In his long career, Bob Dylan has gone through many phases—there’s the acoustic Greenwich Village folk scene, then he famously went electric at Newport before becoming a born-again Christian, a plagiarizer of a book about the Lewinsky affair, and of course, biding a stint as a Victoria’s Secret spokesperson. But one of his lesser known attempts at branching out is when Dylan got really into the idea of making a slapstick comedy TV show. Larry Charles (director of Borat and Religulous; producer of Seinfeld, Mad About You, and Curb Your Enthusiasm) was brought in to help realize the prolific musician’s vision, and he talked all about the bizarre circumstances on Pete Holmes’ podcast You Made It Weird. As Charles describes it, the entire enterprise began weird and only seemed to escalate from there.
“He brings out this very ornate beautiful box, like a sorcerer would, and he opens the box and dumps all these pieces of scrap paper on the table…and yes, that is exactly what he does…every piece of scrap paper was a hotel stationary, little scraps from Norway and from Belgium and Brazil and places like that, and each little piece of paper had a line, like some kind of little line scribbled or a name scribbled, ‘Uncle Sweetheart,’ or a weird poetic line or an idea or whatever, and he was like ‘I don’t know what to do with all this,’…and for some reason I was able to go ‘oh y’know you can take this…this is a line, this is the character, and the character could say this line.’ And he said ‘you can do that?’ and it’s like ‘yeah, yeah you can do that’ because I realized that’s how he writes songs, he takes these scraps and he puts them together and makes his poetry out of that.
Charles convinces Dylan to bring the project to HBO, because Charles has a history with the network and it has the funds needed to support their vision (plus who would turn down Bob Dylan?). So Larry Charles shows up to the meeting wearing pajamas—evidently his go-to choice in wardrobe at the time—and a ZZ Top-esque long beard, while Dylan strolls in wearing “a black cowboy hat, a black floor length duster, black boots, he looks like Cat Ballou or something, he looks like a Western guy who’s carrying six guns.” Charles pitches the slapstick comedy idea to the executive, all while Dylan stands completely mute and still with his back to everyone. The executive agrees to the project and Charles and Dylan leave.
They bought the project, we go out to the elevator, Bob’s manager Jeff, my manager Gavin, me and Bob, the three of us are elated we actually sold the project and Bob says ‘I don’t want to do it anymore.’ He says ‘I don’t want to do it anymore, it’s too slapsticky.’ He’s like not into it, that’s over. The slapstick phase has officially ended.
Larry Charles would continue to work with Dylan to reshape these ideas from a slapstick comedy, with intentional humor, into an unintentionally hilarious film called Masked And Anonymous, which has been described alternately as a “talent bomb” where “nothing works” and a “rambling stream-of-conscious liner notes that Dylan used to write, and which everyone used to skip to get to the great music.”
The highlights of the conversation can be found here, or listen to Charles recount the story in the video below. Let’s hope that eventually some hilarious Bob Dylan TV series sees the light of day, possibly set in some retirement community where he gets into wacky misadventures with his long lost son played by, let’s say Rob Schneider.
[h/t Business Insider]