A decade or so ago, I was the senior editor at the National Lampoon. Thank you. You’re welcome. It was a blast…for a while. I’m not here to get into that though. This is about one moment in time while I was there. This is about the single stupidest (read: my favorite) article I wrote while there.
We were putting together a Hollywood Reporter parody at the time. I’ll tell you more about what the article was in a sec. Just stay with me. The piece, though, never even made it into the final product, but I found out last night that even now, it still makes me laugh harder than I have any right to laugh, especially about an idea as dumb as it is/was.
Now I’m plopping this memorygasm down here today
— something I rarely do for no reason other than sharing like this takes effort and as rambly and open about my past failures and embarrassments as I can be on stage, I’m actually kind of a private person —
because last night I saw 22 Jump Street with my wife and creative lifemate, Carol Hartsell.
To put it mildly, Carol puts up with a lot of iffy movie choices on my part. Like…a lot. I’ll waste money we don’t have to waste on a terrible movie BECAUSE it’s terrible. That’s because I find a perverse kind of comfort in the fact that Hollywood turns out so many turds. Like the sound of a grandfather clock ticking in the background, these $100 million + budget disasters are, for me, often soothing in the regularity with which they’re released. Linus has his security blanket. I have summer movies.
Part of that comfort comes from knowing how much effort goes into making one of them.
On all the shows and productions I’ve written for, the notes and rewrites are endless. Network gives you feedback. EP’s chime in and filter their thoughts through other producers. Then the head writer(s) take a stab. And then you get to mash all that crap together into a script which will probably be rewritten by whoever runs the show anyway. And that’s just for a relatively modestly budgeted show. The prep work and thought and time put into a Hollywood blockbuster… is that to the power of a trillion because there are just that many more considerations to take into account. So EVEN WHEN THAT MOVIE IS A CATEGORY FIVE SHITSTORM, the combined effort put into it is staggering.
[If you’ve ever spent any time watching or participating in the process of a big complicated production, you’ll know that the fact that any good movies or shows get made at all is sort of a miracle.]
So for me, there’s just always been something comforting about the fact that our chunk of civilization hasn’t yet been brought to its knees by climate change or a million other potential, quality-of-life destroying disasters…and that we can still mount projects of such a scale solely for the one goal of entertaining us all. Amazing, right? Sort of? No? Fuck you, you’re stupid, and no one cares what you think. THIS IS MY FORUM!!!!
Luckily/unluckily/whateverly, this wasn’t to be one of those comforting grandfather clock turds. 22 Jump Street turned out to be a blast! Which, for me, is just an added bonus. Coulda been a hot mess and I still would have had a good time. But at least now Carol can’t hold this one against me and thereby get to choose the next 10 movies which would probably just be Blue Velvet (great but unnerving) on a loop for 30 hours. So look, snobs, yes, 22 Jump Street is a self-aware-of-its-own-derivativeness sequel that exists solely to milk the chemistry between Channing and Jonah…but the bottom line is it made us laugh, it’s above the low par I sometimes wallow in, and we needed that last night. Make sense? Ok enough defending my LCD choices.
Anyway, at the end of “22” — we’re old friends so I can call it that — there’s a very funny, aptly included fake sequels credit sequence you may have heard about by now. It’s downright, as half of my people would say, wicked awesome. (The other half would say the same thing, just in Spanish.) Probably the best part of the whole thing. And during that sequence there’s an image that almost brought tears to my sunken, jaded eyes and that’s what we’re gathered here for today, my not yet dearly departed thought grazers.
So this article for our Hollywood Reporter parody, the one I mentioned a hundred reading hours ago way up top. I don’t love it because it’s a brilliant piece of writing (it’s not) and this is some elaborate humblebrag (it’s not). I love it because the concept of it is so epically ridiculous in its uselessness that there’s almost a kind of grace to it. Apparently only to me though. No one else on staff wanted this thing in the mag. NO ONE. Even our secretary chimed in to let me know I should “let this one go.” But, again, for me, it’s BECAUSE the idea was so silly it achieved a kind of escape velocity from Planet Logic and therefore didn’t need to be housed in any kind of meaningful context.
Here’s what it was about: CBS had spent $6 billion on 10 full seasons of an animated TV series based on the 1980’s buddy cop movie, “Running Scared” and the executives were delighted by the choice. In the article, they could only see a bright side to what was obviously the worst decision in the history of Hollywood. An animated show aimed at kids 6-10 based on an R-rated movie that 1. they definitely would never have seen and which 2. wasn’t even a hit with adults when it came out almost 20 years earlier? Six billion dollars on animation, publicity and merch? Merch that included the lunchbox and thermos you see below, as well as trading cards (the Detective Tony Montoya card was the easiest to find and the “Snake” card the hardest), pogs (remember those?), posable action figures (the Julio Gonzales figure could be filled with water and used as a squirt gun), Trapper Keepers, rollerskates, “Unmarked Police Car” decals for Big Wheels, children’s sippy cups shaped like the drinks Detectives Hughes and Costanza made in the bar they opened… even a Broadway straight play version? (Note: Before you suggest it, a musical version could possibly be seen as having some kitsch ironic value and the point of the whole concept, for me, was to make the sum value of this decision exactly 0. There could be no upside or the joke fell apart. Thus, it had to be a straight play.)
The idea of a large scale decision of that epic terribleness made by entertainment industry corporate leaders whose only bottom line is the bottom line…it just KILLED me. I mean, I would see the print out of this stupid article peeking out from a pile of other articles and I’d just start heaving, crying with laughter. It was upsetting, I’m sure, to watch, and worse if you knew what I was laughing about.
It’s the only time I’ve ever had an unstoppable giggle fit from something I’d created. And I was the only one who felt that way about. Which was fine. It was and still is my little thought treasure. X marks the hilariously stupid.
But I couldn’t let go of the concept. So I kept pitching it to the team over and over again. It became a running gag for me to slip into conversation a plea for this gorgeously inane idea to make it into one of our rare going-to-print efforts. Worse, I even suggested we go to the effort of somehow tracking down someone in development actually foolish enough to help us animate this idea, to create, in effect, an animated series based on a fake animated series mentioned in an article whose entire comedy point was “what a bad idea this animated series is.”
They did not relent, the piece was killed, and I basically forgot about it until last night.
In 22’s fake sequels sequence, there is an image of classic kid’s lunchbox and thermos. Featuring buddy cops played by Tatum and Hill. Then, to add balm to my happily reopened “they killed me piece” wound, there’s then also a quick clip/still of an animated series version of “22.”
I almost passed out. I was that happy. “Someone else thinks that that basic idea - of a huge budget animated mistake based on a buddy cop movie - is hilarious?” I thought.
I realized something beautiful:
I’m not alone anymore.
Someone else capital goddamn G Gets it. It just turned out the joke needed a little context, like…a whole movie’s worth, to pull off right.
So thank you, 22 Jump Street. Thank you, Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Thank you, Hollywood. You made my dream come true…sorta kinda…but close enough.
[Ahem, I am however between writing and acting jobs right now. Sooooooo, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, if you want to make a cinematic or animated mistake together, I’m available. #slywinkyface]
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