Robert Wuhl is bringing his solo show Assume the Position to the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival at WaterTower Theatre in Addison next week. The two-week festival opens tomorrow with a lineup of more than 20 different performances of drama, dance, music and comedy. It's an enjoyably freewheeling theater event every March, with shows running three at a time in all the venues at WaterTower.
Wuhl, 59, created and starred in HBO's Arli$$ series, in which he played a sports agent; of course, he also had fast-talking roles in a couple of sports-related movies, Bull Durham (as the chattering dugout coach) and Ty Cobb (as the ball player's biographer). In January, Wuhl debuted on 40 Westwood One radio stations as host of a daily three-hour talk show focused (sometimes) on sports.
Good sport that he is, Wuhl gave us some phone-chat time to talk about Assume the Position, writing jokes for Billy Crystal at the Oscars and how pop culture has screwed up our knowledge of history (which happens to be the the basis of his one-man show).
How do you describe Assume the Position?
It's autobiographical and I've expanded it (from two specials of the same name on HBO). It's about how I became a storyteller and I tell stories along the way. Some will be familiar to people who've seen the HBO material. The second act gets darker. I just had a terrific run with it back east at the Long Wharf Theatre (in New Haven). I was getting standing ovations every night. The show started by going to colleges, where I'd buy students pizzas and then throw out topics to find out who knew what about history. We started with the students at community colleges -- a lot of them are naturalized citizens and they know much more about history. When you get to the top, you go to USC or UCLA, forget that. As I've said before, knowledge of history is in direct disproportion to how expensive the college is.
Are you saying younger generations, even the well-educated, don't know much about history?
What we determine history to be, what is important, is totally generational. When I grew up, Biography was still on (on cable's A&E). I always watched that. They used to have people like Copernicus, Galileo, DaVinci. Now it's Justin Bieber and Ashley Simpson. In fairness, DaVinci was a pop culture figure of his time. You got to keep that in mind. That's the difference in history. Now on Biography, when was the last time they did someone of a historical nature? Reagan? That might be about as far back as they'd go.
Speaking of history, your own is pretty interesting. Tell the people who your college roommate was at University of Houston.
Julian Schnabel. It's a long story. He's the biggest ego on the face of the earth. But he's a great filmmaker. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly [which Schnabel directed] was a fantastic film. He's got a good movie coming out shortly called Miral, about a Palestinian girl in an orphanage. I enjoy his filmmaking better than I do his paintings. We still see each other in New York.
Who's your favorite professional talker?
I only watch Charlie Rose. He's not interrupted by commercials. He has interesting, smart people on. How many smart people are on The Tonight Show anymore?
Are you a news junkie?
I watch more sports, not news. You can't control any of that. I like the old line from [Supreme Court Justice] Earl Warren, when he picked up the newspaper, he said he read the sports page first. ("I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people's accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man's failures.") In sports, somebody won, somebody lost. There's a game. There's a winner and a loser. I like that.
We've just had the Oscars. You won two Emmys for writing material for Billy Crystal when he hosted back in 1990 and 1991. Seems like the audience is ready for him to host it again.
Yes, the host is very important. They set a tone. A good Oscars is where there's excitement, surprises and it's a fun evening. When we did it, people didn't come up with a laundry list of people to thank. It's like going to a convention now. We don't care about your business manager that you're thanking. When I did it with Billy, we were always thinking about something to make a joke about. God bless when it happened. You had lines prepared for coming back to this and that for segues to get back in the mood. After about the first hour, the show's not about you anymore. We just loved that our work was going to be seen. We do so much work that isn't seen.
So now you're doing talk radio, where you're heard but not seen. What do you like about it?
I like talking to people. I've had Billy Crystal on. He was a very good guest. Larry King was a great guest. Hugh Jackman was good. Jeannie Buss [daughter of Lakers owner Jerry Buss]. She came into the studio. That was great face to face.
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Radio's great. You don't have to get all dressed up. It's just conversation. I like sports -- most sports. And I like doing research. I like to ask questions that I'm interested in.
Last question: Does it bug you that 30 Rock takes a lot of digs at Arli$$?
Never seen the show. Don't know anything about that.
See Robert Wuhl's Assume the Position at 8 p.m., March 11; 2 & 8 p.m., March 12; and 2 p.m., March 13. WaterTower Theatre's Out of the Loop Fringe Festivals runs March 3-13, 15650 Addison Rd., Addison. Tickets are $10-$20, with a full festival pass for $55. Box office: 972-450-6232.