keen comic sensibility developed; he was endlessly amused by the fact that his French teacher Mr Shultz – get this! – wasn’t very French!

Chevy Chaste

Chevy‘s early romantic encounters were somewhat bumbling. Of one early date he recalls, “She had all this experience and the only thing I could think of was to pull her collar forward and peer down her dress. I saw her bra and she was quite developed.” After that she broke up with him. On another occasion he was found hiding in the closet by his then girlfriend‘s mother. “Finally she came to the closet and opened the door. I didn’t move – I was frozen in place, eyes staring straight ahead. The woman let out a bloodcurdling scream and raced out of the room shouting in French.” Nobody knows if she even was French but it was an incident that would go on to inspire his good friend R Kelly. Possibly.

A keen jazz musician, Chevy picked up his first drum kit in unorthodox fashion. There was a pool party at the home of an older married woman who invited Chevy to use her shower. She was wealthy and beautiful and Chevy had no second thoughts when he realised this might lead to some Chevy petting. “I just did my job. At that age I had learned nothing about the beauty and intricacy of the female body, and what gives her pleasure. It couldn’t have been that great for her, but it sure sounded like it was.” Chevy met with her numerous times at her apartment in Manhattan. She always offered money, which Chevy always refused. So instead she bought him a $600 drum kit. Even to this day Chevy associates sex with jazz drumming and can only climax to the sound of a 3/4 beat.

Chevy metal

Chevy’s love of music has been a constant throughout his life. One of his early jobs was at Tanglewood Music Centre where he was in charge of the morning coffee and remembers “spilling hot coffee on Pete Seger’s left hand.” Unfortunately this was a mishap not repeated when he met Paul Simon years later for the recording of You Can Call Me Al.

A short time later Chevy played drums in a group with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, who went on to form Steely Dan, but they pretty much sank without trace after Chevy left the group. His other musical projects, including Chameleon Church, Orpheus and Ultimate Spinach were equally unsuccessful, owing mostly to Chevy’s frustration at always being drowned out by violins – ironically a sound that would be key to the success of contemporary bands such as Arcade Fire.

In later years he has used his celebrity status for good, becoming an active member The Jazz Foundation (AKA the centre for jazz musicians who can’t read good and want to learn to do other stuff good too), a charity which helps elderly jazz musicians pay their rent and get hospital treatment. Won’t somebody please think of the jazz musicians?!

Chasing fame

It was 1967 and Chevy had graduated from Bard College. It was a turbulent time politically and socially – good fodder for someone with Chevy’s astute political mind and satirical sense of humour. One of his earliest jobs was on Channel One, “A combination of forms: parodies of programs and commercials recorded on videotape, shown on TVs suspended above the audience. The audience on a hot Sunday night included a number of hip types, many girls in pants and a cat.” Pants. Only in New York, eh?

Stints writing for Mad magazine and National Lampoon eventually led to Chevy working with Christopher Guest and John Belushi in the stage show Lemmings. The second half of the show was a Woodstock parody in which Chevy played a Hell’s Angel with Tourette’s. Showcasing the intelligent, satirical comedy for which he would become known, Chevy would pretend an audience member had hit him and, falling hard, would shout “Ifuckyoushitpissprickpussycockfart.” This was the start of Chevy’s ‘falling career’. Later he would start every Saturday Night Live show with a fall.

Chevy recalls standing in line for a midnight showing of The Holy Grail. He ran into several friends and was “funny while waiting.” “One of the people near me was Rob Reiner and he was stood with (SNL producer) Lorne Michaels. Lorne asked Rob, ‘Who is that guy?’ and Rob told him I was a writer.” Chevy soon got a call asking him to meet with Lorne. Conversely, whilst most comedians make a career of pointing out the inherent hilarity of queuing etiquette, it was Chevy’s ability to be funny whilst in a queue that got him his big break.

The SNL team clicked, and everyone was shocked by Chevy’s success. Nothing is sacred in parody and satire. Chevy’s sketches hit every target, from Watergate to the Middle East, to hot dogs. His presence increased with each show and his “I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not” line during Weekend Update became legendary.

Chased out of New York

Chevy left SNL on October 30 1976 after just one year to be with wife Jackie in LA. Chevy was very upset that when he returned to the set later, his photo had been removed from the large cast pictures of the first year and replaced by Bill Murray’s. This caused a wound which has still not healed, most believing Chevy bailed out to Chase the big bucks in Hollywood.

On one infamous return to the set Bill Murray made rude and provocative comments to Chevy about his wife. Chevy retorted with equally mean comments about Bill’s pockmarked face. “I said ‘I’m gonna land Neil Armstrong on your face if you don’t shut up.’” Bill, angered by this, fired back “Why don’t you go fuck your wife?” A scuffle broke out, but was defused by that renowned voice of reason, John Belushi. “Bill had assumed I was a rich kid and he was from the other side of the tracks and could just blow me away. I said to him after the show ‘I’ll eat you.’” Murray retorted by calling Chase a ‘medium talent.’ *Cat sound*

The once frosty relationship has since thawed. At a party Chevy walked over to Bill and fell to his knees. “I began to unzip his pants, like I was going to give him a blow job, and Bill laughed. He laughed and I laughed. I didn’t want to fight. But that didn’t mean I shouldn’t be careful – on Caddyshack, I never turned my back.”

Chevy’s management were marketing him as ‘the new Cary Grant’ so a role opposite Goldie Hawn (with whom he started a tawdry affair) in the romantic comedy Foul Play was ideal. Goldie was equally enthusiastic, “I knew I had to meet the guy. I had seen SNL a bit and loved the show. But I didn’t know which guy Chevy was.” The first of many memorable Chase performances.

The commercial success of the film made Chevy slightly uneasy. “To go from current events, politics affecting the votes in this country (ergo, the hot dog material) to a B-level light romantic comedy to me felt like a scud. One of the problems with making movies out there – what could I do that would have an impact on the audience, that would affect things now?” Of course Chevy would go on to produce life-changing work, although his ‘next Cary Grant’ status was imperilled when he was sued by Grant for referring to him as a homo on Tomorrow. But as Chase reasoned, “The word ‘homo’ is funny to me… an anachronism.” More biting political satire there.

This first toe dipped in the Hollywood waters was to be just the beginning of a stellar Hollywood career.

Continue to part 2

Cage Turner

Posted in Books, Film with tags on January 10, 2010 by Tim Lee

[Book] Nicolas Cage: Hollywood’s Wild Talent by Brian J. Robb

Following the runaway success of my abridged version of Danny Dyer’s biography, I present for your enjoyment, the abridged version of a used ten year old Nic Cage biography I found on Amazon. Much like Nic’s face, the cover is creased and slightly worn. It only covers his career up to 1999, so I guess somebody else will have to write the second instalment.

 Cage of innocence

Born Nicolas Coppola (the nephew of Francis Ford), Nic grew up watching Kurosawa and the work of silent stars like ‘man of a thousand faces’ Lon Chaney. Nic would similarly go on to be recognised as ‘the man of one face, often confused.’

Young Nic was plagued by nightmares, from visions of scary clowns to giant female genies who would pester him when he was on the toilet. ‘I used to have nightmares that my mother’s head was attached to a cockroaches body. That really freaked me out, so I was really horrified of bugs.’

In fourth grade he was the subject of attention for a bully who would steal his Twinkies and beat him up. ‘I got some Ray Bans, stuck some chewing gum in my mouth, got my older brother’s cowboy boots, and had this swagger when I got on the bus.’ Nic pretended to be Nicky Coppola’s tough cousin. He told the bully that if he messed with Nic he’d ‘get his ass kicked.’ His bravado worked and the bully backed off. ‘They bought it. They never beat me up again. It was really my first experience with acting. I learned I could act.’ It was Nicolas Cage’s first (some say only)  great performance.

Nic’s first romantic encounters were somewhat awkward. His high school Prom took a distinctly weird turn when Nic’s fear of his date overwhelmed him. ‘We’re at the Prom and I kissed her. When she responded I was so nervous I started throwing up. The limo driver wouldn’t let me back in the car as I had vomit on my shoes. So I walked home.’

It was watching The Godfather which provided the young Nic with his first sexual thrill. ‘ There was that scene where Al Pacino kisses the beautiful Sicilian woman and she takes her bra off. It really turned me on.’

From Cage to screen

Nic started taking acting classes, much to the chagrin of his father. ‘You’re never going to become an actor Nic! Why don’t you just forget about it!?’ His father wasn’t the only one with misgivings, Nic reasoning, ‘I don’t think people were equipped to take me seriously as an actor under the Coppola name.’ It was definitely the name that stopped people taking him seriously.

One of his earliest auditions was for the role of Brad in Fast Times At Ridgemount High, but he lost out to acting heavyweight Judge Reinhold. Nic fumed that it was his name that had lost him the part. He was, however, cast in the smaller role of ‘Brad’s buddy’ but was mocked by his fellow cast members (including Reinhold), who would regularly stand outside his trailer and shout ‘I love the smell of Nicolas in the morning!’

More disappointment followed when Nic auditioned  for the role of Dallas in Coppola’s The Outsiders. In preparation, he locked himself in a hotel room for two weeks, drinking beer and staring at a picture of Charles Bronson. Amazingly, this didn’t seal the part. Nic was damned three times: his father didn’t want him to act, the film industry didn’t take him seriously, and now even his own uncle had rejected him. This was the final straw. Nic decided to reinvent himself and pull off the greatest acting challenge of all: he’d change his name and play a struggling young actor for real.

Nicolas uncaged

Determined not to build his career on nepotism, Nic adopted the surname of black comic-book superhero Luke Cage. Ironically by putting himself in a Cage, he would set himself free.

After a small role in Rumble Fish, Nic got his first lead in the romantic drama Valley Girl. In preparation for the role, Nic decided to get rid of some of the copious amounts of body hair Mother Nature had lumbered him with. Determined to achieve ‘that Superman look’ of a neat V-shape of chest hair, he got the razor out and began shaving ruthlessly. Reviewers were fascinated by Nic’s looks rather than his obvious acting and shaving prowess, using phrases like ‘hangdog expression’, ‘sleepy eyed’ and ‘dopey sexuality.’

Now an established actor, Nic got his big break in Uncle Francis’ The Cotton Club, but his trailer-trashing Method antics didn’t endear him to cast and crew. ‘I would walk down Christopher Street and say, “How much for that remote-control car?”, then I’d lift it up, throw it on the pavement and smash it.’ Bloody mental.

Fellow wild man Jim Carrey recounts, ‘When we first hung out, he was a little crazy, a little frivolous, with a lot of anger. He was embarrassing to be around. Everybody would whisper in my ear, “He’s really talented but what the fuck is he doing?” Getting a tattoo was also part of Nic’s rebellion phase. He acquired an eight inch lizard on his shoulder, but in typically offbeat fashion the lizard is wearing a top hat. A top hat!

To play the parts of young thugs he was often cast as, Nic thought it would be a good idea to play that role off screen too. Although this would alienate him from a lot of people, it also got him involved with a group of lifelong friends, among them Sean Penn and Johnny Depp, who he met on a particularly wild night in a club playing Monopoly – presumably where he got the top hat idea.

Cage earner

Despite now making a comfortable living, Nic was still working against the Hollywood machine, rather than with it – he was Cage Against The Machine, if you insist. After a Coppola well paid if insubstantial roles, Nic snagged the leading role in Peggy Sue Got Married. Again, he seemed intent on sabotaging his own career. The voice became the key to the role for Nic, and a source of disturbance for everyone else. ‘Kathleen Turner was frustrated with me. Here she is in this great star vehicle and her leading man comes along with buck teeth, talking like Pokey (a clay horse) from The Gumby Show.’ At the time Nic’s performance was described as ‘a wart on an otherwise beautiful movie.’ Like all great artists his genius wasn’t recognised at the time, though it was later re-evaluated, being seen as part of a larger project, only visible in retrospect. His experimental style did, however, catch the eye of some of Hollywood‘s more outré talents, and his career was set to take off in earnest.

His next role saw him team up with the Coen Brothers for Raising Arizona. The shoot was in jeopardy at one point due to an erroneous ‘h’ on the back of Nic’s chair, but fortunately a piece of strategically applied masking tape allowed the course of film history to run smoothly. Co-star Holly Hunter was quick to notice Nic’s talents, ‘As an actor, Nic is not a people pleaser.’ Despite these misgivings, the film cemented Nic’s credentials as an offbeat leading man and gifted moustache wearer.

He followed up this success by taking his biggest role to date: one-handed baker Ronny in Moonstruck. But it wasn’t the chance to star opposite Cher that appealed to Nic. As he explained, ‘In my childhood, I used to watch The Sonny And Cher Show, and I was always fascinated by Sonny Bono’s moustache.’

The fruits of Nic’s successes allowed him to live the lifestyle he craved. He refurbished his fake gothic castle in a style he referred to as ‘hot rod gothic’ and spent most of his time chasing poontang on the Sunset Strip with Jim Carrey. It was at this time (1987) that Nic would meet his future wife, Patricia Arquette, at a hip LA eatery. ‘I remember she’d just eaten liver and onions. I fell in love there and then. I said “Listen, you don’t believe me but I want to marry you!” She said no. I said “Put me on a quest.” And so she went back to her table and she wrote a list of things she wanted.’ Nic never did acquire the fibreglass statue from Big Bob’s hamburger joint and the relationship fizzled out. For now.

His career took another swift about turn when he starred in Vampire’s Kiss, a black comedy about a businessman who believes he’s become a vampire after getting a lovebite off the bird from Flashdance. Nic’s summation of the film described his career in microcosm: ‘It’s not a movie that can or should be analysed. It’s like a bad dream or a scary painting. People either hate it or absolutely love it – both viewpoints are valid.’ Cage’s Method madness did mean he was finally able to expunge childhood fears of his mother becoming a cockroach, by eating a live one on screen. His performance again gained rave reviews, with the New Yorker noting, ‘Cage delivers a remarkable portrait of a completely obnoxious jerk.’ Box office receipts were disappointing however, as were those for Fire Birds, despite the killer premise of it being ‘Top Gun with helicopters’ and being helmed by the director of Buster.

After completing erotic thriller Zandalee, co-starring former nemesis Judge Reinhold (key scene: Nic punches a painting), David Lynch’s Wild At Heart proved to be the last hurrah for Wild Man Nic, both on and off screen. Shortly after filming he found out he was to be a father with ex-girlfriend Christina Fulton. In a symbolic gesture he gave his famous snakeskin jacket to Laura Dern. ‘But for my birthday my father gave me a jacket made out of cork. A cork jacket. It’s like leather, really strange….’

Coming of Cage

The birth of his son Weston saw Nic mellow and take on what he would call his Sunshine Trilogy of comedies: Honeymoon In Vegas, Guarding Tess and It Could Happen To You. These were roles which Nic played with aplomb because, according to James Caan, ‘Nic excels in the role of the not-so-smart ordinary guy.’ With another genre successfully bested, Cage’s career took its darkest, and yet most rewarding turn.

Mike Figgis had started work on Leaving Las Vegas, the story of an alcoholic who drinks himself to death. According to Figgis, ‘The story is so tough that I knew the film would only hang together if we were bold in the same way. It’s like, alright, we’re gonna be bold – let’s cast Nicolas Cage!’ The role was manna from Method Heaven for Cage. He soon set to work, filming himself while drunk. He later destroyed all the tapes as he didn’t want an embarrassing video of him falling into the wrong hands – the same reason Zandalee was very hard to come by on VHS. He also studied other great film drunks like Dudley Moore in Arthur and went on a two week Guinness-sampling tour of Ireland.

The film was hailed as an instant classic, with Cage Nicking the 1996 Best Actor Oscar, thanks in no small part to him improvising lines like ‘I’m a prickly pear’ and ‘I’m the kling-klang king of the rim-ram room.’

It was an even bigger year personally, as he finally married Patricia Arquette – a union sure to stand the test of time. After a chance meeting eight years after their first, Patricia called Nic. ‘Listen, I have to ask you something. Do you want to marry me?’ ‘Yeah, okay, I’ll do it’ replied Nic, his voice laced with the kind of emotion cinemagoers had become used to. The ceremony was a simple clifftop one where the couple posed for photos, before petting the attending sea otters and speeding off in Nic’s blue Ferrari. The euphoria was short-lived however, as Nic was named People Magazine’s Worst Dressed Man of 1996. Nic often rose above these minor irritations with one of his favourite indulgences: a hot bath. ‘Epsom salts, baking soda, sea salt, David Bowie’s Low – that’s a good bath.’

With the recipe for the perfect bath now formulated, Nic could move on to his next mission: redefining the action hero. His first attempt, The Rock, had been languishing in development hell for many years, and had even been rewritten at one point by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. Now with Jerry Bruckheimer producing, Nic played against the conventions of the genre by making Stanley Goodspeed a decent, clean living man, with no interest in killing. He was also able to bring his improv skills to the fore again with lines like ‘How in the name of Zeus’ butthole did you get out of your cell?’ The film was a box office hit and Cage and Bruckheimer repeated the trick with Con Air, this time directed by Simon West, whose previous work included directing the video for Respectable by Mel and Kim.

After completing the final part of his action trilogy – the seminal Face/Off – Nic declared himself done with action movies. ‘I like to really master a genre. I feel like I’ve really done it. I’ve done every genre of movie making I can imagine. I just want to have as many different careers within one career as I can possibly have and I hope to keep doing this to the end.

However feted Nic found himself in the late nineties, he was never celebrated for pulling off his biggest trick: inventing himself. After all, Nicolas Cage doesn’t really exist.

Related: Crack’d actor

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Posted in Books, Film with tags on September 13, 2009 by Tim Lee

[Book] The Real Deal: Danny Dyer by Martin Howden

imagesI was going to attempt to write a constructive review of this but realised it would be a fairly pointless endeavour as predictably, it’s moody as fuck. Instead I will save you the ordeal of your own personal literary Vietnam by compressing the highlights, in a feature in no way similar to one run by a left leaning daily newspaper.

 The little toerag

Danny was raised by his nan. A proper matriarch, she ruled the family with a loving fist, whatever that is. It is to her that Danny attributes his florid vocabulary.  “Nana Polly swears every other sentence…. whenever she sees Stephen Hendry on the telly. “I can’t stand that cunt, cunt, cunt… How’s them potatoes, cunt?” It’s a normal way of life.” But it’s from his father that he inherited his hardman tendencies. According to director Nick Love, “a fucking colossus. Proper old school, works at a building site and all that. Drinks fully pasteurised milk and everything. Top man, he’s got pictures of Satan tattoos and all that.” Yep, he’s so hard he goes up to men and asks if he can take photos of their Satan tattoos whilst hepped up on milk. And all that.

During drama classes Dyer was fearless, often tackling the classics. “He loved Jossy’s Giants and acted out a scene.” But according to his drama teacher, although prodigiously talented, there were deficiencies. “The significant thing he couldn’t do was speak any kind of approximation of Standard English. I realised there were financial implications in this, so encouraged him to think about it as something to invest in for the future, so that he could avoid becoming typecast.” Of course these fears were soon allayed as Danny’s career developed.

After a career-making role in Prime Suspect 3 – Helen Mirren having patronisingly stated “Cor, you’re really good” – Danny continued to reap critical acclaim in every show he deigned to grace. In Cadfael he played a leper recovering thanks to the detective monk’s healing herbs. Danny’s one speaking line is delivered competently enough. “God has punished him for whipping you.” But this was nothing compared to his pioneering work in the TV adaptation of Highlander. While his performance may have been wasted in the first episode of the show’s sixth and final season – which fans consider to be the series’ worst season – it still remains a curio item nonetheless.  As do many of his earlier appearances… as well as the famous Coca Cola advert, which saw Danny denounce a rival soft drink with the damning verdict: “It tastes like chicken,” a line which would rank alongside Travolta’s “Royale with cheese” in the pantheon of great 90s food-based quotes.

Even as a youngster Danny was keen to extend his range. “I got really excited about being in Borstal Boy, running around beating everyone up, until I got the script and read I was a gay sailor. I thought, whoa, I’m going to have to act now.” A problem he would encounter throughout his acting career.

 Regrets, he’s had a few

Although his number is now on speed dial of all the fatcat Hollywood producers, things weren’t always so easy for Dyer. “I’d like to play Sid Vicious, my ideal role,” he said on his official website. “There’s only been one other film about the Sex Pistols, Sid and Nancy. Gary Oldman, who’s one of my idols, played him in a way I would have done differently. There was so much to him. This was a geezer who couldn’t play guitar, a raving lunatic.” Unfortunately, an actor’s strike a week before production was to wreck that dream. “I was devastated,” he admits. Of course as keen Dyer watchers know, he was to have the last laugh, as he is soon due to debut in the West End in Kurt and Sid – take that Oldman, you Muppet! However, he still has unfinished business with another British institution. “I remember I used to be up for Casualty all the time and I never got a part in that cunt.”

Dyer’s maverick tendencies have still occasionally seen him fall foul of the Hollywood machine, like when he made crucial dining faux pas in the company of the producers of Red Dragon. “I ordered salad cream and you should have seen their faces – they just looked disgusted. I don’t want to say that I’ve ruined LA, but I just couldn’t believe their reaction because I’d ordered something they hadn’t heard of.” But then what is an actor without his integrity?

It is probably due to his uncompromising attitude that the reviewers haven’t always been kind to his films. When talking about The Business, Dyer noted “Time Out cunted the life out of it when it came out.” Of course, in a way this was another moral victory as it was the first known instance of somebody using the word ‘cunt’ as a verb. Nana Polly would be so proud.

 On his craft

Once you’ve got through the audition, a gruelling process that Danny, despite his fame, still has to go through on occasion, there’s no point overthinking the acting process. According to Dyer “It’s just playing yourself.” But this simplistic approach isn’t to say he won’t suffer for his art. He believes the ginger hair dye (used during the filming of All in the Game) has caused his hair to recede. “I couldn’t get it out of my hair. It took me six months. I kept washing it. I think I started losing my wig after that. It’s down to Channel 4 I’m losing my canister.” He’s even been known to ponce it up and go method by wearing glasses for six weeks during the filming of Outlaw.

Of course every De Niro has his Pacino, and during the filming of Mean Machine Dyer made the rookie mistake of going head to head with acting powerhouse Jason Statham. Statham stole every scene as the Monk, a homicidal maniac who is recruited to be the team’s goalkeeper.

Ever eager to explore new avenues, Danny has also shown a deft touch for comedy. Although he sadly missed out on Lesbian Vampire Killers, he was able to demonstrate his almost McIntyresque comedy chops in arguably Severance’s funniest scene. It features just Danny trying to jam a prosthetic severed leg into a mini fridge. And it’s one he knew he could make a success. “I’m quite an instinctive actor. I know how I’m going to play it. I didn’t want to milk it too much, just try and jam it in, get the bottles out, take the shoe, then the sock off – and the foot looked so real, it was horrendous…. and it was very heavy. What a scene to play as an actor.”

 Britpack? Shitpack, more like!

Although often lumped in with the Britpack, Dyer has an uneasy relationship with his so-called peers, and one man in particular yanks his facking chain. “I do genuinely think Orlando Bloom is a cunt. I’ve never met him but he’s in the same game as me and he’s loaded. He got lucky. He came out of drama school and got Lord of the Rings and then goes and gets another trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean.  He wasn’t all that good in it but it put him on the map, didn’t it? He’s the opposite of me; he’s well media trained and boring. Plus he can’t act.” Now warming to his theme, Dyer continued, “He’s got all sorts of dough, loads of screaming girls chasing him, but he hasn’t honed his craft yet, he’s a rubbish actor. I don’t think anyone I’ve ever come across has said “you know what, he’s a great actor, that Orlando Bloom.” He’s got a good name; I think that’s what it is. And quite an irritating face. I just can’t stand Orlando Bloom. I can’t. I just want to take his face and fucking squeeze it.”

Another man who couldn’t escape his finely tuned bullshit radar was James McAvoy. “Bafta nominations, presenting at the Oscars… Why? Because he’s running about with a floppy hairdo and does period dramas.” And his fellow movie hardmen don’t get an easy ride either. “One cunt that pissed me of is Vinnie bloody Jones. We did his scenes and his dialogue, but, when the camera turned round on me to do my bit, he fucked off to watch the golf.”

Somewhat incongruously, the staunchly anti-establishment Dyer found an unlikely ally in Harold Pinter. Pinter was incredibly fond of Danny. When Michael Attenborough directed him The Homecoming, he mounted a picture of the cast and we all wrote things on the back. Danny wrote, “Harold, you’re the bollocks.” Harold said it was the best thing anyone had ever said about him.

 The man, the myth

Like Scorsese/De Niro, Scott/Crowe or Burton/Depp – the Love/Dyer collaboration is increasingly becoming a fixture on the big screen, and more recently in Blockbusters. The old adage of ‘men want to be him, women want to be with him’ could definitely be applied to Danny. He’s the cheeky chap who you can have a pint with, while for women he’s the roguish bit of rough who probably won’t remember your name the next day. Of course, none of this is quite true but that’s the power of the movies and Danny’s star is getting brighter and brighter.

Those who’ve got really close to Dyer have discovered his unreconstructed wideboy facade masks a softer, more feminine side. During a photoshoot for Attitude Magazine (for which he was paid £500 in a brown envelope) he took all his clothes off and swung his dick around like a helicopter. Waxing intellectual on the subject of gender politics he noted, “It’s sweet as if you like a bit of cock. You know, I’ve had me moments. I’ve had me fucking moments.” When pressed further, he claimed “We’ll leave it at that.”

Straight to DVD and beyond

So having conquered the worlds of TV, film and theatre, what’s next on the agenda? “I’m trying to break away from that a bit. Maybe do period drama – tights and all that. I draw the line at fucking Shakespeare though! I’d love to have a crack at Doctor Who. I think I can do something mad with it. Just instinctively, I know I can do something with it.” What a chilling prospect.

In a word: mug!