Murphy’s Law – Everybody’s got a price

Joel Murphy

“Sell out, with me, oh yeah,
Sell out, with me tonight,
Record company’s gonna give me lots of money
And everything’s gonna be all right.”

– Reel Big Fish, “Sell Out”

Two of my favorite comedians, Patton Oswalt and David Cross, made a few Internet headlines this past week in what ultimately turned out to be a non-story. Oswalt wrote a MySpace blog on December 10 which covered a broad range of subjects, one of which being the new Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. Mostly, he talked about how people who were raging out about the film were overreacting, but in the middle of his tirade, he added this throw-away joke: “Oddly enough, both Brian Posehn and I were offered the part of Ian, the agent. We both threw the script across the room in disgust. David Cross caught it.”

Oswalt later explained that the joke was a reference to a conversation he had with Cross years earlier. Oswalt said that in March of 2006, he was talking to Cross about a bit part Patton had in Failure To Launch. He said that when he mentioned the part to Cross, David responded, “Man, they sent me that script, and I read 10 pages and threw it across the room. I guess you caught it.”

Cross apparently forgot about this exchange and when he read Oswalt’s blog, he responded with his own blog post on December 31 defending his decision to be a part of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Cross, who in the blog mentioned that he has been catching a lot of grief for doing the film, gave several reasons why he became a part of it, which basically boiled down to the fact that he hadn’t worked in six months and he wanted cash so that he could buy a small cottage in upstate New York.

Oswalt published an open letter on The Onion’s A.V. Club blog, telling the Failure To Launch story in an effort to put the matter to rest. Oswalt basically admitted that he too is a sellout and said that there is nothing wrong with whoring out a bit, especially if you can get a good story out of it afterwards.

All in all, this “feud” between the two comics is not really much of a story. However, I think it gives me a good opportunity to talk about the way some fans overreact to their favorite performers “selling out.”

Honestly, I see nothing wrong with selling out. I’ve joked before in this column that if someone offered me a large sum of money to hand over creative control of HoboTrashcan, I’d take it and never look back. (Which is only a joke – unless, of course, someone wants to make me an offer.) Money isn’t everything, but it can still buy you some pretty kick ass stuff. Plus, making a large sum of money “selling out” can allow you the financial freedom to pursue other, more creatively-fulfilling pursuits.

Like the rest of you, I think Alvin and the Chipmunks is a terrible idea. I saw the first trailer for it online months ago and thought that the scene where Alvin eats a piece of shit was a wonderful metaphor for the movie as a whole. And, when I found out that David Cross was a part of it, it did make me sad. But it wasn’t because I thought he was selling out. I was sad because I thought it was a waste of a talented comic actor.

As I mentioned above, in his blog he basically admits that he did the movie for the money, which I don’t really blame him for. I have no clue how much cash he made for the part, but I guarantee you that if you or I were offered that kind of money to play a bit part in a shitty CGI kids movie, we would gladly take it without thinking twice. So why should we hold Cross to a higher standard?

I’d like to believe that given the choice, Cross would gladly chose a smart, funny big budget comedy over Alvin and the Chipmunks. If his agent had Judd Apatow on line one and whatever soulless prick made Alvin and the Chipmunks on line two, my guess is that he’d take line one first.

The problem is that these days most of the movies out there are shitty remakes and uninspired sequels. Outside of the stuff that Judd Apatow is doing, there just aren’t that many good comedies being made. So, guys like Patton Oswalt and David Cross don’t really have much of a choice. If they want to make good money doing film work, there is a good chance they are going to have to do some selling out.

I’m sure if David Cross had a choice, he’d still be filming new episodes of Arrested Development. However, that hilarious television show was cancelled because of low ratings. Meanwhile, Alvin and the Chipmunks has already grossed $158 million at the box office and is currently the second-ranked movie in the nation.

It’s a sad fact of life that quality television programs are routinely cancelled because of poor ratings and smart, funny movies tank at the box office (Apatow’s films being the exception to the rule, but even Apatow’s underrated sitcom Freaks and Geeks was unceremoniously cancelled years before he achieved his current “Golden Boy” status).

A perfect example of this fact is The Wire, which in my opinion is the best television show ever made, though chances are the majority of you have never watched a single episode of it. Luckily, HBO has stuck by the show, even though it gets low ratings, thanks to the critical acclaim it receives. Season five of the show starts this Sunday and even though the current writers’ strike means that it’s main competition will be shitty reality shows and reruns, most of you still won’t tune in. This fifth and final season will end with little fanfare and will sadly fade into obscurity, even though it will be more compelling and better written than anything else on the air.

Meanwhile, people will continue to bitch and moan about films like Alvin and the Chipmunks and will complain that no one makes good movies or television shows anymore. So you can vilify David Cross all you want for “selling out,” but really there is no one to blame except the morons who continue to shell out money to see CGI chipmunks. It’s not like studio executives want to make shitty movies – it’s just that all they care about is money, so until more people pay to see quality films, Hollywood will continue to give us more of the same shit.

I’d like to believe that someday things will change. With any luck, Judd Apatow will start a revolution and suddenly our movie screens will be overflowing with quality comedies. But, I’m a realist, so I know that chances are we will be treated to Alvin and the Chipmunks IV: This Time It’s Personal long before we start getting a barrage of funny films.

I’d be sad about that fact, but I’m holding out hope that there will be a small part for me in Alvin and the Chipmunks IV. If David Cross throws the script across the room in disgust, I will be standing there with open arms ready to catch it.

Random Thought of the Week:
I got engaged to an absolutely wonderful girl on New Year’s Eve, officially ending my dreams of one day being named one of People Magazine’s “25 Most Eligible Bachelors.”

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He also has some really hot friends. You can contact him at murphyslaw@hobotrashcan.com.


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