He Puts Bill Maher on TV, and Jefferson, Dickens and Tolstoy on Stage

September 17, 2017 - Finding Carter

Mr. Carter replied, “Aren’t we all.”

A polite, thoughtful, heated man, Mr. Carter does not indispensably possess a apparent résumé of a playwright who would furnish a Sartre-style imagining on story and theology. He has finished his vital as a TV author and writer of comedy and accumulation shows for some-more than 30 years, and is a longtime executive writer of “Real Time With Bill Maher,” a HBO late-night series.

But Mr. Carter has an gluttonous oddity and he keeps an open mind as he pursues his possess trail to devout enlightenment.


From left, Michael Laurence, Duane Boutté and Thom Sesma, rehearsing “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord,” with a playwright, Scott Carter, seated.

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Over a breakfast interview, he compared himself to “people who have changed from New York to L.A., and now they have to get a car, yet they don’t know anything about cars.

“That was me,” he continued. “I had to get a car.”

Raised in a Protestant family, Mr. Carter pronounced he had a life-changing, “Saul on a highway to Damascus” epiphany in 1987. In New York, where he lived and worked as a stand-up comic, he had a near-fatal asthma conflict and was treated for a week during Bellevue Hospital Center.

Walking home after his release, Mr. Carter said, he “went into this tranquillity state, like during a finish of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ or Scrooge on Christmas morning.”

He explained, “I went from being possibly antagonistic or indifferent to anything carrying to do with religion, to carrying this strenuous prodigy that there’s got to be a God. And we saw all in a universe as beautiful.”

Those heightened feelings upheld after a few days, yet Mr. Carter pronounced he confirmed “an agreement with a universe” to be receptive to eremite discernment wherever it competence come from, either pamphleteers, Jehovah’s Witnesses or street-corner preachers.


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In an progressing theatre work, Mr. Carter combined a one-man uncover for himself, “Heavy Breathing,” about his asthma conflict and his time operative as a copywriter for racy magazines.

When he found out that Jefferson had created his possess bible by slicing and pasting tools of a Gospels into a singular text, Mr. Carter began to suppose a theatre prolongation where it would be review by 4 actors, one for any of a Evangelists.

After after anticipating Dickens’s “The Life of Our Lord,” a comment of Jesus that a author wrote for his children, Mr. Carter contemplated a ridicule plead between Dickens and Jefferson.


Describing his highway to playwriting, Mr. Carter compares himself to “people who have changed from New York to L.A., and now they have to get a car, yet they don’t know anything about cars.”

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Then Mr. Carter schooled of Tolstoy’s “The Gospel in Brief.” The Russian writer was a third literary manuscript to try his possess singularity of a biblical canon. “My heart leapt during anticipating this out,” Mr. Carter said, “but it also sank given now we thought, I’ve got another dual years of research.”

Friends and colleagues of Mr. Carter’s contend he has an omnivorous egghead ardour and a metaphysical authority of all he has read.

“He’s got one of those minds that only irritates you, given it’s like a record cabinet,” pronounced Lewis Black, a dyspeptic comic and “The Daily Show” commentator. “‘Oh, that’s behind when Chekhov was deliberating his work with Robespierre.’ What? Where did we get that?”

For Mr. Carter, museum can be a place for enchanting with ideas he can't always residence in conversations with other comedy writers, Mr. Black said.

Mr. Black explained: “He’s not going to spin to me and go, ‘Hey, Lewis, we was reading Kierkegaard yesterday, and … ’ That would not come adult in a normal conversations. It’s event to plead things that we competence plead after 3 drinks.”


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In 2005, Mr. Carter finished a 151-page breeze of what would turn “Discord.” “Everybody hated it,” he said. “My mother hated it. My representative hated it. My counsel hated it.” He filed a book away, afterwards revised it over a subsequent decade with submit from people like Garry Shandling, Norman Lear and Arianna Huffington.

The ensuing play, using about 50 pages and 90 minutes, finished a entrance in 2014 during a NoHo Arts Center in Los Angeles. Reviewing that production, The Los Angeles Times called it a “funny and thought-provoking new play” that illuminates “the contrary personalities that expostulate 3 conflicting takes on Christianity.”

Mr. Maher, a “Real Time” host, is a strident atheist, yet he pronounced he appreciated “Discord” for a amusement and a thoughtfulness. “We are vital in a universe of shoal phone culture,” Mr. Maher wrote in an email, “and Scott’s play, and a premise, are a antidote.”

Ms. Senior, who destined a prior prolongation of “Discord,” presented final year during a North Shore Center for a Performing Arts in Skokie, Ill., pronounced there was a feeling comic suggestion during a heart of a play, notwithstanding a loftier ambitions.

Preparing “Discord” for Primary Stages, she said, has been “a consistent review about a tinge and a comedy in it.”

The ideal chronicle of a play, Ms. Senior said, is “one in that we giggle in a commencement and your pathways are non-stop adult to listen improved — afterwards maybe we leave holding comment of your possess life.”

Likewise a 3 characters in “Discord,” Ms. Senior said, are “trying, in their possess ways, to find out how to live, how to comparison what creates us sparse and coarse and narcissistic.”

Mr. Carter pronounced he continues to attend a First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, yet he is not an central member and does not call himself a Christian; he pronounced he appreciates a church’s organ and a opportunities for inspiration.


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“I find it’s another place where ideas come to me,” he said. “I keep a coop in hand, and that’s my imagining for a day.”

Using element he excised from a strange breeze of “Discord,” Mr. Carter is already operative on a metatextual messenger piece, called “Harmony,” in that a characters are 3 actors personification Jefferson, Dickens and Tolstoy in a prolongation of “Discord.”

“One of them thinks a other dual are phoning it in,” he said, “so he’s asked them to come to a dull museum before an dusk opening to insult them.”

Mr. Carter pronounced he was already operative on a fourth breeze of “Harmony,” and, given his knowledge on “Discord,” has gotten somewhat some-more fit during reworking his writing. “At that rate I’ll be finished in about 40 years,” he said.

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