According to Adam Resnick — a former writer at Late Night with David Letterman, screenwriter of Death To Smoochy, co-creator of the amazing anti-sitcom Get a Life and the writer/director of Cabin Boy — his life can be divided into two distinct eras: Before He Saw the Picture of a Woman Sucking Off a Horse, and After He Saw the Picture of a Woman Sucking Off a Horse.
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The year 0f AHSTPOAWSOAH came while Resnick was a second grader in working class Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — the story of which makes up the first chapter of his delicately crafted collection of essays-cum-comedic memoir Will Not Attend. He developed a crush on a girl who despised human interaction as much as he did, and though young Resnick was above attending something as bourgeoise as a classmate’s Easter party, he wanted to hang out with her. The two wandered off during the egg hunt, and long story short, they found the photo in question. “That memory is with me every day,” he says.
If Adam Resnick’s not exactly a household name, modern comedy still owes him a debt of gratitude. He spent most of his career working behind-the-scenes, writing for Saturday Night Live in the mid-Nineties and The Larry Sanders Show in addition to collaborating with close friend/the smiling-est man in show business Chris Elliott (the two met at Late Night and immediately hit it off). Cabin Boy is the story of a fancy lad (Elliott) who accidentally winds up on a ship full of drunk oafs, and Death to Smoochy features a similarly confused hero (Robin Williams) who is ousted as the host of a Barney-type television show. They are iconoclastic, immature and embittered types that predate Louis C.K.’s hapless TV-show schlub, the cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and every Judd Apatow movie — his characters are fish so far out of the water that they might as well have evolved into the kind of horses that attract amorous human admirers.
Will Not Attend is essentially a guide outlining how Resnick became, in the words of Mr. Show and Breaking Bad favorite Bob Odenkirk, “the funniest misanthrope ever throped.” Resnick recalls every horrible detail about the people who have shaped his particular brand of cringe-comedy. His dad is a mercurial figure with a hair-trigger temper who’ll occasionally indulge in a random act of kindness, like giving an out-of-the-way ride to a beloved school janitor (never mind that Adam and his siblings have misidentified a stranger as their custodian). His fifth grade English teacher Mr. Ulsh isn’t just some hard-ass potential pedophile (the takes a special liking to a 10-year-old girl he calls “Pebbles”); he is, in Resnick’s words, “a dead ringer for Jerry Lewis, and his every waking moment was the nineteenth hour of the telethon.” In one story, he recounts how, as the middle child in a household of six boys, he was running from one sadistic sibling only to bump into a different brother — who offered Adam a gun as a solution to his problem. A gun. To use on his brother. Given to him by his other brother.
Still, Resnick tempers his anger with a sense of righteousness and a guillotine-sharp wit. He may shit all over select members of his family, including a sadistic, micromanaging sister-in-law named Diane, in Will Not Attend‘s humorous-to-horrifying anecdotes, but he always winds up the butt of the joke. In the case of Diane, he spends an entire chapter explicitly outlining why Disney World is stupid and Diane is stupid for liking it — and calls her an “enemy of God” — but ultimately comes off as the one ruining her fun.
“Every page is a joy,” says Odenkirk, who worked with Resnick and Elliott on the second and final season of Get a Life. “And on a personal level — we all know people who are extremely talented who have a struggling relationship with Hollywood. You see your friends get pounded year after year, and you just hope they don’t wallow in frustration.”
There was a while, actually, when Resnick did. Take, for example, his only directorial effort to date, Cabin Boy (1994). It was not merely disliked at the box office. The film was reviled to an unholy degree. “It wasn’t just bad reviews: People were angry. My name was connected to what was considered one of the worst, hackiest pieces of shit. I will go to my grave not understanding that experience,” he says. (The movie may be best remembered by Late Night viewers as a constant punchline and the film in which David Letterman utters the line, “Would you like to buy a monkey?”; it has developed a small cult following since its release.) “The way I approach almost any situation is, something is going to go wrong.”
Chris Elliott, Cabin Man
The book is a chance for Resnick to triumphantly reclaim control over his writing in a way that Los Angeles and the larger world of show business never afforded him. Having watched his particular style of absurd, aggressive and self-agonizing humor become the comedic norm, the author is now staking his claim. “This book is pure him,” Elliott says. “He’s a writer [first and foremost], and in my estimation the most brilliant writer I know. His other projects go through so many layers of notes it’s sometimes hard to see where the actual writing began and where it ended.”
“I’m always trying to do something good, but there was a long period where I thought that was off the table,” Resnick admits. “That I had damaged myself so badly and was perceived as such a bad writer. I gave up on myself. I couldn’t believe I had anything to offer anymore. So this is uncharted territory — the fact I can look back at the book and say that I finally did something good with my name on it.”