Show Business Kindness

If you have 15 minutes, and who doesn’t, it’s worth your time to watch an impromptu Instagram video by comic Jeff Ross and musician John Mayer driving their friend Bob Saget’s car home from LAX.

Saget, 65, a nineties lore staple as the star of Full House and Americas Funniest Home Videos, as well as a perennial comedian/actor, died quite unexpectedly this week in a Florida hotel room the morning after doing one of his standup shows. 

He basically hosted YouTube, before there was YouTube

There was no foul play, no drugs and no scandal.  Though autopsy results are pending, right now it looks like he had either a sudden heart attack or a massive stroke.

As the Omicron version of COVID continues to decimate the U.S. and the planet, and we all continue to lose our minds over fascism, voting rights, masks and the people who refuse to wear them or get the g-d damned vaccine (Note: F-ck U Novak Djokovic, you’ll break that Grand Slam record over ALL of our dead bodies!) it might seem relevant to ask the question:

Why are you writing about Bob Saget?

I mean, other than the fact that he died?

Well, I’ll tell you.

America’s Dad

In a two-month period where we’ve lost revered show business legends like Sidney Poitier, Betty White and Stephen Sondheim, seeing the amount of show business love and heartbreak in reaction to the death of Mr. Saget feels…unparalleled?

Funny as he was (Note: I’ll always remember him for his hilariously filthy monologue in The Artistocrats), and as good of an actor as he could also be (Note: Check out his Law and Order: SVU season 8 episode, Choreographed), this isn’t an industry that comes together to laud people for anything other than superhuman success or super duper amounts of accrued money.

Not that Bob Saget wasn’t known among his peers for generous helpings of both.

But it seems what he was mostly known for was his unbridled and unrelenting love and generosity.

He was beloved.

Apparently following his death there was a three-day pajama party/shiva (Note: Jewish tradition for paying respect to a family who have lost loved ones where people bring LOTS of food) at his home with his family; his entire Full House family, which he kept together for decades as their own second family, (Note: Yes, BOTH grown up Olsen twins/moguls were there); as well as a diversity of comics, actors, musicians and other show business luminaries.

But as both the public and the personal tweets mounted there were only three words that united the many dozens, nee many hundreds of them:

KIND.  CARING.  LOVE.

Google his name and type in any of those words and see what comes up.

I guess the fourth word would be funny and it’s likely that would be the first word any comedian would want to have as their epitaph.

But it’s not as if we don’t know and expect comics to be funny.

What you rarely see leading the list in show business tributes is the constant and incessant use of the word kind

It’s not that everyone is mean.  It’s more that in the competitive and sometimes cutthroat world we humans have created, few individuals lead with kind and continue to do so that continually, dependably and personally over decades.

Bob Saget was like a lovable golden retriever, wasn’t he?

People can be kind on the set and a pleasure to work with but they likely won’t be your lasting good friend.  Someone can be a close buddy but it’s rare so many close buddies will be people you worked with and who you still might be competing with for a job.

Which also doesn’t account for those many non-pros who you have made sure to keep in your inner circle or to reach out to in times of trouble no matter how busy or rich you became, simply because you were kind.  Or, more likely, merely because you wanted to.

Jimmy Kimmel, who has cried before on his television show but contrary to so many mean tweets doesn’t do often, tells it much more specifically and emotionally:

We don’t talk a lot about real love and kindness in such direct ways any more for fear of appearing melodramatic or, to use one of my students’ favorite terms/fears, too cheesy.

Sometimes cheesy is good!

But that’s what got Jeff Ross and John Mayer to do something any L.A. resident would herculariously (Note: It’s a word now!) try almost anything to avoid — driving through freeway traffic to Los Angeles International Airport to find their friend’s car somewhere in a dreaded, unmarked multi-level parking structure, pay the overdue penalty and then turn right back around and drive themselves together again through rush hour traffic simply because someone had to do it and it was a way to help.

I mean, it’s not like you couldn’t get a lineup of p.a.’s to complete that task for you, with or without pay.

… and he was funny!

That might not seem like the ultimate display of kindness for those who don’t live here but you’ll just have to trust The Chair on this one.  Out here on the left coast, upper echelon of show business, this simply DOES. NOT. HAPPEN.  EVER.

Though love and kindness, those now seldom discussed qualities too often relegated to the cultural death heap of the sixties, never fail to surprise.  And occasionally, to inspire.

Full House Extended Theme Song

Now You Know

Funny enough it’s almost exactly 40 years ago to the day of his death this week at the too young age of 91 that Stephen Sondheim taught me a life lesson I continue to live by to this day.

Predictably enough, it was while I was sitting in a prized orchestra seat of a then-new Sondheim musical, Merrily We Roll Along, listening to one of his lyrical words of wisdom.

Unpredictably enough, and to this day in my mind unfairly enough, that show would also turn into one of his biggest Broadway flops. 

Flop? Says who??

Though as one of a very select group of people in attendance at the next to last Broadway performance of the original cast of Merrily in 1981, I can only tell you that in my mind that production and that show was, and will always be, a huge success.

Profound.  Moving.  Funny.  Insightful.  Scathing.  Ironic.  Wise.  Deep.  Joyful. 

And smart. 

Oh, so smart. 

What more can you ask for from any piece of art?

Is it selfish to say more more more!!!!?

Oh, the song.  It’s not one of the famous ones, popular ones or even obscure, uncovered and belatedly lauded ones. 

Though it is the first act curtain. 

And its three-word title has immeasurably endured, helping me to process some of the very worst times in my life right after and long after they happened.  Then.  And now.

What’s it called?

 It’s called….Now You Know.

Me too!

A jazzy little number sung by two best friends of a famous young composer who has cheated on his wife with the lead actress in his new hit musical.

They’re divorced and he’s on the courthouse steps, having just lost a bitter and salacious custody battle for their young son.  And though his lovely, kind-hearted ex admits she still loves him she confesses she just can’t get past his infidelity and forgive him for the man he’s become.

So she’s moving thousands of miles away and taking the kid with her.

He’s blind-sided and suddenly devastated at the realization of life without them. 

What’s worse, it gets played out publicly in front of a slew of venal and vindictive reporters and cameras.

Very much the vibe

It’s that moment when even the heel-iest of heels knows they will never truly be the same, much less recover.  Forget about the rest of us.

That scene was set in 1966 and I was a recently out gay guy in my twenties with no thought of ever having a kid, much less a wife.  But boy, could I relate.

Me in the audience

Because it was about the type of hurt and devastation that in some way we will all be forced to experience, and more than once.  That time when:

a. We’ve f-cked up royally and at great personal cost.  Or,

b. We’ve had an unexpected death or perhaps devastating other loss.  Or,   

c. There’s been a terrible betrayal, to us or by us we can never get beyond.  Or,

d. We finally accept that the bold, implied or sealed promises made to us by others, or to ourselves, will NEVER, EVER happen the way we imagined.

We’re lost.  Bigly.  Big time.  And there’s no chance we can be who we once were.  Ever again.

OK well yeah, but also this:

Here’s what Mr. Sondheim had to say to that:

All right

Now you know:

Life is crummy

Well, now you know

I mean, big surprise:

People love you and tell you lies

Bricks can tumble from clear blue skies

Put your dimple down

Now you know

Okay, there you go —

Learn to live with it

Now you know

It’s called flowers wilt

It’s called apples rot

It’s called thieves get rich

And saints get shot

It’s called God don’t answer prayers a lot

Okay, now you know

Okay, now you know

Now forget it

Don’t fall apart at the seams

It’s called letting go your illusions

And don’t confuse them with dreams

Yes sir, quite a blow?

Don’t regret it

And don’t let’s go to extremes

It’s called, what’s your choice?

It’s called, count to ten

It’s called, burn your bridges, start again

You should burn them every now and then

Or you’ll never grow!

Because now you grow

That’s the killer is

Now you grow

You’re right, nothing’s fair

And it’s all a plot

And tomorrow doesn’t look too hot —

Right, you better look at what you’ve got:

Over here,  hello?

Okay, now you know…

– Sondheim, 1981

All the feels

It’s called letting go your ILLUSIONS, and don’t confuse them with DREAMS?

Are you kidding me????

What about, burn your bridges, start again, you should BURN THEM EVERY NOW AND THEN OR YOU’LL NEVER GROW?!   With the lyrical promise, written by someone older and wiser and infinitely more talented that,  that’s the killer…NOW YOU GROW??

Seriously???

Channeling this Meryl energy entirely

You mean, it’s okay to walk away when you’ve tried everything and it’s not working?  And there IS hope at the end of the tunnel?

But how will that work? 

Well, you better look at what you’ve got

Wait, you mean…oh…..your friends….who despite everything are still there and literally singing to you  —

Over here, hello???

Wait, that’s what it’s really about???

I mean, it still slays me.

GENIUS

How he knew so much, put it so succinctly and rhymed so simply, completely and, yes, tunefully.

It’s called devoting a lifetime to your art and never taking the easy way out.

– It’s called consistently mentoring generations of young writers for decades, despite your schedule, because in your teens you were lucky enough, through a family connection, to be mentored by one of the great lyricists of the American musical theatre, Oscar Hammerstein, and always promised to pay it forward.

– It’s called staying current with new work in the theatre for the next half century instead of spending your time reliving and pining for the good old days.

Always one step ahead

– It’s called daring to be bad, in your work and in your life, in order to become good.

– It’s called not letting it all go to your head and knowing at the end of the day it’s just you, your beloved Blackwing pencils and some paper late at night, trying to make a hat.

The thing about Sondheim is not that he didn’t know how good he was.  It was that he didn’t dwell on it, tried to do better and always knew deep down that he wasn’t perfect.

As he so eloquently stated in one of the short verses of the above song I didn’t mention:

I mean, socks have holes,
I mean, roads have bumps,

They make meatheads champs and nice guys chumps…
I mean, even cream of wheat has lumps.

#RIP.  From a fan.

Merrily We Roll Along – “Now You Know”