INTERVIEW BY STEVE LAFRENIERE
PHOTOS BY TERRY RICHARDSON
As a writer and an actor, Buck Henry has one of the most interesting profiles in the history of television. Uncommonly, he also occupies that same position in 60s and 70s American film. In those years especially, his was one of the voices that brought movie and TV comedy into wider focus, rendering it more political, sexual, and trippily referential than it had previously been, basically creating its current template.
Henry’s overall list of achievements is boggling and places him at the center of umpteen legendary creative scenes. Working for early-60s TV wags like Steve Allen and Garry Moore and on the broadcast-news spoof
That Was the Week That Was
got him in shape for what was to come, a four-year period in which he created and wrote 130-plus episodes of the sweetly subversive spy-com
(with Mel Brooks), penned the screenplays for both
, and adapted Terry Southern’s infamous
for the big screen. A few years later saw him codirecting
Heaven Can Wait
with Warren Beatty, launching the cult TV spoof
, and in the lap of his long association with
Saturday Night Live
(until recently, Henry held the record for most episodes hosted). Then there are his performances in movies by Milos Forman (
), John Cassavetes (
), Nicolas Roeg (
The Man Who Fell to Earth
), Robert Altman (
), and Gus Van Sant (
To Die For
), each one sly and indelible.
At 79, Henry still makes appearances on shows that interest him—
30 Rock, The Daily Show
—but would otherwise seem to be in retirement. I talked to him a few days after he arrived in New York for one of his regular months-long visits. He has the gift of making you quickly feel as if you’ve been friends for years.
Vice: You were acting in theater and on early television when you were a teenager. Was there a lot of crossover between the two at the time?
There was. I think most of the people we came to know as theater stars in the 40s and 50s were also television stars. The networks didn’t want to fly people in from LA when they had a whole theater world here.
What sorts of roles did you get?
It was pretty scattershot. I didn’t have what we would call a solid career in television. I did things like
. I was in small parts, almost a glorified extra.
I assume this was all drama?
Yes, all drama. I did once play Wally Cox’s cousin, as a sort of look-alike joke. That was about as near as I got to a comedy on television in those decades.
Before you began working for Steve Allen in 1961, were you writing for theater?
No, I was always trying to write for television. I had kind encouragement from a number of television guys, the editors of various shows. They were famous names then, and I can’t conjure them up anymore, partly because I have trouble with names from the past now. They’ve all gone to rest somewhere in the corner of my brain where proper nouns go when you’re past a certain age. Or when you’ve had chemo. Anyway, these guys were well known in the literary establishment, because they were mostly authors themselves who story-edited the drama shows.
The Philco Television Playhouse, Studio One, GE Theater, Playhouse 90
. They were all pretty great shows. So I was trying to figure out a way to get a script sold. I could get them read, but I couldn’t get them sold. Looking back on them today, I don’t wonder at it.
Do you keep them?
No, I don’t. But I recently ran into one that, for some reason, I had kept. Because it won some kind of award, from a television-something in Chicago that I had sent it to. It won an award and got produced. I read it, and it was so derivative and so naive that I think I immediately destroyed it.
Well, no worries about the video. That was the era that they wiped almost everything once it was broadcast.
Exactly. There’s almost nothing left of
That Was the Week That Was
. I’ve seen two or three little bits and pieces at the Museum of Television. A couple of times I’ve done a night there with friends, and they unearthed half a dozen little bits and pieces that I didn’t remember. I didn’t remember any of it.
Pieces that you were in?
Yeah. So I was sort of thrilled to see myself doing something I’d completely forgotten.
That Was the Week That Was was a groundbreaking show.
Well, it wasn’t a great show, but it was an interesting one.
Sometimes I confuse the American version with the British one of the same name.
They were radically different. The Brits had no time constraints at all. Their show went from an hour to two and a half hours. When Kennedy died, they did a special show that was completely pick-up. Just the whole bunch of them sitting around a long, long table. It was incredibly interesting and worth a look if you can ever get your hands on it. Our show was strictly television rules. Half an hour at a certain time at a certain date. And the second year—it only lasted two years—it was preempted so many times by the Republicans.
What do you mean?
Well, it was the perfect time slot. It was 7:30 to 8, as I recall. It was network, and its nature was liberal. So, if you’re going to buy out a show, you’re going to buy out a show that roots for the other team. So that’s what they did. Several weeks in a row we got preempted. By that time the audience had forgotten we were there.
Was Tom Lehrer part of TW3?
Yes. I don’t know if I ever saw him or not, but we did a number of his songs. I did his famous song about the New Math, which I struggled to learn. There was also “The Vatican Rag.” He did a lot of that, and he may or may not have contributed to the title song that Nancy Ames sang, with the tricky, political, current events in the lyrics.
Tell me about the Premise, the New York improv group you were in around that time. It was geographically unusual, as most improv was coming out of Chicago and the Midwest then.
But the guy who ran the Premise, Ted Flicker, was from St. Louis. He ran the Crystal Palace and that comedy bunch out there.
I know Flicker and Elaine May came up with the original rules for improv. Did that make the Premise like Second City?
Same kind of stuff. We would do prepared pieces and then we’d do audience suggestions. But we intended to be slicker, and we were reviled by many of our compatriots in the improvisational biz for that. We didn’t like to do anything past six minutes; we wanted a punch line; our guy on the lights was considered a member of our group, because he decided when something had its proper end.
He hit the blackout switch.
Right. I think more in terms of commedia dell’arte. I’m much more please-the-crowd. Once we had really interesting set pieces, we never let them go. But I was only there about a year.
It seems like by the early 60s a lot of the interesting comedians and the improv people were getting into writing for television.
Well, we all knew each other. We were all interrelated, and many of us had worked with each other in one place or another. Let me think. Alan Alda was on
, as well as all sorts of people. After
we all interrelated. Arkin and Nichols and everybody else. Everybody did everything with everyone. But there were always some people we couldn’t fit into our new age of success. We couldn’t get them out of Chicago and into the rest of the world. The most obvious two were Severn Darden—who was a god to all of us—and Del Close.
Darden ended up in movies and TV with some frequency. Del Close, I can’t remember ever seeing him in anything offstage.
Because Close was
crazy that even… Well, I’ll tell you a story. Del came out to California, and all of us who knew him sent him everywhere that had a show, resulting in him getting dopey parts on things like
My Mother the Car
. My show then was
, and I said, “Del, just go meet the casting gal,” who was Pat Harris, very famous in the casting business. “Just show up, so she has an idea of you physically, and we’ll put you in the lab as a scientist, which is more than perfect for you.” So he went to meet her. I think he wore a white lab coat that he picked up somewhere. And he took a little box, a machine, with him to prove, I guess, that he was a lab-technician type. He told her to hold onto the two handles, and he put about 500 volts through her. She ended up on the floor. Thank God he wasn’t arrested.
I lived in Chicago when Del Close was still teaching, and the stories you’d hear…
Oh, sure. They’re all legendary.
Broadcast pranksterism started showing up around then. You played an elaborate hoax for years, where you went on talk shows as G. Clifford Prout, president of the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, an organization that raised money to clothe animals. What sort of subversion did that create?
The Today Show
. [Host Dave] Garroway knew it was a gag immediately. But Barbara Walters, who was his sidekick then, didn’t, or else pretended not to. So she says, “Mr. Prout, all animals—we as well as dogs and horses and cows, the animals you want to clothe—God has already given us something to keep the cold and rain away. Animals have their shaggy coats, have hair in certain places…” and she goes on and on. “I myself have a great big, black, hairy…” and she paused. The cameras began to shake. The cameramen were trying not to scream with laughter. It took her what seemed like eons, before she said “Labrador.” But for a moment everyone watching had an image emblazoned in their mind.
You started writing for and appearing on Steve Allen’s show in 1961. When I was a kid, he was the first TV personality that made me realize you could be both really smart and really funny.
That was my feeling too. He was the one person I wanted to work for, and I did. Although it wasn’t a great success. I didn’t think I contributed enough to make it really worthwhile. I got on
because my friend Bob Rafelson brought Dan Melnick, who was programming for ABC, down to the Premise to see the work. That got me hired. But
folded very fast. Not a successful show. I think it was on for 15 weeks. But the best thing about it for me was that I was partnered with a guy named Stan Burns, who is one of the very, very few people who deserves the word
to be put in front of his name. One of the funniest people in the world and a master craftsman at jokes. Not big ideas, not stories, not scenes. Jokes. I would call him up very early in the morning and tell him the news, like, “Marilyn Monroe just died.” He’d give me ten jokes without taking a breath. Amazing. So we shared an office for those however many months they were. And later he worked on Get Smart. I dearly loved the guy. He was so funny and so good as a person.
Was Steve Allen the first time you wrote for TV?
It was the first time I wrote for anyone. And I really knew how to do it. I didn’t have any trouble figuring that part out. But the politics of it took some figuring out, like which other writers were going to be on your side, and which ones weren’t. What lengths you’d have to go to, or not go to, to get your material read and played.
I imagine that was also true with Saturday Night Live.
It was totally true of
Saturday Night Live
. I watched some writers get close to suicide. There were writers that Lorne [Michaels] had who worked there for years, and they never had a piece done. I like to think it was just his loyalty to people he liked, because it sure wasn’t helpful to the show or helpful to the network. I would have gotten rid of a lot of people much earlier.
Regarding politics in the larger sense, it seems like comedy people of that time had a better grasp than almost anyone.
Well, comedy people then had attitudes about politics, but the networks did not smile on attitudes about politics. Although every now and then some really interesting piece came along, particularly in the shadows of HUAC and McCarthy and all that. And, you know, those were long shadows, and they went right into the 60s and through them. Which also is the reason, of course, that there were the liberal doxologies in everyone who came into those arts in the 60s.
As a response?
Yes, absolutely. We were recovering from a very bad time, and very bad ideas. All that junk. But the comics have always been the most irreverent, so of course they’re going to be the most suspect. I mean in spite of the rocks, like Bob Hope, who we were then making fun of.
It’s interesting that you ended up on The Garry Moore Show after that, writing funny but very safe material for the likes of Durward Kirby and Carol Burnett.
There were no political attitudes whatsoever on Garry’s show. And of course, because he was the nicest man on earth, nobody ever tried to rile him up, upset him, or anything else. He was a completely decent guy. And what can one say about Durward Kirby? We weren’t in a hotbed of brainy, political folks there. I knew what I was doing. All I wanted was a job.
What did you do there?
I wrote lots of what were called crossovers. Durward walking onstage like he was going somewhere, and Garry would be there and they would talk about something. There were one or two of those every show, so I would say, “Why don’t we talk about the flood, or why don’t we talk about the price of… you know, anything.” I would write two or three pages of nonsensical dialogue.
Let’s get back to the new vibe in comedy we were talking about a minute ago.
I don’t know, I suppose it evolved. Steve Allen’s voice was clear from the moment he got there.
The Tonight Show
was a form he invented. Along with him, Stan Burns and Herb Sargent wrote almost all of it—almost all of everything that anyone said. So it was their voices that got into the mainstream of television comedy.
I’ve always figured the triumvirate that molded American 60s comedy was the intellectual Nichols and May improv crowd, the rantings of Lenny Bruce, and then Harvey Kurtzman and Mad. The new Jewish funny. But you’re saying it’s these guys in the network writing rooms.
Oh yeah, totally. It was the voices of the great comedy writers of radio and television, all the way back to the 20s and 30s, and on through to the late 60s. I knew a lot of them when I was a kid because they were friends of my parents. My mother [Ruth Taylor, a silent-film actress] and father knew the Hollywood gang, and so I would sit in a room when I was eight, nine, ten, eleven, and listen to these hotshots who kept each other laughing hysterically in the course of an evening. No audience knew who they were, but everyone heard their jokes on their favorite shows. I thought, “That’s really interesting—it’s Jack Benny making people laugh, but it’s Harry So-and-so who’s his voice.” The proof of that theorem now is that it’s Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, who are richer than the characters they invented. I remember in the
years, walking up Broadway with Alan Zweibel, a writer for
. He said, “There’s Larry, I’ll introduce you.” Larry’s standing on the street corner looking slightly lost, and we talked for a few minutes. I said to myself, the guy knows how to write a joke, but he’s so off-center that he’s going to die on this street corner. Two billion dollars later…
Let’s talk about The Graduate. There’s this persistent rumor that Calder Willingham, who supposedly wrote the screenplay with you, in fact…
I never met Willingham. I long admired him. I loved certain things that he wrote. Mainly, for instance,
End as a Man
, which was a book and a very interesting play and then a really interesting movie. He wrote a few books, including a gothic novel that I loved. Anyway, I was sort of dopey because it never occurred to me to ask, nor did anyone tell me, that there were scripts prior to mine for
. In fact, not one, but three! And I didn’t know you could get credit for any damned thing you wanted to. I have been sued over the years by people for credit on things that they had nothing to do with, but at the time of
I had no idea. Willingham thought that he had something to do with this because we used the same dialogue from the same book, and the same characters. As a [Screen Actors] Guild member pointed out to me when the suit came up, “Well, you should have changed all the names.”
You were both nominated for Best Screenplay. What would have happened if you’d won?
I was out West. He was in New York. I think he was staying away. He’d taken quite a bit of heat from Nichols and others for doing this. And he was not unknown for doing this. Altman also had a movie that Willingham claimed a credit on, and Altman fulminated against him. Frothing at the mouth when his name was brought up. But I mean, the guy was totally talented. That’s what pissed me off.
Yeah, his credit is still on the DVD cover.
I ended up really hating him for a while, and then I got over that.
It would have been strange if you’d both won the Oscar.
I was not looking forward to that possibility. That was the only year I went to the show, which relieved me forever from having to do it again. I have never since been to an awards show, and I try to skip all the lifetime-achievement awards, for myself or anyone else.
Around the time of The Graduate you and Mel Brooks conceived and wrote the original Get Smart. Did you ever get any reaction from the CIA?
I don’t know any CIA people, but I did know some FBI people and they were all rather amused by it. It was treading on ground that hadn’t been trodden yet, in quite that way. What we were also trying to do, without being verbal about it, was do a show where a certain amount of it was for the adult audience and a certain amount of it was for kids. The kid part was obvious. The adult part is when I would slip in Washington jokes, bureaucracy jokes, and other elements. We weren’t doing conventional television. Unfortunately, we had to have a laugh track. Those were the rules. But we were making little movies, with one camera and a cast that included new people every week.
You did another oddball TV comedy around that time, Captain Nice.
was a little bit self-indulgent, I guess. But it had a wonderful cast.
It was pretty trippy.
It also had a political aspect. Or at least I tried, for instance by having the town run by Liam Dunn, as the mayor, who I always wanted to give a job to. It was interesting, but it never found an audience. Also, CBS, in their infinite wisdom, counterprogrammed it with a superhero of their own,
, or whatever it was called. Which was really a shitty trick.
I don’t recall that one.
Dropping the political content into these shows, was that for your own amusement?
I was doing it for my own amusement, which I assumed would be the general amusement of an audience. I was trying to think a little slicker and a little smarter when I did that stuff. Like I would rewrite the openings and the closings of
. But, you know, I was only there for two seasons. There were three more after I left. I haven’t seen a lot of the episodes.
You got your chance to be political with the Catch-22 screenplay. Did you know Joseph Heller, by the way?
We weren’t longtime friends, but I had met him.
There’s got to be a lot of pressure adapting a beloved book.
Yes, there is. There’s the fear that you’re going to upset the author, whom you admire. With certain things I’ve adapted, I didn’t give a shit about the original author.
The Day of the Dolphin
, I didn’t care. I thought it was a stupid book. I tried to move it in the direction of a less stupid film. I won’t even comment on whether I, you, or anyone else thought that I was successful. The worst stuff I’ve done, there are people who will say that it’s their favorite film of all time. Even much lower than
The Day of the Dolphin
. But it’s tricky. You want to make the original author happy. I was once walking out of a theater that was showing
The Owl and the Pussycat
, and on the way up the aisle I saw Bill Manhoff, the guy who wrote the play. He was this really nice guy, well known in those days because he was a successful playwright. He was blind, so he didn’t see me. I thought, “He’s been sitting here listening to my version of his dialogue for an hour and a half. I gotta get out of here!” I don’t want to be anywhere near him! But yeah, I was worried about Heller. I wanted him to like it.
He told me he thought it was a terrific movie. He could have been lying, and I would have accepted it. But then one day on the radio, on one of the left-wing stations, which are the only stations one can listen to, there was a gal interviewing Joe. She was desperately trying to get him to say that the film version was a piece of shit. He wouldn’t do it. It was really nice.
It’s still amazing.
I love it. I see it every now and then because it’s screened at various film festivals, and so forth. There are interesting lessons in there for me about how to do and how not to do certain things. I know I lost the audience.
You think so?
It’s too complicated. I know that kind of storytelling is un-American, that winding style of going back and forth. We do not breed filmmakers like Resnais, for all sorts of reasons. It’s interesting when we do it well, though. But the audiences don’t like it. I know where I made the mistakes in the film, and when Mike and I first screened it for an audience we saw it happen.
We saw the audience not knowing whether to laugh or to be serious or to cry. In the last third of the movie, when I usually start to cry, the audience is either looking confused or laughing. The things that I thought were there to make a person cry… like the scene with the family of the dying soldier visiting him, and later Yossarian is convinced to take his place because he’s dead—it’s a real horror scene.
The Graduate and Catch-22 are excellent examples of your ability to write to a character’s voice.
I can write to anyone. I can do what Faulkner did. Did you ever read
? No, you’re too young.
was a great little magazine. In it you would find Diane Arbus’s brother, Howard Nemerov. He was an intellectual comedy writer—among other things—for magazines. He would do things like successfully write a baseball game as reported by Faulkner. Why have I brought this up?
Writing for the voice.
Right. I read a lot of his stuff and I thought, isn’t that interesting. I’d already read all the American writers by the time I was 20, and I thought, God almighty, what a fabulous talent to be able to write in their voices. It’s intuitive. I’ll slip in a little story here—I once asked Mike [Nichols], how did Elaine know how to do all that stuff? She must have been really well-read. He said, “She never reads anything.” She intuited the sense of it. At the end of their set they would do a suggestion from the audience. Well, part of the trick, like with any improvisational group, was that by the time we did a few months of shows we had a hundred different free-floating ideas that could be quickly folded into a new matrix. So if somebody said, “Robert Frost in the men’s room,” you immediately remembered that a month before you’d done Emily Dickinson in a Chinese restaurant. You could push one into the other. But Mike said, “No, Elaine is not well-read. It’s that her instincts are absolutely accurate about everything.” That’s true about a lot of improvisational actors. It’s also true about a lot of comedy writers.
You know, I’m not going to ask you about Heaven Can Wait. I’d rather spend that time talking about a great, obscure TV show you wrote around then called Quark. For the readers, it was a kind of spoof of Star Trek. But it was so much weirder than that.
I did the pilot and then went away.
Really? I always thought that Richard Benjamin sounded exactly like you speaking.
Yes, I can hear that. But, I mean, he sounds the same in
. He has what we used to call a “boulevardier” voice. There used to be actors that specialized in that, and only he is left. I wanted to have more to do with
, but they took a year after the pilot to decide to make the show. By that time I was up to my neck in
Heaven Can Wait
. I begged them to hire smart writers, and I begged the writers to read Stanislaw Lem. None of that was done, of course. I was totally inspired to do that show by a little movie called
If you’ve never seen
, I suggest you do. It’s a great little science-fiction gem of a parody. But instead,
became a parody of
, which I was really unhappy about.
Dark Star was John Carpenter’s first film. It’s great. As someone who never cottoned to Star Trek, I got a huge kick out of Quark. They nailed it.
Well, I never liked
either, and I would have really skewered it if I’d had the chance.
I’ve always been interested in your relationship with Terry Southern. How did you end up writing the screenplay for Candy, instead of Southern, who wrote the book?
I haven’t a clue. Terry had enormous trouble in his lifetime delivering material. Ultimately he was bought out more than not. Because I was hot after
, everybody came and said, “Do this, no, do this.” And
came along and I thought, “Gee, this is probably a sinkhole into which we’ll all be pulled and drown. On the other hand, I get to live in Rome for a while, stay at my favorite hotel, the Excelsior, eat the best food in the world, hang out with some of the most beautiful women, and all that stuff.” So, I said OK—notwithstanding the fact that I would be writing just a few pages ahead of them. I can’t remember how it happened, but they started shooting and I was like 14 pages ahead of them. So whether they had a previous script or not, I’m not sure. I suspect they must have, and Terry probably wrote it. None of them spoke English fluently. The director was French, the producers were German and Italian, and the production company was Italian. More of the actors than not were European, and some of them spoke no English at all. It was fascinating. [
Yeah, it was a wildly international cast. Elsa Martinelli, Charles Aznavour, Sugar Ray Robinson, Anita Pallenberg, Walter Matthau, Ringo.
Don’t forget Brando. A few years ago, the guy who owned the studio that made the film asked me if I would look at it and do some work on it, maybe redo the track and put new dialogue on there, to make it re-releasable. I looked at it and said, “I don’t know how to do it.” It was much, much worse than I even remembered.
I’d like to hear your thoughts, briefly, on three other films that you either wrote or starred in. First: Taking Off.
, I always have. I loved it in the years that Miloš [Forman] hated it. He hated it because it got such a bad reception here. It was huge in Europe. I was a movie star in France the year it came out. [
] The only movie that beat it in business was Jaws. It was incredible. It’s a monster cult film here. I saw a relatively new print of it a few months ago. They played it at the Arrow in LA, and it was really nice to look at.
What’s Up, Doc?
What’s Up, Doc?
is the only movie that I wasn’t present for. I think it’s wonderful, and I love what Peter [Bogdanovich] did with it, and I always have.
I think it’s one of the funniest movies ever made, and I’m not exactly a Streisand fan.
It does rattle along. It’s got a lot of really good stuff in it, good set pieces. I wasn’t in San Francisco when they filmed it, and I’ve always regretted it.
The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Never quite understood the script. Still don’t. I like some of it enormously. It’s got a great look—Nicolas [Roeg] is a fabulous shooter. And of course it’s a set-up for David [Bowie]. What can I tell you? In what other film would a director have allowed me to blow a spit bubble? Not just allowed, but encouraged?
I like your character. Aggressive in a strange way.
I also like that he was gay, with no reference to it at all. Nothing physical, nothing verbal. It was just there.
How was Bowie to work with?
Perfect. Totally easy. What I really liked, if I recall this correctly, was that he arrived in Santa Fe in his limo, driven by his guy, with nothing but two steamer trunks full of books.
So, how did you become associated with Saturday Night Live?
I knew Lorne, but kind of in passing. He’d always been a big fan of
and of Nichols. He or someone on his staff called me. Later,
magazine wrote, in a piece about the show, “The turning point came when well-known people like so-and-so and Buck Henry crawled to NBC to beg to be on it.” Which, of course, is total bullshit. At that time, very few of us who hosted the show had actually even seen it. But earlier in the week that they called me, I had been down to somebody’s house for a party with lots of young Hollywood folks, and suddenly it all stopped at 11:30 to watch the show. I was aghast. So I saw it and thought, “Yeah, of course I’ll do that, it looks like fun.”
You always looked like you were having a blast.
I was. And I could do it without a rehearsal, because I’m a sight reader. I can do Shakespeare sight reading. That’s really a weird boast, but it’s true.
Sight reading. You mean from cards.
Yeah. I’m not saying I reach Ralph Richardson’s level, but I can do it without stumbling around. And I know how to fake it. So, really, all of it was fun. Rehearsing was fun. Playing it was fun. And they ran my kind of hours, because I’m a very, very late getter-upper, like Lorne. So I had nothing but a good time on the two episodes I would do a year.
Until recently you held the record for most times hosting SNL. Some people thought that you were actually a cast member.
A lot of people did.
I recently watched the infamous 1977 Mardi Gras show that you hosted, the only live remote they ever attempted.
I haven’t seen that since we did it. Jane [Curtin] and I were sitting up on that platform, with Herb Sargent handing us notes about things to say. And the parade that we were supposed to be commenting on never got there. It was freeform and total chaos.
Are you interested enough in the new version to host?
I haven’t watched in a long time, but I always thought I would like to do the news. Since I’ve been doing it all my life, from
That Was the Week That Was
on. And all of Herb Sargent’s specials, which were news parodies. I’m saying that not expecting or hoping that anyone will call me about it. They won’t and they shouldn’t.
Someone might start a Facebook campaign for you.
I withdrew from Facebook a couple of months ago, because it was too much of a burden. I’m very sorry, my 2,000 new friends, but this is not everything I hoped it would be.
Are you a fan of new American film comedy, like Judd Apatow’s movies?
No, I’m not. But then, my instinct as an audience is not for comedy. The melodramas and the weird stuff are much more interesting to me. I’d rather wait for David Lynch. So, no, I don’t like the new stuff. I understand why people do, and I understand why they get big audiences. But the stuff is so dirty. Dirty without… without… what’s the word I’m looking for?
Anything behind it?
There’s no sublime in it at all. That last one that Seth Rogen is in, which starts with a comic riff on his girlfriend taking a shit. I’m out of the theater in my head at that point. People say to me, “Grow up, these are different times.” Now, I can do shit jokes with the best of them, but it’s too easy. It doesn’t accumulate. It doesn’t lead to anything.
Have you seen anything lately that made you happy?
In terms of film? I haven’t been to a movie in a long time. When I get back to New York, which I just did, I tend to have an orgy of playgoing. I’ve done a lot of that in the past few weeks. Tonight, in fact, I’ll be at Shakespeare in the Park, trying once again to figure out what the hell
The Winter’s Tale
is all about.