Comedy writers share the pain

`Rejection Show' gives unaccepted material second chance for laughs

August 05, 2005|By Josh Getlin | Josh Getlin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Chances are you don't remember a cartoon recently sent to The New Yorker magazine, where a patriarchal grandfather thunders at small children gathered around him: "I came to this country with nothing but the hair on my back!"

Or recall the "Top Ten About Schmidt Sequels" written for the Late Show With David Letterman, which included No. 6: "Enough About Schmidt Already," No. 3: "Catch Schmidt if You Can" and No. 1: "Who Gives a Schmidt?"

Or saw "Hugsy," a sketch developed for NBC's Saturday Night Live, in which a sex-starved scientist invents a beautiful blond robot, only to learn that she has purely platonic feelings for him and wants to date other men.

You won't find any of this material on tape or in magazines because it was all rejected. Turned down by editors, producers and others who either didn't think the jokes were funny or placed their bets on other material.

Week after week, hundreds of submissions like these are tossed into circular files in New York and Los Angeles. Some are hidden gems, others definite duds. All seemingly disappearing down a black hole of humor, never to be seen again.

But now these works are being resurrected. They have found new life - and new fans - at The Rejection Show.

Once a month, in a dingy converted school building in Manhattan's East Village, novelists, TV writers, stand-up comics, cartoonists, filmmakers, recording artists, dramatists and poets come together for a friendly but edgy celebration of failure. At The Rejection Show, every performer loves being a loser. At least for one night.

"Failure is a part of everyone's life, whether you're a comedian or somebody working in an office job, and there's no reason to run from it," said Jon Friedman, a 27-year-old stand-up comic and filmmaker who came up with the idea for the show.

"We've found that sharing rejection can be therapeutic for performers and also entertaining," he said. "Failure is sad - but failure is also funny."

People have long been fascinated by comedians and other performers who stumble in public. The public is also hungry for outtakes in film, music, television and literature - the kind of extras that have become increasingly common on DVDs, CDs and TV blooper specials.

Both phenomena are on display at The Rejection Show. On a floor-level stage, participants either share work that has been turned down, or discuss "rejection-themed" material, including magazine articles, fiction, and personal stories of childhood and adult failure.

The fact that what's presented has failed is the whole reason for the performance. Audiences have not come to judge. Many say they show up to enjoy comedy they would not normally see; they are also drawn by the spectacle of performers grappling with rejection.

"My whole life has been one long rejection," says comedian Matt Goldich, who ends his spiel with a performance of "Hugsy," the skit he wrote with a friend that was spurned by Saturday Night Live.

The audience roars.

So what are the odds? The Rejection Show is a big success. There is talk of taking a version to Los Angeles, and Friedman is thinking of writing a book about the show.

For more information on The Rejection Show, visit

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