Alan Spencer is a brilliant comedy writer I have known for a very long time, thanks to my beloved uncle Marty Feldman. Alan’s great gift was obvious at such an early age that at 15 he became the youngest person ever to join the Writer’s Guild. Marty recognized his talent even sooner than the guild and took Alan under his wing. He met him on the set of Young Frankenstein (1974) – Marty was playing “Igor” opposite Gene Wilder’s mad doctor – and Alan watched it get made, day in and day out, under the direction of Mel Brooks.
No surprise that he has done well ever since. Alan created the hit TV comedy show Sledgehammer back in the 1980s, won acclaim for adapting Philip Roth’s novel The Ghost Writer and over the years has been in enormous demand as a script doctor. Most recently he has created Bullet in the Face for IFC, an exceptionally dark and funny crime drama series. TV Critic, Matthew Gilbert praised Alan’s work comparing it to the great likes of Tarantino meets Brooks.
He showed three episodes to an enthusiastic crowd at Cinefamily in Los Angeles a few weeks back, and that was where he and I most recently ran into each other. It was a sweet reunion. The episodes themselves were as outrageous as the title. Essentially Bullet in the Face is rough and tumble farce centered on a highly aggressive but talkative criminal played by Eddie Izzard, who lords his ego, his wealth and his intellect (in that order) over the minions who help him run his vast cartel.
I wanted to write about everything that’s going on today,” Alan told us after, in a Q&A moderated by Josh Olson, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of The End of Violence. Greed and lawlessness are rampant, Alan explained, “But I didn’t want to write about these things in a dated way.
What moved me most, however, was Alan’s way of dealing with the audience. He was very direct, very honest – witty, always, but respectful of every question. He wasn’t trying to be funny. For this very reason the laughter from the audience was deeper.
And it led him to speak very movingly for the next few minutes of how much that whole generation of great comics gave Alan, and all of us. This was very refreshing. “For Marty” Alan pointed out, “was not only renowned for his work with Mel Brooks. He wrote the famous Monty Python sketch ‘The Four Yorkshiremen.
Alan went into great lengths to talk about his close friendship with Andy Kauffman & Don Adams, best known as Maxwell Smart (Agent 86). All these great men were Alan’s heroes, and he spoke movingly of how much they are missed. What struck me is that Alan is the direct heir of that generation. He was so young when he started out that he was one of them in a way.Their comedy and Alan’s ingenuity is marked by an outward simplicity, yet inside there is tremendous depth and discipline – a real understanding of the world.
Alan is highly respected by kindred spirits of his own generation: “Working with Eddie Izzard has been great because he brings a razor sharp wit and brilliant comedic timing. He knows the fine art of intelligent conversation. He has such deep intellect, and such self respect.
Intellect and self-respect – perhaps those are the secret ingredients of great comedy.
A riveting ensemble cast, exquisite performances by all: Max E. Williams, Neil Napier, Jessica Steen, Kate Kelton, Eddie Izzard, Eric Roberts, Alexander Bisping.
Bullet In The face has a pair of marathon reruns this week, on Sunday September 2nd and Wednesday, September 5th and can be available on download from iTunes & Amazon.