Well, sometime they can, and sometimes they can't.
Occasionally, I'm in the room when these bad ideas are born. These meetings are called pitches. Today, we're going to talk about two of the worst pitches of my career. Students of bad comedy may want to sit up front.
WORST PITCH EVER - RUNNER UP
In the mid-80's, I was a staff writer at Saturday Night Live. On Tuesday nights the producers would shepherd the guest host from office to office to hear possible sketch ideas.
One week the host was Danny Devito. He came into my office with his wife, Rhea Pearlman. We chatted for a while. I made everyone laugh and feel at ease, which is easy for me because I'm so damn funny.
Thus I began my pitch. I was pretty confident. I had a killer, can't-miss idea. As I spoke, I bounced a tennis ball off the wall. I used to bounce tennis balls all the time because I thought it looked cool. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.
My idea was about tether ball. It'd be funny to see Devito play tether ball because the game is all about height-the tallest guy always wins. The joke of the sketch was that Devito was the world tether ball champ because he makes his opponents feel guilty. They're too embarrassed to try. He always wins because he's so damn short! HA! HA! HA! HA!
Those ha-ha-ha's were me laughing. Nobody else laughed. After I finished there was a long, tense, embarrassed pause. Mr. Devito averted his eyes. He was obviously hurt. All he said was, "I'd rather not do any height jokes."
I was crushed. While I was thinking about how to apologize, I nervously bounced the tennis ball again. This time it took a bad bounce and careened off the wall and THWACK! Hit Rhea Pearlman squarely in the face! She fell backwards, holding her nose, eyes tearing.
Danny Devito, who I had just insulted, and his wife, who I had just whacked in the nose, hobbled out of my office. He's now a big producer in Hollywood. Funny-he's never called me.
WORST PITCH EVER - THE GRAND PRIZE WINNER
I guess everyone remembers where they were when they realized Joe Piscopo was nuts. Here's where I was: IN THE MIDDLE OF A PITCH FOR UNIVERSAL STUDIOS!!
For a brief shining moment in the 80's, Joe Piscopo was hot shit. He was Eddie Murphy's pal. Together, they had saved Saturday Night Live. So I was flattered when Piscopo called and asked me to write a movie with him. I would ride his shirttails into the heart of Hollywood.
Together, we worked out a story. It was something about Piscopo being chased by the mob and having to adopt different disguises. It was basically an excuse for Joe to do a dozen of his "lovable" characters.
We pitched the story to Universal. All the big studio execs were there. They really wanted to do a movie with Piscopo-so far so good. We took turns telling different parts. Joe did a few of his characters. Everyone listened politely. A few chuckles. When it was over, Sean Daniel (then head of production) said something like, "Thanks, but we don't think it's for us. Do you have anything else?"
We didn't. But before I could say anything, Piscopo said, "Yes! Andy and I do have another idea! We've been working on it all year! We're very excited about it." He turned to me and said, "Do you want to tell them, or should I?"
I was stunned. What the hell was he talking about? I managed to mumble, "Uh,...why don't you tell it, Joe?"
So Piscopo pitched "our" other idea. It wasn't really a pitch. It was more like a therapy session. He'd always been obsessed with Frank Sinatra. "Our" pitch was really his own twisted Sinatra fantasy. He wanted to do a sequel to Ocean's 11. We'll reunite the Rat Pack; Frank, Dino, Sammy, Peter, Joey, Shirley. We'd bring 'em all back from retirement. Even though they're all in their mid-70's and hadn't made a movie in 100 years, the old magic would still be there! But this time, there'll be a new member of the Pack-Joe Piscopo! The plot will be about how Sinatra takes him under his wing and they all learn to love and respect him and let him join the gang. He had a few Sinatra/Piscopo bonding scenes worked out. The New Improved Rat Pack would return to Vegas and rob another casino. It'd be like the old days, but better because our man Joe would add some 80's style hipness to the group!
Total silence. Everyone listened, stunned. I was more stunned than anyone. It was as close to an insane rant as I've ever heard.
As we left, I could tell these important, powerful, well-connected executives couldn't wait to crack up and tell everyone they knew or would ever meet about this Pitch From Neptune they just heard. And how-as far as I was concerned-it was half mine.
Two bad pitches with the same lesson: try, if at all possible, not to be me.
Andy Breckman is currently employed writing top- secret comedy projects for The Disney Corporation.