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One Oscar Joke Pays Off Big Time

March 29, 1997|ANGIE CHUANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Somewhere between Beavis and Butt-head and Madonna, Oscar host Billy Crystal read a two-sentence joke by Los Angeles comedian Dana Snow, chosen from 35,000 submitted to an Oscar Web site. Crystal joked:

"You know, I'm expecting to win an Oscar next year. I'm making a film called 'Price Is Very Sexy and Waterhouse Is a Genius.' "

It was no more than five seconds of air time, but those 24 words have done more for Snow's career than the reams of comedic material, book manuscripts and screenplays he has been trying to get published or produced for years. Less than a week after the ceremony, Snow already has committed to write a movie script for--what else?--"Price Is Very Sexy and Waterhouse Is a Genius."

"It won't be about Price Waterhouse, the accounting firm, per se. We think there's more than one person named Price and Waterhouse, so we won't get sued," Snow said. "We're thinking of something comparable to 'The X-Files,' with two people entering very weird situations. Price will be a sexy character and Waterhouse will be a genius."

Snow submitted the joke after watching Crystal's guest spot on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" a couple weeks before the Academy Awards ceremony. She mentioned that Crystal would read the three best jokes submitted to his Oscars Web site. Snow got right to work, jotted out 20 gags in a notebook he titled "Oscar Jokes for Billy Crystal" and submitted them.

Movie producer Sam Longoria of Burbank's ST Productions had worked with Snow in various capacities, but when he was sitting in the audience at the Shrine Auditorium on Monday and heard Crystal read the joke--crediting it to "D. Snow"--Longoria knew the writer was onto something special.

"Everyone around me laughed. Every time I repeated that movie title to someone, they laughed," said Longoria, newly a movie producer after working in visual effects, including one Oscar-winning animated project.

"Good humor is visceral. It's not an intellectual process. When you're in a room and people are laughing, it's working."

Longoria didn't even wait until the ceremony was over. He called Snow on the next commercial break and told him, "We should actually make this movie." Snow thought it was a prank.

In fact, Snow hadn't even watched his own joke being read on the show. Nobody had told him he had won, and he had taped the show to watch later. He learned about the bit when people started calling to congratulate him.

"Then I ran that part of the videotape eight times. I think Billy Crystal performed it very well," Snow said, adding that he is a big fan of Crystal. When Snow appeared on KABC radio earlier this week, he told one of Crystal's jokes and credited it to "B. Crystal."

The film project, which Longoria said is being funded by a private contributor, will have a $6-million-to-$10-million budget and will be aimed at mainstream distribution. Longoria said he's not worried that a one-liner joke won't carry over for a full-length movie.

"A good title means a lot. It gets people's attention and that means people will see it," he said. "Besides, I'm used to working in improv comedy, where you have to do a 90-minute show from nothing. I'm not worried."

Now that he has had a taste of the big time, Snow is planning for great things ahead. In fact, he's already decided what he would do if he somehow were chosen to be a writer for next year's Oscar ceremony.

"I would interview all of the presenters if I could, and co-write each segment with the presenters," he said. In the meantime, he'll just concentrate on finishing his script. Snow said he has no idea whether the other two people whose jokes Crystal read--identified only as "R. Lang" and "J. Phillips"--received similar responses.

Lang's joke: "Why is the show so long? Because there's just so many little people." And Phillips': "What was Bill Clinton's favorite movie last year'? '101 Donations.' "

For Snow, who attended Beverly Hills High and Los Angeles City College, a lifetime of living in Los Angeles has allowed him to take the wackiness in stride, he said.

"It's a great opportunity and a privilege to have my joke heard by a television audience of 1 billion people," Snow said. "And suddenly I have my first committed screenplay deal. It's very bizarre."

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