I was ready my pal Mark Evanier's website last night, and he wrote a lovely piece here about our mutual friend Mel Sherer who had just passed away. (It's well-worth checking out.) Mel was an absolutely wonderful guy with a long, deeply-admirable career in comedy writing. He also had gotten pummeled by illness 15-20 years ago, and it largely took him out of commission, but he held on for a long time. I last saw him about 10 years when I went over to his house for a visit, and it was tough, but a real pleasure. Because Mel was a real pleasure -- generous and kind. Though we hadn't seen each other since then, we did trade emails on occasion. Too rare.
Rather than go into more detail about Mel's work, instead I want to re-post an article I wrote about him back about eight years ago. Among all the other things, it goes into what was probably the most notable writing partnership he had, and reprehensibly the one he got the least-credit for -- working for years with Andy Kaufman. And just to clarify upfront, no, it wasn't Andy Kaufman responsible for the "reprehensible" part.
The point was to set the record straight. And to celebrate a great career and terrific guy. Which is quite appropriate today, well, when you get down to it.
From May 18, 2013.
There was a long, well-researched article yesterday in the Huffington Post that was sort of the opposite-Obama. The point of it wasn't that there are people who won't believe a birth certificate about where someone was born, but rather that there are people who won't believe a death certificate that says someone died. In this case, the someone is Andy Kaufman.
But this here isn't to convince the unconvincable of anything. I leave that to themselves. This is to address one minor thing in the article, where it talks about "Kaufman's longtime partner-in-crime," as the article puts it, Bob Zmuda. Every time you read an article about Andy Kaufman, it tends to quote Bob Zmuda. There are books that reference Bob Zmuda, as Andy Kaufman's partner. And all of that is true.
What isn't true is the impression all these articles and books give that Bob Zmuda was Andy Kaufman's sole writing partner. What they all leave out is Mel Sherer.
Mel Sherer is a friend (and a wonderful, generous guy, beyond the ordinary levels of generosity) who has a long career writing comedy, from sitcoms to variety to stand-up. He's been a collaborator with Kevin Nealon of Saturday Night Live for years. Look him up on the iMDB. Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Married with Children and a lot more. And the very first credit you'll see there is -- Andy's Funhouse.
There is a lot of other writing that Mel has done than what's listed in the iMDB, but he's just not taken credit for it. Because of his long, admired career in comedy, many people in the field have come to Mel for last-minute help or tweaks. You know that famous scene in Roxanne, Steve Martin's updating of Cyrano de Bergerac, when Martin's character, 'C.D. Bales,' humiliates an adversary in a bar by coming up with a couple dozen great, nose insults? Well...they needed a couple dozen great, nose insults. And finally, at the last minute, ready to shoot but not pleased with what they had, they came to Mel for help. Some of that scene is Mel. Uncredited. Mel has done a great deal of uncredited work because...that's Mel. He regularly has given away story ideas. "Here's a good one. You can have it."
And through all that, Mel was partners with Andy Kaufman. (And Bob Zmuda.) Not just writing, but occasionally performing. You may know there have been times when Kaufman appeared at the same time on stage as his obnoxious alter-ego Tony Clifton, and people couldn't figure out how that was possible. Usually that was Bob Zmuda made up as Clifton -- and so the word has spread that it was always Zmuda. But it wasn't. Occasionally it was Mel.
Bob Zmuda had a lot to do with Andy Kaufman's career. But so did Mel Sherer. It's worth noting that on the Andy Kaufman website (which appears to be fan-based), there is a review of Bob Zmuda's biography on Kaufman that praises the biography in part, but criticizes it a good deal for self-aggrandizement, and at one point states --
"Why did Mr. Zmuda conveniently forget the following individuals?
To be clear, it's not that Mel didn't get the full credit he deserves in the book. It's that he didn't get mentioned. It's bizarre and inexplicable. Mel tends to shrug things like this off all the time. He has a Buddha-like outlook on life. Or maybe he's just so used to it that he gave up being bothered long ago. I like the Buddha theory.
But at least he was discussed in Bill Zehme's biography of Kaufman, Lost in the Funhouse. And there have been things like the E! True Hollywood Story on Andy Kaufman where Mel Sherer was properly included.
By the way, just so you know, I embed these images so that it's clear this is not just a friend speaking up for another friend, but can't support it.
It can be supported. There's so much more. Mel Sherer and Andy Kaufman were writing partners for a very long time. Not Kaufman's only partner, but significant, and integral to his career. And for too long, he's put up with being much-too overlooked, and not saying a word about it. I just like the guy so much that every once in a while I like to point all this out, even if Mel is content being Buddha.
And this will not be the last time I point it out. I like saying it too much.
As a brief addendum to the above article, I want to mention that when it was originally posted, it received a terrific user comment. It's arguably one of the most meaningful I've received. Actually, no, there's nothing "arguably" about it. The person wrote -- "Thank you, Bob, more than I can say here. This is the greatest thing anyone has ever done for me outside of medicine and sex. And it's damn close to at least one of those two. Mel Sherer."
To which I replied -- "I had the easy part. You did the work."
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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