Stand-up comedian's script takes a stand on politics

April 23, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Across 3,000 miles of telephone wire, Dan Rosen is articulating his deeply felt wonder and delight at having written a movie, "The Last Supper," which is scheduled to hit his Baltimore hometown later this week.

"Pretty cool," he says.

"That's it?"

"Well, yeah," he says. "Although, not as cool as the Orioles' start."

As this interview was done B.T. (Before Texas, before that 16-run eighth inning, before ... well, you know the rest of it), his context is understood.

Still, what Rosen, 32, has pulled off is rather remarkable and beyond pretty cool. While still a student at Pikesville Senior High, in Baltimore County, he started a stand-up comedy career that continues. While attending Towson State University, he went into partnership with comic Bob Somerby, the two of them running the Comedy Club on Water Street for several successful years while each honed his own long-running comic persona.

A few years ago Rosen headed west, for the comedy fast track. He now lives in a narrow divide between Beverly Hills and West Hollywood that, he says, sounds more glamorous than it is, but still hits the road for stand-up work (including London and Scotland) and was doing a run in Reno, Nev., when he remembered his years at Towson State.

"We'd watch the Iran-contra hearings," he said. "I was already doing stand-up, and I was doing political stuff. But this ..." The pause in his voice says this stuff, Ollie North and John Poindexter and the boys, this was beyond stand-up stuff, this had to be digested for maybe the next decade.

"Everybody lied, everybody got away, and everybody got medals," Rosen says. "I wanted to write about people who know they're lying but do it anyway. And then came Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot. I kept waiting for somebody '' to say, 'Shut up.' I thought, What if you could invite such people to dinner, and talk to them face to face, and see if they'd keep lying. What would you do?"

So he sat in that Reno hotel room and proceeded to write. For nine days, he says, he never left the hotel. He had no idea what time it was, what day it was, until he had a 94-page, completed script. Then came the tough part: raising money to shoot it.

The movie wound up costing about $500,000, which is miraculously small by Hollywood standards. Most of it happens in one room, which helps. The actors worked cheap -- even those who did brief star turns, like "Seinfeld's" Jason Alexander and veterans Mark Harmon and Ron Perlman -- mainly because they liked the script.

Shooting took a highly compressed 18 days. Nobody said, "Let's shoot that scene again, it didn't feel quite right." No scene got more than one or two retakes. There wasn't money for any more.

"Making a movie," Rosen says, "is common sense. It isn't brain surgery. We looked at 35 directors and narrowed them down to three. Then we decided on Stacy Title, who was terrific. As for the message, well, a lot of people out here are very political. They saw the script and wanted to get in on it."

"The Last Supper" is about five liberal graduate students, revolted by the murderous language of the right-wing fringe, who take up murder themselves -- literally. They invite such people to dinner and poison them, first because they're taunted by a right-wing psycho who says liberals talk a good game but don't )) have the guts to put their beliefs into action, and later because the blood-lust feels pretty good.

Nobody comes out a winner. The conservatives are given a kind of short-hand distastefulness, a roundup of the usual cliches. But the liberals are not only murderers, they're as unlikeable a collection of whiners as you'd ever want to slap.

"It's amazing," says Rosen, "how people are divided on this movie. The liberals think they're the heroes, and the conservatives think they are. I didn't want one message. To me, the sheriff [Nora Dunn, formerly of TV's "Saturday Night Live"] is the hero, just plugging away at her job."

Now he's got other movies in the works, one of them with Jason Alexander, whom he describes as "the coolest, nicest Hollywood person I've met. He's unbelievably funny and so unpretentious he still drives an '87 Accord."

Their project is called "Big Baby," about a fellow who needs a job and so becomes a professional wrestler. Alexander's ready to star in it and co-produce it with Rosen.

Rosen's also written another script, with Mark Rushkow, formerly with Baltimore's City Paper, called "Dead Man's Curve." It's about the mathematical curve used by college instructors, and those who survive it, and those who die by it.

"I like my life out here," says Rosen. "But it's not a great city. For one thing, there's no Orioles."

For a displaced Baltimore County kid, them O's are still pretty cool, even after the recent unpleasantness in Texas.

Pub Date: 4/23/96

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