Written by Dylan Callaghan
For first-time screenwriter Graham Gordy, being tapped by Mike Meyers to co-write his new self-help-satire-meets-
potty-joke-jubilee, The Love Guru, was both outrageously good fortune and a serious master course in the science of funny.
Gordy, an NYU graduate, first hit Meyers' radar after the SNL alum and Austin Powers creator read a comedy script he'd co-written. After a series of in-person meetings, the two embarked on what would become a four-year process to script The Love Guru.
“When Mike and I first met, we actually talked about screenplay structure first,” recalls Gordy, who, despite being an Arkansas native, lacks even the slightest twang. “You wouldn't at first necessarily imagine it, but he's a huge student of the screenwriting craft,” says Gordy. Beyond learning his new star partner's strikingly systematic approach to scripting comedy, he learned the time and detailed attention Meyers paid to generating jokes he felt would satisfy his singular constituency -- his audience. Says Gordy of Meyers' painstaking joke development process, “Working with him really is kind of like being let into a comedy laboratory.”
During a conversation with the Writers Guild of America, West Web site, Gordy described Meyers' ardent commitment to winning audience laughs above critical acclaim and the extensive, surprisingly scientific techniques -- including one borrowed from the Marx Brothers -- he employed during the development and writing of The Love Guru.
Give me an anatomy of how you and Mike Myers worked together.
Strangely enough, it was pretty work-a-day. It was kinda like working in a bank or something. It was not quite nine-to-five but it was 10-to-six or seven pretty much every day.
The way we initially generated a lot of the jokes for this film was by doing a stage show. We wrote a 30-minute mock-sutra or speech that Mike gave in front of audiences in theaters around New York. So we wrote this show in an attempt to test out the joke bag we'd worked on together. This was based on the fact that the Marx Brothers would tour their shows for six months before putting anything on film, so they could cut out all the jokes that didn't work.
Photo: © 2008 Paramount Pictures
Justin Timberlake and Mike Myers in The Love Guru.
Mike would do the monologue, and then he'd do a live question-and-answer with the audience. We would always get a couple of jokes out of that improv session as well. So after eight or nine shows over the course of almost two years, we were like, “Ok, what's the structure here? Let's create the world that these jokes go into.”
Mike's an amazing student of comedy, which makes him an amazing teacher of comedy, so it was pretty much like comedy boot camp for me.
Once you got to that stage where you were finally writing the actual script, how would a typical day go?
We'd be at his office, which is essentially a living room setup. I would sit in a chair with a laptop, and we'd project the script up on the TV. That was when we were at the dialogue stage. Before that, when we were hammering out the structure, it was corkboard and three-by-five cards...
I've heard Mike likes his corkboard and three-by-five cards.
Oh, he loves them. There's this whole color-coded system of cards and figuring out how long each scene is by having representational cards up there...
What did the colors delineate?
Sometimes they would delineate which characters appeared where, so Jessica Alba's character would be red, for example, and Manu Narayan's would be yellow. It's a way to answer the questions: “Have we seen enough of them?” or “How can I miss you if you never go away?” It helps the rhythm of the piece.
When you had your first session with Mike, was it hard for you to be creative or funny, having been thrust into such a chance-of-a-lifetime situation?
Yeah, it was hugely daunting. Mike was somebody that I had watched as a teenager on Saturday Night Live and then obviously the Austin Powers films. It was strange because, first of all, there's the immediate element of, anytime you meet a celebrity, essentially you've shared a part of your life with them that they haven't shared with you. So there's part of you where you're like, “Oh, I know you, but you don't know me, clearly.”
But that is exacerbated by the fact that you're trying to be laid back and funny, and as everyone knows, you can't be funny when you're tense. Finally, if we started on Monday, I think it was about two days later when I first actually made him legitimately laugh. Once you break that ice, you realize, “That's what he sounds like when he's really laughing, so let's try and do that.” After three or four months of that, you're in a room with somebody so much that you're just kind of buddies at that point -- you can be pretty free and comedically bold.
Were there times during the writing process for this film when you needed to reassure him of the comedic strength of this concept?
Oh yeah, absolutely, and vice versa. There's always those moments. Sometimes you wonder if the room is funny. When you've been with someone for 10 hours and nothing's coming and you say something and both of you are laughing really hard -- once you put that in front of an audience, it just dies because you were just desperate for a laugh in that moment. It's just “room funny,” it's not real funny.
How has this experience changed you as a writer?
I think it's the best education I could have gotten in commercial writing because Mike cares so little about critics or studios, and he cares so incredibly about making his audience laugh. If something plays, it's in, which the easy part. If something doesn't play, it's out, and that's the hard part. He's the first person to say, “Cut it out. It doesn't work,” even if it's his most beloved child. I'm amazed at how readily he gives stuff up for the sake of the audience.