Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Two unsuccessful people + a good connection = Elaine Benes

Even if you are really lousy at a job that didn't turn out to be what you thought it would be, you can get something positive out of it by adding a connection to your personal network that might pay off eventually. At least, it worked out that way for Emmy and Golden Globe Award winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

From 1982 to 1985, when she was in her early 20's, she was a member of a Saturday Night Live cast that included Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo. Never comfortable with the self-promotion and politicking that went on behind the scenes, her stint on the show that has launched many comedy careers did not go as well as she would have liked. As she put it recently while on Inside the Actor's Studio, "They won't be making any 'best of' videos of my time there any time soon."

So, she stunk at her nationally televised job. What did she do? She made a friend out of someone equally bad. Later, it changed her (and his) career forever.

If writing success at SNL can be measured by the number of skits you get on the air, Larry David was probably the worst writer in the history of the show. During his one season, he wrote material every week. Dick Ebersol, executive producer at the time, just didn't see the humor in David's writing so week after week his skits were rejected. During his entire employment with SNL, he got exactly one sketch through to the final show. David's relationship with Ebersol got so bad, that David quit in an angry tirade in the middle of the season, only to show up the next day as if it never happened.

So, the worst performer and the worst writer became fast friends. That ended up paying off nicely.

Almost 5 years later, David famously teamed with Jerry Seinfeld to write a pilot for a show initially called The Seinfeld Chronicles. The first set of episodes featured an all male cast and NBC felt the show needed an injection of femininity, so David called his old friend to play the part of Elaine Benes. It obviously went pretty well from there, but it grew out of a good connection made at an unsuccessful job for both of them.

Incidentally, Seinfeld fans Probably noticed that the 1 SNL skit that Larry David got on the air would later be turned into the Seinfeld episode, The Phone Message. His tirade with Ebersol would be reenacted by George Costanza during The Revenge. Both events are told quite nicely in a great book on the history of SNL called Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live.

So even if you stink at a job you hate, look around. Despite how bleak things look, you can still make a connection with somebody with whom you share a common interest even if that common interest is how bad you both are at your respective jobs. You never know, it could be the start of something that helps you both out when you least expect it.


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posted by Pete Johnson @ 11:55 PM   5 comments


At 9:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

She is also a member of the Dreyfus family who used to own one of the largest brokerages in the world and she inherited a ton of money - tens of millions and never needed to work.

At 3:36 AM, Anonymous Daniel Sweet said...

You make a good point here. Most people in a bad job tend to just hate their life and make themselves and everyone around them miserable.

There are always good connections because everyone that you work with is going to continue their career and you may be able to help each other later.

And, as to the brave anonymous commenter above, she may have never needed to work, but I'm guessing that her parents in the financial sector weren't excited about a comic as a daughter.

In other words, she got what she got because she worked for it.


At 8:50 AM, Blogger Pete Johnson said...

In the Inside the Actor's Studio episode, she talks a bit about her childhood and actually not spending a whole lot of time with her father. She moved around to a lot of exotic places as a kid with her stepfather too. If you can catch it or Tivo it on Bravo, I highly recommend it.

At 9:09 AM, Blogger Liz said...

What a great post. I think we have all been in this situation Julia was in at one time or another. The key is to try to figure out how to make lemons into lemonade. And also to always look for opportunities. I had a job I hated once years ago and now I work closely with someone I met there on a very successful endeavor. You are absolutely right about the need to always network! Nice work Pete!


At 6:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I was using StumbleUpon today and happened to come across your site.

I really like what you're doing here, keep it up! ;)



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