Sunday, September 5, 2010
The Worst Thing I've Ever Done 03 - Yute & the Peanut Butter YumYums
Everything fell apart immediately. Isn't that just like everything?
The first shoe to drop was the Mad Valdez, who decided that he just couldn't get out of work the next weekend for the shoot. This was most perplexing, as Valdez had been working for the same large independent book chain for the past five years, a stretch that was sure to give him some kind of seniority over the summer vacation college kids when it came to claiming schedule time. But this was Valdez for you. He could slide through logic like a minnow through a lobster cage.
"What do you mean, you can't get out of work? You still work weekends?"
"I'm sorry, Goat. I used up my last favor. I had to do some fancy footwork just to get away last weekend."
"You used your last favor on this trip last weekend?" I asked.
"So . . . you used your last possible day off to get away for a time when we didn't actually need you?"
"And did you know when you got the time off that you were calling in your last favor?"
"So, last weekend, which you knew we weren't going to need you, during which weekend we were making plans which included you, did you know at that time that you weren't going to be able to get the time off?"
"Makes sense to me. So there's nothing you can do, is that what you're telling me?"
"You have no idea how hard it is to get a break in this schedule, Goat."
I gave up. The guy was way too meek to throw around any advantage like seniority, possibly because he didn't even realize he had any advantage. In any event, the central character of the central skit was not going to be played by the guy for whom I'd written it. It was going to have to be Morgan, I decided. The guy could bring a crazy vibe to things. He was probably the only one of us who could pull it off, but he was probably going to be a little too normal no matter how broadly he carried it off. The whole thing would play darker and more uncomfortable than I had envisaged. So it goes.
So, Morgan was in as Tommy Falicki Girl Scout, . But that meant that he'd be playing the Tommy part in the governor skit too, which meant that he couldn't play the governor. Furthermore, he'd been cast in both the Stu and Jerry skit with me and the Old Farts Commemorative Coin skit with Valdez and Lee. (Three young guys sitting around in old age makeup doing Grandpa Simpson impressions -- what joy. I'd been happy to cast other members of our nascent troupe in the thing.) That meant that Morgan was going to have by far the most time on set -- which would be just fine, except that Morgan was also the guy who had expressed the least desire to do this thing. Not that he wasn't interested, he was, it's just that he was also equally not interested. Either way, really, was OK with him. Resting the entire enterprise on Morgan's rather ambivalent shoulders was foolhardy at best, and . . . well, also foolhardy at worst. It was foolhardy; that's my point.
Clearly, I needed another cast member to fill the gaps. The problem was that I knew of no other people who were both a) definitely capable of acting and b) contactable by me in these pre-Facebook days. I decided to throw a Haily Mary. The long bomb to end all long bombs.
I asked Yute.
Yute was the team leader in my department at work, a little guy with a Southern Indiana accent and an infectious gregarious nature. Almost ridiculously competent, full of energy, good hustle, could take initiative. He was clearly one of the best we had.
Here's the thing: The competent career guy was just Yute's alter ego. His Bruce Wayne, if you will. Off hours, Yute was the most amazing drunk you've ever met, the Batman of booze. By six o'clock PM on Wednesday he'd be as drunk as Winston Churchill, the center of the table of nine to fivers, ordering shots and slaying everybody with whatever popped into his skull, which was usually of the most inappropriate possible content and delivery. He was crazy, but I also knew that he was deeply, deeply funny, and probably game for something as odd as traveling a few hundred miles north to shoot comedy skits with his boss and a bunch of strangers. He had a certain spontaneous comic genius, if it could be harnessed.
This was a pretty big 'if'.
I have to tell you this, if you haven't ever asked somebody who works with you if they're interested in shooting comedy with you up in Ann Arbor for a weekend . . . well, there's not an un-awkward way of doing that, so just jump right in with an awkward way. The amazing thing is this: Yute said, "sure!" And that's how I found myself shooting up after close of business on Friday with my ultra competent office lieutenant, as well as a guy who I knew would likely be putting on the booze bat-suit and getting batshit hilarious soony. I'd already called Tiff, who as director needed to know that Valdez was out as Tommy and Old Dude #3, Morgan was in as Tommy, and out as Stu, the governor, and Old Dude #1, Yute was in as Old Dude #1 and Stu, and I was going to have to (sigh) take my place in the bald cap as Old Dude #3. Also, we needed a governor. Also, the stage blood looked terribly fake, so we'd need to shoot Sorry I Killed Your Mom in black and white, and cover Lee's shirt in chocolate syrup, which was going to require some consideration for the transition from that skit to Tommy. These are the sorts of things that you need to deal with in skit comedy, it seems.
I also wanted to talk with Tiff about something she'd said about location for the Old Dude Commemorative Coin skit. We had already secured locations for all the other shoots, but Coin had been written on the fly at the end of the planning session last week. I'd specifically written it so that we could just shoot on the back porch, but Tiff had other ideas.
"I called my grandmother's nursing home," she said. "The Director of the facility is really excited to have us come shoot there."
This seemed odd to me, but Tiff insisted that she had spoken to all authorities and it was cool. Besides, we had enough other things to discuss in our brief phone conversation, so I just let it slide for the time being.
When we arrived, the final pre-shoot issue presented itself. Lee had gone quietly insane.
"It was filling my room with cookie boxes that did it," Herring said, on his way out the door. Herring could smell disaster in the same way that koalas can smell chocolate cake frosting (according to Wikipedia). He was clearing out and crashing with his girlfriend for the weekend to avoid the oncoming madness. Also, his room was full of a seriously ridiculous number of faux girl scout cookie boxes.
This made it sort of hard to sleep in there. Or stand. Or breathe.
"Lee was up two nights running getting them all set up and the effort's pretty much left him a shell," Herring said. "A crazy shell. He's lost it. He's up on the roof now."
Thankfully, there was also good news. The cookie boxes looked amazing. Lee, though insane, was proud. When I poked my head out the window to thank him, he interrupted himself -- busy as he was smoking Dunhills and staring off into the middle distance -- to smile gratefully to me for my approbation. "I made three flavors," he confided. "Peanut Butter YumYums, Peppermintallions, and Doublestack Choco-splosions."
"Well done, soldier," I said, and left him to his work.
Also on the positive side of the ledger, Yute had made himself as drunk as Uncle Jessie within twenty minutes of our arrival -- and, I noticed with more than a little hope, was immediately cracking everybody up. It didn't appear that chemistry was going to be a problem. Even better, Tiff and Morgan had already gone out and shot some genuinely funny footage of Morgan lost in the woods for the governor skit. This could just work out, I allowed myself to think.
"GOAT!" Yute blared. "These friends of yours have got the BIGGEST GODDAM CANS OF BEANS I HAVE EVER SEEN! Look! Look!" He ran out and came back with a can the size of a pony keg under each arm. Both marked BEANS.
"I'm going crack one of these bad boys open and EAT 'em COLD in the skit tomorrow," he proclaimed, suddenly serious.
The thing I learned about Yoot is, when he becomes suddenly serious, he's going to do what he says he'll do.
In a quiet moment, I asked Tiff:
"Are you completely sure that the person running your grandma's nursing home WANTS us there?"
"Totally, Goat. Totally. Trust me on this, she's begging us. She is BEGGING us."
"Has she . . . has she read the script?"
"No, but she just really wants us there."
"We're going to get like our own area to shoot in, right?"
"But look, is it necessary? I mean, old people don't have to be in a nursing home, right? We could just use the porch . . ."
"No, we really can't. The lighting is terrible in there, it'll look washed out, awful. Plus this way we can get a lot of establishing shots."
We wouldn't need establishing shots if we weren't randomly putting these characters in a nursing home, I thought, but then remembered that I wanted to lend my support to her as director, that I wanted to be a team player, that I wanted to show that I could do this without having to have control over every little thing.
Of course, within 12 hours, the only thing I'd want would be a quick and merciful death.
NEXT WEEK: What I Did