Pop Culture
Jan 16, 2024, 06:27AM

The Impassioned Voice of Joe Piscopo

And other nonexistent memories.

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None of this is real, but in 1983 I was working for Dick Ebersol, writing at Saturday Night Live. One of several doing that, of course. “Tucked away” is how I remember the experience, the essence of it, because the place had many, many small offices. Walk along a corridor and you’d find a row of them, and inside there’d be one person, maybe two, sometimes three. But always with not enough space.

Eddie Murphy? He was somebody I’d see down a corridor, maybe not at all. Most days, I mean. There were occasions of being in the same room, but usually no. The others, the others in the cast, they were nodders. They’d pass, they’d nod. Some seemed to know me, others didn’t. But I’d see them, there they were. Murphy, no, not usually.

But the offices… one person, and the space wasn’t enough. Three and the people were on top of each other, piled. You’d see it, like these tableaux. If they had their door open; not everyone did, a lot of people didn’t. But you’d walk by and see a guy with his hair sticking up, and he’s sitting like the wall’s got him pinned. The wall behind him has him pinned to his desk, and meanwhile the window’s coming up against his elbow. And your office was no better. You had your postage stamp too, and what you saw with this guy, maybe people looked in your door and they saw the same thing with you.

Piscopo, all right, that was a cast member you might not see so much, but you’d hear him. Piscopo’s voice had a quality, like someone was trying to saw a tree trunk and was doing this by starting up a power saw, and the person was then whanging the saw against the trunk, banging the trunk while the saw’s going. The squalls, the… his voice would be going, and then it would get tangled, and when it got tangled it would rise. Volume goes up, pitch goes up, your ears are... him in the head writers’ office, talking to Bob, etc., and Piscopo’s voice would be floating down the corridor, blitzing down the corridor. He didn’t like the scripts, and Tuesday evenings and Wednesday afternoons you’d hear this, and Thursday evenings, and then it was Mondays too. So that was Joe.

“Bob, etc.” That’s Bob Tischler plus the other two guys. It’s what we used to say: “I gave the promos to Bob, etc. I don’t know what they’ll do with them.” Tischler was in charge, pretty much. The other two were Blaustein and Sheffield, and they looked like barkeeps, like the jolly guy presiding in a beer commercial. Like they’d be fine heartily wiping a counter and swapping some banter. Tischler, no. Maybe he wanted to look that way, I think so, but he could never really come across like it. I think he liked me, but I always felt sorry for him.

The offices, okay, I have the offices on my mind. I spent my time there, in my office, or I’d be walking past. And I want to say: you’d look in, usually the people would look stuck. I mean stuck in both ways, like they’re jammed there and also they can’t think of anything. A guy I sort of knew, he’d have a good shirt on, a business shirt, buttoned shirt, and wow, the pit stains. They’re moons, and his hair is like straw, multi-directional straw. Glasses hanging off his face. You see someone like that and you know saying hi is dicey, it’s a risk. Maybe they want privacy in their shame and they’re too shorted out to remember about the door. I’d slide my eyes down and to the left, meaning away, and lever up my right elbow as a salute, raise it like a flap. I figured that if the guy wanted, he could see it as simply a matter of abrupt self-balancing.

Yeah, life at Ebersol’s Saturday Night Live. The only saving grace here is that I made it all up.


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