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He Gave Up a Suit for a Spotlight : At Fox, Jeremiah Bosgang Had It All. Except an Outlet for His Comedy

April 22, 1993|JOE RHODES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Here comes Jeremiah Bosgang, walking down the center aisle--the only aisle actually--of the 82-seat Powerhouse Theater in Santa Monica, making his way through the audience, toward the wash of lights and the lacquered wicker stool that is waiting for him, alone, on center stage.

Most of the people here know him, or at least they thought they did. This time last year, Bosgang was a rising young network television executive, fast-tracking through the ranks, his future as solid as a teakwood desk.

He had it all, with more on the way, taking lunches and meetings and jets to New York. There were agents calling him left and right, producers begging for a moment of his time. He had a six-figure salary, a Mercedes-Benz with a cellular phone, a closet filled with expensive suits and a secretary to tell people he was "not available right now."

He was funny and charming and just unconventional enough--sometimes he'd ride a Harley to work--to leave a mark. He was, in short, a comer.

Except that he wasn't happy. Not that he didn't enjoy his job or the money or the perks. He did. But being a whiz-bang junior suit was not what he'd planned for himself. It had been an accident, really, the result of meeting the right guy at the right dinner party who suggested he'd be just perfect for an entry-level programming opening at NBC. Then, suddenly, there were promotions and offers and he became director of comedy development at the Fox network. A big shot.

But what Bosgang really wanted, the reason he'd come to Los Angeles in the first place, was to be on stage, writing and performing his own material, making people laugh. He'd always wanted to be Woody Allen or Albert Brooks. Becoming the next Brandon Tartikoff was not what he'd had in mind.

People said he was crazy when he quit his job last year for, of all things, a two-week tryout as a writer on "Saturday Night Live." They said he'd made a terrible mistake. Fox Vice President Tom Nunan, Bosgang's immediate superior, warned him there'd be no turning back. But all those meetings with writers and producers, all those hours of listening to other people's comedy ideas, had finally gotten to be more than Bosgang could take.

"I was like an alcoholic working in a liquor store," he says. "I was listening to these guys and thinking, 'I'd rather be on the other side of this desk. I'd rather be them than me.' "

So he left last spring for New York, certain his dreams would come true.

They did not.

"After the two weeks was over, I wasn't asked to stay," Bosgang says. "It was one of the most embarrassing, humiliating, depressing things that's ever happened to me."

There was not much to do but come back to L.A. He landed a few writing jobs--even joining the staff of "In Living Color" for a while. But, he didn't want to be a writer any more than he had wanted to be an executive. What Bosgang wanted was applause. And he knew there was just one way to get it. He would stage his own one-man show and he'd call it "Humble Pie."

So he finds this little theater, with dirty floors and missing seats, surrounded by a chain-link fence. He makes calls. He makes T-shirts. He sends out postcards to every producer and agent and development executive he knows. He lays out $4,000 of his own money to rent the theater for a four-week run and then, last Friday night, Bosgang, 31 years old, does the scariest thing he's ever done in his life.

He watches the people, his friends and associates, file into the theater and take their seats. He closes the door behind them and hangs a sign outside that reads "Performance in progress. Please do not enter."

He kisses his wife Wendy in the light booth, clears his throat and walks to the stage.

He smiles, kind of nervous, making sure he doesn't miss the stool.

"I used to live in New York City," he begins, "I was supporting myself as a building superintendent, trying to get work as an actor and writer, and I was pretty happy because I was pursuing this dream. . . ."

Here's how bad Bosgang wanted to be in show business: He transferred from Amherst College to the University of Chicago (where he was a philosophy major) just so he could take improvisational comedy workshops at Second City. During the summer, he got a student internship at "Late Night With David Letterman," sharpening pencils and hanging around Chris Elliott's desk.

He was charming and neurotic and eager to please. He housesat for Letterman and Merrill Markoe (at the time the show's head writer and Letterman's girlfriend).

He toured with a Second City road company for a while and then went back to New York. He found a job as a building superintendent--$200 a week and a free place to live. He fixed faucets in the mornings, took acting classes at night. He went to auditions. He did weird characters at comedy clubs: "Jerry Prince of Illusion," a stunningly bad magician and ventriloquist, and "Seth Solomon," a motivational speaker with a speech impediment.

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