By Jove…

Dave Thomas, SCTV: Behind the Scenes.

Essential for SCTV fans! What a great book. Among other things, it confirms that the Network 90 series (the only SCTV available on DVD) is the best SCTV, so I’m going to quit worrying about running down the rare early stuff. In addition, there’s a whole chapter on Thomas’s interactions with Bob Hope… not to mention priceless insider knowledge about the famous skit featuring Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson: After writing some potentially funny material — Harold Ramis came up with “Stonehenge Estates,” where Gielgud sells bits of Stonehenge to wealthy Americans, and Thomas redid a speech from Shakespeare’s Richard II — the knights rebelled (“You are defaming the Bard”) and demanded the humor to be more highbrow.

After rejecting all our ideas, Gielgud and Richardson had countered with a writing assignment. We were to write a scene that would take place backstage at their play No Man’s Land, and it was to feature Sir John’s hobby, which was crossword puzzles, and Sir Ralph’s hobby, which was motorcycles.

It was a ridiculous assignment. Reconciling crossword puzzles and motorcycles seemed like a fool’s errand. Nevertheless, we all sat down and worked on this sketch. It was a real logjam. We couldn’t even figure out how to start it. Joe Flaherty put us in one of those long laughing fits by suggesting the scene should open with Gielgud sitting in front of the makeup mirror, throwing down a towel and exclaiming, “By Jove, I hate Pakis.” It’s hard to explain what was so funny about this: first there was the non-sequitur value of the line; second, Joe had always been amazed by the racial animosity towards Indians and Pakistanis in England and Canada; third, insulting an English knight with this line the way he claimed we had insulted the Bard seemed funny; and fourth, the stupidity of the line mirrored the stupidity of the assignment. Of course, we had no reason to think that Gielgud would ever say such a thing. At any rate, we all laughed for about fifteen minutes. And then, when we returned to the drudgery of the writing, one by one, each of us found an excuse to weasel out the door of 1063 Avenue Road until only Harold Ramis and Sheldon Patinkin were left. We all applauded Harold for finishing the job, even though, by his own admission, it was far from his best work.

The skit is on YouTube. Not so bad, really, although nowhere near as funny as Flaherty’s “By Jove” improvisation.


Daniel Woodrell, Tomato Red.

Woodrell is a new name for me, but just loved this poetic and sordid tale of white trash gone even more wrong. I’ll be reading more Woodrell for sure. The first sentence packs a wallop:

YOU’RE NO ANGEL, you know how this stuff comes to happen: Friday is payday and it’s been a gray day sogged by a slow ugly rain and you seek company in your gloom, and since you’re fresh to West Table, Mo., and a new hand at the dog-food factory, your choices for company are narrow but you find some finally in a trailer court on East Main, and the coed circle of bums gathered there spot you a beer, then a jug of tequila starts to rotate and the rain keeps comin’ down with a miserable bluesy beat and there’s two girls millin’ about that probably can be had but they seem to like certain things and crank is one of those certain things, and a fistful of party straws tumble from a woven handbag somebody brung, the crank gets cut into lines, and the next time you notice the time it’s three or four Sunday mornin’ and you ain’t slept since Thursday night and one of the girl voices, the one you want most and ain’t had yet though her teeth are the size of shoe-peg corn and look like maybe they’d taste sort of sour, suggests something to do, ’cause with crank you want something, anything, to do, and this cajoling voice suggests we all rob this certain house on this certain street in that rich area where folks can afford to wallow in their vices and likely have a bunch of recreational dope stashed around the mansion and goin’ to waste since an article in The Scroll said the rich people whisked off to France or some such on a noteworthy vacation.

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game.

It’s easy to see why this book was a sensation in science fiction! Once I started it, I did nothing else until after turning the last page. However, Card’s politics are questionable. In fact, I wanted to scrub down afterwards. John Kessel’s essay “Creating the Innocent Killer”  did that job just fine.

Richard Stark/Darwyn Cooke, The Outfit.

What can I say? In the first place, I’m a hard man to please with adaptations of Stark (real name Donald E. Westlake). Secondly, I know nothing about comic books and/or graphic novels and hardly ever read them. But I just adore this series, which began with The Hunter and looks to continue for two more books, The Score and possibly Slayground. Interview with Cooke here. The staff at Bergen Comics told me that The Outfit was currently their best-selling book. Long live Parker!