Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Writing The TJ & Dave Book (#3): In Which I Am More Elaine Benes Than Julia Louis-Dreyfus

by Pam Victor

["Writing The TJ & Dave Book" is the series plucked from the journal I kept while writing "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ & Dave Book" with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. You should buy the book here. (I mean, if you want to.) 
You can see the whole behind-the-book blog series here for free.]

“Pam. We would love to discuss the idea of a book with you.”

After I received that text from David Pasquesi, I spent the next two hours trying to remember how to breathe. But lest you think we three hopped merrily from David Pasquesi’s text to hunkering down happily in a cozy cabin on a Lake Michigan for a writers' retreat à trois, I should mention that a few months of hand-wringing, waiting, worrying, ruminating, brainstorming (on my part) and the rare text (on their part) took place before we were collectively ready to actually sit down and start writing the book at a cozy lakeside writers' retreat. (I should also mention that we never met by any lake for anything resembling a writers' retreat, cozy or otherwise. But it's a nice thought, isn't it?) 

The date I received that first watershed text was October 24, 2012, two weeks after my pie-in-the-sky initial book pitch, and I had long since given up on hearing a reply. The whole idea of writing about book with TJ and Dave was a pipe dream that seemed all crack pipe and too much dream. 

And yet, there it was on my screen: “Pam. We would love to discuss the idea of a book with you.” The period after my name killed me. I felt honored that he made my name a whole sentence – as if I was subject and predicate all in one word. 

I almost instantly started back-pedaling my dreams. Like saying “moustache” over and over and over until it lost all meaning, my repeated reading of the text lead me to believe his reply was noncommittal and open to interpretation. “Pam. We would love to discuss the idea of a book with you.” Sure, at first blush it seemed like he wanted to, well, discuss the idea of the book with me, but what if he had been called away from his phone mid-text? “Pam. [The period took on an ominous tone.] We would love to discuss the idea of a book with you … but we would also love to swill champagne out of the cavernous belly buttons of Italian models every night. Please. Get real, bitch. [Super serious forever period intended.]

What did it mean??? Moustache, moustache, moustache, moustache. I had no fucking idea what  pamwewouldlovetodiscusstheideaofabookwithyou even meant. Nevertheless, I responded with a suggestion for a virtual meeting. 

Weeks went by. 

No response. 

“They are busy!” insisted my husband. 

“They came to their senses,” I thought. 

Feigning patience and nonchalance (I am the least patient and nonchalant person on the east coast,) I sent a few follow-up emails over the course of several weeks. But I had learned the hard way that three unanswered emails was the maximum, and anything more could be cause for a restraining order. 

One day, while I bemoaned the apparent death of both my TJ &  Dave pipe and dream to my dear friend and iO Summer Intensive teammate Stuart, he brilliantly suggested I send them (unsolicited) an outline of the book I had in mind. "Make it real," suggested Stuart. It would be a huge undertaking, perhaps in vain, but I know a whisper from an angel when I hear it. And I knew the book I wanted to read. So I spent a good portion of my winter holiday drafting the outline of an entire book, preceded by a “why I’m the gal for the job” treatise. The subject line of the email read, "An Exercise of Faith," one of my proposed book titles, taken from David’s Geeking Out with… interview.

Expecting nothing, I received the glimmer of something almost immediately. Again, from David. “Thanks, Pam. Looks like a good beginning.”

My heart leapt and crashed simultaneously. He liked it, maybe, but there were about a wadzillion ways my evil brain could interpret that response:

“Looks like a good beginning to your own little go-nowhere book. Write it and publish it on your little go-nowhere blog. Ciao.”

“Looks like a good beginning of a boringass disseration, you loser.”

“Looks like a good beginning to the rest of our lives together. I love you! Let’s write a book!” (I never really thought that one, but I want you to think I’m not as pessimistic/Jewish as I really am.)

Without allowing myself time to over-analyze (See? I’m not that Jewish!), I responded with improvisation's magic words: “Yes and…?”

David Pasquesi wrote back immediately, “We need to figure out how to proceed.”

Again, I suggested a meeting of some sort.


A week went by.


Oh well. It was worth a shot.

Proceeding merrily on my way with other more realistic, Earth-bound improv writing projects, on January 4, 2013 – about three months after my initial pitch - I wrote David requesting a short quote about his experience filming Close Quarters, an improvised film I was writing about for my Geeking Out with… interview series. After his response to my movie-related question, he added, “Also, TJ and I both want to move forward with you and a book. Lets set up a call or something.” 

And that’s when I forgot to breathe again. Blink, blink. Stare. Re-read. “TJ and I both want to move forward with you and a book. TJ and I both want to move forward with you and a book. TJ and I both want to move forward with you and a book.” A heart-leaping, not at all ambiguous mantra thrummed through me. The little flame of hope grew warm enough to flush my cheeks. 

David Pasquesi suggested a meeting for the following Monday, three short days away. I agreed. (Duh.) I spent the weekend putting together a to-do list for what it would take to get the TJ and Dave book from our heads to the page. I traded emails with my neighbor and colleague John Elder Robison, author of the bestseller Look Me in the Eye, and he gave me a rundown of the publishing world in five easy, straightforward paragraphs. (Heaven bless the Aspies.) I also ordered a book entitled The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published on account of the fact that, despite having my own publishing fluke a few years earlier, I hardly knew a thing about the publishing world. (Shhh, don’t tell TJ and Dave.)

We met by phone on Monday afternoon at 3pm Chicago time. We talked for two hours. (Yes, two hours, people!) There were a few moments during the call when they were joking around together, and I left my body to bask in the impossible fantasy come true of being an audience of one for TJ and Dave’s real life show. And I promise you that every time one of them laughed at something I said, my soul ballooned out blissfully for a brief, gleeful moment.

"Vice President Joe Biden jokes with Julia Louis-Dreyfus"
Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson
The call wrapped up. As we were starting to say goodbye, TJ said, “Dave, I just have to talk to you about one thing.” Uncertain if I was dismissed or not, I silently stayed on the line as I typed up notes of our meeting. Their private conversation moved on to Dave’s upcoming spot on Veep, a show starring one of my favorite television comedians, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Minutes went by as I waited for them to acknowledge my presence ... until finally it became horrifyingly clear that they were not acknowledging my presence because they were entirely unaware of my presence. Holy great goddess of awkwardness, I had been eavesdropping on TJ and Dave by mistake! Was I about to fuck up in three endless minutes what it took me three endless months to accomplish? I could hang up, but what if they heard the click or whatever. (Do phones still click?!?! I have no idea, but what if they do?) I hid my face in my hands as I realized I HAD to say something. 

“Um, this is awkward but …” I suddenly stammered into the duo of now gaping silence. “I didn’t know if I was supposed to hang up or not … and … well … um … I’ll hang up now … oh … um … by the way … Julie Louis-Dreyfus is great…” I petered off.

As I hung up for real, I could hear their laughter, but mercifully I couldn’t hear what they said next.

The next installment of "Writing The TJ & Dave Book" is called 
"The Moments"

If you're interested in reading more of my slurry, check out

Or perhaps you'd like to read interviews with great minds in improvisation in the Geeking Out with... series here?
Like the one where David Pasquesi says, 
"Improvisation is itself an exercise in faith. In faith of improvisation. That if I do the next tiny thing, all will be fine."


Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in Western Massachusetts. Pam writes (and performs) the Geeking Out with... interview series. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle."   TJ Jagodowski,  David Pasquesi, and Pam are the co-a "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book,"  due out Spring, 2015. Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv Comedy" and "Mindfulness Through Laughter" in Western Massachusetts.

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