I want to talk about… You.
When I first conceived of this project, this post was one of the primary urgent needs to start this whole durned thang.
I’ve been thinking ahead to this post for months now.
I hope I don’t let myself down….
Usually, I know what I need to say in terms of the large creative forest habitat of the ideas. I know the themes. Sometimes the details. But often… I sit down at 2 am once all the small Griffins are bedified for the night and I open up the laptop and I think abut the themes I’ve been considering during my 3 mile daily walks and I just… flow.
So, I hope I hit all the points I’ve been philosophizing for the last few months because this post really is the heart of the message I want to give to You, dear reader.
I said way back at the start in Evangelicalismianitytopia that this is really about Me… and You.
My relationship to You.
There are many different Yous reading this blog. Some of Yous are my friends. Some of Yous are my political colleagues. Some of Yous are friends from earlier in my life. Some of Yous are my family. I love Yous all!
But none of Yous are the Yous I’m trying to reach.
You know who You are.
I’d like to tell You about the first time I became aware of… You.
“Focus called. They want you again.”
Drive to Pomona.
Walk through the doors. Still working on the bookstore…
Walk up the giant staircase– hey… what’s that?
There at the top of the stairs was something new.
A giant map.
With pins in it.
And each pin represented a radio station around the world that was playing Focus on the Family content. Correct me if I’m wrong somebody… but at some point there were special colored pins for Adventures in Odyssey, too, right? Am I remembering that wrong?
But, I remember that being the moment of first becoming aware that this was a global effort. (also this may have happened perhaps a year later. The time line for this is jumbled as I make certain storytelling and editorial decisions.)
Huh! All over the world… COOL!!!
Through the Adventures in Odyssey doors.
Down through the hallways.
Through the doorlocks.
Into the booth.
Odyssey USA: Episode 20- Mike Makes Right
Mike is a unique episode in the history of the show for me personally as the material itself had a profound effect on me for the first time as an Actor. And it would introduce me to You for the first time as well.
Over the last 35 years of professional Acting, I realized that a particular quirk in my process is that sometimes a character… how do I describe this… latches onto me… fuck that’s some weird shit to say…. but, yes, much like an alien entity a great character lingers long after the filming or recording is finished before it eventually bursts through my chest wall and scurries off into the darkness of the spaceship to devour the rest of my crewmates….
I’ll still be in the headspace for days or even weeks afterwards. Doesn’t always happen. It’s reserved for the great character experiences, OR if I experience something that I want to work through in my personal life, or hold onto a particular feeling that comes up in the scene work.
It’s odd stuff. IT’S THE REASON THAT NO ONE CAN STAND ACTORS. WE’RE SOME WEIRD MOTHERFUCKERS I’M WELL AWARE OF THIS.
Mike Makes Right is the story of a kid being bullied and he punches the bully and becomes the new king of the schoolyard. Then with his newfound powers becomes the new bully. And there’s deep and profound lessons involved.
I was a small kid. It was nice to step into the emotional experience of a kid who wins a fight! I felt strong for once! And I wanted to carry that feeling with me. I left the studio that day a little taller. More confident. It stayed with me for days…
It became a part of the work that surprised me. How certain characters continue their life in you long after you’ve left the booth. It was the first time I remember profoundly experiencing that. And for me, not so much for the purposes of the narrative, that is a moment in Dave’s life of profound artistic discovery.
The other thing that happened connected to this episode that was revolutionary and profound in my life and quite literally stopped me in my tracks and forever completely changed my relationship to the show… was when I met You for the first time.
At some point in the next year it would become clear that the show was a hit of some kind. Although the only evidence of this I would ever be permitted to see was the fact that we kept recording. Certainly no bonuses or pay negotiations or credit of any kind. During these first episodes I remember feeling like there was a sort of seat of the pants urgency to everything. The turnaround time on episodes was FAST. They were cranking them out as fast as possible. Episode 002 was recorded in early November of 1987. It aired what… 3 weeks later? A month later? The production flow was fast and felt like a runaway train. It felt like the show went from, “I hope this will work” to “oh crap this works and they want more and we’re all tired”.
And it wouldn’t be until about 6 months to a year later that it felt like things really settled down and the creative team could breathe and there was a bit less production timeline urgency.
Once that period of time arrived there were many new developments including animation artwork and a small hallway near the kitchenette where the staff had setup some cast and crew pictures and a slide show about how AIO was made.
Up to this point, my journey with the show had largely been about my immediate sensory experience. Meeting new people. Learning the gig from the pros. Taking the direction. Learning how to adlib. Learning the mic technique. Learning how to break down a script. Understanding the writing style and delivering on the humor and timing. Working with the Reel to Reel Machine of Dwindling Time3000 and getting more accurate with my takes so I wasn’t wasting time and tape.
There was so much to take in and learn and absorb that I never really had much time to think about anything beyond the immediate epicness.
And then one day… I get my 3.2 packets of hot chocolate dissolved into the hot water and as I was rounding the corner I come upon the newly decorated hallway for the tour groups.
Huh. I guess they’re giving tours now!
And there’s my picture! Do we get paid for being a theme park attraction?
And along one of the walls were a series of collages of various artifacts about the show and its history– John Avery Whitaker’s Middle name was inspired by Avery brand office labels, etc.
Pretty cool stuff to geek out to since I never knew any of the preproduction process of the show.
And next to that… was a collage of fan mail.
Letters that had been written to the organization from fans in some far flung region represented by that map at the top of the giant stairs with all the pins.
And there it was. Peeking out from underneath some other letter.
Some kid had written to the show about the episode Mike Makes Right!
THAT WAS ME!!!
I was transfixed. My 10-11 year old mind inundated with all the possibilities of who this person is and what motivated them to take the time to actually hand write an honest-to-god piece of fan mail.
I was frustrated I couldn’t see the rest of the letter. And then it dawned on me… is this the only one? Why didn’t they show this to me? What other letters are they not showing me?
BUT still… A CHARACTER I DID GOT A FAN LETTER.
Do you know how rare it is for an actor in their entire career to ever play a part that has worldwide distribution? Rare. And then to play a lead on an episode? Rarer still. And then to actually have an audience member like the show so much they get their parents to help them mail a letter to that show/character?
Years later when I would study in North Hollywood and dive more into film, I never came across a single actor that had ever experienced it. It is RARE.
It’s not something you can talk about to others without it sounding like bragging.
And it would become a source of weirdness. It would be the only piece of fan mail I would see for the next 15 years. Until I guilted somebody into sending me another that I kept on my refrigerator for the next 10 years. That’s it. Two pieces of fan mail in 35 years that I ever saw.
Never knew what fans thought about the show, what they liked, didn’t like. I’m a notes junkie, admittedly. There was no way to gauge the audience reaction. It was held at bay. We were isolated from it.
Isolated from the fan reaction and also isolated from having others who have experienced it. Again, one of the patterns of weird isolation where experiences and peer groups are hard to find, or at least they were in my life.
To a 10 year old who hadn’t really considered the audience yet… It was amazing.
Of course, I was savvy enough to know that somebody somewhere was listening to it, I knew how radio worked, I knew they were out there somewhere listening otherwise we wouldn’t still be recording– BUT HERE WAS ACTUAL PROOF!
It would forever change my relationship to the microphone. From that point forward the microphone ceased to be a metal contraption that recorded my voice onto the magnetic tape on that reel… Every time in the studio after that and still to this day when I get before a mic, I stare at it as I’m getting into my headspace and I think of… You.
Who are You?
Where do You live?
What is Your life like?
Why do You listen to this?
Why do You like it?
I hope I get to meet one of You some day.
“Focus called. They want you again.”
Drive to Pomona.
Walk up the stairs.
Hey, there’s more pins in the map.
Through AIO doors.
Into the booth.
“You’re Steve Larson.”
Odyssey USA: Episode 025- Harley Takes the Case Pt 1
Odyssey USA: Episode 026- Harley Take the Case Pt 2
It’s Your fucking fault they got rid of Officer Harley and I’ve never forgiven You for doing that.
While I had never seen or met anyone who listened to the show it was becoming clear that people were actually listening to the show. We would get notes constantly during adlibs of what not to say.
Adlibs? Yes, adlibs. Worked into the script are unscripted moments where characters interact. A cue will exist in the notes “adlib”. This most often happens when characters enter or exit a scene. Or fight sequences. Sometimes physical work would be adlibbed during a chase sequence.
And the Writing/Directing team gave us leeway to not stick to the scripts 100% during scripted dialogue. Some actors abuse that. I would try to adhere fairly close to the script, but in the moment sometimes dialogue flows out of you oddly and a word change will flow from an actor better than the writers had written– no slam on the writing, sometimes you write dialogue for an actor and they get tongue-tied or unable to express the proper emotion because of the text being an obstacle. It’s specific to each actor. Ask Benedink Cumberbazzle. He can’t say the word “penguin”.
Anyway, adlibbing. It’s the most common time to say a word you shouldn’t!
This happens a LOT during exclamatory moments. Character stubs toe. “DANG”.
Everybody knew to not say Hell or Damn or Oh my God or Jesus Christ or… the SEVEN DIRTY WORDS. THIS IS A CHILDREN’S SHOW.
Those were the obvious naughties. But there were the far more subtle naughties that were somehow even worse because they almost sounded like the naughties.
“Heck. Shoot. Darn. Dang.”
Even a careless “Oh Man!” could get a take ruined.
*static over speakers*
“Cut. You can’t say that.”
“I can’t say Oh man?”
“Because it sounds like damn.”
“But we all know I wasn’t saying damn, right?”
“Yeah… but it sounds like maybe you could have almost said damn.”
“Even though I didn’t.”
“We get complaints….”
Do You see the problems You cause?
It is a scientific fact that Will Ryan was a blast to work with.
(editor’s note: it made me sad to change the word “is” to “was” in that sentence on later passes. Grief is funny like that.)
And Officer Harley was one of his finest creations and a great character. Nobody does fumbling bumbling stupification like Will Ryan. It’s a whole lot more fun to spend 4 hours in a studio when you get to play off Will Ryan being Officer Harley.
Jimmy never even got to meet him! You assholes.
This is the story of:
THAT TIME I LEARNED THAT FUCKING EVANGELICALS™ ARE SUCH OBNOXIOUS CUCKS THAT THEY CAN’T HAVE A COMEDIC COP PORTRAYAL ANYWHERE IN THEIR ART BECAUSE BLUE LIVES MATTER SOOOOOOOOOOO MUCH AND IT WOULD HELP ME UNDERSTAND 30 YEARS LATER HOW UNHEALTHILY AUTHORITARIAN YOU ALL ARE.
“Cuck” is kinda harsh, Dave.
Yes, I know.
It was harsh being called it for the last 5 years by MAGA fans of the show.
Where was I?
You took Officer Harley away.
Officer Harley was an absolute idiot. A glorious, stumbling, bumbling moron. Can’t shoot straight. Every idea he has is bad. Terrible detective. With a heart of gold. An absolute goldmine of comedic potential being played by a brilliant actor with insane comedy chops.
During the second (and third?) years I would find myself remaking episodes as Jimmy from earlier (like Bobby’s Valentine) because the writing staff had to send Officer Harley to Character Jail because fans of the show complained that he was an idiot and that it’s not good to teach kids to disrespect cops.
After Uvalde… I think we can laugh at cops again? Hmm?
If we as a society can not poke fun at everything, then we risk turning things into false idols. Keep this in mind for later.
To me, the disappearance of Officer Harley taught me something about You.
That perhaps You and I had a different sense of humor.
That maybe You took things too seriously.
And deep in this story are the little red flags like this.
“People get mad if you say heck or dang or oh man?”
Being a kid and wondering why the Fucking Evangelicals™ were taking away my favorite character to Act with.
I tell this story also to my political crowd. This is embedded in the psychology of evangelical voters. Their law enforcement fetish. Criminal justice bullshit. All of it. It’s taught at a very young age. Clearly. This was a real world example that had a memorable influence on me. Cuz, it would be talked about for decades.
Keep in mind I was an evangelical church-twice-a-week kid doing a christian radio show.
It seemed a little over-the-top to me to kill off an awesome character like that.
And when things like that would happen I would look at the mic and wonder:
Who You Were…
You write these letters.
You have this power… to change things here in the studio.
I’ve never seen You or met You.
Who are You?