(Year Six of Robb’s Illustrious Career)
In my day, there was an old saying in Hollywood (or parts of it anyway): You haven’t made it in this business until Kenny S____ calls you a “c**ksucker.” Well, I guess that means I almost made it in Hollywood.
Let me back up for a minute. Getting your first job in Hollywood is tough. The second one isn’t easy either. But after that, getting your third, fourth, fifth jobs in Hollywood, at some point it becomes just plain bizarre.
This is what happens: you’re between gigs, surfing the web all day looking for work. Then, at like 8:00 at night, the phone rings. It’s someone you’ve never met or even heard of, but they’re looking for you. You see, they hired somebody (someone else you’ve never heard of) for a 2-week gig, but then the shoot got pushed back so the person they hired got another job and is now unavailable, so then that person recommended someone else for the job (someone else you’ve never heard of) but they weren’t available either, so then that person recommended someone else and on and on and… well, the thing is: can you start tomorrow morning?
This (like everything else) is not unusual in Hollywood. It happened to me more than once.
But there’s an important detail here: they got your name through the grapevine, not your resume. Not your experience. They know who you’ve worked with, but they don’t know what you did when you worked with them. So the first time this happened to me, I heard “we got your name, and we got it from Henry,” and they offered me more money than I was used to and, well, I thought it was my lucky day. What it was was a big misunderstanding.
You know that nightmare you have, where there’s all these people you don’t know, and they’re all in a tizzy running around with their heads cut off, speaking a foreign language you don’t understand, and you’re off to the side just relieved you’re not involved and then everyone stops and stares at you? Waiting for the answer? And then you slowly realize “wait, I actually do know what they’re asking, I just have no idea how to do it, and boy am I glad because that guy who does have to do it,… man that guy is totally screwed!”
The thing was, it wasn’t a nightmare. It was real. I was now that guy. And we were taping the next day. I almost quit. Right then, before lunch. I probably should have, but they insisted it would be fine. Besides, they didn’t have enough time to find anybody else anyway…
The taping actually went great. It was the easy part, the job I had been doing before, on the other show, with Henry. That was the job I thought I had accepted over the phone. The job I had actually accepted was all in post-production, and it started the day after we taped.
Which is where I met Kenny.
It was me, another guy about my age, and two younger guys in an editing suite. And Kenny. About 10 minutes in, one of the younger guys screwed up. Kenny went off, calling the young guy every name in the book. The next time Kenny left the room, the other guys congratulated him. The young guy had just made it in this business.
My first day with Kenny didn’t go well. He’d been at this for decades, and he didn’t have patience for somebody learning the job for the first time, figuring it out as I went. Kenny yelled — at everyone. He ranted that he was surrounded by idiots, that he had done this job for too long. He was wasting his time and his talent. He made these ridiculous, outlandish statements — he had invented Saturday Night Live back in the day, he had “made” Chevy Chase, he had invented modern comedy — I just rolled my eyes at this bitter old guy. I was a peon working for Kenny, but I was smart, I had been to school. I didn’t have a clue how to do this job, but I knew a load of crap when I heard it.
It got worse from there. On my second day with Kenny, just before lunch, Kenny stopped everything. He picked up the phone and called the executive producer. This was not good. “Bob,” he said, “it’s Kenny. Look, this Robb kid. He’s a nice kid, sweet kid. He’s learning, but he doesn’t know…, he literally does not know what the f**k he is doing.”
Time stopped. I was sitting right next to him. I should have quit before, when I had the chance.
Kenny listened for a moment, then “Yeah, I understand. But we have another show next month. Can we please next time just hire a guy who has done the f**king job before? Jesus.”
All the guys looked away, but Kenny looked at me. I held his gaze and nodded.
But here’s where it gets interesting. The thing about Kenny… he’s an s.o.b., he’s a hard-ass… but he’s a sweet guy. Really. Kenny S____ is a sweet guy. He had humiliated me — not maliciously, not out of cruelty — but he did what he had to do, which just happened to humiliate me. In front of the other guys. And he knew it. And he knew I knew it. And we still had a week and a half left.
But Kenny was right — I was learning. Soon I had it down. The first few days were hell — if they had anyone else to come in and take over, I would have been fired. But they didn’t. And I hadn’t shrunken before Kenny. We just had to get this show edited and then they would hire another guy next time.
Except they didn’t. Kenny asked me to stay on for the next show. And then the next. After all, I had it down now. The old s.o.b. was still a jerk and full of crap, but he was also loyal.
The 2-week gig turned into 5 or 6 months. I did 3 shows with Kenny, plus a couple of award shows with other producers at that prodco. I hated the guy and openly rolled my eyes when he started talking big (what did I have to lose?), but by the end, he was taking us out for old-school Burbank Chinese food (on Olive I think). He was giving me gifts. Seriously. Gifts. We actually started talking to each other. And I learned something: he wasn’t full of crap after all. Everything he said was true. All that bluster about SNL, the movies with Chevy Chase, inventing modern comedy,… all true. I’m serious. I looked it up. I didn’t feel so smart anymore.
And then one day, about a year after I had last seen Kenny, I got home from the day job to hear a message on my machine. They had gotten another show and Kenny wanted me on the team.
Kenny never called me a “c**ksucker,” although he called me plenty other names. I didn’t make it in the business, but I guess I got close. I’m sure Kenny doesn’t even remember me. But I remember him. Sometimes you work for helpless jerks, sometimes you work for weasels. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, you work for Kenny S____. And you learn.