After Charlie Sheen’s rants against Chuck Lorre yesterday—referring to him as Chaim Levine (more on this later), calling him a “clown” and a “stupid, stupid little man and a p**sy punk”—I was thinking to myself: “Who is Sheen talking about?!”
Following a sit-down with Chuck Lorre at Comic-Con in 2009, the vibe I got from him was one of a menschy, thoughtful, self-critical guy. And if you read the vanity cards at the end of “Big Bang Theory” and “Two and a Half Men,” the portrait that emerges is one of a middle-aged Jewish comedy writer struggling with work, life and dating. And until Sheen’s meltdown, Lorre believed that no one was reading them—save for the die-hard fans who record the shows and freeze-frame at the exact second the card is visible (they’re also collected online at chucklorre.com, stretching back to his “Dharma & Greg” days).
Starting this week, Lorre is taking a break from the vanity cards. Last night’s “Big Bang Theory” card read: “Censored!” (you can read the card that should have run here).
The tabloids have made a lot of Lorre’s cards recently, because he’s been using them to vent his frustrations over Sheen. In the Feb. 14 “Two and a Half Men” vanity card, he kvetched about his efforts to live a long, healthy life: “I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I don’t have crazy, reckless sex with strangers. If Charlie Sheen outlives me, I’m gonna be really pissed.” For the Feb. 17 “Big Bang Theory” card, he wrote: “Strong Nielson ratings guarantee employment, not self-esteem. Actors can smoke cigarettes because they’re immune to carcinogens.”
A month earlier he wrote: “Do not attempt to replicate what you saw in tonight’s episode of Two and a Half Men. Despite the seeming lack of serious consequences and regardless of the hilarity that ensued, this is extremely dangerous behavior and could result in injury or death. Please keep in mind that we employ a highly-paid Hollywood professional who has years of experience with putting his life at risk. And sadly no, I’m not talking about our stunt man.”
When radio host Alex Jones brought up the vanity cards, Sheen said it was “one of the few compliments that clown has paid me in the last decade.”
It wouldn’t be shocking to learn that Sheen got “Chaim Levine” from reading the Feb. 7 “Two and a Half Men” vanity card, which Lorre wrote from Israel—apparently his first trip to the Holy Land. Like many first-timers, Lorre glowed about being surrounded by other Jews, but in his own geeky way: “I didn’t realize how much my double helix yearned to be around similar strands.”
Giving us insight into his Jewish identity, Lorre continues: “Why have I spent a lifetime moving away from that group? How did Chaim become Chuck? How did Levine become Lorre? The only answer I come up with is this: When I was a little boy in Hebrew school the rabbis regularly told us that we were the chosen people. That we were God’s favorites. Which is all well and good except that I went home, observed my family and, despite my tender age, thought to myself, “bull$#*!.”
Also, look no further than “Big Bang Theory’s” Howard Wolowitz to find out what kind of Jew Lorre is. Lorre told GeekHeeb that Wolowitz — the shiksa-dating, assimilated Jew — is a blend of his own Jewish background as well as that of the actor who plays him, Simon Helberg.
Unlike the broad jabs at Texas through Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) and India via Rajesh “Raj” Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar), the Jewish humor in “Big Bang Theory” is almost always familial. Take Wolowitz’s off-screen mother, played by Carol Ann Susi, whose main form of communication is yelling:
“Things are loud in a Jewish household. Conversations are up here,” Lorre said, lifting his hand above his head, “they’re pitched pretty high. That’s just the way we talk. Other people go, ‘Why are you yelling?’ I’m not yelling; I’m making a point! That was the fun of creating that off-camera mother. That’s how communication happens in some households, and it’s normal in that house.”
When asked when he writes the vanity cards, he told GeekHeeb, “On the bus to school.” IOW, at the last minute.
Spend some time, read through his cards. That’s where you’ll get to know Chuck Lorre.
(Wendy J. Madnick contributed to this article.)
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