FORMER SEINFELD STAFF WRITER Larry Charles has revealed how Bob Dylan managed to get HBO to commission a slapstick TV comedy the pair wrote in 2003, before Dylan himself pulled the plug. According to Charles, whose credits also include directing the Borat movie and episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the music legend all but sold the show inspired by the films of Jerry Lewis, before deciding, “I don't want to do it any more. It's too slapsticky.’
"I don't want to do it any more. It's too slapsticky."
"I got a call that he was interested in doing [it],” Charles told the You Made It Weird podcast (though credit goes to www.dangerousminds.net and www.rollingstone.com for the transcribing). “He’d been on the road, he does this endless tour, he’s on this tour all the time, he’s on this bus, most of the time. And he’s got a TV, this was back in the '90s, he’s got a TV in the bus and he watches movies and he gets into certain genres of movies, and he gets like addicted to them and just watches every single one of them. And he had been watching Jerry Lewis movies. And he’d gotten deeply into Jerry Lewis, and he wanted to make a slapstick comedy. He wants to do it as a TV series for HBO, so I’m called in to meet with him. He wanted to star in it, almost like a Buster Keaton or something."
The pair’s interactions with the network got off to a weird start when Charles turned up to the big HBO meeting in his pyjamas (his habit at the time), with Dylan dressed as a cowboy (no explanation), leaving the somewhat confused network president attempting to break the ice by showing the singer his original Woodstock tickets. “I didn’t play Woodstock,” Dylan coolly replied, and then spent the rest of the meeting staring out of the window.
“We'd take scraps of paper, put them together, try to find the story points.”Larry Charles
And yet the project was green-lighted.
"Bob's manager Jeff, my manager Gavin, me and Bob – we're elated we actually sold the project,” recalled Charles of the meeting’s immediate aftermath, but then... “Bob says, 'I don't want to do it anymore. It's too slapsticky.’ He's not into it. That's over. The slapstick phase has officially ended."
Instead Charles and Dylan made the movie Masked And Anonymous, though Charles now reveals that scripts were created for the comedy series and the process gave him a priceless insight into Dylan’s creative mindset. For one writing session that took place in the back of a boxing club, the singer turned up with a box containing scraps of paper, each with different phrase written on them.
"I realised, that's how he writes songs," noted Charles. "He takes these scraps and he puts them together and makes his poetry out of that. He has all of these ideas and then just in a subconscious or unconscious way, he lets them synthesize into a coherent thing. And that's how we wound up writing also. We wound up writing in a very 'cut-up' technique. We'd take scraps of paper, put them together, try to make them make sense, try to find the story points within it. And we finally wrote... a very elaborate treatment for this slapstick comedy, which is filled with surrealism and all kinds of things from his songs and stuff."
Listen to the full interview with Larry Charles at www.youmadeitweird.libsyn.com now.