Me, Al Franken and the worst meeting in the history of show business: a true story


64 Responses to “Me, Al Franken and the worst meeting in the history of show business: a true story”

  1. zibuki says:

    I used to support Franken, but after he co-sponsored PIPA I’ve lost all respect for him.

    • softyelectric says:

      Boxer, Brown, Feinstein, many more… are you going to throw out nearly the entire progressive left as well? I disagree strongly with him on this – and let him know, as my senator – but to “lose *all* respect” (emphasis mine) seems more than a bit combative, no? 

      • Diogenes says:

        Sorry, you lost me at Feinstein. 

      • zibuki says:

         As Diogenes points out, you lost me when you brought up Feinstein, a Democrat so far to the right that many don’t even consider her a Democrat. I wouldn’t call any of the co-sponsors of PIPA part of the “progressive left”. It could be argued there is no “progressive left” in the US Senate.

      • There’s a progressive wing of the Democratic party? Who knew? You sure can’t tell by the way they act.

        By the way, how do you think the Senate vote on the bill to audit the Fed is going to go?

      • lafave says:

         Democrats and the “progressive left” – stop it – you’re killing me! Are you also an out-of-work comedy writer?

      • Pedantic Douchebag says:

        When your house is mostly termites, with little actual wood left, it’s time to burn down your fucking house.

    • Mordicai says:

       I mean, I lost…SOME respect for him?  But ALL respect is a little “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

    • Mark says:

      When you find a politician who agrees with you 100% of the time, be sure to let us know. You might be the first.

      • EH says:

        It’s not about perfectionism, guy, it’s about being on the right side of big issues.

        • Mark says:

          When you agree with him about many things, but you drop support because you disagree about one thing, then apparently it is about perfectionism.

          • Bitter, drunken guy in a bar: “You farm the same plot of land profitably for 20 years, and do they call you Farmer Tom? No. Build a stone bridge with your own hands that everybody walks over every day, and do they call you Tom the Bridge Builder? No. But if you ____ one goat …”

            There are some issues on which I don’t care what else you agree with me on; get those wrong, and I cannot vote for you. Period.

          • EH says:

            So you’re saying that having dealbreakers is the same as perfectionism?

  2. Rider says:

    For the record Als story about the inspiration for Stuart Smalley is total BS.  For a very short period, and I mean short like maybe it only aired once.   There was a guy on Queensborough public access in NYC that was Stuart.  I remember watching him about a year before the character was introuduced on SNL.  This guys was the character he would sit there and look in a mirror and say the same exact things as the Stuart, he wore the sweater.  He had the hair…

    Al just copied this real guy, so it always strikes me odd when he talks about what inspired this character.

    • Diogenes says:

       I don’t know; characters can have multiple influences.

      • Rider says:

        Yet he never mentions this guy who was exactly like Smalley in every way.  Hell the entire Smalley movie is about a guy with a public access show. 
        Now if he said “There was this guy on public access that would do affirmations and I combined that with my own recovery experiences…”  But he never mentions this guy who was very clearly the inspiration for the character. 

        • awjt says:

          That’s because the best ideas either get stolen or are completely, totally your own.  And if they’re stolen, they’re the other guy’s idea, completely and totally.

          • Diogenes says:

             I think that’s a bit harsh.  What about music riffs that resemble previous riffs.  Are they all stolen?  What about story ideas, paintings, great dishes?  Everyone is influenced by everything they’ve experienced.  Maybe Franken directly copied that guy, maybe he never saw him.  I suspect the truth is somewhere between those poles.

          • phlavor says:

            I’ll just leave this here:

          • awjt says:

             uhhh, didn’t think I needed to state: activate the sense of humor module?

    • anechoic says:

      show biz is about getting away with ripping other people off

  3. softyelectric says:

    Great story. Thanks for writing it up here, Mr. Barol. 

  4. Ric Johnson says:

    So, Bill, has Howard read it yet? :)

  5. Rider says:

    And there he is.  

    There was a part in one of his shows where he did the turn to the mirror and self affirm thing.

    • David Aubke says:

       I dunno. I could be convinced that guy played a role in the development of Stuart Smalley but to say Stuart was a copy… Many dudes had hair like that back then.

      After watching Stuart Saves His Family, I feel quite certain Al drew largely on personal experience with twelve-step-type programs and the culture of those involved.

      • Rider says:

        You are only seeing clips of a few shows there.  At the the end of at least one of the episodes he turns to a mirror and dose the entire Smalley routine. 

        Blonde guy, public access, effeminate lisp, affirmations…

        • Diogenes says:

          After watching those clips I’m even less convinced he was the basis of Franken’s Stuart.  That guy doesn’t remind me of him at all.

    • ChickieD says:

      I watched the clip and even though the public access guy is using some of the same 12 step affirming language, and it sounds like from what you wrote the structure of his show was similar, the public access guy is also good-looking and charismatic. I think what worked about Stuart Smalley was that he was just so pathetic, so not attractive, so desperate to please, and it was funny to think this total loser believed that could affirm himself into being a winner and that others would see him as someone to emulate. 

    • I agree with @Diogenes:disqus downthread that I don’t see the resemblance at all from these clips.

  6. sethgodin says:

    Your worst meeting or THE worst meeting, Bill? I had one where not one, but two different laptops started on fire in the middle of a presentation. And I’m guessing that there was at least one Broadway show pitched that day on the Titanic. Now that’s a bad meeting.

    • mccrum says:

       No way!  That meeting went fine, the boat ride didn’t.

      Thinking about it, that sinking alone is directly responsible for two Broadway musicals.  If only the Edmond Fitzgerald had had a better agent..

  7. Christopher says:

    I’m amazed to hear that Lorre read through his mail during an interview. Everything I’ve heard about him is that he was a sweet, wonderful guy, and I love the story of how much he infuriated Karloff on the set of The Raven, a movie which is one of my guiltiest pleasures.

    Oh, wait, I’m thinking of the talented Lorre…

    • internetcontrarian says:

      Karloff was a cocksucker. *Bela Lugosi voice*

      • The Squidboy says:

        When I met the late Forrest J Ackerman at his wonderful home in LA years ago, he proudly wore the ring Bela Lugosi had given to him. I asked him about Landau’s portrayal of Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood biopic.

        Ackerman told me: “In all the time I knew Lugosi I never heard him utter so much as a ‘hell’ or a ‘damn’.” His gravitas conveyed his indignation at seeing Bela portrayed in that fashion.

        From Forry’s mouth to your ears.

  8. It’s also just possible that Franken’s a dick. I’ve heard that.

    • awjt says:

      Most of those in politics are polarizing figures.  It’s a personality type that is made for that line of work: nice talking, well-connected, usually intelligent polarizers who are willing to eschew the facts to favor opinion.

    • kcmpls says:

       I’ve run into Franken and his wife a few times at the grocery store and he’s always nice to people that go up to him. I also have lots of friends in Minnesota politics and haven’t heard bad things about him, unlike the other Senator from Minnesota. Doesn’t mean he isn’t a dick, just that the people in my life who know him don’t talk badly about him.

    • factbased says:

      For not hiring the guy, or for setting up the interview in the first place? As for the latter, I saw no indication that he talked to HF before setting up the interview. If it was after, should he have cancelled the meeting?

    • That sounds a little bit… attribution bias to me. I mean, this particular story takes place in the middle of a crisis; in all likelihood, so does whatever anecdote you’ve heard.  I’m not sure it’s fair to extrapolate the guy’s normal behavior from things he does under extreme stress — or anyone else’s, really, but in the case of a celebrity I think it’s even more important because the “juicy” stories are so much likelier to reach our ears than the mundane ones.

      Perhaps Al Franken is just a dick when he’s stressed out and can’t bite his tongue, kinda like me, kinda like most of us?

  9. taj1f says:

    Great read! From experience with entertainment/creative type bosses, it’s never a good idea to take the stand in your own defense if they throw a zinger like, “I hear you’re [difficult to work with].” This (20/20 hindsight) is a trap. They’ve already dug your grave when they say this, and when you protest too much, you just fall in and pull the dirt in after you. Maybe Franken did have the best of intentions. However, neither the devastating news he received pre-meeting or your personal pitch made him decide not to zing you. You never had a chance.

    • Jim Saul says:

      The whole writeup makes a great story, but if we’re getting into the background, my guess would be that Fineman’s motivation is the real question. He’s always struck me as a manipulative and self-serving douchebag. And that’s despite my generally agreeing with most of his writing. Or Franken was using Fineman as the invulnerable reference when actually he was relating the complaint of a comparatively powerless and vulnerable former staffer.

      edit – “franken” not “franklin”. obviously.

      • taj1f says:

        This. I was sandbagged thus by a former boss who fired one of my best work buddies. The boss took note of those of us who were upset by his decision. As we left (none fired, just moving on) the boss made it a point of saying, “You did a great job here. Proud of you for moving on. Make sure you use me as a reference.” Then, whenever he was contacted by a prospective employer, he told them we were difficult, substandard, etc. What a devious, evil prick.

        • mccrum says:

           You forgot petty.

        • MarkV says:

          That’s slander.

          • taj1f says:

            Yes, MarkV, it is. However, it’s also hard to prove/prosecute, when to do so would mean convincing/hauling a prospective employer’s rep into court. We all found out because the old boss’s assistant got canned, but signed a “do not disclose agreement” when she left. She’s told us all what he’s done, but won’t/can’t go to court on our behalf. Luckily, we got the word out, so no one uses him as a reference anymore.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            It’s the reason that most companies will only give out your dates of employment when asked for a reference.

    • Jorpho says:

      But I think I also had the glimmer of a sense, right away, that I was a dead man walking. There was no way in hell I was going to get this job. I think I may also have had the presence of mind to wonder why Franken had decided to meet with me at all under the circumstances. Years later, I still don’t know.

      Why do people do this?  I can recall several occasions on which something like this has happened to myself and truly they make me despair.  Hanlon’s razor alone cannot quite cut that deeply.

    • retepslluerb says:

      Thanks for the reminder. I’ll cache “Curious. I’ve heard the same about you.” as an answer.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        The correct answer to, “I’ve heard that you’re a screamer,” would be, “I never would have pegged you as a homophobe, Mr. Franken.”

  10. rastronomicals says:

    “the greatest deliberative body in the world,” right

  11. Let me give you a little background Bill… all job interviews are performances not just the showbusiness ones.

  12. LaylaSV says:

    Fuckit. I am going to just say it; It is kind of mean spirited to use someone’s private death of a friend moment to prop up a personal bad meeting anecdote. Especially as the only thing that would really qualify the meeting as “the worst meeting in the history of showbusiness” is what happened to Al Franken. From Bill’s end of things it seems like a fairly standard, albeit shitty, meeting.

    • marilove says:

      “Mean spirited”?!  This was a really great story, and it was REALLY favorable to Franken.  Like, really favorable.  It was also funny.

      I think Franken — a comedian — would really like this story.  Sometimes, the best stories (humourous or not) come from dark places. And that’s okay.

      And, you know, it’s fine if you don’t like this story — but “mean spirited”? HOW? It is in no way mean spirited.

      • LaylaSV says:

        My point wasn’t that it said anything negative about Franken only that, to me, the story wasn’t particularly noteworthy, that it certainly wasn’t the worst meeting in the world and, further, that any interest the story had was derived from being a 1st percent witness to someone learning about the death of a friend. It would have to be a whole lot funnier to transcend that initial moment. As it is, it is just sort of “look at what happened to ME when this dude’s friend died.” And the thing that happened to him was just a workaday crappy meeting.

        • marilove says:

          Stories don’t have to be “noteworthy” to be worth something.  Franken is a comedian and I’m sure he’d really enjoy the spirit of this story.

    • grimc says:

      It stopped being a private death of a friend moment when Franken insisted on having the interview.

      • rtresco says:

        …insisted on having the interview…that he had already decided the outcome on. It’s like Franken wasn’t saying “no, I’m just here today, let’s do this interview”, he was saying, “No, I want to cut you loose now – not later”. I imagine showbusiness isn’t as HR regualted as the corportate world, but from my experiences in corporate HR – people do get interviews even though it’s already been decided they aren’t a true candidate. It’s a legal preemptive manuever that demonstrates that there was a job opening and that a variety of candidates were given the opportunity to apply/interview/what have you, so that even though  individual(s) are often times already earmarked for that position, other people were given an opportunity. Again, not likely what happened here, but I’m saying the  “pre-determined interview” is a regular occurance.

  13. Ben says:

    ‘standing on the floor of the greatest deliberative body in the world ‘

    uh huh

  14. cepson says:

    Maybe earlier that day he had met with some other person who worked for Newsweek, ended up hiring him because he had decent references, was well-respected by his co-workers, and had a reputation for being even-keeled and easy to work with.  But then he found to his horror that the guy was a total loose cannon, who yelled and screamed at everyone whenever things didn’t go his way.

  15. Karen says:

    I’m going to comment on the actual content of this article instead of going on and on and on endlessly about my political opinions, and say that I enjoyed reading it, and watching that video.

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