If you’re a super-famous musician and you want to star in a comedy for HBO that never sees the light of day, you talk to Larry Charles. The bearded director of Borat and spiritual brother of Rick Rubin worked with Kanye West on a “Curb Your Enthusiasm-style pilot,” one that begins with the immortal words, “I’m the black Larry David,” that never made it to air. Something similar happened with Bob Dylan, minus the whole “black Larry David” thing.
Charles was on Pete Holmes’ excellent You Made It Weird podcast when he brought up a “surrealist comedy” he and Bob Dylan worked on in the 1990s, when The Larry Sanders Show was still on and Dylan had “gotten deeply” into Jerry Lewis movies.
Charles recalled Dylan bringing a box of scrap paper with phrases written on it and dumping it on the table. “I realized, that’s how he writes songs,” he said. “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.” (Via)
Ah yes, the “Dump Sh*t In a Box On a Table” method. That’s how I do my taxes. Anyway, Charles convinced Dylan to meet with HBO, and they looked like a couple of studs out on the town.
“I probably was having a nervous breakdown and didn’t realize it, but I wore pajamas everywhere I went,” Charles said. “I was so comfortable. It was great. [Bob] shows up for the meeting at HBO in a black cowboy hat, a black floor-length duster, black boots. He looks like Cat Ballou or something. He looks like a Western guy who’s carrying six guns…My hair’s super long, beard down to my belly button in f*cking pajamas, and Bob Dylan’s dressed like a cowboy from a movie.” (Via)
Larry Charles was Joaquin’ing before it was cool. The meeting got off to good start.
HBO’s then-president, Chris Albrecht, attempted to break the ice by showing his original tickets to Woodstock, to which Dylan said, “I didn’t play Woodstock,” and then moved to look out the window of the office for the rest of the pitch. (Via)
Albrecht actually agreed to making the show — despite Dylan acting like, to quote Charles’ agent Gavin Polone, a “retarded child” — but as soon as they left the room and got into the elevator, Dylan said, “I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s too slapsticky.” He’s a magnificent weirdo, and kind of an asshole, but I would have watched every second of Blood on the Tracks, Pie on the Face.