My new novel "You Can Go Home Now" is out on Amazon ( ) right now and I figured this would be a good a time as any to drop into reddit for another AMA!

I'm happy to offer advice on writing in Hollywood and share my experiences as a writer, director, and producer. I can't read scripts but if you write a line or two about the premise I might be helpful.

Here's my website:

And here's my proof!

Comments: 572 • Responses: 95  • Date: 

daHob748 karma

What was it like growing up as a poor black child?

lemnos58505 karma

Rags to riches. Just like the movie.

cptnjalepeno347 karma

The Jerk is one of my favourite movies of all time. Who do you think is making comedies that stand up against some of the old classics? Can you recommend some movies?

lemnos58355 karma

Eric Andre, South Park, for TV Judd Apatow, Nick Hornby Film My new favorite TV show is Arde Madrid on Amazon

GeorgeStamper166 karma

Hi Michael,

I have a couple of important questions.

1.) In preparation for writing "The Jerk," did you travel to Guatemala and visit an underground cat juggling den?

2.) Re: The Head of the Class reboot, will the character of Eric wear a leather jacket, and sit backwards on his chair?

lemnos58166 karma

  1. Of course, we went to Guatemala! That's why the scene is so accurate.
  2. I hope so. Some things have to stay the same, don't you think?

littlemissemperor121 karma

What scene or line from The Jerk are you most proud of?

lemnos58428 karma

The one I didn't write, where Steve leaves the mansion and takes stuff. It was all him.

Otto_Maller99 karma

That's the scene my brother and I repeat whenever one or the other is dragging his feet to get moving. Oh and I need this...

The Jerk is one of those movies I'll re-watch anytime it pops up, from any point in the movie. Not unlike Airplane!, you can watch it and watch it again repeating the lines with all the characters. Love it.

Good luck with the book (I get it! It's a profit deal!)

lemnos5836 karma

Thanks again. Let me know how much you loved it.

KungFuGrip193112 karma

The other day we had our little little nieces and nephews over. I gave my nephew who is 1 1/2 one of those little cans of pineapple juice. He proceeded to throw it on the floor. In all the bedlam of cleaning/yelling/getting more paper towels, I shouted “he hates these cans!” No one got it. My question is-do I disown my family?

lemnos58101 karma

Immediately. Some things can never be forgiven.

paranoid_70103 karma

Was much of the dialog in the Jerk improvised?

lemnos58243 karma

Not much, except for Steve's farewell speech as he leaves the mansion.

lemnos5823 karma

See above, but not much.

CletusVanDamnit84 karma

Hi Michael - thanks for doing this. As does everyone else here, I love The Jerk.

I know you also wrote several episodes for The Bill Cosby Show. Did his accusations, arrest, and conviction shock you as much as it did for most everyone else?

lemnos58110 karma

Thank you and yes, re Bill: No one had any idea, even his closest friends.

acoradreddit83 karma

What exactly is the difference between shit and shineola?

lemnos58115 karma

One is, just shit, the other is just shoe polish

broganisms81 karma

The outrage surrounding agency packaging fees has only grown since your 2011 lawsuit against CAA. How do you feel about the WGA's efforts to combat this and what additional steps do you think need to be made to ensure writers are protected?

lemnos5883 karma

I think the Guild is making progress in this battle. But, in some ways, I'm out of it. Happy writing novels.

one_great_city80 karma

On a scale of 1 to shooting them, how much do you hate cans?

lemnos5885 karma

A lot. Trust me.

lckybch69 karma

Did you find your Special Purpose?

lemnos5875 karma

Nope. Still looking.

rayrayrayray56 karma

What was the reason for Howard Hesseman being replaced with Billy Connolly?

lemnos5873 karma

In truth, the show was about to be canceled unless we could 'freshen it up' - and a new lead was the best way. I guess it worked, we got one more season and then did another show with Billy called 'Billy.'

RLucas300022 karma

1) Did Howard want to leave anyway?

2) Did you have a preference between the two actors?

lemnos5817 karma

I loved them both.

tomservohero49 karma

What is your justification for shooting all those cans? Why do you hate them??

lemnos5876 karma

They deserved everything they got. My hatred of cans goes way back.

heyduckyou47 karma

My fiance loves The Jerk. He was so excited to make me watch clips of it lol.

What would you say got you into writing? How did you get started in Hollywood? I used to write when I was a teenager before wanting to be the one on film!

lemnos5864 karma

Glad you liked it. I started as a comedian and was on The Tonight Show - a producer called from Hollywood and offered me and my partner a TV writing job. We went.

Smgth40 karma

The Jerk is one of my all time favorite movies, thank you!

Who else do you think is Steve Martin level funny?

lemnos5886 karma

Rowan Atkinson, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy...but that's just now.

mattdangerously38 karma

Which character on Head Of The Class most reflected what you were like at that age?

lemnos5855 karma

What a great question! Iron Balls McGinty. Seriously, Steve. Loved my family.

lemnos5864 karma

Sorry, I thought you meant The Jerk. Probably Simone because I was dreamy, loved poetry, wanted to be a writer, and had red hair!

monkeyhind36 karma

Hello, Michael Elias. Just wanted to say thanks for visiting Reddit. Congratulations on publishing your new novel! I look forward to reading it.

I've heard jokes about Hollywood that make me think writers don't get the credit they are due. Have you ever felt one of your scripts was ruined by other factors (for example, actor egos)? What do you think is the hardest part of writing a screenplay?

lemnos5853 karma

Thanks! None of my scripts were ruined, and two were made better by directors: Carl Reiner - The Jerk, and Gary Marshall -Young Doctors in Love. I wasn't happy with Trick Baby and used a pseudonym. The hardest part of writing a screenplay is finding a great ending.

RLucas300010 karma

Do studios always want ‘Hollywood’ (aka feel good) endings?

Do most directors want the opposite of that?

lemnos5818 karma

Not always, but often. Directors have already committed to the ending...

Ronburgundy209935 karma

Do you feel bad for all those people who’s eyes you ruined?

Also I love the movie.

lemnos5830 karma

Yes, I do. And thank you!

Cursedbythedicegods30 karma

What was it like working with Billy Connolly when he took over as the lead in Head of the Class?

lemnos5869 karma

A joy. The nicest no-bullshit guy ever and one of my all-time favorite actors and I should put him in the list of Steve Martin level finny.

BishonenPrincess29 karma

If you were to create “The Jerk” today, would you have made anything different about it? How often/what kind of feedback have you gotten from black Americans on the movie? What views do you have that have changed/evolved from all those decades ago?

lemnos5851 karma

Those are such good questions. First, a lot of the movie used stuff from Steve Martin's act, Cat Juggling, and that the move is him, and I don't think anyone else can or should do it now, I haven't had feedback from Black Americans - and I would be curious to hear. I hope my views from decades ago wouldn't need evolving. But I will think about it.

FlowerInYourCasket27 karma

I don’t have a question but I do have one of my mothers favorite memories of me growing up because of The Jerk.

I was about 6 years old, in Walmart, holding onto the grocery cart like an innocent, good little child. Then loudly asked, in front of several other people, “MOOOOMMMM, what’s a blowjob??”

lemnos5819 karma

Wow! I'd have loved to be there.

ChuckEye22 karma

How much "Black Bart" were you involved with? When the story came out last year that they'd shot a whole series but kept it in the can, it was pretty remarkable.

lemnos5832 karma

A lot. Wrote the Pilot, and co-produced it. Not true. We wrote six more episodes, but the scripts were never produced.

SublaciniateCarboloy18 karma

What are some major differences in the film industry from the 70s/80s to today?

lemnos5837 karma

Obviously streaming and the possible end of movie theatres.

RPDRNick18 karma

Do you feel like you missed out by not returning to write the blockbuster sequel The Jerk, Too?

lemnos5829 karma


RODAMI18 karma

Do you miss phone books?

lemnos5836 karma

Of course. And they were good for putting kids on them so they could reach the table

catfarts9917 karma

My friends and I practically memorized every line in The Jerk. That movie was such a huge part of my adolescence. If I ever became filthy rich, I was going to recreate the red game room in Steve's mansion.

So do you own a stuffed camel and where can I get one?

lemnos5822 karma

Damn, I just dumped the camel. It was getting scrungy.

harmonica1616 karma

Do you have anymore ensemble classroom sit-coms in ya?
Loved Head of the Class, also loved more recently Community. The world needs more of unlikely friendships in classroom settings, especially since it is the grounds for comedy gold.

lemnos5825 karma

Well, I do. But I can't talk about it yet. And, thanks!

VancityCons15 karma

Hi Michael,

Thanks for doing this! My uncle's favourite movie of all time is The Jerk, and all my life (and probably before it) he has posed the same philosophical question to anyone who would listen. He attended a Q&A with Steve Martin and hoped to ask it there, but he wasn't selected from the crowd. I'd be very grateful if you could respond so that I can pass your answer on to him. Who is Navin R. Johnson?

lemnos5824 karma

The searcher, the seeker, the fool.

QuicktapMcgoo15 karma


In the red-headed stepchild industry of nonscripted here, and my friends' favorite stories of mine are about network notes.

What the top few fucktastically stupid/arbitrary/contrary notes you've gotten from the studio or network?

lemnos5835 karma

When Arvid is in a drugstore struggling to buy a condom, and a woman says "Here, they're on me and they better be on you." The network said to take it out, it was 'x-rated' And when they told us to remove the picture of Malcolm X on the set. I said I would need a letter telling me to, and of course, I never heard from them.

Quijanoth14 karma

How much of Steve Martin's brilliance was on the page versus pure improv genius?

lemnos5844 karma

His brilliance was also physical. But he mostly stuck to the script - after all he was one of the writers.

Whyrobotslie14 karma

I love the jerk, can my wife now blame you for my infrequent licking of her face when she expects a kiss?

lemnos5820 karma

That's a great moment. You can see BP trying not to laugh.

mage2k14 karma

I've got a few questions:

  • What's your favorite memory of working with Steve Martin?
  • Favorite joke from The Jerk?
  • Do you remember who came up with the phone book "I'm somebody!" joke? I still yell that out at people whenever I see my name in print :)

lemnos5833 karma

His birthday presents, his blurb for my new novel, and our endless chess games on the set. Favorite joke: Bernadette Peters "The stuff!' Can't remember who came up with what...

pappyomine12 karma

First off, thank you! The Jerk is the movie I've seen more than any other: it was one of the few VHS tapes we had on the Alaskan fishing boat I worked on in the early '80s.

There is a scene I vaguely remember, but it's not in the movie when I rewatch it: perhaps it was a removed scene?

In the scene, Navin is carrying his dog Shithead in his arms, rhapsodizing to him about life on the road. Does this ring a bell?

lemnos5814 karma

Yes...and the dog is trying to escape.

Ouisch12 karma

I watched an episode of Head of the Class once with my family during its original run (the episode was "We Love You, Mrs. Russell"), and I felt almost clairvoyant because a few moments into the show I could actually quote the lines along with the characters. The reason was because the script was an almost word-for-word reenactment of an episode of Room 222 (a favorite of mine) entitled "Elizabeth Brown is Failing". (I likewise remember once seeing an episode of Laverne and Shirley that used the same script as used on the old Bobby Sherman sitcom Getting Together.)

Is this recycling of scripts common? What is the protocol, copyright-wise?

lemnos588 karma

I wouldn't call it recycling - certain subjects are in the air and get written about by different writers.

Ouisch9 karma

But this was not just the subject matter, it was practically a verbatim usage of the original script, including the recitation of "Invictus" and the fading teacher calling out Mr. Moore/Mr. Kaufman as the student who was once in her class. Right down to the "A plus five" grade she gave him.

lemnos5814 karma

Let me check it out.

bigwhammy12 karma

If you wrote The Jerk today, do you think the scene where he beats up the mobsters and describes himself as an N*****, would have made it to film?

lemnos5816 karma

Nope. It can't be used.

MagicMirror3311 karma

Did you write the Thermos song?

lemnos5815 karma

Yes, with Steve

sfguy197710 karma

Did Bernadette Peters actually play the Trumpet in The Jerk? The fingering was pretty spot on.

lemnos5812 karma

I don't know. It is one of my favorite scenes.

clebo9910 karma

Who wrote the scene where Steve Martin kept saying he didn't need one other thing...not one othe....I need this!!! The remote control and the paddle game.....

.....and these matches.

Great movie.

lemnos5813 karma

He did.

Jackmehoffer129 karma

Do you think the super hero genre is overdone?Ill take my answer off the air.

lemnos588 karma

Honestly, I don't know. Probably not.

lisasimpsonfan9 karma

Head of the Class was one of my favorite sitcoms growing up. What was it like writing for legends like Billy Connolly and Howard Hesseman?

Was it hard switching from writing scripts to writing novels?

lemnos587 karma

Thanks. It was great fun and always challenging. It was hard, but probably more rewarding creatively as I'm all alone.

cugamer8 karma

Would you be interested in doing a Christopher Nolan style gritty reboot of The Jerk?

lemnos5810 karma

That would be fun.

Cronoghost8 karma

Considering the culture of remakes that Hollywood has nurtured lately, do you think it would ever be feasible to remake this movie? I'd hate to see it, because the original was too hilarious.

lemnos5832 karma

I'm against remaking good movies. And bad ones usually stay bad. However, an exception: check out the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair

colossuskidd7 karma

Pineapple on pizza ? Yes or no?

lemnos5823 karma

No. No. No.

ermghoti7 karma

The Jerk is on a short list of mandatory movies, a legend, a classic. Was it a profit deal?

lemnos5810 karma

Thanks and do you mean did it make a profit? Yes.

NotNIpsyRussell7 karma

Hello, and thanks for doing this! I live Steve's duet with Bernadette on the beach. That song is so sweet, and captures Navin's earnestness beautifully. Who wrote it, and how did it come to be in the movie? Also, I prefer to go to my grave thinking Bernadette Peters can whip out a trumpet solo at any time, so if you're going to tell me she didn't in the movie, I will just have to go ahead and not believe you.

lemnos5813 karma

Thank you, too. I think Steev and I wrote the song. Of course, Bernadette can whip out a trumpet any time.

iwannafightmorrissey6 karma

Since a remake is right out, what are the chances of a broadway musical production of The Jerk?

lemnos5813 karma

A good idea, actually.

Evilscience6 karma

Would you be interested in opening a Cup-O-Pizza franchise with me? And was it your idea? Because it's time, it may even be your 'special purpose'...

lemnos587 karma

For sure.

UrbanOutfisters6 karma

Is Brian Robbins actually a dick?

lemnos586 karma

Absolutely not!

newleafkratom6 karma

Which one thing - were you offered a choice - would you choose to be buried with?

lemnos5814 karma

My trombone.

blackmagemasta5 karma

What's your favorite cheese?

lemnos5814 karma

The stronger the better. Gorgonzola.

Sweetheartscanbeeeee5 karma

I’m watching Steve Martin’s MasterClass on comedy, just for the heck of it. Do you have any pearls of wisdom or observations about comedy or screenwriting that Steve wouldn’t think to say, or maybe would even disagree with?

Also, when I introduced my girlfriend to The Jerk she asked why Steve was dressed as a bum , right before he denied being a bum. So your joke worked at least once!

lemnos584 karma

I'm sorry I haven't seen his master's class.And I'm glad a joke worked twice.

mgoflash5 karma

Any tidbits or other type of bits about working with Carl Reiner?

lemnos5826 karma

I wrote an article about working with Carl in the Hollywood Reporter when he died. I'll look for it and add it to a query. Or, you do the same. he used to say, it takes nine bad ideas before you get to the tenth good one.

lemnos5813 karma

Thanks for posting.

mgoflash4 karma

Didn’t know you were a Catskill vet. My uncle owned the Triangle Diner and lounge across the street from Grossinger’s. If you tell me you ate there and enjoyed it I will buy your book. Ha ha.

lemnos5811 karma

I'm from Woodbourne. Of course, I remember it and enjoyed it. Start buying.

PolymathEquation5 karma

Have you ever written something you later saw acted out and thought it was completely off/poorly executed/not what was intended, and are you willing/able to give examples?

lemnos5844 karma

Sure, but let me tell you the positive side: when Forrest Whittaker did a speech I wrote in Lush Life my reaction was "Gee, who wrote that?" because he had elevated it to a level that I never imagined as a writer - he didn't change a word -

LordPizzaParty4 karma

Two days ago I was compelled to read the Wikipedia entry on Head of the Class, seemingly for no reason, and now here you are. How do yo explain that?

lemnos583 karma

Mysterious ways.

Sarah-Kayacomesin4 karma

Was 'I Know You Belong to Me' a choice of yours, or was it collaborative between Martin and Peters?

lemnos585 karma

I'm pretty sure it was us - but us could be Carl, Carl, Steve and me.

oranjemania3 karma

Is it true that Howard Hesseman's girlfriend was the Yoko Ono of "Head of the Class"?

lemnos587 karma

I'm not sure what you mean. Oh - as in broke up the Beatles? Nah, she was fine.

doublementh3 karma

I'm a novelist trying his hand at screenwriting. Any tips or tricks for moving over to another format? And how did you break through?

lemnos588 karma

It's probably harder now. I broke through while I was writing Tv so I had an agent to read my spec screenplays. And, I went from screenplays to novels. No tips or tricks - just watch movies and see what makes them work, and write one.

Nox12013 karma

Quick premise. Time traveling egg souffle saves Medieval France. Thoughts?

lemnos584 karma

Write it.

cmmedit3 karma

Still remember being 5 and watching Head of The Class with my parents. They loved it and so did I. Been a fan of yours for decades. Keep that pen to the paper!! Oh, gotta have a Q: Any particular favorite spots for coffee/teas in the Hollywood area?

lemnos583 karma

Thanks so much. I always liked Hugo's - is it still there?

Novelty-Accnt2 karma

Is there an ending line to the Thermos song in The Jerk? It ends rather abruptly.

lemnos585 karma

Not sure,

GotMoFans2 karma

I have two questions Mr. Elias! I watched HotC every week when I was a kid and I remember seeing your name in the credits. I enjoy catching it every now and again on Antenna TV on the weekend. “The Jerk” is one of the funniest movies ever!

Why did Howard Hesseman have a problem with “Head of the Class?”

How do you feel about the success in television “Head of the Class” co-stars Dan Schneider and Brian Robbins have had, especially with children & family programs?

Thanks for doing this!

lemnos584 karma

Maybe because he envisioned the show solely about him and the kids were secondary. But it wasn't meant to be that - it was about them all.

BennyBoyIsLost2 karma

I recently discovered that Head of the Class is streaming, and have been adoringly re-watching it. I was surprised that given it was about high school kids in the 80s, it holds up extremely well. It has been wonderful to view it again during this pandemic. Most current shows that get critical attention tend to be "gritty" and "realistic" - it's been great to settle into a show that is optimistic and bright. Besides making funny TV, was there anything else you wanted to do accomplish when you were creating the show?

lemnos583 karma

Thank you so much. We wanted to make a show about the value of education, the importance of a caring teacher, and have a show that kids could watch with their parents.

ChuckEye2 karma

What would Pat Paulsen have thought about the 2020 election?

lemnos586 karma

He would have loved it. And been so funny.

BreakingNews991 karma

Can you play any instruments?

lemnos582 karma

Trombone and flute, both badly.

finniruse1 karma

Is this your first novel? How was the switch to that style of writing? What tips do you have? Thanks.

lemnos582 karma

It's my second. the first was the Last Conquistador about a lost Inca city in the Amazon. The switch was hard - going from minimalist screenplay to maximalist novel. Tips? Read novels, find out whose style you like, and try to copy it.

Stranger23061 karma

Do you keep in touch with any of the cast from Head of the Class? Seems like forever ago, but part of me hopes that everyone is still friends!

lemnos582 karma

I do. Krystyne, Robin, both Dans, and recently the wonderful Laura Piper.

danhakimi1 karma

When is Steve Martin going to EGOT? What are you doing to help him EGOT?

lemnos582 karma


PinwheelsAndUnicorns1 karma

Would Howard Hesseman lie for weed?

lemnos582 karma

Howard, who might have had an 'interesting' past was clean and sober.

Tripleshotlatte0 karma

Dan Schneider recently had to leave Nickolodeon for something about feet (?) and behavior issues. What was he like on the set of Head of the Class?

lemnos582 karma

First-class wonderful!

Pavementaled-8 karma

I recently rewatched The Jerk... wow. How did you guys get away with that stuff? As a kid I thought it was funny. As an adult it’s cringeworthy. Also, what a great way for you to get ideas. Farm Reddit. I am being a total asshole right now. But you know, it’s Hollywood. Excuuuuuuse me!

lemnos589 karma

Excusse you back!