“A Brush With The Elbow Of Greatness” (season 1, episode 12; original airdate Oct. 31, 1992)
Opening credits guests: Bebe Neuwirth, Penny Marshall, Garth Brooks
Hank’s introduction of Larry in the opening credits: “Because I am daffy about this guy, and I don’t care who knows it...”
“What’s it like?” Larry asks Beverly roughly halfway into “A Brush With The Elbow Of Greatness.”
“What’s what like?”
“What’s it like being a nobody?”
Larry wouldn’t know anymore. (“I can see this is gonna be a fun conversation,” Beverly responds.) Every day, people around the world are assholes, but 99.9999999999999 percent of those everyday dick moves don’t make it onto the news. Larry, who learned in “The Party” that his private life was not so private, now learns that neither are his indiscretions. Rudely bump into someone at the supermarket, and the networks will air video footage of it.
That’s what happens in “Elbow,” as an impatient—and, to be fair, migraine-suffering—Larry not only cuts in front of a woman at a grocery store, but knocks her over and into a magazine rack doing so. In LA, seeing celebrities is fairly common, and interacting with them isn’t rare. But the city’s residents aren’t shy about going to the media to tattle on a misbehaving celebrity, as Area Woman Carol Biederman—the shovee—does after Larry knocks her over. “Just because we’re the little people doesn’t mean we don’t exist,” she tells a camera crew. “You know, he looks thin when you see him on his show, but in real life he has kind of a gut.” Knowing Larry as we all do, we understand that comment hurt the most.
“That’s why I refuse to watch the local news,” says Artie later. “Two kittens fell in a well—who gives a shit?” But the media love nothing more than a story about celebrities behaving badly, and they descend on the office. Before Artie can issue a gag order to all the staff, Phil and Jerry make smartass comments to reporters about Larry’s abusive past. “Although it depends on what you call ‘physically abusive,’” Jerry says. “Would you call beating a man half to death because he ran out of non-dairy creamer ‘abusive’?” (Chimes in Phil: “And of course after you beat a man like that, you know what the next step is: Larry had to make him his bitch.”)
The Larry Sanders Show often feels like a time capsule, and “Elbow” reinforces that in its portrayal of celebrity gossip in the pre-Internet Age—back when Entertainment Tonight was king! Larry moans that “half the civilized world” is going to watch ET in a few hours and see leaked surveillance footage of his being a dick. These days, he’d have to deal with the ignominy of the video getting a couple million plays on YouTube, parody videos, Perez Hilton drawing cum on his face on a still image from the video, vloggers/bloggers, and the other annoyingly vigilant parts of the Celebrity-Industrial Complex. But ET, CNN, and some new network called E! still spell trouble for him when the video goes viral (in a 1992 sense).
If there weren’t a tape, Larry could write off the woman as a crazed fan, and the network wouldn’t even bother to issue a statement. But once the tape came out, the network “started coughing up blood” according to Artie. “I’m really fucked,” says Larry after seeing the tape.
As a showbiz satire, The Larry Sanders Show is legally obligated to introduce a sleazy PR flack here, and it obeys the dictum with Norm (the always great David Paymer), who couldn’t be more excited. “This is a publicity bonanza. Gentlemen, I’m wetting myself,” he says. Larry can’t just go and apologize, like he wants; Norm insists he milk it. Emulate Roseanne, he advises: After she did her controversial performance of the national anthem in 1990, the nation was outraged—but her show quickly became No. 1.
Although Larry accedes, the “let it ride” strategy only makes him feel worse. I’d like to think he genuinely feels bad for behaving like an asshole, but that’s not it: As a comedian, he has a DNA-deep need to be liked. This much heat leaves him incapacitated, lying on the sofa in his office and hiding from the world. Even Beverly and Artie aren’t allowed in, and most alarming of all, Larry even turned down an Excedrin! (The water cooler full of the caffeine-enhanced headache medicine in Larry’s office proves the man likes to pop ’em.) It’s not until Jeannie is summoned and threatens to reveal Larry’s nickname for his penis that the door opens.
With the guilt and bad press finally getting to him, Larry announces his intention to apologize to the woman. PR flack Norm seemingly does a 180, agreeing that it’s the right thing to do—on air. “God, you’re a sick fuck,” Larry says. “Thank you!” responds Norm.
As trenchant as The Larry Sanders Show can be, Norm is more cartoon than character. It’s not that sleazeballs like him don’t exist; it’s that his limited screen time here is so one-note and obvious. Even network suits like Melanie Parrish are afforded a bit of reason to their actions, but Norm is all oily spin doctor, ready to slit a hobo’s throat if it meant ratings—at least he is here. He appears intermittently throughout the show’s run.
The on-air apology couldn’t be tackier (here’s a refrigerator/freezer combo, presented by a woman in a skimpy swimsuit!) or more insincere (“There’s nothing more important than human dignity,” Larry tells Carol Biederman), and to her credit, Biederman isn’t buying it. Not only does she dispute Larry’s assertion that he didn’t see her, but she also doesn’t think her lawyer would approve of accepting the fridge. That second part sparks a laughing rage in Larry, who’s on the verge of making the whole situation worse until Hank The Pitchman saves the day. He quickly recites the fridge’s many features and persuades Biederman to take it. All is well, until the wackity-smackity-doooo ending where Biederman takes a spill off the stage.
As we’ve discussed several times, the episodes weren’t shot in any sort of thematic order, so it’s almost a happy accident that the end of “Elbow” sets the stage a bit for season closer “Hey Now,” where Larry grows frustrated with Hank, only to be saved by him again.
- “Elbow” also brings up the problem of Hank’s overextension as a pitchman, much like “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” Here, he’s trying to woo another client—“Thank you, I had a parent named Ben”—with flatly transparent ploy, only to have Larry’s bad mood sabotage it. “Hey Larry, it’s your good buddy,” Hank says knocking on Larry’s door, hoping to introduce him to the Chicken In A Minute guy. “Fuck off, Hank.”
- That’s a good comeuppance for Hank, though, for making Darlene dig through trash to get Chicken In A Minute wrappers, instead of just buying the food. Cheap bastard!
- Larry, watching Carol Biederman look at magazines at the grocery store on the video: “Look at her. She’s not gonna buy that. This isn’t a fuckin’ lending library, lady.”
- Again we hear about Larry’s desire to give up on showbiz and move to Montana. Foreshadowing!
- That TV show starring Gerald Ford’s son that Larry mentions in the monologue? It was called Secret Service and featured re-enactments of actual cases. Steven Ford hosted. It only ran one season—I think only 14 of the 21 episodes even aired.