Just For Laughs 2012: Top Comedy Showrunners on Agents, Acting Talent and Charisma
MONTREAL – Oh, so this is what comedy showrunners think about agents.
Comedy agents aren't especially helpful in hiring sitcom writers because they often submit scripts they haven’t read, The Big Bang Theory showrunner Bill Prady told the Just For Laughs comedy conference on Saturday in Montreal.
“They (agents) will send something, and say ‘this is fantastic, it’s a great read.’ And they’re saying that because someone handed it to them and said it’s a great read,” he insisted.
Prady recalled one agent telling him to move a script to the top of the stack because it was exceptional.
He read it and gave two thumbs down to the writing.
“And I called - because I can be a dick - I called the agent and said what did you like about the script? What’s a scene that you thought was terrific? Clearly he hadn’t read it,” he recounted.
Appearing on the same comedy kingpins panel at Just For Laughs, Two and a Half Men co-creator Lee Aronsohn offered his thoughts on the relative values of charisma and talent in comedy actors.
Charisma will take an actor far in the sitcom world, but only sometimes, he said.
“In the end, if you’re running a show and producing an episode every week, you need talent and professionalism,” Aronsohn added.
He cited Two and a Half Men co-star Jon Cryer as a sitcom actor filled to the brim with talent.
“Jon Cryer is one of the most technically talented comic actors that I’ve ever worked with. He has a certain amount of charisma, but what drives Two and a Half Men, and what has driven it when Charlie (Sheen) was there and when Charlie was not there, is the engine that is Jon Cryer,” Aronsohn said, paying tribute to the series co-star.
“Charlie Sheen has a hell of a lot of charisma, and a lot of talent in his own right, but not anywhere near that level of skill. So I think you need both,” he added.
Prady told the panel that TV comedy talent is not always available to stand-up comics that can otherwise command a live audience in a club or concert hall.
“There’s a lot of really, really great stand-ups who are really, really poor sitcom actors, because it’s two different skill sets,” he argued.
Prady praised the late Richard Jeni as “one of the great American stand-ups” who did not take well to the sitcom world.
“You go back and look at some of the HBO specials, and you’re looking at stand-up perfected,” he insisted.
“But I was a writer on one of his (Jeni’s) short-lived series on the short-lived UPN network and it simply was not something he could do,” Prady added.
And both Aronsohn and Prady canonized long-time Two and a Half Men writer/producer Eddie Gorodetsky, not least for his impressive Rolodex.
Prady recalled Gorodetsky swinging an appearance by Bob Dylan on an episode of Dharma and Greg.
“The story was Dharma is auditioning for a band. And Eddie Gorodetsky says ‘well, how about Bob Dylan?’” he recalled.
The Dharma and Greg writing room was certain the legendary musician wouldn’t appear on the sitcom, even when Dylan showed up on set.
“Even when Bob Dylan was on the stage and sitting with his guitar, we said this isn’t going to happen. But if you pick up the Dharma and Greg box set, there’s an episode with Bob Dylan in it,” Prady told the panel.
And Aronsohn recounted Gorodetsky getting rocker Elvis Costello to appear as part of a men’s support group for Charlie Sheen’s character during the first season of Two and a Half Men.
He joked Gorodetsky knows or is one step removed from virtually anyone in the world.
“So if you’re ever in the Middle East and you get kidnapped by Islamic terrorists, let’s say, and you’re on your knees and you’re about to be beheaded, just say Eddie Gordetsky, and the guy will say, ‘Eddie, you know Eddie?’” Aronsohn riffed on stage in Montreal.