Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Jim Mercurio

After my class two Wednesdays ago, I braved rush hour traffic to see my lifelong friend Sean Kanan perform comedy at the Irvine Improv. He and I did standup comedy when we were 15 and lived in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. We would steal his parent's car and drive to Niles, Ohio to Tickles Comedy Club and watch the old school touring comedians like Glenn Hirsch (Gleeb Hush), Shirley Hemphill, and Steve Mittleman. Then after watching six back-to-back shows, we would do our 10 minutes on Monday, open-mic night. One of the amateurs at the time, Dan O'Shannon, who later went on to exec produce Cheers, sold me a series of fat jokes for $10, a highlight being: I don't understand why I'm overweight, I try to eat a small amount of food from each of the 53 basic food groups. (Dan, if you're out there, will you take a look at my Night Court spec?).

Back to the Improv. Before the show, I asked Sean if he wanted to come and cold-read some scenes from my class to help the writers. Before I could even neurotically list all of the reasons he might not want to do it, he said yes.

Sean showed up 30 minutes early and agreed to talk about the business side of things. Sean has produced several films (he wrote one of them) whose cumulative budgets exceed $3 million, he has been a regular on The Bold and the Beautiful and General Hospital. He discussed how competitive things are for an actor and although he doesn't play any head games in the waiting room, he says when it's his turn to audition, he is there for blood, to kill to get the part. His honesty was refreshing.

Here is a reminder that you can learn more about a person by showing than telling: Sean earned his breakout role as Ralph Macchio's nemesis in Karate Kid III from a 2,000-person open cattle call. The year before the movie was even produced, Sean and I -- juniors in college who were home for the summer -- were sitting on the stoop of the local Pennzmart (gas station) sipping our Big Gulp equivalents of diet coke. Sean stood up and announced that he had read there would be a sequel to Karate Kid II, and that (in a huge nod to positive thinking and diligence) he was going to get the part as the kid who fights the KK. I may have left out the fact that I was double-fisting spinach and pepperoni strombolis, but not a word of this paragraph is hyperbole.

Sean and the other actress, Giovanna Maimone, read the scenes aloud and brought the students' scenes to life. This was one of the favorite parts of the class for the writers. A lot of my teaching forces students to see screenwriting from the perspective of the other filmmaking artisans - directors, actors, designers, etc. - to gain insight into telling a more nuanced and cinematic screenplay.

Sean read the climactic scene from one of the writers' heavy dramas. He playfully chastised the writer and us for throwing him a cold-read curveball and said that he would have liked more time to prepare. We thought he and Giovanna were amazing in the scene and the writer was reassured that the scene was working. Sean showed up to read scenes with no preparation. And that's why it was such a giving and graceful gesture. His willingness to be not perfect in support of the writers' growth was why his favor was such a gift.

The Weekend Class (l to r): John, Bob (repeat top 20, woo hoo!), Sean, me, Sharon, Tony, Magali, Giovanna (front)

Sean and several other actors, including, hopefully, Kurtwood Smith, will be joining us this year.  There are still seats available for the 11/30-12/3 and 12/8-12/10 classes.

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