Lee Aronsohn divided attendees with his What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Bitter session, spending an inordinate amount of time talking about his cocaine experiences and making jokes more suitable to an adolescent boy.
Aronsohn was in NZ as the winner of an annual competition that Film NZ runs to promote the country at the Los Angeles AFCI Locations Show each year. Last week, ahead of the BSS, Aronsohn scored brownie points with some mainstream media, talking about a NZ-set WWII story he’s developing.
He’s very popular at TVNZ, where his Two and Half Men has done good things for TV2 ratings for many years. As the co-creator of Two and a Half Men he was also part of the team that took Melanie Lynskey on to the show, giving her career in the US a substantial leg-up.
Aronsohn’s not unaware of the nuances of life, and feels strongly that pain is the root of much comedy – alongside a sense of the absurd and a love of humanity. His work on a series of successful shows over several decades demonstrates that he’s got it right on many occasions. The Big Bang Theory worked, he claimed, because it was about “channelling your inner nerd while showing the inner humanity of the characters”.
Comments such as saying that the characters he said he’d most like to be stuck on a desert island with were “a selection of the women on Two and a Half Men” didn’t endear him to sections of the audience.
Jessica Hansell, a panel member for the Digital Soapbox session, tweeted
Saw Lee Aronsohn (Two 1/2 Men, Big Bang Theory) speak on the wknd. Dude mainlines creepy chauvinism to stay relevant. Also: water's wet.
— Jessi¢o¢o Hansell (@cocosolid) September 28, 2014
Whether Aronsohn misjudged his BSS audience or didn’t care wasn’t clear. He did say, “If you make a couple of million dollars a year, you can become complacent, which is a challenge to a comic.”
Perhaps he was a victim of his own success, or perhaps he’s just like that.
For someone who’s seen a considerable amount of success, there was a “glass half empty” tone running through much of what he offered. When a writer friend Aronsohn had helped with his script sold the show to ABC, the friend was “really excited”. Lee pointed out to her, “You’ve reached the parking lot at the bottom of Everest.”
Aronsohn also admitted that he had no creative process, hated writing, and was constantly afraid that he’d used up his allocation of jokes the last time he’d written a script. His other comments included that the industry ran on fear, hope, greed and bullshit; and that people gave notes regardless of whether there was any sense to them.
Aronsohn’s had his share of failures, on which he said he’d worked a lot harder because “once a show is a hit, people leave you alone”. Among his successes are Joe’s Life, Grace Under Fire, Cybill, Life and Stuff, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.
In the light of such success, one might have hoped for more generosity. Aronsohn’s casual misogyny was disappointing given the Symposium’s theme this year (the Power of Voice) and the effort organisers had made to programme sessions featuring successful women in the light of ongoing and depressing statistics about the levels of women’s involvement in the industry, especially as directors.