If Gasping For Airtime isn't ghostwritten, comedian Jay Mohr should consider hiring himself out as a ghostwriter. Even at its most revealing, its most self-serving, and its most defamatory, his autobiographical slice-of-life has a professionally generic tone. And, in the tradition of the best beach-blanket writers, he makes sure each chapter begins with a manufactured hook, ends with an artificial punch, and drops half a dozen names in between.
Not that Mohr doesn't have the right to name-drop. As a "featured performer" on Saturday Night Live from 1993 to 1995, he worked with a variety of celebrities, and he has entertaining stories to tell. But most of those tales are Mohr-centric and myopic to an embarrassing fault. The prologue sums things up nicely: Visiting the SNL cast a year after his departure, Mohr denigrates his fellow performers, boasts about his new closeness with Lorne Michaels, and inadvertently reveals himself as somewhere between fanatically self-absorbed and just plain delusional. (Twice in three sentences, Mohr brags about being "deep in conversation" with Michaels, whose typical deep commentary apparently consisted of "Movies would be great for you" and "You should eat.")
Airtime reveals how Mohr went from stand-up to SNL; how he suffered through two years of no guidance, no support, and virtually no airtime; and, most of all, how panic attacks, anxiety disorder, and ignorance about both made his life hell. Along the way, he tells insider stories about SNL, revealing its processes and prejudices, and passing judgment on it all. Airtime is refreshingly honest: Surely if Mohr were worried about backlash, he wouldn't refer to Ellen Cleghorne and Rob Schneider as assholes, or Roseanne as "obviously mentally ill," among his many other blunt comments. (His take on Aretha Franklin: "Her breasts were unlike anything I had ever seen; you should be able to put a key in her rump and drive them. And her bra was architecture.") That directness comes in handy when he's telling horror stories about Chris Farley greeting Mohr with a round of faux-vomiting, or chasing Mohr around the office with shit-smeared hands, or idly masturbating on-set in front of Charlton Heston.
But Mohr is his own worst enemy: SNL likely did treat him shabbily, but his typical reactions—sulking, drinking, self-pity, backstabbing, immoderate self-praise, and passive-aggressive resentment—make it hard to sympathize. By the time he steals another comedian's act, lies to cover his theft, and gets that comedian sued by SNL, he's made himself even more unlikable than the entrenched comic-consuming system he's complaining about. Airtime provides a candid, revealing look behind the curtains at a comic institution. But for all its rote tell-all-isms, it's also a look into the mind of an egotist who might be better off keeping his personal curtains more tightly drawn.