James Urbaniak has a new podcast up, written by me, titled “Old Girlfriends” available at your local internet machine. It is a must.
Any television show can be weird, or transgressive, or irreverent. Rules are there to be broken. The trick is to inflate the narrative with weirdness, but then nail it down something basic, something universal and irrefutable. That’s how the viewer knows the writer cares. The Venture Bros is about as weird as American television has ever been, but it ties down its weirdness with a discussion of the most basic and universal subject imaginable: family. In some ways the show is, despite its science-fiction adventure trappings, a domestic comedy, even, in its grander moments, a family saga.
The actor James Urbaniak, who readers of this blog will know as the voice of Dr. Venture, or as the polygraph guy on Homeland, has been one of my closest friends since I met him on this very date (well, yesterday on this very date) in 1989 at a shoebox theater in lower Manhattan during a blizzard. True story.
Lately, he’s been doing these podcasts, Getting On with James Urbaniak. He emailed me and asked me to contribute a piece, and of course I was happy to do so, and you can hear it here. It turned out pretty awesome.
The assignment was very specific: not a monologue or a rant or a routine, but a monodrama: that is, a drama, with a plot, and conflict, and events occurring, premise, development, crisis, denouement, all that, starring one actor, James, playing a character named “James Urbaniak.” I’m a huge Samuel Beckett fan from way back, and the only thing that popped into my head as a suitable monodrama was an adaptation of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, where an elderly man, a failed writer, reviews tapes he made of himself when he was younger and wonders about what happened to himself.
So that’s what I did, except I made the elderly writer James. His performance is more than I could have hoped for.
All the events James talks about in the podcast are true stories. James really did audition for the part of Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, he really did do a hit show off-Broadway where he really was too busy to meet Paul Newman, he really did walk the red carpet at Cannes, he really so forth. The only one of the stories that isn’t true at all is the first one, where he auditions for the part of Eugene in The Miracle Worker in high school but loses the part to the school quarterback. That didn’t happen to him, that happened to me, exactly as set down.
He didn’t really do an impression of Mackensie Crook at his audition for the role of Dwight Schrute. Rainn Wilson, to my knowledge, does not have a three-story mansion in Santa Barbara, and James does not live in a crappy bungalow in Eagle Rock.
The cassette recorder referred to in the text was one my family owned in the late 1960s, one very much like these:
Finally, a “frustum” is a truncated pyramid.