A head for comedy

Special to The Times

IN July, Jenny McCarthy and John Asher appeared fully in sync as they explained their journey into independent filmmaking. Married nearly six years, the two finished each other’s sentences and clucked at anecdotes as they told the story of their film, “Dirty Love” -- written by and starring McCarthy, directed by Asher and jointly produced by both. (The film is being released Friday by DEJ Productions and First Look Films in L.A., Las Vegas, New York and Chicago.)

Impressions, of course, can be deceiving. About a month later, McCarthy announced she and Asher were filing for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.

“It was something that Jenny felt she had to do,” Asher, 34, says. “I still love her very much and always will, and we will always be friends. We will always have each other’s back.”


They also have a 3-year-old son, Evan, and they still appear to have plenty of other business together. At least, that’s the message the 32-year-old former Playmate and MTV regular is sending out.

“I see John every day, I’m working with him, and lately, it’s been really healthy,” McCarthy says. “We are forced to see each other because of work and our son, and that forced us to work things out. I’d say he’s absolutely my best friend right now. We’re really like bread and butter. As friends, I feel we’ll be even better.”

Such a dichotomous message typifies McCarthy’s life and career. She yearns to star in romantic comedies, yet says she doubts major studios will ever give her a lead role in one. She starred this year in a now-canceled TV sitcom -- “The Bad Girl’s Guide” on UPN -- yet insists that “sitcoms are pretty much dead,” which is fine by her. Instead, she prefers “the freedom” of her E! reality show, “Party @ the Palms.”

And despite saying she “never could write,” she has penned a movie and two bestselling books, with another book slated for 2006. In fact, she thinks “it would be cool” if she ended up being known primarily as an author.

In other words, McCarthy is full of ambition, yet appears at peace with her state of affairs, even if that includes a divorce.

Asher and McCarthy say they hope the split won’t cloud the story of “Dirty Love’s” birth. The project was essentially hand-made by the couple, then financed on the edge of disaster.


The movie tells the tale of a photographer who is dumped by her philandering boyfriend and goes on a mission to make him miserable, convinced she’ll never find a better love. Think of an “I Love Lucy” escapade gone awry, with bare breasts, deviant sex, drugs and blue language liberally tossed in, and you have the idea.

Wilder still may be the story of the financing, which fell through in mid-production, with “an $85,000 payroll due the next day,” Asher says. When McCarthy found out, just before shooting a big scene, she called her accountant and took the money out of her retirement account.

But that stemmed the shortfall only temporarily. McCarthy’s brother-in-law and new manager, Trent Walford, a former minor league hockey player and co-producer on the project, next turned to an ex-Chicago Bears player, Jim Cantelupe, and investment banker Scott Saldana for help. Both became executive producers. According to Asher, Walford “asked them to help us find $780,000 in 24 hours.”

“They formed a group of investors, mainly ex-hockey guys, and they all took a risk and took over the movie’s financing,” he adds. “That let us finish shooting and make our final payroll. Of course, we still had no money for post-production or music.”

Eventually, the investors came up with a second round of financing to put it into a form good enough to earn an invite to the Sundance Film Festival. Afterward, the project, repped by the William Morris Agency, ended up as a $1.8-million independent film, according to Asher, and now awaits wider distribution.

“A classic adventure in indie filmmaking,” McCarthy says.

MCCARTHY hopes the project might earn her starring feature film roles, but she concedes that her dream might be difficult to achieve. It’s not so much that the critics haven’t always been kind to her -- McCarthy professes to “care less about that stuff.” Rather, she has a detailed theory about romantic film comedies.

“There aren’t many romantic comedies anymore that star just a female lead without being paired with a male lead,” she says. “It’s been a while since the time of Goldie Hawn and those sorts of films. I look at ‘Dirty Love’ as my Jim Carrey movie.

“I originally came up with the idea about five years ago, when I had a deal with Fox, and offered it to them as a television pilot. They said it was way too risque for network television. So I took the characters and banged it out as three acts for a feature film. I was just frustrated that there weren’t any leading feature film roles for me out there. Usually, the pretty girl is the idiot, or the gratuitous babe walking by, or the funny guy’s girlfriend or wife.

“I also feel there aren’t many female screenwriters out there, and very few male screenwriters can write for female leads. That’s the problem -- that is what forced me to write this movie. It wasn’t like I had a big plan to write movies. In fact, I always hated writing. I used to pay people to write my reports in college.”

McCarthy goes further, insisting she is trying to “break down stereotypes” by making a low-budget, screwball sex comedy around a solo female lead. “I mean, I was a Playmate -- a Playmate who wanted to go into comedy. That’s funny right there. But the truth is, I love

It’s yet another irony in McCarthy’s life that her divorce comes as she finalizes her third book. Originally called “Marriage Laughs,” it’s the third in her series of lighthearted books on family life. The first two -- “Belly Laughs: The Naked Truth About Pregnancy and Childbirth” and “Baby Laughs: The Naked Truth About the First Year of Mommyhood” -- achieved New York Times bestseller status.

The divorce has not derailed the new book; it’s merely changed its direction.

“The title has been changed to ‘Life Laughs,’ ” she says, chuckling. “I was about three-quarters of the way done with it. But I’m covering the good, bad and ugly stuff in a relationship, and I’ll obviously include some stuff about breaking up. It’s the funniest thing I’ve written so far, but it’s also all real.”