Antidote for L.A. life’s downside

Special to The Times

The mood in the Skirball Cultural Center last Friday night was one of barely mitigated -- though petulant -- dismay. The Republicans had achieved world domination, war was imminent and the writers and comedians gathered for “Say the Word,” a monthly event hosted by Uncabaret, the alternative comedy collective, were questioning their lives in Los Angeles.

Outside, the rain was such that the city itself seemed to be weeping. But for every plaintive story, there was a tinge of hope, however sarcastic. No one was ready to pack up for Sweden just yet.

Uncabaret matron Beth Lapides sounded the bass note for the evening, asking, “Can you ever win with words?” A tangible “No” seemed to hang in the air. But that wasn’t going to stop her. The native New Yorker read an essay entitled “To Live and Almost Die in L.A.,” which recounted her first sojourn at Disneyland (“Why wasn’t everybody screaming in horror?”), her attempts at lodging with an sadomasochistic performance artist and a near-death hiking experience. Despite her best efforts to hate L.A., Lapides wakes up back in her Manhattan loft in love and with the word “Sepulveda” in her head.

Writer Judd Apatow, television comedy’s resident Orson Welles, admitted that he had time to be at the Skirball Center largely because all of his shows had been canceled. “Want to hear bitter diatribes about TV?” he asked, launching into a list of the absurd beliefs of network executives: “Network executives believe that the audience is a dumb 12-year-old boy who thinks edgy means loud, fast and stupid.”


But just when it seemed Apatow was spiraling into a late-career Lenny Bruce, he whipped out a dialogue (it might have been handwritten backstage) between two reluctant terrorists hiding out in San Diego who forgo their long-awaited martyrdom mission so as not to miss the last season of “Friends.”

“Saturday Night Live” alumnus Kevin Nealon, meanwhile, had larger worries on his mind. “I wonder if Chinatown is developing a nuclear weapon,” he said, with that trademark vacant stare. “I wonder what would happen if the Los seceded from the Angeles in Los Angeles.”

The evening ended with Moon Unit Zappa reading an excerpt from her novel, “America the Beautiful” (a “girly rebuttal to High Fidelity”), whose autobiographical main character, a celebrity daughter, goes through a series of painfully L.A. love interests.

She replaces an actor with an ice sculptor from Silver Lake who turns out to be engaged to a model who trains seeing-eye dogs and aspires to catering. Finally she finds something like happiness with a “lame” but sweet TV producer.

“Everybody has flaws,” Zappa concluded. “It’s a matter of finding the ones you can live with.”