NEW YORK — Chuck Lorre – whose hits include Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory and – isn’t just a towering comedy mogul.
He’s also one of the most widely distributed writers in the world. His tart, often darkly funny dispatches reach a weekly audience of more than 30 million.
Granted, the number of people who actually read these tiny treatises is another question. Each of Lorre’s posts appears on-screen for a single fleeting second at the end of his shows, in the form of so-called “vanity cards” – a graphic ID for the show’s production company.
The Chuck Lorre Productions vanity card has been an outlet for Lorre’s random observations since 1997, when alert viewers of the ABC sitcom Dharma & Greg began noticing fine print on the screen which, by freeze-framing their VCR, they could dwell on long enough to read.
Among Lorre’s propositions on Vanity Card No. 1: “I believe that the Laws of Karma do not apply to show business, where good things happen to bad people on a fairly regular basis” and “I believe that when ABC reads this, I’m gonna be in biiiig trouble.”
As the years passed, Lorre kept issuing a fresh card for every episode of each show.
On one, he listed “words that confused the CBS censor” (a frequent object of his ire). Among them: kumquat, manhole, cunctation and Dick Butkus.
On another, he recalled a long-ago encounter with a 16-year-old guitar prodigy named Pat Metheny. It was a reality check that led to his eventually ditching his music career to “find work in television. Nobody’s a prodigy there.”
Now 333 of those musings – including a few that were censored by the network – have been gathered by Lorre in a rather magnificent coffee-table book, What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Bitter (Simon & Schuster; $100).
“I started this because it was an opportunity to try and write prose, and I found it very satisfying, and very different than writing a script. This is much more personal. And at times,” he adds, “it’s gotten TOO personal.”
You want personal? Just consider Card No. 337, first aired on March 31, 2011. “Never forget,” Lorre wrote in part, “that God/The Universe is determined to kill you by whatever means necessary.”
That sentiment was vented while erratic, hard-partying Men star Charlie Sheen was clashing bitterly with Lorre and the show’s studio, Warner Bros. Only a few weeks earlier, they had been forced to fire Sheen and cut short the show’s eighth season.
Lorre was under the gun to salvage TV’s top-rated comedy and keep his other shows on track.
How did he cope? “I threw myself into the work even more.”