“Gleefully wacky and irreverent.”

–The New York Times

“Line by line, Mr. Rudnick may be the funniest writer for the stage in the United States today.”

–The New York Times

“Deeply funny musings and adventures elevate Paul Rudnick to the highest level of American comedy writing.”

–Steve Martin

“One of the funniest quip-meisters on the planet.”

–The New York Times

“Paul Rudnick is a champion of truth (and love and great wicked humor) whom we ignore at our peril.”

–David Sedaris

“Quips fall with the regularity of the autumn leaves.”

–Associated Press

Month: August 2014

August 31, 2014

Profiles In Courage

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During rehearsals for Jeffrey, at the greatly missed WPA theater on 23rd Street, I went through many drafts of the script, and our insanely gifted cast did whatever the director, the wonderful Chris Ashley, and I would ask them to do. The sublime Harriet Harris was playing all the show’s female roles, including that of Mother Teresa. I had included Mother Teresa in the play for the following reason: in real life, I had once bought an antique chair in a shop on Bleecker Street, a chair which I didn’t need and could ill afford. As I was carrying the chair home, Mother Teresa walked right in front of me. At first I assumed I was hallucinating, but then I found out that Mother Teresa had not only founded a nearby convent, in the West Village, but that she was having her cataracts removed at the even more nearby St. Vincent’s Hospital (which has recently been torn down.) I still assumed that God had placed Mother Teresa in my path, to admonish me for buying that unnecessary chair.

So Harriet was playing Mother Teresa in Jeffrey. She was also playing Debra Moorhouse, a New Age evangelist and motivational speaker. I’d once attended a session at Town Hall led by just such a woman, because I’d been told that her congregation included many male and female models. This had turned out to be true, and I recall watching one gorgeous young woman writing down everything the evangelist said in a tiny notebook, and then depositing the notebook in her tiny Prada backpack.

In one of Jeffrey’s final scenes, a leading character named Sterling has just lost his handsome young boyfriend to AIDS. Sterling is sitting in the waiting room at St. Vincent’s, shell-shocked. I had Debra Moorhouse enter and try to comfort Sterling, in her own demented way. When Sterling told her that his boyfriend had just died, Debra took his hand and said, “Oh no. Oh no. Was he – attractive?” Debra became more outrageous, until finally, another actor, now also dressed as Mother Teresa, entered and spritzed Debra in the face with a bottle of seltzer, vaudeville-style. I hasten to add that, while Harriet’s performance was impeccable, I eventually realized that Sterling needed to grieve, without Debra’s lunacy.

But while the scene was still in the play, we rehearsed spritzing the noble Harriet in the face. To test this moment, Harriet wore what was either a rain poncho or a garbage bag. I hadn’t realized that bottled seltzer, with a spigot, is painfully powerful. But Harriet bravely stood against a wall, while we drenched her with seltzer and just about peeled her skin off.

I salute you, Harriet Harris, for your genius and your unstinting courage, in the face of seltzer.

August 30, 2014

Handy Labor Day Weekend Timewasters

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Contemplate Googling the Wikipedia entry on Labor Day, to learn the holiday’s history. Don’t do this.

Inspect an attractive young couple, in expensive, coordinated workout clothing, going for a run together, and checking their many devices which measure things like their heart rates and the length of their strides. Judge them.

Watch HGTV Househunters: Off The Grid, where a man moves his wife and two small children to an especially barren region of Australia, where the man intends to mine opals. Because the temperatures in this area regularly soar to over 100 degrees, most of the population lives in dugouts, which are lightless, underground homes. Calculate how long it will take before the pretty, timid young wife either leaves her husband or kills everyone involved. Do not judge her.

Think about doing the following: renewing your passport. Figuring out how to decrease your utility bills. Throwing out old, unread TV Guides. Do none of these things.

Welcome your houseful of guests, and keep them fed and entertained for the entire weekend. Then realize that these guests are imaginary. Then wonder, bitterly, why none of these imaginary guests brought a suitable gift or offered to help clear the table after dinner.

Express inner gratitude for the fact that the Panera Bread franchise offers so many items which combine dough, cinnamon, pecans and a nice sugary glaze.

 

 

August 29, 2014

More Moments of Gay Zen

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– After a hurricane, I once watched as a gay man surveyed the beach at Fire Island, which was strewn with debris from many houses, including the carcass of a swimming pool, turned on its side, which was slowly floating out to sea. The gay man announced, “Don’t mess with Miss Ocean.”

– A friend was sitting in the balcony of a Broadway musical. In Act II, a young male character stepped to the front of the stage and unleashed his perhaps too powerful baritone, singing an eardrum-shattering ballad. After the song was over, in the pause just before the audience started clapping, my friend commented, in a voice that could be heard throughout the theater, “Get her.”

– A wonderful producer once told me that he liked the name of my play Jeffrey because “I knew it was gay but I have no idea why.”

– I was once being interviewed by a great guy named Chad Jones. He told me that he was starting a blog, and he asked if I had any ideas for a name. I suggested calling the blog Jonestown. He said that this could be misleading, since it would be a theater blog. I suggested calling it Cherry Jonestown. Then I said that this was a joke which only theater dogs could hear. Chad ultimately decided to call his blog Theater Dogs.

– On Hollywood Squares, the legendary Center Square, Paul Lynde, was asked the following question: “If you and a friend were lost in the woods, and your friend was bitten by a snake, what would you do?” Lynde replied, “I would get a new friend.”

– A beloved director was studying the set for someone else’s extremely turgid drama. This set was made entirely of industrial pipes painted black, against a gray backdrop. I asked the director what he would do, to fix this set. He said, “I would tie big pink bows all over it.”

 

August 27, 2014

Good Morning

In so many videos, the best dancers are most often the back-up people, while the star can barely move. So we don’t get that particular high, of watching a great performer who can do everything. In other words, we aren’t allowed the giddy triumph of Singin’ in the Rain, which is pretty much the best movie ever:

August 26, 2014

Completely Unsupportable Observations About The Times Sunday Wedding Annoucements

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It’s always interesting when the bride is taking the groom’s name. This usually seems politically backwards, except for the cases in which the bride is losing a questionable surname, as when Amy Bungwelder becomes Amy Barstow

Any announcement where one or both of the people are over 90 seems especially joyful and inspiring

When both people have completely round heads, they look grinning helium balloons

Both members of so many lesbian couples are often incredibly impressive: Sara is always a thoracic surgeon for Doctors Without Borders, while Catherine is always the CEO of a foundation which promotes literacy worldwide

Whenever both members of a gay male couple are under 23, I’m impressed yet wary

If, even in a 1″ square black-and-white photo, I can tell that someone has dental veneers, there’s a problem

I only read the sentences about what the couples’ parents do for a living to see if their children are doing better or worse

Bowties only work on scientists

There should be a separate section called Obvious First Marriages

 

 

 

 

August 25, 2014

If Writing Was An Extreme Martial Art

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Writers could kick-box their computers into producing critically praised, commercial fiction

Donna Tartt could be thrown into a cage with Jonathan Franzen, and only one of them would survive, in order to write a think piece about white-collar violence for the Times op-ed page

It would be completely legal for poets to slam out a stanza using only their bleeding foreheads

Joyce Carol Oates would write her next book wearing only satin trunks and a tattoo, which would cover her entire back, reading Fuck Grammar

JK Rowling would go one-on-one with Stephen King, in a ring filled with mud, with their hands roped behind their backs, and they would both win, because of their movie deals alone

Twenty starving authors would arm-wrestle, for the prize of becoming the next ghostwriter for Tom Clancy’s corpse

If any of these ideas were broadcast on cable, all of the other writers would refuse to watch, but then they’d call their agents and ask, “Can you get me a match with Jonathan Lethem?”

 

August 24, 2014

Mature Responses

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If you see something online which angers you, or which you disagree with, here are some options for your reply:

Was that supposed to be FUNNY? Well it WASN’T!

Maybe before you make fun of something, you should LEARN something about it, ASSHOLE!

Oh, that was so FUNNY! Oh, HAHAHA! I’m being SARCASTIC!

u r so stupid i cant stnd it

I think of myself as a kind and generous person, but this just made me so angry that I hope you DIE!

Ur lucky that Jesus is nice

You made me so mad that I almost went outside

People like you make me so sick that I pray for your pets.

I don’t hate gays or Jews just you.

 

 

August 23, 2014

Are You Too Sensitive?

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While as a rule, sensitivity is a virtue, sometimes we can all care a tiny bit too much. Take this simple quiz:

1. Do you ever worry that your fingernails have feelings, and that when you trim them, they wonder what they did wrong?

2. When you hear a baby crying, do you always assume that the baby just found out about fracking?

3. When you see footage on TV or online, of terrible political unrest in other lands, do you:

A) Turn it off, because that way the unrest will end.

B) Think to yourself, instead of rockets, why can’t rocket launchers fire healthy meatless sandwiches?

C) Vow to never invade, for example, someone else’s personal space on an elevator?

4. True or false: when you read your latest poem out loud to your cat, the fact that she fell asleep halfway through means that  she loved the poem, and wants to dream about it.

5. Do you feel that owning heart-shaped objects can prevent inequality?

6. Do you believe that people should be legally allowed to marry their favorite quilts?

7.  When you read an especially meaningful short story, do you immediately assume that you wrote it?

8. True or false: bullies should be forced to sip anti-bullying tea.

August 22, 2014

The Police Gazette

I’m convinced that August makes people especially loony. Here are two examples:

In Seattle, according to a local news feed, police arrested an “extremely intoxicated 33-year-old woman” who’d wandered into a yard “with several members of a family looking on in horror.” The drunken woman “hiked up her dress and engaged in an intimate act with several lawn chairs.” The family called 911 and the woman was arrested for Indecent Exposure.

My questions: Several lawn chairs? Was the woman like Goldilocks, seeking just the right, or perhaps the most willing,  lawn chair? Which of the horrified family members was then assigned to hose down the lawn furniture, or was the furniture then discarded? When the family is having an outdoor Sunday brunch, is there a moment when an innocent guest wonders, what am I sitting on?

This was reported online: “An Albuquerque woman tried to poison her two roommates after police caught her having sex with a dog. One of the roommates said that she found 53-year-old Shari Walters lying nude in a backyard shed with her German Shepard, Spike.” A male roommate who’d been dating Walters broke up with her, “because she was having sex with dogs.” While having dinner, Walter’s ex-boyfriend and the other roommate “noticed that their food tasted odd and their water wasn’t clear. ‘Aren’t you going to eat?’ asked Walters”, who later admitted to putting rubbing alcohol in the roommates’ water and toilet bowl cleaner in their food.

My questions: How do you begin a conversation in which you accuse your girlfriend of also dating a German Shepard? Do you start by commenting, “Spike seems really tired tonight” or “Why does your breath smell like Beggin Strips?” After having  interspecies sex, did Shari and Spike share a cigarette, or a rawhide chew toy? When the roommates noticed that their food tasted odd, why didn’t Shari just say, “I’m trying a new recipe” or “Did the Liquid Plumr dressing go bad?”

Here’s Shari’s mugshot:

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August 21, 2014

Libby Gelman-Waxner: Love Is Strange, Like Me

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In the real world, you can see gay couples everywhere, getting married, pushing their kids in double strollers, and taking hundreds of beaming selfies, with their faces smushed together, in Paris, right before they break up. But there haven’t been many gay people in mainstream movies lately, and audiences have been reduced to wondering: is the talking tree in Guardians of the Galaxy gay, and  is he dating a landscape architect? Are any of the tough guys in the latest Expendables sequel gay, or does the entire cast just dress like a Village People tribute band? Happily, there’s a wonderful new indie opening, called Love Is Strange, which stars the sensational Alfred Molina and John Lithgow as a long-time gay duo, confronting the two most essential issues for any New Yorker: love and real estate.

Alfred is a music teacher who loses his job at a parochial school, once the church elders learn that he and John have gotten married. Without two incomes, the couple can no longer afford their spacious Brooklyn apartment, and are forced to separate and live with various friends and relatives. And while religious bigotry is a scandal, being forced to sell  a great one-bedroom is a tragedy, and there were gasps in the audience. I wanted Alfred to confront the evil archdiocese in a public forum, and declare, “We had a foyer!” The movie is very well-observed, especially when most of the characters try to behave compassionately and then start getting on each others’ nerves, especially when bunkbeds and shared bathrooms are involved. The movie is also extremely well cast, and the cocktail parties are filled with glorious actors like Harriet Harris, Cheyenne Jackson, Marisa Tomei and more; unlike in so many movies, all of these folks seemed  smart, as if they’d actually gone to college and held jobs.

The movie never treats Alfred and John like a pair of adorable old codgers, as if they were about to appear as tea-sipping, crochety detectives on a new Lifetime series. They’re believably in love, with each other and the city, and when a minor, rent-controlled miracle occurs, I could hear the citizens of every borough sighing with joy and relief. Because while it’s easy to, say, blow up an asteroid or prevent an alien drone strike from devestating the planet, finding a place in the West Village with a view and maybe even a doorman requires divine intervention.

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Of course, there’s another mature gay couple on the loose right now, as played by Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi on the BBC series Vicious. This show has been controversial, because the two knights play a pair of haughty, backbiting queens, sneering and spitting at each other in their London flat. I wasn’t sure about the politically aware response to this show, so I consulted my cousin Andrew, who’s just invented a new app which allows gay men to anonymously comment on each others’ skimpy linen blazers, before they meet for drinks. “I’m conflicted about Vicious,” said Andrew. “Mostly because the writing sounds like old episodes of Three’s Company, only less subtle. But on the other hand, it’s kind of great to watch such amazing actors having a blast, and they must love doing the show, because they always get to make fabulous entrances and then immediately sit down. It’s like watching community theater, if everyone had a royal title. And it’s refreshing to see a gay show where no one’s too worried about creating responsible role models – it’s sort of meta-gay, with satin dressiing gowns and a cute, straight neighbor. And I’m sure that even deaf people can enjoy the show without subtitles, due to the hand gestures.”

So I guess the answer is that the world just needs more movies and shows about all sorts of gay couples, to keep everyone outraged and satisfied. And personally, my new role model is Frances de la Tour, who plays Ian and Derek’s best friend on Vicious. Frances is always being abandoned by her latest lover, in some foreign capitol, and just watching her appraise a new romantic possibility, with a hungry glance, is even better than landing an under-priced condo on a high floor, if you ask me.

August 20, 2014

Getting Out of Gym

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There are more and more openly gay athletes, which is a good thing, because it allows the rest of us to fantasize on a whole new level. Now a gay guy can not only imagine  having sex with an Olympic swimmer or gymnast, but marrying him. And of course, not every gay male child hates taking gym. But still, yesterday I watched a group of kids running around a track, and the demographics were clear: the frontrunners tended to be taller and more graceful, while, towards the back, there were the chubbier kids, the stoners-in-training, and the kids, gay or straight, who just didn’t want to be there. For those kids, especially the boys, I’d like to offer some hard-won tips, for nabbing what is eternally referred to as a gym excuse.

1. Break something. In 7th grade, I broke my arm rather dramatically going over the high jump. My arm healed in about three weeks, but I wore a variety of slings, in different prints and solids, for at least six months. My gym teacher felt so guilty about my fracture that he never pressured me to return. Even now, when I’m on a deadline, I sometimes dream of telling my editor, “But my arm still hurts.”

2. Hide. At my high school, at the far end of the track, there was a pile of enormous, foam-filled mats, for cushioning the landings of pole vaulters. At the beginning of each session, our gym class would be commanded to do a few warm-up laps. Clever students could drop out of sight, behind the mountain of mats, and stay there, for the rest of the class, rejoining the athletes for their final  cool-down laps.

3. Claim that your sister is having her period, and you need to support her, as a gesture of feminist equality. At certain more politically sensitive schools, this might work.

4. Forgery. Don’t try to fake a doctor’s note, because you most likely don’t own the correct stationery. But nowadays, why not email the coach a note from your Mom or Dad, concerning your asthma, shin splints or recovery from the flu. Never go too exotic: very few people under 40 have fibromyalgia.

5. Play left field. In my experience, during a game of what I think is called baseball, almost no one ever hits the ball into left field, so you can just stand out there, making a mental list of what you might wear to school the next day. The phrase “coming out of left field” is probably derived from the fact that the people who play left field tend to come out.

August 19, 2014

ALS Challenge

Here’s the Bill Gates ice bucket challenge:

And here’s a celebrity compilation:

The ice bucket challenge, to raise money and awareness to combat ALS, has become somewhat controversial. The campaign has been called a celebrity-driven stunt and  the phrase “raising awareness” can seem vague. On the other hand, up until now, it’s been near-impossible to fund research regarding ALS, and the celebrity videos have brought about millions of dollars in donations.

My friend Jay Holman had ALS, and he died earlier this year. The disease is especially horrific and insidious, because it causes a person’s entire body to shut down, bit by bit, while their mind remains intact. Jay eventually became imprisoned in his own body, unable to move or speak. He was cared for by his extraordinary and loving partner, Bernard. During Jay’s final months, when he could only manage the most minimal forms of communication, Bernard would translate. Jay had a great, dry sense of humor, and even as his disease progressed, he’d manage to express skepticism, amusement and disdain.

I’d met Jay in college. I’d been intimidated by him, because Jay was always very well-dressed, and no one’s well–dressed in college. Jay also hung out with an extremely cultured group of friends, who appreciated film history and spoke French. Jay and I eventually got to know and enjoy each other, and then we both moved to New York, where Jay worked for Saturday Night Live, and produced a  film of the Willa Cather story “Paul’s Case”, starring Eric Roberts. Jay then moved to Los Angeles, where he flourished as an interior designer, and found great happiness with Bernard, who’s also a terrific designer. Because Jay and Bernard were both handsome, elegant men with superb taste, I always figured that they had two choices: they could either hate each other, or fall in love.

I visited Jay over the course of his disease, and witnessed his courage and frustration, as his world narrowed. Even as he had trouble walking, he could still drive, although I’ll admit that I was a little scared , as his passenger. He loved going to movies and theater, and began doing so in a motorized wheelchair. He told me that, at first, he’d researched his disease online, and spent time in the ALS chatrooms, but that the news was always bad: there were no treatments, minimal research, and the people in the chatrooms would disappear, one by one. As he became almost completely paralyzed, his struggle to be understood was agonizing.

Jay was a wonderful man, quirky and funny and loyal, and he’d always let you know exactly what he thought, about everything from global politics to an unfortunate lamp. So even if the ALS ice bucket challenge can verge on silliness and exploitation, it’s still doing valuable work.

 

Blognick