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Two Years Naked in High School: a review of Jay Mohr's "Gasping for Airtime"by Dale Sherman -- 06/25/04
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Howard Johnson: You know, Nietzsche says, "Out of chaos comes order."
Nearly everyone has had the dream - some would say nightmare - where you find yourself back in high school. While you have no idea why you're there, you know that you have to get to a class for a test, and not only are you late, but you didn't study. Worse yet, you're either naked or in your underwear as you move like molasses towards the dreaded classroom. The weird part is that no one else seems to notice. Are they laughing behind your back? Maybe they just don't care? And if they don't care, does that make it any better?
After reading Jay Mohr's book, Gasping for Airtime, you'll get the feeling that working for Saturday Night Live was this dream in perpetuation.
Jay Mohr joined SNL in the early 1990s, a young comic thrilled to be associated with the show that had launched so many gifted performers and writers. As anyone familiar with the show knows, the program had started in the mid-1970s as a revolution in television programming, with its cast of performers and writers becoming near-icons of comedy in the years to come. Between 1980 and 1985, the show stumbled through some good times (including the discovery of Eddie Murphy, and a season filled with individuals such a Martin Short, Billy Crystal, and Christopher Guest) and bad (the infamous 1980 season).
When Michaels returned to the helm of the program in 1985, the show took a year to recover, but did so with an outstanding cast of people such as Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Dennis Miller, Dana Carvey, and later such individuals as Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, and Mike Myers. Yet, by 1993, the show was going through another growth struggle, as many of the familiar faces from the past seven to eight years started moving on to other jobs, and fresh new faces started coming in to try to show what they could do on the program that had become more an icon than just a simple late-night variety show.
It is in this environment that Jay Mohr found himself in 1993, and it is his journey through two turbulent years on the program that Gasping for Airtime is all about. Finding himself initially lost in a sea of familiar and some not-so-friendly faces, Mohr realized that his dream to jump into the program and find widespread recognition was going to be much different than he anticipated. Instead, he found that the newcomers were thrown into the deep-end - expected to catch on through trial and error. If they didn't, then that was too bad, as there were certainly other writers and performers that were available who could do it.
The show had also built itself upon an unstructured workweek that no doubt was considered a freedom to be creative any time, and not in a set "9-5" environment. Unfortunately by the 1990s, such a schedule had become stagnant, becoming a repressive environment that led to people unable to function for most of the week and then scrambling to come up with ideas for sketches and write them just a few days before they would air. Worse, those in charge obviously felt that the controlled chaos was vital to the show's edge, and refused to change things that had been set into stone for so long.
With all that, it is no wonder that some people would find themselves on edge. For Jay, it turned into panic attacks that left him feeling like he was about to die, let alone wondering if and when he would be fired for not proving himself the creative person that caught the world on fire he expected to be when he first arrived.
For a good portion of the book, Mohr writes about how the work environment he found himself in led directly to his panic attacks. For a time, he didn't even know why he was feeling so strange, and it was only through help from another person who had experienced the same anxieties that he discovered what was wrong.
Jay also covers his struggle to overcome the attacks, and how he found his way out of the tunnel in which he felt buried. For this reason, Jay's book might make for informative reading for those who work in other types of stressful work environments. Who hasn't felt at times that "the new job was a mistake," or "everyone hates me where I work," or "they're going to discover I'm a screw-up and fire me"? The irony is that it is something nearly everyone feels at one time or another, yet we look at others and say, "Oh, they can't possibly understand what I'm going through." In Gasping for Airtime, we are shown a man who at first would seem to have the world on a string, but inside he is just as tied up in knots about how he is perceived and evaluated, as are most of us in our lives. Because of this, Mohr invites readers to identify with him and see that their own frustrations with their work are universal. More importantly, that it can be controlled.1 2 Next-->
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