Creator's Blog

Sep 28, 2009

Dear Kindly Person or Persons Curious about 'Bored to Death,'

As with the previous blog, I'll go through certain scenes, highlighting moments of possible interest. I won't cover every scene, and I do hope you find this blog to be amusing.

Smooch Café

In this scene, Jonathan is wearing a replica of the L.L. Bean corduroy coat that I've had for twelve years. I bought it at a used clothing store in the East Village, which I don't think exists any more. Seems like most of the used clothing stores, unfortunately, have died out.

Anyway, I love that coat and thankfully it hasn't disintegrated yet, because once I adore an item of clothing I wear it until it dissolves. You see, it's hard for me to take in new pieces of wardrobe; it's not unlike someone getting an organ transplant - if the thing isn't right, my body rejects it. Also, I've lived frugally all of my adulthood and clothing is an extravagance I've rarely indulged in, though I do like sportcoats and coats like the corduroy jacket because I think of them as male purses. I carry in my coat-pockets my keys, wallet, cell-phone, notebook, pens, sunglasses, and other odd things (see one-hitter and medicine bottle in episode 1).

The problem is that all my coats develop holes in the pockets and I just never take care of things like this and so all my purse-items often get shoved in the one working pocket, if there is a working pocket. This was the case with my corduroy coat, but the costume department fixed my pockets for me, which is yet another benefit of having written this TV show. I don't mean to sound like a baby, it's just that I don't know how to sew or do the most basic things necessary for survival, so I was very grateful when they stitched up my pockets for me.

Another benefit from having written this show is book-shelves. In episode 1, you may have noticed that all of Jonathan's books are on the floor. The implication is that Suzanne took the bookshelves with her when she moved out. Well, that's what happened to me with my break-up and the books stayed on the floors for five years. It was insane in here. It was like an art installation. Well, actually, a dirty art installation. Then as we were putting 'Bored to Death' together the production designer came to my apartment, noted all the books on the floor, and surprised me by having the crew build shelves for me out of some spare wood. I have floors again! It's interesting that the show somewhat recreates my life, but because of the show, my life is changing.

Anyway, in this scene at Smooch Café, I have Suzanne mention Jonathan's smell because almost all the women in my life, if they've liked me, have commented on my smell in a positive way. Women can tell if a man is right for them by his odor. They can sense his genetic make-up and so forth. I read about this in the NY Times Science section, which is where I learn most things of a scientific nature. But if women take the pill, I gleaned, it does throw off their nose's screening ability and they pick the wrong kinds of guys. I'm not sure which guys they are picking, but supposedly they're not ideal.

Another thing about smell - I never wear deodorant. I've never liked the idea of clogging my armpit pores, and when I did try deodorants they didn't seem to work, and, too, it seemed that women, as I mentioned, liked my smell. Then again that's the women I'm intimate with. For the rest of the world, I often worry about being offensive, so I usually try to clamp my arms down when I'm standing near someone. Also, I'm almost pathogically worried all the time about having bad breath. I forgive other people for having bad breath, but there is nothing more alienating than someone blasting you with a dead odor coming from their mouths and so I try to retract my head when having to talk to someone in close-quarters so that I don't kill them with bad breath.

Anyway, the box of love-notes in this scene is a merging of my life and Jason Schwartzman's life. I used to leave notes like that for an ex-girlfriend and she would do the same, and Jason, one time, gathered up a box of loving emails to give to an ex.

The one note Jonathan reads to Suzanne is a title of one of my books - I Love You More Than You Know. Throughout the season, I've lifted a few lines here and there from my books, like little clues or secrets for people who have read me over the years. That title is something my Great Aunt Doris used to say to me all the time. I would say, "I love you," and she would say, "I love you more than you know."

In this scene, Jonathan also mentions that he's living like an animal, that he doesn't have any toilet paper. Like having no bookshelves or holes in my pockets, I often don't have toilet paper in my apartment. I just never seem to remember to shop for it. But being oddly frugal, I often collect free napkins at delis and keep those in the kitchen, and, naturally, when there's no toilet paper, those napkins have been quite good to have around.

One time, though, I didn't even have any free napkins, but I did notice that I had coffee filters, though no coffee, which is another thing I never seem to have in the apartment. So I couldn't make a cup of coffee, but a coffee filter, if squinted at, looks like a free napkin from a deli there we are. I apologize if this is getting too scatological.

So I had written into the script a montage where Jonathan realizes he has no toilet paper and then goes to make coffee and realizes he has no coffee, but does have coffee filters. There would be a brief moment of contemplation while he holds the coffee filter, a glimmer in his eye, and then I was going to have a shot of him putting the coffee-filter on the toilet roll, but we didn't have time to shoot this montage. I think the coffee filter would have looked funny on the empty toilet roll and then when he says to Suzanne, "I'm living like an animal," there would be a defining visual, but we can't have it all, and, too, it might not have worked...

George's Office

I was doing my usual odd, not-too-well-informed distillation of Buddhist thought when I have George say, "I'm in your movie and you're in my movie. It's two different films. We don't really know each other. We just make guesses at knowing each other…" What's interesting is that a few days before we shot this scene, I was at a used bookstore and I picked up an obscure collection of W. Somerset Maugham short stories called The Avon Book of W. Somerset Maugham: 22 Stories From Cosmopolitan. It's a first edition paperback and the copyright of the book is 1946, but it's in good shape and Maugham wrote the stories for Cosmopolitan during the war in 1943. The stories are all rather brief and the night before we shot this scene with George, I was reading the book and came across this passage in a story entitled "The Happy Man":

I have always hesitated to give advice, for how can one advise another how to act unless one knows that other as well as one knows oneself? Heaven knows, I know little enough of myself: I know nothing of others. We can only guess at the thoughts and emotions of our neighbours. Each one of us is a prisoner in a solitary tower and he communicates with the other prisoners, who form mankind, by conventional signs that have not quite the same meaning for them as for himself.

Granted, the existential isolation we all experience is a well-worn theme in literature, but I was struck by the similarity of the dialogue I had written and Maugham's passage, so the next day I read this to Ted Danson before we shot the scene and he seemed quite appreciative, though I may have broken his concentration.

Also, in this scene, I bring up the issue of being green and the environment, because this is something I obsess on even more than my bad breath - I'm heartbroken at what we are doing to the planet and yet I, like most of us, do nothing about it...

I do love the way Ted says, "A woman?" in this scene. There's something so mysterious and intriguing in his inflection and the look on his face; it really sets us up to meet "Jennifer," the woman in question, played by Kristin Wiig.

The Bar

In this scene, I wanted a real noir look, which we achieved, I feel, and I wanted to get across this basic relationship notion that we are always dating people who are like our parents. There's usually something we can't figure out about one or both of our parents, and so we try to find people who have a similar mystery to them, something we want to solve once and for all. For example, if you have a parent who was always disapproving, you might often find a disapproving partner, as if this time, you could get the person (i.e. the parent) to be different, to be approving, though it never quite works that way. We're like homing pigeons for dysfunction, which is why I have Jonathan say: "...In every relationship, we're either with our mother or our father."

The Office of the Colon Hygienist

In this scene, I address another issue of mine: my wish to be a vegan. It's part of my environmental obsession - the planet would probably be better off if land wasn't used for cattle, like the Amazon rainforest being destroyed for pastures. But I'm never quite a vegan, though I did have an upsetting experience with a piece of steak a few weeks ago - I saw in my mind's eye, the flesh being sheared off a cow, and so I've been off of meat since. Also, it disturbs me how messed up all our food is, especially the way animals are caged and treated. I've also recently learned that part of the reason America is obese is that all our cattle and chickens are fed cornmeal, which is not their natural diet. So we're all eating corn all the time and everyone is exploding...Anyway, let me get off this topic.

In this scene, Ray, Zach Galifianakis's character, says that everyone leads a double life, which is a belief of mine, though I actually think we lead more than double lives. Personally, I'm different with every human being I meet. I'm like one of those things that gets dipped in a pool and gives a chlorine reading and indicates this through a change of color. The same thing goes for me: I dip into each person and I change. Something like that. I apologize for the sexual implication of 'dipping.'

I should mention that my most recent book is titled, The Double Life Is Twice As Good. I came up with that title as a postive spin on the fact that we all have secret selves and it's probably best not to be ashamed of these secret selves, unless the shame keeps you from committing crimes, which is a good function of shame.

Ray also mentions that "half the people I know are disturbed" and this is true for me. All my friends are quite insane. I don't say this in a bad way, it's just how it is. Also, I'm fairly insane, so we keep each other company. Recently, I visited a friend on a locked ward and we both felt rather at home there. It was restful. But, thankfully, he got out.

I do love the idea of locked wards and prisons, as seen above in the Maugham quote, as metaphors for our experience of life. The epigraph I chose for my first novel, I Pass Like Night, is an expression of this; it's from a William Wordsworth poem, "Ode: Intimations of Immortality," and goes like this: Heaven lies about us in our infancy!/Shades of the prison-house begin to close/Upon the growing Boy.

What I respond to in those lines is how difficult it is to maintain a sense of being free and alive, and this is part of my desire for Jonathan to be a hero in the show. He wants to be free, he wants to have adventures, he wants to be unfettered. It's why he says, "...It was like an out-of-body experience. I wasn't me. I was heroic..." At which point, Ray says, "Are you delusional?" Ray's the pragmatist, the realist, but he, too, especially in his art, his drawing, wants to be free and unchained.

One final thing from this scene: Yusef, the colon-hygienist, says to Ray, in describing the colonic: "I'm going to find all your treasures." When I went for a colonic back in 1998, the colon-hygienist said those exact words to me. I subsequently wrote about my colonic in an essay entitled: "I S**t My Pants in the South of France." This is probably my most popular essay and I often refer to it as my "Freebird" since I get frequent requests to read it out loud at book stores. Another essay of mine, "Bald, Impotent, and Depressed," is my second most popular essay, my "Stairway to Heaven." Both these essays, in a shameful moment of plugging and self-promotion, can be found in my book What's Not To Love?" Somehow I've managed to mention four of my books in this blog! I'm incorrigible!

The Subway

We shot this scene at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn. It's very difficult to shoot on New York City subways due to security, so we went to the museum, which was the idea of associate producer Elizabeth Klenk. To create a sense of movement, the crew rocked this old subway car and flashed lights through the window, and it's all rather effective, I think.

In this scene, I have Ray worrying about going to the bathroom in his pants, because that actually did happen to me after my colonic as I was walking down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Besides that nightmarish experience, I've quite often come very close to having other moments of adult incontinence, which is absolutely terrifying. I can't count the number of times I've made it back to the base toilet in my apartment with mere seconds to spare. In such instances, I feel like James Bond defusing a nuclear device, which is a pathetic substitute for actual bravery, but such is my life.

Damn, my last blog was rather mournful and sad and this blog is completely fixated on the toilet. I apologize!

Following Gary

Jason, while following his mark, adopted the hands behind his back as a nod to the private detective in Stolen Kisses, one of his favorite films, and I told him to walk in a serpentine fashion, as a way to cloak his movements, as a nod to one of my favorite films, Animal House. If I recall corrrectly, when John Belushi is doing a night maneuver, he or someone else shouts, "Serpentine!"

In the drugstore, Jonathan, at last, buys some toilet paper. It may be a bit of an overt life-lesson, but being a private detective is causing him to grow up! I threw in the thing with the extra-large Magnum condoms because a friend of mine always used to brag about needing them and so I've had a fascination for those things ever since, and I guess I would feel proud to buy them, but, sadly, they would go to waste on me.

The Gym

At the gym when Gary talks about the pond he grew up on that no longer freezes, he was speaking of the pond that I grew up on. As a boy, I ice-skated every winter from Decmeber to March and I loved it, and then at some point, when I was teenager in the early 80's, the lake just stopped freezing. This ties in with the environmental theme brought up earlier. So far this blog for a comedy show has touched on existential prisons and the destruction of the planet. Is anybody at HBO reading this? I'm probably supposed to be funny with this blog, but instead I keep listing in the direction of the morbid and the depressing. Well, I guess that's where the scatological stuff comes into play to save my ass, as it were. Personally, I find toilet-humor endlessly funny, though, as I've said elsewhere, it's been my observation that the world is divided between those who like scatological humor and those who don't.

George's Apartment

I gave George that enormous herpes blister because one time I ran into this girl I had kissed and she had a marble-sized blister on her lip, and I must admit I was rather thrown. So then for some reason, I gave that blister to George and I have him say to Jonathan, "...I got a massage after I saw you and I felt this kind of insane gratitude for everything. It was practically religious. Then, a half hour later, my lip exploded, testing me spiritually, and I failed."

This was based on an experience I had at the Russian Baths in New York. I was meditating in the steam room and I may have overdone it, but then suddenly I felt this overwhelming gratitude for everything in life, the good and the bad. It was beatific and spiritual, and when you have such an experience, you feel like you should go through life always feeling this way; it's an old saying, but a grateful heart is a happy heart. But human beings can't hold onto gratitude for long; we're in too much pain, and, too, life would be dull if we were eternally grateful all the time. Only enlightened people get to have that and I'm not sure they have that much fun. Anyway, my moment of intense gratitude didn't last, but it was good to feel, even for a short spell. So I gave George that moment, but then the herpes comes along and it's beyond his ken to feel gratitude for it. The herpes is his spiritual test - can he feel grateful even for that? But he can't and so that's why he says he failed spiritually.

Ray's Lair

For this brief glimpse into Ray's world, the production designer went to my friend Dean Haspiel's apartment for inspiration, since Ray is loosely modeled after Dean. The art on the walls of his lair is either by Dean or friends of Dean.

The drawing Ray is making (rendered also by Dean Haspiel) shows Ray processing his experience of the colonic through his art. I told Dean to draw Super Ray, Ray's alter ego, strapped to a table, while a mad scientist/villain is about to anally probe him with a laserlike drill. The resulting drawing is quite magnificent, I feel.

Zach Galifiniakis suggested that Ray should wear a cape while drawing, so we quickly found a sheet on set and we used that since I used to wear a sheet as a kid when I wanted to play at being a super hero. When Dean heard we did this he was a bit offended, since he said that no self-respecting comic-book artist would do such a thing. But we took artistic license, as it were, with this moment, and I hope Dean will come to forgive us. The t-shirt Ray is wearing is by another artist friend of mine, Patrick Bucklew, who is a great painter and sometimes does painting directly onto t-shirts.

The Second Bar Scene

I love the moment at the end of this scene when Jonathan has to beat something of a hasty retreat and so he gives one last look back at the femme fatale, played by Kristin Wiig. Then after he gives that look, he throws his plastic bag of drugstore items over his shoulder and saunters off. Jason made that choice to throw the bag over his shoulder and it's both sad and jaunty. To my eyes, there's something Chaplinesque about it and is one of the many small things that Jason does which are subtle but fantastic. He's such an intuitve and gifted actor, and just that choice to flip the bag over his shoulder makes for such a great final image to the scene.

For me, that moment reads like this: Off our flawed hero goes. Another case has been solved. But he's alone again, trudging off into the darkness of the city. He's bruised and heartbroken, but he will be ready for the next client who needs him.

all the best,
Jonathan Ames

PS To hear the hairy call, click here.

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