03 July 2020

I Meet and Chat With a Former Student of Some Renown and Recommend Screwball Comedies For Him

Not that it needs pointing out, but that's Jorma on the left and me on the right.

He's met, among others, Paul McCartney, Barack Obama, Tom Hanks and Rihanna.

But most impressive is what a fun, interesting all-around nice person he is. His name is Jorma Taccone and he warrants a permanent place in the entertainment hall-of-fame for being a co-creator of Saturday Night Live's Digital Shorts and the co-director and co-star of the hilarious film, Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016).

I labored as a middle school teacher in Berkeley for twenty odd years (and I do mean, odd). In that time I accumulated over 2,000 former students. Many of my students I forgot entirely within two months of the last day of school. Others I'll never forget. I have tried to follow the exploits of as many of my more memorable former charges as possible. I have had former students go on to all eight Ivy League schools, Cal, Stanfurd (can't win 'em all), Wisconsin, U$C, Washington, Michigan and many other prestigious universities. I have students who are now lawyers, doctors, engineers, business, execs, playwrights, professional athletes, professors and even public school teachers. I also have had at least eight who have died by gunshot and at least six who are in prison, one of whom is on death row for a double homicide. It takes all kinds and teaching in Berkeley I had all kinds.

Among my more memorable students were Jorma and his partners in comedy, Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer. I'd have remembered all three even if they'd not gone on to fame and fortune. But they are celebrities and I've had the pleasure of enjoying their work for many years. I forgot to confirm this with Jorma, but I may have been the only teacher who had all three as students. My mentorship undoubtedly accounts for their success.

L-R, Jorma, Andy, Avika
Their climb to notoriety began with their formation of The Lonely Island and the many hilarious videos they created (please go to You Tube and enjoy some, you may want to begin with the side-splitting, Awesometown). From there they landed gigs on Saturday Night Live, Avika and Jorma as writers and Andy as a cast member. They have continued their work -- sometimes together, sometimes solo -- between them writing, directing and acting in films and TV. Andy is currently on the best of the network sitcoms, Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

I'd been in contact with Jorma over Twitter and as he is currently in the Bay Area (I'll protect his exact location from adoring fans and the tabloids) and we arranged to met for coffee, which we did this morning.

My day was immediately made when Jorma, on behalf of his cohorts, sang my praises as a teacher. Aw shucks. One of the great things about teaching is the kind words you hear from former students and the realization that you had a positive impact on so many lives. Teaching is worth it for that alone (although the huge salaries are a real plus too).

Jorma was gracious and charming and took interest in my doings and solicited my opinions -- as a historian of sorts -- on current events. He also had to withstand the onslaught of glowing adjectives I attached to much of his work, Pop Star and Digital Shorts among them. In the case of the latter I asked the question on the minds of millions: when will we see Laser Cats, The Movie? Evidently it is not an impossibility. Jorma has directed several episodes of The Last O.G. so I asked what it's like working with Tracy Morgan. He is, it seems, a handful (who'd have guessed?) but most professional about his work, his lines always learned. But Tracy does like to tell ribald stories at times and places that are not always appropriate (like on a set just before filming).

Also confirmed was that Seth Myers is an extremely nice person as is Tom Hanks who Jorma said does an excellent job of being what you'd expect Tom Hanks to be. I knew what he meant. I also heard about Lorne Michels, Rihanna, Andy and Akiva and Jorma's wife Marielle Heller who directed the brilliant Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) as well as las year's A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood featuring that Hanks chap.

His Girl Friday
We talked, families, travel, middle school memories and the art of comedy. Surprisingly it turns out that I can be of some help in this area as Jorma has yet to see some of the great screwball comedies of Hollywood's Golden Age. I promised to forward him  a list of my favorites to get him started and cunningly decided to put it into a blog post and send this to him. (If he's smart -- and he is -- he'll just skip down to the list.)

I feel it bears repeating that this was a wonderful couple of hours for me and has washed away the Coronavirus depression that had laid me low the past few days. Goodness, it was just nice to talk to someone outside the family and local squirrels for a change. That the conversation was with such a nice young man who I had privilege of teaching made it all the better. Now if he can just direct a love story in which I star opposite of Rihanna....

Here Ya Go, Jorma, My 12 Favorite Screwball Comedies (in order)
1. His Girl Friday (1940) Hawks
2. Sullivan's Travels (1941) Sturges
3. My Man Godfrey (1936) La Cava
4. Holiday (1938) Cukor
5. The Lady Eve (1941) Sturges
6. Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) Hall
7. The Philadelphia Story (1940) Cukor
8. Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) Hitchcock
9. Easy Living (1937) Leisen 
10. The Awful Truth (1937) McCarey
11. Twentieth Century (1934) Hawks
12. Midnight (1939) Leisen

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