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April 10, 2018

Today is Tuesday. Tuesdays have become Taylor Tuesdays in some circles in the social media world and this is a piece I wrote about Taylor Negron, the actor and comic famous for movies like Punchline and Easy Money, whom I met in 1997 in Raleigh, North Carolina at WRBZ radio when he was a guest on my show.

Taylor Negron Was My Celebrity

By Pat Mellon

“Pat, don’t whistle.”

It’s 8:30 am on a Tuesday morning in Venice Beach, California and I’m helping Taylor Negron move furniture from his apartment just above North Venice Blvd back to his West Hollywood house. And I’m whistling.

The apartment is quintessential Venice; modestly unattractive, almost dilapidated, but steps from the Boardwalk and expensive. Everything you’ve heard about Venice is true. It’s charmingly gross; stylishly septic. The canals criss-cross the neighborhoods of Mcmansions and several bridges span the filthy water below allowing joggers and dog-walkers complete access to the paths. But unlike its beachfront sisters Manhattan and Hermosa just below the airport, it offers street cred. 90291 means you’re artistic, you love the beach, and you’re comfortable with possible gang activity- it’s a small price to pay to be so close to the most famous sand in the world, and the most famous people. Most of LA is like this. Rents are criminally high and apartments are insanely inadequate. But you might see Seth Rogen at Ralph’s buying beer. Or Mayim Bialik in traffic. Or someone tall who is probably a Laker or a Clipper at the bank. I was at Bank of America in Marina Del Rey on Admiralty a while back and DeAndre Jordan was cashing his per diem check. He’d left the stub at the counter where I was endorsing my $516 paycheck and I took a look. $86,000. Needed some walking-around money I guess. And he banks where I bank.

LA offers dreamers who move here for fame a place to pay too much for rent while also maintaining a sense of suffering for their art while they wait to be famous, as if the Gods who decide who attain fame (and admittedly, it seems to be completely arbitrary at times) will award points to the ones who live in squalor. Like it or not, Venice is a toilet. Locals will speak of the charm and the free attitudes and the unaffectedness and they’ll curse any form of attempted gentrification, but those people are in denial. Taylor probably could have lived in Malibu, I used to think. Why would he choose Venice? It seemed like punishment for someone who had been in movies with Rodney Dangerfield and Tom Hanks. Especially after seeing his house in West Hollywood, which he told me and anyone else who would listen, was Judy Garland’s. West Hollywood is the anti-Venice; manicured deep green lawns, gated entrances, and swimming pools. I remember thinking that Judy Garland would probably die of embarrassment in Venice Beach.

“The other day I saw a duck eating a diaper in my front yard,” Taylor told me once, which of course made me cringe but also smile a little. Taylor had a way a speaking when he was ‘on’ and he seemed to be ‘on’ a lot. I recognized this as a defense mechanism to protect himself from having to have actual conversations with fans and strangers, which was perpetuated by their delight in it. After you’ve heard “Allison, I’m the man” or “What’s a little kid like you doing with big boy smut like this?” or even “You don’t want carpet. You want an area rug” you’re thrilled that that voice is directed at you, whether he’s telling you about a duck or telling you not to whistle.

When Taylor Negron tells you not to whistle there’s subtext. It made me not only want to stop whistling but also rethink every other time in my life that I had whistled before. Perhaps because he’s a trained actor and he knows how to wring depth out of every line. He knew a lot of insider stuff, I learned. He once told me that, in a scene, leaving out the back door is more interesting than leaving out the front door. It’s so simple but he’s right. He was like that. Those were the moments I enjoyed the most- when he was ‘off’, I guess. Just a guy talking to another guy about stuff he’d learned. No flamboyant innuendo (once when we were hanging out I mentioned Kevin Spacey and he said that he’d just seen Kevin in New York, and when I asked what Kevin was doing in New York he said “sucking my cock”), and no out-of-nowhere one-liners (once while working with him he said, unprovoked, “You know, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way but I’m really getting sick of black people.” And then immediately suggested that I moisturize. There weren’t enough of those moments and it made me sad sometimes. And it was my fault. You see, Taylor Negron was my celebrity. I don’t mean that I had always been a fan or that I went to Hollywood to meet him and be like him. I mean that people who move to LA in search of fame need any advantage they can get. Maybe a relative who works on one of the lots. Maybe a place to stay with some friends. Or maybe they know a celebrity.

Taylor and I had met 7 years earlier in Raleigh, North Carolina, 3000 miles from Los Angeles. I was hosting a radio show and Taylor was in town to do stand-up at a local club and he was at the radio station to promote it. We did several segments, we took calls from fans, we gave away tickets, and we had a pretty good time. I went to see his show that weekend and that was it.

Years later my career took me to New Orleans after Raleigh and then I moved to LA. I’d been doing stand-up comedy at a place called The Comedy District in Culver City for a couple of years when I created a show- sort of a comedy competition. This was years before Last Comic Standing was created and my show had a twist: each comedian who came to the stage had to do their closer, that is the last bit of their set. (In stand-up, most comics have a one-minute closer; a tested joke that usually gets a big laugh so they can ride the wave of laughter off the stage. When a comic’s time is almost up on stage a light is turned on, usually in the comedian’s line of sight but out of the audience’s to let the comic know that there is one more minute.) I assembled 2 judges, Comedy District owner Dan Rosenberg and comedian/actor Barry Sobel, who’d become a regular at the club, and needed a third when I happened to see Taylor at Jerry’s Deli in Beverly Hills one night. I struck up a conversation and asked him to be my third judge and he accepted enthusiastically. The night came and the show went well and Taylor immediately started talking about selling it. Maybe it was the post-show glow and maybe it was supreme hope but it was a moment I will never forget: a person, a famous person liked an idea that I’d had and thought it would be successful. He wanted to shoot a pilot. He wanted to take meetings with agents and managers. And he wanted me there. It was electric.

What happened over the next 2 and a half years was a collection of starts and stops, of highs and lows, of elation and disappointment, in terms of my project. I knew it had no merit without Taylor’s endorsement so I spent my time trying to gently cultivate a friendship, to show him that I was dedicated to making the show a success while at the same time not annoying him while at the same time working to gain his respect as a person while at the same not coming off as sycophantic. I’d noticed that Taylor liked having close people around him and that they almost always had wonderful things to say about him. I tried to be as genuine as possible.

Taylor’s stream of consciousness meandered like the wind at times, which I discovered during a brief interview I arranged with him for this piece. He had just moved to Venice for the Summer and I lived a mile away in Marina del Rey, just south of Washington on the Peninsula. We were 2 or so years into our friendship and had already shot the pilot for the comedy show and progress had stalled it seemed, so between asking him for updates gingerly and taking the initiative to promote it myself I kept busy writing. I’d been published in The Los Angeles Times and I was writing a piece for Venice Magazine and wanted to interview Taylor, knowing that it might be a way to rekindle the attention that my comedy show project needed. I remember writing him to tell him I was writing the story, about his living in Venice now, and about his upcoming stand-up tour. He was gracious but asked that I send him the final draft before submitting it to my editor so he could correct it. Classic Taylor.

PM: I figured a star like you would be in Manhattan Beach or Malibu .Why Venice?

TN: Either of those two places you just mentioned would require me to play tennis, squash, or or perform Pilates. In Venice I can get away with just walking to the corner and getting a Kale/Carrot juice and a tongue taco. This is my work out.

Venice is the most energetic, non-judgmental area in LA. Productive, relaxed, sociable yet protected. It’s California Gothic. The ducks with those blue necks wait for the light to change on Venice Blvd. Cozy. I like that I know my neighbors. Granted they are transients that live in Vans and Trailers or under my car. But we high five one another. One street person who looks like a beat-up Mickey Rourke knows every movie I have been in. I don’t even have premium cable. Last month I found a semi nude homeless dude sleeping in the back seat of my car. I was the only one driving around LA with Skid marks IN the car.

My grandmother lived in Hermosa and her “Bohemian” sister lived at the Bay City motel just below the Santa Monica pier on Bay Street and I spent a large part of my childhood running around these parts. It was rougher then. Going to the beach from Glendale was easy then and we would come out a few days a week. I remember the intense Jewish quarter of the Speedway with the religious men in their fur hats. I can still see the shell of the Pacific Ocean Park. The Plaster of Paris shop on the pier. When the fog is right the whole place seems to be the same.

PM: Why is it important to make people laugh?

TN: People for the most part, have hum drum lives, fear and anxiety. Laughter is very much needed and an agreeable antidote to what the average person must go through.

I don’t take anything seriously and truly see this whole world is a joke. Abe Lincoln has been shot. It’s ok to laugh. Get on with it. A good laugh is like a baked potato of the earth. Good for you!

PM: Why do gay people want to get married?

TN: Because they are products of the middle class and are addicted to the drug of matrimony along with caffeine and sugar. They get a momentary high and don’t imagine the consequences. I have seen my two mommies get into custody fights and it’s not pretty. I kind of don’t believe in marriage for everyone. Marriage makes you expect something in return and one person usually has to take more of the load. The only marriage that really worked was Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and I believe it was because of all that free salad dressing and popcorn. But, Gay people, all People must and will have Equal rights. The game book must include everyone and If somebody wants to eat Big Macs all day- they have the right! Personally I would never get married and thoroughly enjoy having sex with other grown ups. Call me old fashioned, I am kind of like Jesse James.

PM: Was that really Judy Garland’s house?

Not only did I live in her West Hollywood house, I became friends with her best friend who was in the Spanish across from me and he told me in detail about her long slide off Holmby hills. John Carlyle knew Garland from the 50’s and was her co pilot in crime and drug taking.

I wrote the after word to his memoir.

PM: Tell me something about Bruce Willis that no one else knows.

He has bodyguards to protect his fans from HIM. I witnessed men say provoking things. In general, like his detachment from the world. I met him when I was a bartender at Café Central in NYC. He was a star then too.

PM: What is Streep Tease?

Streeptease” -An evening of Meryl Streep Monologues performed by 8 men. In the multi extended/sold out theater piece “ I have chosen to do a speech from Sophie’s Choice, playing the winsome Polish woman making the decision between the unspeakable and the impossible. I learned some polish and German.

The audience becomes very quiet when I do this scene and are reminded that certain human beings can behave monstrously. Injustice occurs.

The audience is surprised that I do something with no laughs and get nervous. I like setting them off kilter.

PM: Are you really going on a stand-up comedy tour this summer?

Yes. I go out every summer. For the last two years I have been in NYC doing my show the “The unbearable lightness of being Taylor Negron”.

There is too much to talk about now-flood gates have been opened and its all going by too fast. Stand- up allows people to reflect on things they thought they thought only they saw. TV Commercials. Certain tattoo signage. Lies. Hostile take overs. Popular culture reflects culture itself, which I believe has lost its sense of irony.

I miss Irony the way the Octomom misses her elasticity.

PM: Why do you hate whistling?

When a person is whistling he is covering up a murder. A crime. This person thinks they are getting away with something. They are not. They are just letting the informants know their whereabouts. Whistling is up there with leaf blowers, gum chewing, and Mary Hart’s entire personality.

Taylor wanted this piece to be, among other things, a “love letter” to Robin Williams, and he wanted to make sure I mentioned that Robin had bought him his first car. I like to think that those two are in a restaurant right now somewhere and Robin is doing material for the waitress, ordering eggs as Mrs. Doubtfire and then doing the bacon’s voice as John Wayne, and Taylor is grinning with his chin resting on his laced fingers and his eyes closed. He died 3 years ago today.

— Pat Mellon