Today was a light day. I did the crazy workout in the morning. There was some boxing involved. Having been forced to hit things as part of this workout has taught me that I would get my ass kicked in any fight that did not involve protecting my children and wife. In that situation you don't really use boxing skills, you ride the adrenalin to hopefully out-crazy someone who can usually beat you down pretty easily. I have never been in a fight, which I am both proud and ashamed of. I am either a pussy, or a genius, or a man of peace. You decide.
My daughter Maude is in second grade, and her teachers asked if they could visit the set, so they came down with their husbands today. They arrived when we were in the middle of a long lighting setup, so they didn't get to see us shoot anything. But on his way out, Will Ferrell spent some time with them saying hello, and then John C. Reilly came over as well. Both Will and John have kids, so they were very gracious. They even posed for pictures with them.
I normally do not ask the actors to do things like that, but Maude loves her teachers. They have made moving to Charlotte for a few months possible. Believe me, if Maude hated school, I would have been left alone here on day two. My wife, Leslie Mann, is a lovely, gorgeous, funny, compassionate young woman, but she will leave me in a Southern state if the kids are miserable. So now we have the opposite issue—how do we leave when our kids are happier here than in Los Angeles? I would even entertain staying in this city if I could find one person who is more interested in what band was on Conan last night than what Greenspan said today about the real-estate market bubble bursting.
Teachers have had a huge impact on my life and career. When I was in 11th grade, I had an English teacher named Mrs. Farber. One day, she asked us to write a paper that told the story of our lives. As a joke, I made mine up. In it, I was an undercover agent pretending to be a student. I talked about affairs with teachers, etc. It probably wasn't that funny. I expected to get into trouble. But Mrs. Farber gave me a good grade and later told me I could be a writer like Woody Allen. Nobody had ever said anything like that to me before, and it was a real epiphany for me. I was always a fan of comedy and secretly wanted to be involved in that world somehow, but this was the first time that an adult said it was possible.
That same year, I joined the high-school radio station, where a teacher named Jack DeMasi ruled. He was a great man who treated us like adults. He cursed, he was real with us—he called us jackasses if we were, and sometimes when we weren't. He made us believe we could be a part of the adult world. At the station, whose signal barely got out of the school's parking lot, we put on shows and convinced record companies to give us free albums and concert tickets. We reported the news and covered local elections. My friend Josh Rosenthal interviewed REM in the early '80s. I created a talk show where I interviewed comics like Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, and Michael O'Donoghue. Asking my heroes how they did it was my real education in how to be a comedy person. Although I can't say my interview with Weird Al Yankovic had a big effect on me, I still admire his song "Gotta Boogie," which had the lyrics, "I gotta boogie on my finger and I can't shake it off." I still think that's funny. I am not being sarcastic. I enjoy his stuff. Deal with it.
I have had many great teachers. My greatest teachers are other artists who inspire me. Here are a few:
Hal Ashby—Being There, Harold and Maude, Coming Home, Shampoo, The Last Detail. It is incredible that the same man made all of these films. They have such vitality. He is the bar that I always dream of reaching.
Loudon Wainwright III—Loudon writes bitterly funny and heartbreaking folk music, which has inspired me to be honest in my work. He is truly fearless. Commercial considerations don't seem to matter much to him. His music is gorgeous and hilarious and painful. It is everything I hope to achieve in my career. I just throw in waxing scenes, too.
Warren Zevon—He was a rare artist who didn't give a shit what people thought, and he followed his heart. Zevon also had madness and passion. His last album—the one he made when he knew he was dying—is a haunting record that is a real gift to the living. He shared what he was going through, and that is something I wish he could be thanked for. Spend some time with that record, The Wind, and it will change your way of looking at your life.
I had a great teacher in college at USC film school, William Baer. He taught a class about English and film in which we watched films and read books and short stories that were turned into films. He was really smart and funny and was so annoyed that our high-school educations were so lame and that we came to college knowing almost nothing. But he was also really funny and cutting and loved baseball. Everything was a baseball analogy. Shakespeare was the Willie Mays of theater.
I barely remember anything he taught me, but he was the first person to make me realize the importance of an education. It is kind of sad that I learned that during my freshman year of college. I often wish there were a way I could speak to him to tell him that he had a big impact on me. I think that about many people.
I dream of calling them and telling them that they helped me get to a place where I could make a film about a man who pees in his own face due to his morning erection and learns "you can't put the pussy on a pedestal." Maybe they don't need to hear from me, after all.
By the way, I just spell-checked this, and I spelled education and pedestal wrong before the computer fixed it. I still have a ways to go.