Dear Kindly Person or Persons Curious About 'Bored to Death,'
It's rather fitting that as I begin typing this last blog-letter that a capable and kindly technician is on my roof, installing a satellite dish for my lovely new television, courtesy of HBO!
I had complained a few weeks ago that I didn't have a working TV, not intending for anyone to do anything, just a basic whine about my own laziness when it came to shopping, but HBO was paying attention and they gave me a TV! Thank you HBO for being so generous to me!
The dish is so that I can watch things in high-definition. I was able to watch the TV last night without it, for the first time, and I was mesmerized by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and reruns of old UFC fights involving the legendary Royce Gracie. I am a little embarrassed that as soon as I get a working television, the first thing I do is watch a lot of violence.
Culturally, I am a bit out of it and had only seen one other Texas Chainsaw Massacre film and that was a very long time ago. As I watched last night, rooting spastically for each person who died, I wondered what we are meant to learn from such a film. I'm not saying that we have to learn anything from art, but I do think the conveying of information, to pass something on, is the unconscious and conscious impulse behind storytelling.
So what is being passed on by Chainsaw? That we live in a cruel and unjust universe? That human beings are sadistic and insane? That our time will end in torment and without meaning? That we are never safe? That there are unseen horrors waiting for us? If so, then this is an excellent film because I learned all those things. Also, maybe the film is meant to make us tough, to prepare us for life, since by the end of the movie I felt a little sick and violated, which is kind of like life. Anyway, I really was rather appalled by the thing and yet kept watching, my innocent and naive heart hoping for someone to survive. But no one did. It's a very realistic film!
Anyway, speaking of realism, let me discuss the final episode of 'Bored to Death'!
Sarah Vowell, a friend of mine and a great writer, is wonderful in this scene, playing a reporter, ostensibly doing a piece for The New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" section. In addition to her amazing abilities as a writer, Sarah is a terrific actress and she's the voice behind the young girl in The Incredibles.
During this interview scene, I had George (Ted Danson) apologize for his hermaphrodite remark because I was genuinely concerned that a hermaphroditic person might be upset by George's editorial in the previous episode in which he said that Richard Antrem (Oliver Platt) had the "penis of a hermaphrodite," in addition to having a mouth like the "anus of a starfish." I don't know if anyone will be offended, but for the most part I try with my humor to not be unkind to anyone. I had noticed, though, in scientific journals that hermaphrodites seemed to have small penises - though mine is not much bigger - and so this was the basis for my potentially offensive remark, which I probably am exacerbating as I type. So if I have offended anyone, I sincerely apologize.
My inspirations for this fight business are the following: Fighting as the "Herring Wonder," I had two amateur boxing matches, one in 1999 (against a performance artist) and one in 2007 (against a writer), and a few years ago New York Press and The L Magazine, here in New York, had a boxing match to take out their animus for each other's publication in the ring. I wasn't part of that, but it set a precedent in my mind for two magazines fighting, and thus I felt it wasn't beyond the pale for Edition NY and GQ to go at it. To read about my fight experiences, I've written essays on the subject in three of my books: My Less Than Secret Life, I Love You More Than You Know, and The Double Life Is Twice As Good.
This is where I trained for both of my fights and where my second fight in 2007, against the writer, Craig "the Crippler" Davidson, took place. I should mention that I lost my first fight in 1999 to David "the Impact Addict" Leslie, but then evened my record against "the Crippler."
The trainer for my first fight, Harry Keitt, who was featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary On the Ropes, told me to make a sandwich with my gloves, that my head was the meat and my hands were the bread, so I gave that line to Sal, the trainer. Jack O'Connell is excellent as Sal and has a face that is just beautiful to look at.
(Oh, God, the technician is now in my kitchen drilling maniacally. He's been here for two hours. It's all very complicated to get a TV to work. I feel like I'm in the film Brazil and Robert De Niro has just jetted into my home, but I will try to write amidst the noise, like a war-correspondent taking notes while bullets fly overhead. Well, clearly, I'm not in that kind of position, but I like to romanticize my role as writer.)
I have Stella (Jenny Slate) holding an Alice Munro book because I love her short stories, and Jonathan doesn't have bookshelves because for five years, after a break-up, I didn't have any. Well, I had some, but the main enormous bookshelf was taken away and so I had hundreds of books on the floors for years because I'm woefully lazy and my apartment was turning into a miniature Grey Gardens. Then Rick Butler, our wonderful production designer for the show, had the crew build shelves for me out of some spare wood on the set (I may have mentioned this in an earlier blog-letter) and so now I'm no longer like the "Jonathan Ames" of the show, which is fine, since I'm no longer like the "Jonathan Ames" of ten minutes ago, a concept I tried, ham-fistedly, to convey in episode two when Jonathan misquotes a Buddhist notion that a man who walks across a room comes back a different person...
Todd Barry, as the blackmailer who calls Jonathan, is fantastically funny. I love the way he handles that yellow phone. I've performed with Todd at various gigs for years (Todd's a comedian and I do monologues) and he was really superb in The Wrestler as Mickey Rourke's boss at the supermarket.
The training montage was fun to edit and the music howls just as Ray (Zach Galifianakis) humps Jonathan. I have the guys using sledgehammers on tires because that was a training technique that Harry had me perform. It's meant to be the urban equivalent of chopping wood, an old boxing regimen for building muscle and endurance, and I have to say it really works. I got in incredible shape for my first fight and I credit the sledgehammer with most of it. To see a few pictures from my fights go to www.jonathanames.com and click on "boxing."
I have George hitting a dummy with "Antrem" written on the forehead because, again, that was something I did for my first fight - Harry wrote the name "David" on a dummy's head.
The trainer for my second fight, Grant Seligson, was our boxing consultant for this episode and Gleason's owner Bruce Silverglade was extremely accommodating and helpful - thank you, Grant and Bruce!
This is a park I have loved for a long time and I'm really glad we were able to shoot there and showcase such a lovely Brooklyn location. Our three heroes are amazing as they speed-walk, and I have Jonathan (Jason Schwartzman) wearing a Princeton T-shirt since that's where I went to school. I was able to get in there because I excelled at fencing, which is why Jonathan mentions his fencing moves in episode six.
There are two shots this season that for me conjure up Pinter or Beckett plays - the scene under the boardwalk in episode five when Jonathan starts burying himself and this scene, in episode eight, when Jonathan puts the chair over Todd Barry. I love the absurdity of this situation and the way Todd looks when he pushes the chair up with his head.
George and Priscilla (the gorgeous Laila Robins) have delightful chemistry in this scene. Ted does his always masterful job of oscillating from comedy to drama back to comedy.
Later, when George and Priscilla are in bed, I find it to be a very sweet exchange, and I have George reference Fitzgerald because, like many people, I've always been intrigued by Fitzgerald's quote about there being "no second acts in American lives," but I don't think that's true any more. Fitzgerald died at 44, all of his books out of print, and now he's considered an American master. So he certainly had a second-act, though it came after he could enjoy it. Also, people live longer nowadays, so there's a chance to fail and then succeed and then fail again. Used to be you failed once and that was it, more or less, there wasn't enough time for a comeback. By the way, I highly recommend Fitzgerald's stories about a hapless Hollywood writer named Pat Hobby - they're superb and very funny.
Jenny Slate as Stella is just great in the vaporizing and love-making scenes. I love the way she talks about the pollen in the air and then later asks, "What do you love?" I had her bring up the pollen because one time when I was living in Princeton there was this tree that was giving off the most erotic odor and I would become very aroused. I thought of climbing the tree and sort of making love to it, but chose, rather, just to inhale deeply as I walked past. Also, I have Stella mention that her body is vibrating like a tuning fork because I've noted that the female orgasm and its effect on the body is markedly different than what happens to a man's body after an orgasm. A man often feels drained and depleted, not to mention confused, but women seem to be energized, at least in the way that a tuning fork continues to hum for some time after its initial outburst of sound.
The Volcano vaporizer that Jonathan and Stella use, I've been told, is the best on the market. Later, as a gift, the production gave me the vaporizer and it's now on my kitchen table like a trophy. Thanks to HBO, I have a television, bookshelves, and a vaporizer! Thank you HBO!
Michael Chernus as Francis Hamm is great and wildly funny throughout the whole episode, and especially during the fight. Oliver Platt is a genius of physical and verbal comedy - on the DVD we have to include the extended scene of Oliver writhing in pain in his corner after the first round; he kept falling off his stool and clutching his trainer, it was an extended bit of physical humor that went on for about three or four minutes, the camera running the entire time, and I wish we could have included the whole thing for the broadcast, but, I guess, that's what DVDs are for. John Hodgman, for such a nice human being, plays an arrogant villain - Louis Greene - with perfect comedic pitch, though I especially like the humility and humanity he gives his character when he acknowledges Jonathan's New York Times review before passing out on the canvas. And as always, our three heroes, Jason, Ted, and Zach, are stupendous.
For the longest time, I had in mind Ray (Zach) going down after one punch and it played out beautifully. And the mistress of the hula hoops is a friend of mine, Miss Saturn. I love what she does and over the years when I've organized nights of vaudeville, I've included Miss Saturn as much as I could.
I'm especially pleased with our ending which captures the friendship and affection between George and Jonathan, and for me is a great closing image to our season.
Before I say goodbye, there are many people I want to thank for this past season, though there are too many to list here, but a few names I'd like to mention: Olivia Thirlby, who is wonderful as Jonathan's ex-girlfriend Suzanne and is the catalyst for the whole season; Paul Feig, who directed episodes five and eight so skillfully and beautifully and who is a delight to work with; my fellow executive producers, Sarah Condon, Stephanie Davis, Troy Miller and Dave Becky; Casey Bloys, Sue Naegle and Amy Gravitt of HBO; my writing staff of Donick Cary, Martin Gero, Samantha McIntyre and Sam Sklaver; associate producer Liz Klenk; and the many great people of the incredibly hard-working crew. Finally, I want to thank our brilliant trio of actors: Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis.
Well, I'm looking forward to a second season of chaos and adventures, and to all of you who have been kind enough to read this blog and to watch the show, I say to you as well - thank you!
All the best,
PS To hear the "hairy call" one last time, click here.
Posted 12:00 AM | Nov 9, 2009