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Quite a gift.

I mean, of course, I enjoy receiving presents, but the joy I often felt as a child while opening presents went the way of 8-track tapes a long time ago.

I admit, I love being the center of attention. I’ve always been this way, and probably will be until the day I die. I want to be the person at the party telling the ridiculous story, sometimes making an ass out of myself in the process, but always making people laugh. I enjoy having all eyes on me, and when you open a present in front of people that’s exactly what happens. But for some reason, it’s different. An expectation surfaces that I fear I can never live up to. People look on, thinking, “I wonder what it is,” while the gift giver waits in anticipation, hoping that the gift receiver will be both surprised by and happy with what’s inside.

When I find myself on the receiving end of a gift, no matter how much I say thank you I always feel it’s never enough, as if I fall short of repaying that kindness. When opening a gift, I feel as if am the world’s most shy, humble, and embarrassed loud-mouthed, attention-craving extrovert to ever walk the planet. And yes, I understand that string of words makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

I especially dislike opening presents in front of large groups of people. The more people looking on, the worse it is. Which is probably why it has taken me this long to write about my Black List Live! experience for my script Saving Charlie Chaplin. Because six months ago tonight, Franklin Leonard and the Black List crew gave me a gift in front of more than a thousand people… and yet I still feel as if I’m not worthy of the honor.

This all started back in early May with a call from my agent that began with this sentence: “I think I have a pretty cool opportunity if you want to do it.”

He explained that the Black List had contacted him about doing a live read of Chaplin, which had made the Black List in December 2016. I was already familiar with their live events, and of course I wanted to do it. Why wouldn’t I? It sounded like an amazing opportunity, and I was honored that out of all of the scripts that made last year’s list they wanted Chaplin.

A day later, I was on the phone with the Black List’s Megan Halpern who explained that the read would be my event to control. I could cast who I wanted, invite who I wanted, have a say in the poster design, and even supply the music that would play in the lobby and during the afterparty. When Megan and I met with the event’s casting director, Lisa Zagoria, for a sushi lunch the following week, this promise of control was reiterated.

I admit, at first, I was skeptical of their offer, partly due to the fact that the entertainment industry has created an extremely pessimistic monster in me, but also because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Why should they trust me with this huge event? I had never done something like this before, nor did I ever think I would. If I were them, I wouldn’t have trusted me. Still, I pushed that doubt and fear into the back of my brain. For the time being, at least.

The date and venue were set—June 10th at the Montalban Theater—and offers to potential cast were sent out to agents. While this was happening, word had spread amongst family and friends. Some of them started talking about flying out just for the event—for one night—which I admittedly thought crazy at the time. In the end, my sister flew in from Hawaii, my parents and our friend Milan from Milwaukee, KB’s mother, aunt, and our friend Marla from Chicago, and our friend Kenley flew in from Charleston. It was mind-blowing—hell, it’s still mind-blowing—to think that many people bought a plane ticket just to see a two-hour event. And to support me, of course. Having them there—anyone who I loved there—was both flattering and an honor. And again, one I felt I wasn’t worthy of.

I assume you’re seeing a theme form. But wait, I’m jumping a head, so let me back up to the planning of the event.

I won’t bore you with every step of the process, but the bulk of the cast fell into place fairly quickly. There were a few offers that got passed on—mostly because of previous commitments—but the first person to accept was Jon Hamm. Originally, Jon was supposed to read the part of J. Edgar Hoover, but feeling he would be more entertaining as a pompous FBI agent we changed the offer to one of the story’s two leads: FBI Agent Madison Packard.

Next to accept was Paul Reubens, who would be reading as both Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler. (That sentence is so insane you really should go back and read it again.) You have no idea how giddy a 40-year-old man can become until you see him receive an email that says one of his childhood idols wants to be a part of something he’s written. I felt like I was living in a dream for many of the days leading up to the read. Some mornings, I’d wake up and immediately scroll through emails on my phone just to make sure I hadn’t dreamt the entire thing.

The accepted offers continued to roll in: Matt Oberg became our narrator; Randall Park accepted the second lead role of Detective Dennison, a well-intentioned and not-so-aggressive L.A. cop; Jack McBrayer became a Nazi with a heart of gold named Ulrich; Aya Cash would play a Nazi with a heart of evil named Suka (as well a sweet-as-pie love interest named Colby); Thomas Lennon would read as J. Edgar Hoover (and a slew of other supporting characters), and Al Madrigal would become the police captain, Ronald Basketti.

This cast, guys. I mean, seriously. This cast.

A week before the read we flew to Hawaii to visit my sister Beth. The day before we flew out my agent called me again: “Paul Reubens wants to talk to you before the read.” Me, totally freaking out: “About what?” My agent, totally not freaking out: “No idea. I’ll send you his number. Call him when you can.”

Uhhh… okay?

Let me attempt to explain the magnitude of what this meant to me.


When I was in the fourth grade, my parents dropped off me and two classmates (Amy Hill and Jamin Miles) to watch what would become my first movie in a theater sans parents: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.

A couple years later, my dad had become a huge fan of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Seriously, I started watching it because he was watching it. One Saturday morning, when I was in the sixth grade, we were coming back from picking up an instrument (a flute, to be exact, which is a whole other story) when I noticed that my dad was hauling ass. My dad rarely speeds—he hasn’t gotten a ticket since he was four or something ridiculous—and so I asked him: “Why are you speeding?” His reply: “Because if we don’t get home soon we’ll miss Pee-wee.” He was serious. More importantly, we didn’t miss it.


And so, the day after we arrived in Hawaii, I called Paul Reubens. On the phone. Just writing that sentence makes me feel weird, but, trust me, it was weirder making the call. I felt like a sixth grader who had finally built up enough courage to call the girl he’s had a crush on for, like, ever.

But the call to Paul went totally cool. We talked for about a half hour, about Hawaii, the business, and a whole slew of other things I don’t even remember because of how much I was freaking out inside. Paul was nothing but—and has remained nothing but—warm and pleasant. He’s extremely down to earth, very chill; there’s no ego or bullshit with him. And because of that, after the call, I felt more relaxed about a huge event that was now less than a week away.

We made our way back to L.A. on June 9th. By then, visiting family and friends had already made their way there as well. All that was left to do was wait.

Late that night, as I sat watching Hot Fuzz and having a few beers with family, I got a text from Paul: “Are you up?” I replied that I was. He asked me to call him. I did. He had a few last-minute questions about the read, which made me realize Paul was a consummate professional who was taking the read seriously. It didn’t matter what the pay was, or that it was a one-night event. He had a job to do, and he wanted to do his best.

After I hung up I distinctly remember thinking: “How is this real life?!?”

The next morning, I headed on over to the Montalban. And that’s when real life got real weird.

After going over last-minute details with Franklin, Megan, and Lisa, the cast started to show up. Matt Oberg was the first person to pop into the green room, followed by Paul. The plan was as follows: We would do a dry-run read with the cast on stage. The only people sitting in the audience would be myself, Megan, and Lisa. Jon Hamm was doing a press event for Baby Driver during the day and therefore wouldn’t be able to show up until right before the read, so Franklin subbed in as FBI Agent Madison Packard for the dry run.

Hearing this amazing cast read words I had written was a surreal experience. At one point in the middle of it, I texted KB: “This is fucking crazy.” And it was. But as the preliminary read continued I started to get nervous. I had written Chaplin for myself, so of course I thought the words on the page were funny. But I was biased and had also written the script in a bubble, which meant I had no real way of gauging how it would read in front of an audience. At that moment, with an audience of only three, I felt as if it were the most unfunny script in the world.

Part of this was due to the fact that, by that point, the three people in the audience had already read Chaplin over and over again. The jokes were no longer funny to me, sure, but they had to be funny to someone, right? I hoped so. As yet another joke came and went without a chuckle I thought to myself: “Can I postpone the event until I do another pass?” Of course, it was a ridiculous reaction, but crazy, tense situations make people think crazy, tense thoughts.

As the dry-run read wrapped up, Jon Hamm arrived. I gave a few notes and then everyone broke for dinner, which was being catered backstage. I ate nothing, fearing that I might eat a bad piece of whatever and then throw up all over the stage. There was, however, a nicely stocked bar that I dipped into. Specifically, a smidge of bourbon.

Lisa and I went through every page of the script, stripping out fatty descriptors and action (which typically doesn’t translate very well during a live event), which helped pick up the speed of the read. With a new edit of the script in hand, I sat at the head of the table where everyone was eating and walked the cast through the script, page by page. This may have been one of the strangest moments of the entire day. I’d say, “Everyone turn to page 24,” and everyone would turn to page 24. I mean, that’s the obvious process, but I just remember looking around that table and feeling as if I had somehow tricked everyone involved into believing that I knew what I was doing.

The edits wrapped up. The doors opened to the public. I began to hear a trickle of people taking their seats on the other side of the curtain. Paul asked if anyone else was changing into more formal attire because he had brought a jacket. I told him I was wearing a suit and tie, and so he went to grab his jacket. When the evening started, I split off from the cast. They would enter from stage right, and Megan, Franklin, and myself would enter from stage left.

Megan introduced Franklin. As Franklin introduced each cast member to huge applause, my nerves started to get the best of me. I remember glancing over at the bourbon on the bar: “I bet a shot would take off the edge.” I poured myself a shot… just as Franklin announced my name.

My brain hit an unexpected but immediate detour. Rather than shoot the shot and walk out, I brought the glass with me, as if I were Hugh Hefner welcoming guests to the Mansion. I hope I looked less awkward than I felt. As I stepped up to the podium, the true enormity of the evening hit me. The venue had nearly sold out, making the read the best selling Black List Live! event to date. Out of my peripheral vision on my left, the cast stared at me. I noticed my parents, my sister, KB and her family, and a smattering of friends peppered throughout the audience. As I opened my mouth to start I heard my name called out from the front row directly in front of me: “Shady!” I looked down to find my good friend Ryan, his girlfriend Wileen, and my agent smiling back at me. I replied to them (and also to over 1,000 people in the process): “Hey, guys.”

With the applause winding down and a shot of bourbon in my hand, I looked across the theater. I glanced up into the balcony, down at my family, and across the stage at the talent we had put together for this special event. I opened my mouth to thank everyone for coming out, to tell them that I was beyond humbled and grateful for this great opportunity, that I would be forever indebted to the Black List, and that I couldn’t believe I had gotten so lucky with Chaplin… but those aren’t exactly the words I used. Or, more accurately, the word. Instead—

Me: “Fuck.”

And like that, it hit me: This is like opening an amazing present in front of a thousand people. And yes, unfortunately, that is my default reaction when doing just that. Hopefully I never reacted like that while opening birthday gifts from my grandparents. Christ.

In hindsight, few people probably noticed (or even cared about) how awkward I felt, and some even laughed at my four-letter greeting. I talk like that a lot, especially on social media, but that was most certainly an instance where I wasn’t trying to be funny. That “fuck” wasn’t a joke or schtick. It just came out.

I stumbled through scribbled notes I had jotted down earlier in the day—many thank-yous, some background on the script and characters, etc.—all while holding an un-shot plastic cup of bourbon in my other hand. At the end of my list I had written: Wrap it up, toss to video. But rather than just stop talking and letting the lights come down I literally said into the mic: “Now we’re going to watch a video.” As if I were an awkward substitute science teacher who just wanted to get to the VHS tape that would babysit the class for the rest of the period.

The lights dimmed. The video started. I drank my shot.

I made my way to my seat with the script in hand. I’m embarrassed to admit that, for the next hour and a half, I read along with most of the script. I know, I know… I should’ve just sat back and watched it unfold like an audience member, not like someone who wrote every word that was about to be read. But I couldn’t relax. I cringed at laughs that fell flat (there were only two, that I remember), and wanted to crawl under my seat when an edit I quickly made backstage stripped the set up but left the punchline intact. I know these were minor things that the audience probably didn’t even notice, but I knew the material so well that I was hanging on every single error, no matter how big or small.

And then… it was all over. Over a month’s worth of preparation, meetings, phone calls, lunches, emails, and excitement boiled down to 90-odd minutes of entertainment. The crowd seemed satisfied. And, a handful of errors on my part aside, so was I.

I got up on stage and took two bows, first to the audience, and then to Franklin and the cast. I felt odd as I was doing it, as if I were taking full credit for something I simply oversaw. But I hope—and I must believe this to be true—that everyone knew I wasn’t bowing for them, but rather to them.

June 10th was the second best night of 2017 (sorry, but it must take a silver medal to the birth of West), but it also ranks in the top five nights of my entire life. Honestly. And that is a gift worth opening, no matter how many people you have to do it in front of.

I will be forever grateful to Franklin, Megan, Lisa, and the rest of the Black List folks. Likewise, the cast played such an important role in that night that I will forever feel indebted to them. From a business standpoint, a couple fun opportunities have come out of the read, though I’m hesitant to say more until they become more solidified. Believe me, you’ll be the first to know when they’re made official.

That evening is a perfect example of what the Black List does best. They give writers hope that someday, someone will acknowledge their hard work, work that has so often been created in a vacuum. Having Chaplin (my eighth spec) make the Black List in 2016 was a huge personal accomplishment. I felt as if, finally, someone was paying attention.

The Black List announces its 2017 winners tomorrow. I had a new/ninth spec make the rounds this year (more on that soon), but I sent it out far too late for it to make the list so I doubt it will be on there. Though I’m writing this post out on December 10th, 2017, I’m going to delay publishing it for a few days so that tomorrow’s Black List winners will have their well-deserved moments to shine.

Of course, I’d love to make the list again (and someday I will), but even if I do that won’t make my 2017. Because my 2017 was made six months ago, and I’m so incredibly grateful for it.

After the read, I had a drink or two backstage with the cast while friends and family made their way upstairs to the afterparty. Jon Hamm poured me and Thomas Lennon some whiskey; we cheers’d each other, then talked politics. Eventually, we made our way upstairs as well. We had a few more drinks, took some photos, signed some programs.

After moving the party to a bar on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, I ended my evening slightly inebriated in an Uber with some of my best friends. I may have had a cigarette. I don’t remember, and it doesn’t matter anyway.

This is easily the longest post I’ve ever written here on The Blarg, but amazing gifts call for amazing lengths. Besides, it took me six months to finally write this all down, so just imagine how long the post would’ve been if I had written it the day after the read.

Thanks again to the entire Black List crew, and to everyone who came out (family, friends, and strangers alike) to support me on one of the biggest nights of my life.

Six months later, I remain humbled.

I figured I’d close out this insanely long post with two quick things. First, for anyone interested in giving Saving Charlie Chaplin a read, you can download it here. And second, here some photos from the night. Hope you enjoy them.

The theater had a step-and-repeat set up in the lobby for people to channel their inner Chaplin. Here’s a photo of my family, and another of KB and her mom.

Hanging out in the green room (which was actually green) before the dry run.

Franklin sitting in for Jon as I stumble my way through giving directions.

The audience of three: me, Megan, and Lisa.

Lisa and I going over edits after the dry-run read.

We take a photo of Grey every day of her life. Since she wouldn’t be at the event, I asked KB to bring her by for a photo before the event. This will forever be her June 10th, 2017 photo.

Going through script edits with the cast.

Al, Paul, and Thomas signing posters.

Okay, a little bit of backstory about this next series of photos. Aya came up and asked if she could take a photo with me, which admittedly was a bit shocking. Standing immediately to our right in this photo is Paul. While the photographer was shooting this photo—

—Aya leaned over and whispered to me that she really just wanted to take a photo with Paul (she’s a huge fan), but that she didn’t want to ask out of the blue. Our photo together was just a cover for an amazing series of photos of her with Paul. Pretty sure she was almost as excited to meet him as I was.

I originally wasn’t going to include this series of group shots, but figured I should after the Aya/Paul story I just told above. Scroll through the photos as if they were images in a flip book, and be sure to pay attention to how Aya’s posture with Paul changes from the first photo to the last.

We shot photos with the Black List crew, at which point Aya ran to the front and asked if anyone wanted to see her do the splits. Everyone said yes, but—

—unfortunately, she then told us she doesn’t actually know how to do them.

Paul getting mic’d up.

The amazing and generous Franklin Leonard looking on as I continue to pretend to know what I’m doing.

What I meant to say was….

My family looking on… as I look down at the script in my lap.

Action shots of the actual read.

At one point, Aya’s character name signs fell off her stand. She ran around and reattached them without missing a line of dialogue.

Every time Jon’s character—FBI Agent Madison Packard—introduced himself to someone he’d flash this badge.

I hope they know I was bowing to them, not for them.

Possibly my favorite photo of the night. We’re backstage after the read. Jon poured me and Thomas some whiskey. Here we are talking politics.

Last group shots of the night.

KB got to meet Jon. She was happy.

And I got to meet (and work with) a childhood hero.

My dad even got to say hello.

The afterparty with the world’s best family and friends.

And finally, the end of an amazing night.

Old Poop!