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Former ‘Seinfeld’ Writer Wonders: Has L.A. Gotten Too Woke for Boomer Comedians? (Guest Blog)

”I guess they’d have a problem with my idea for a nonbinary rom-com called ‘They’s All That,'“ Peter Mehlman suggests

Two New York friends ranging in age from 64 to 68, sent texts to the tune of: “I hear things are weird for us in L.A. these days.”

No idea how these rumors start or how they can afford to fly Net Jets cross-country, but for the record: “Things” in Los Angeles “these days” for “us” Boomer comedy writers are fine.

Well, I should mention that, in April, three such L.A. acquaintances, ranging in age from 61 to 73, said they’re thinking of moving to Portugal. Sure, that may seem “weird” but it’s not. Ideas roll in here on hot winds, waft around town and suddenly people say stuff like, “Let’s steal TV shows from England and Israel” or “Let’s move to Portugal.”

So, yeah, things are OK in L.A. for comedic Lipitor-ians.

Just ask my friends. On weekends, five of us ranging in age from 60 to 74, walk four dogs ranging in age from 4 to 11, then chat over coffee. We love that owning a dog means knowing there’s someone in the house who’s aging even faster than we are.

See? Despite hating a lot about our little world, we still have a sense of humor.

Three of us were writers on ’90s sitcoms, so we inevitably mention news of the latest prohibited term in ’20s sitcoms:

“I heard that you can no longer refer to a ‘master bedroom.’”

“What?!?  What kind of network executive would even think to consider ‘master bedroom’ offensive?”

“Not an executive. They have sensitivity consultants now.”

“Sensitivity consultants? That’s a job?”

“Oh, yeah. Big job.”

“So, I guess they’d have a problem with my idea for a nonbinary rom-com called They’s All That.’”

After 30 seconds of silent head shaking, we’ll recall something like “Cheers” waitress Carla Tortelli’s dialogue about smacking her kids.

“Imagine writing those jokes now? A minute after typing CUT TO, The Woke Industrial Complex would perp-walk you off to play gin rummy with Harvey Weinstein.”

After imagining a stretch in Guantanamo for making Harvey Weinstein jokes, we thank God we worked when political correctness was ignorable, wonder if our agents are still alive, then pull up the KN95s we still wear before dispersing into another perfect day — I love L.A.

Speaking of agents, we hear that several L.A. talent agents recently transitioned into L.A. real estate agents. In the past, people only threatened to quit the industry. Now, we’re left to debate who makes worse clients, sitcom writers or home sellers.

And speaking of KN95 masks, an old friend in town got COVID despite practically wearing a mask when he shaved. After a second positive test a week after his first, he kind of freaked out. Mortality scares at 66 are especially disillusioning in L.A., where living forever is in the Writers Guild by-laws.

But things are OK-ish for L.A.’s Veterans of Comedic Wars.

Did I mention that I worked a few days with Bob Saget? Nice guy, magnificently profane on stage, born one day before me. And he died in Januaryalone in his hotel room in Orlando, Florida.

Honestly, I’m thinking that nothing good comes from leaving my house.

Fortunately, I love my house. Unfortunately, I attended a terrifying lecture about wildfire threats to L.A. We used to joke about transplanted New York sitcom writers who missed the change of seasons: “Why? L.A. has four seasons… Flood season, earthquake season, fire season and pilot season.” Anyway, I mentioned the lecture to friends ranging in age from 65 to 78, two of whom knew all about it and were considering cashing in their homes for Santa Monica high-rises that look down on the bluffs where there seems to be an uptick in homelessness.

Oh, wait. An unemployed neighborhood millennial who should consider freelance sensitivity consulting, told me that “homeless” is a derogatory term, now replaced by “unhoused.” I flash back to a “Seinfeld” episode in which Jerry asks a woman who works in a soup kitchen, “Do the bums ever complain: ‘Soup again?’”

The studio audience laughed guilt-free. Twenty-seven years later, there’s a new term that won’t put a dent in the problem.

Last month, an unhoused woman broke into my neighbor’s home and took a laptop, a down coat and a hot shower. We probably need a term depicting empathy for the perpetrator of your home invasion.

Otherwise, things are tolerable in L.A. for our aged-out demographic.

Speaking of demographics, another neighborhood kid knows a grandchild of a Hollywood legend revered by people ranging in age from 51 to 108. The grandchild has nothing nice to say about the grandparent. I don’t relate this information to any friends because… Who wants to hear that?

For people who admire pre-“Star Wars” movie icons, maintaining our illusions isn’t a full-time job, but it’s definitely a sideline. During illegal dog walks on State Beach, I’ve seen several Writers Guild pension beneficiaries silently gazing at sunsets. It’s crazy but… some of them don’t even take photos. I can only assume they’re groping for life epiphanies. Me? I gaze at lovely fluorocarbon sunsets and think, “My problems are so much more important than everyone else’s.”

Oddly, I can barely identify my problems beyond the shock of my own age. During a 1993 parental visit, my father said, “Everyone in L.A. is so young.” He was 68 at the time. I’ll be 68 in no time. 

Gilbert Gottfried died in April at 67. Over dinner with friends ranging in age from 58 to 71, I quoted him: “I like my coffee like I like my women: hot and black… with a small piece of prune danish.”

A 22-ish, Caucasian at the next table waited out the laughs and said, “That’s not funny.”

For the next hour, we glanced over for Gen-Z permission to laugh at anything else that was undeniably funny.

Then again, not all dinner subjects were funny: The body that washed up near the Santa Monica pier. The mountain lion seen hanging out in a backyard below Sunset Boulevard. The Pacific Palisades woman in a bathrobe who screams at cars for rolling through stop signs at 7 a.m. The local hardware store’s prominent display of pepper spray.

OK, maybe things are weird in LA.

In “The White Album,” Joan Didion described a something-in-the-1969-L.A.-air that made Charles Manson almost inevitable. For somewhere between 10 and 25 million reasons, those heavy dreads feel relatable today, like something angry is coming, something that smells like geriatric spirit, something that bubbles up over coffee in subtle, then less subtle ways over coffee:

“When some Water Polo major from USC gets to legislate what’s funny, you know it’s the end of the world.”

“Hey, at this point, even the end of the world wouldn’t be the end of the world.”

“Yeah, I think we’ll be getting out at the right time.”

But the coffee’s hot, the dogs gleefully neutered, the residuals still flowing, so… whatever. We’re gonna ride it till we just can’t ride it no more.

Peter Mehlman started his career as a writer for the Washington Post, then wrote for and produced the TV series, "SportsBeat" with Howard Cosell. In 1989, he moved to Los Angeles and soon became a writer and later executive producer for "Seinfeld" -- most famous for his "Yada Yada" episode. In recent years, he has continued creating TV shows, writing screenplays and humor pieces for NPR, Esquire, The New York Times, Washington Post and L.A. Times while also appearing on-camera for TNT Sports and his own web program "Pete Mehlman’s Narrow World of Sports."

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