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Bob Dylan almost starred in a ’90s slapstick comedy series for HBO

on November 10, 2014, 3:53pm

Last week, we learned that Bob Dylan almost recorded an album with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Turns out the LP was just one of many intriguing ideas from Dylan that never came to fruition. According to producer and writer Larry Charles (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm), he and the singer-songwriter nearly made an HBO slapstick comedy show together in the ’90s.

As Charles noted on Pete Holmes’ podcast You Made It Weird (via Rolling Stone), Dylan had “gotten deeply into Jerry Lewis” and was looking to not only make a slapstick comedy, but also “star in it, almost like a Buster Keaton or something.” The concept for the show came together during a particularly interesting meeting in Dylan’s smoky Santa Monica office. It all started with just a couple of random ideas, which Dylan would scribble down on scraps of paper.

“He [Dylan] takes these scraps and he puts them together and makes his poetry out of that,” said the TV producer. “He has all of these ideas and then just in a subconscious or unconscious way, he lets them synthesize into a coherent thing. And that’s how we wound up writing also.”

Charles added, “We wound up writing in a very ‘cut-up’ technique. We’d take scraps of paper, put them together, try to make them make sense, try to find the story points within it. And we finally wrote … a very elaborate treatment for this slapstick comedy, which is filled with surrealism and all kinds of things from his songs and stuff.”

Both Charles and Dylan pitched the idea to HBO’s then-president, Chis Albrecht. It was warmly received by Albrecht and the network, however Dylan — who was dressed in a “black cowboy cat, a black floor-length duster, black boots” — seemed noticeably awkward throughout most of the business meeting. Just minutes after the conference, as they were all about to leave the HBO office, “the legendary songwriter spoke up and effectively shut down the project in one fell swoop.”

“We go out to the elevator – Bob’s manager Jeff, my manager Gavin, me, and Bob – the three of us are elated we actually sold the project and Bob says, ‘I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s too slapsticky,'” recounted Charles. “He’s not into it. That’s over. The slapstick phase has officially ended.”

While Charles and Dylan’s slapstick TV show never came to fruition, the two later teamed up for the 2003 movie Masked and Anonymous, which starred Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Penelope Cruz, and Dylan himself.

Below, hear Charles’ full interview with Pete Holmes.

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