MEETING RAOUL

by Michael Wayne

Hubris is an ugly thing. If I had my time again, would I have respected the wishes of a spiteful has-been instead of letting my pride get in the way? Could it have changed my entire life, and saved another? Lemme tell ya a story…

Several years ago now, a friend and I came up with a brilliant idea for a television sitcom. So brilliant was this idea that we put together a package to send to prospective producers that included a CD of us as the characters from the show in a series of sketches leading into the show’s storyline itself (I may upload it on here one of these days). So brilliant was this idea that we found ten surefire picks to send the package to.

So brilliant that we only got one considered response. Of the ten places we sent it to, most were the kind of ‘we can’t read unsolicited stuff for legal reasons’ replies we’d half expected, one never sent a reply, and the last was Raoul. In a former life he’d been big in the Australian comedy scene; edgy, hip, dangerous. His comedy efforts had encouraged a fanatical following, one that still persists to this day. I have to admit I hadn’t been heavily into his stuff back in the day; I’d only caught onto his career once he’d gone commercial.

But that was then, and this was now, and the now hadn’t been as kind to Raoul as had the past. Things had wound down for him performance-wise by this point in his career. He was simultaneously teaching an expensive course on comedy writing, and writing a much cheaper book on the same subject. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

We met up with Raoul, and I’ll freely admit I was psyched. It felt as if it was my first real validation as a writer (or performer, for that matter, given the CD). For two hours, Raoul sat with us at Bondi Westfield, chatting about a variety of things…but primarily his uni comedy writing course. I didn’t understand – was he trying to tell us we needed his course? That our writing wasn’t good enough? The other problem was he was sending mixed messages: he gave us all of the notes from his course, and even told us that we now had everything we needed to teach the course ourselves.

The more we talked, and particularly when we talked about our pitch, I got the impression he hadn’t actually read it. He must have read the cover letter and opportunistically thought that we could use his comedy teachings. He kept referencing Everybody Loves Raymond, a show my friend and I both detested, as the perfect sitcom; not a good sign. By the end of the meeting, all he’d successfully convinced us of was that taking his uni course would be a waste of time, since we’d already just heard it all.

Raoul didn’t leave us completely empty handed, though; we had homework. We were to write up a character relationship tree for the main characters of our sitcom. ‘Hell no,’ I said to my friend. There was no way I was doing a character tree for this guy when it was all so clear in the pitch. It was insulting because it was further evidence that he just hadn’t read it, and that even if we did do the tree for him, he either wouldn’t read it or we’d get it back to find our characters had become Raymond and his loving family. We left it at that for a few weeks.

During that silent era, my friend and I made a short film. Once it was done, we thought it’d be a good idea to send it to Raoul, so that he could get a sense of how we approached comedy on film. We emailed him to ask if he’d check it out, and where to send it. ‘Sure, send it,’ he replied. ‘How are you going with the character tree?’

Really? Over eight weeks later, and here he was still adamant that the character tree was the way to go. We ignored that part and sent him the film.

It’s now four years later, and we have received no reply. I guess in a way I’m grateful – I wasn’t going to write a character tree for the man and the duck. The story doesn’t end there, though. Not long after we sent him the film (but long enough to know we weren’t getting a reply), I attended a writers conference in the Barossa Valley, and who was in attendance but Raoul. He was hanging out with his contemporaries, other once-big names who’d been relegated to events as fruitless, so to speak, as writers conferences doubling as an excuse to drink wine. I wasn’t going to approach him – I’d sent him the film, he’d never responded. The ball was in his court. He skilfully managed to maintain possession of the ball for the entire day, noticing me but not actively recognising me, and certainly not approaching me. Maybe he was expecting me to march up with the character tree for him. After walking out of the conference during a self-congratulatory speech by one of the 11 writers of Shrek 2, I did as Raoul had done, and turned my back on the saga for good.

Or so I thought.

It turns out time really does heal all wounds, and that there’s nothing like a crisis to pull people together, and all those other cliched lessons you’ve learned a million times on Everybody Loves Raymond. Two weeks ago, I received the first email I’d gotten from Raoul in four years:

Vaya con Dios, Raoul.

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