by G. Jack Urso
In this next chapter of the Hot Hero Sandwich Project, we turn the page to talk with one of the show writers, Richard Camp, who shares with us his experience and giving us insight on the writing process, his involvement with certain sketches and running characters — including fan favorites Ym and Ur, the teen alien commentators on Earth culture. Camp, along with the rest of the writing staff, won an Emmy for his work on Hot Hero Sandwich.
Camp is something of a theatrical Renaissance man. Not just writing, but also acting, directing, playwriting, producing, and staging. Camp has a long career and has lived in practically every region of the nation practicing his craft from Alaska to Florida, from the East Coast to the West Coast, and points in-between.
This level of a commitment is common with Hot Hero alumni. They have been utterly devoted to their craft and willing to move and take chances. No, the chances they take don’t always pay off, the pay can often be low, and the rewards can be a long time in coming back. So why do it?
I’m not sure myself, but I’m asking Richard Camp about eleven episodes he wrote in 1979 for a TV show that has seen virtually no syndication or video release and which has remained alive only as a memory for over four decades. To leave that kind of impression on people is something of a miracle only a few are able to create.
Maybe that has something to do with why they do it.
Ae13U: What is your educational background? Did you study writing in college?
Richard Camp: I double majored in theater and English at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Had an excellent theater department. Wrote, acted, directed (for my senior thesis I directed and played Claude in “Hair”).
Ae13U: Tell me about your road to Hot Hero Sandwich. What had you been up to before the show? Was it strictly just writing or were you also involved in other aspects of the theater/performing?
Richard Camp: I was an actor for several years after graduation. Did summer stock in Vermont, Wyoming and Vallejo, CA (outside San Francisco.) Worked at the Odyssey Theater in L.A. for a couple of years. While back in NY I became a writer for ABC News, then Head Writer of People Television on CBS. Also wrote for CBS’s Capitol, for a season.
Ae13U: How did you get hired for the job? Did you know the Harts before Hot Hero Sandwich?
Richard Camp: My agent in NY submitted me to Bruce and Carole. Wrote a couple of ideas, met them, we liked each other and voila!
Ae13U: At what point did you transition to the West Coast in your career?
Richard Camp: After HHS, went to Alaska to write 7 short films for young people about the geography of Alaska. Returned to NY, wrote a play (“Cuckoo Birds”) that was produced Off B’way, then became a writer for “Diamonds,” a revue type show about baseball, directed by Harold Prince, at Circle in the Square. Wrote several documentary type shows, then worked on “Good Morning, America” for a while. The producer of GMA went to L.A. produce a show there (“America”) and took me along to write it. After the demise of that show, I stayed in L.A. Wrote episodes for a sitcom (Down to Earth) . . . transitioned to writing and producing. Wrote and produced the E! Channel’s coverage of the OJ Simpson trial, both criminal and civil. Wrote and produced shows for the Food Network. Kept writing plays.
Ae13U: What was the writing process like? I know there were themes for the shows, but did the Harts have a clear idea of what kind of sketches and characters they wanted or did they just give the writers the theme and let you develop your own ideas?
Richard Camp: Both, as I remember. We would have writers’ meetings where we’d pitch and discuss ideas for the show.
Ae13U: What segments/sketches did you write and/or are particularly proud of as a team?
Richard Camp: It was more than 40 years ago, but here goes. I wrote a running series titled “Ym & Ur,” about two space alien teens who hot-wire a spaceship and hover over earth, able to see on their advanced TV screen various situations from humans on our planet, but sometimes getting confused. In one segment they see a beauty pageant and erroneously conclude that this is how earthlings pick their political leaders.
I also wrote the piece for Jarett about the “word going round” . . . the “N-word” . . . “Just call me Bobby,” and others.
Ae13U: When did you begin your tenure on the Hot Hero Staff? Was it just before production began in the summer of 1979 or earlier?
Richard Camp: I believe I was there from its inception.
Ae13U: Given your theater experience, I notice that some of the sketches on Hot Hero Sandwich have a very one-act play feel to them. Such as one scene with Michael Longfield (L. Michael Craig), which is a monologue about the psychological effects of moving on a teenager (“Living in a Suitcase”) and the other features Jarett Smithwrick in a monologue about racism in which there is frank discussion about the “N-Word.”
“Living in a Suitcase” monologue, with L. Michael Craig (Michael Longfield).
I wonder, especially in regard to the latter sketch, did theater experience inform the staging of some of these scenes, or perhaps am I reading too much into it?
Richard Camp: I believe I wrote the “Living in a Suitcase” sketch, but I may be wrong (that 40 years ago thing again. It might have been by Marianne). I know I wrote the “N-Word” sketch, and yes, it was “theatrical,” probably because my first love has always been the theater.
[Ed. Note: In a later interview with the HHS Project, Marianne Meyer confirms Camp wrote the "Living in a Suitcase" sketch.]
Dealing with racism. The “N-Word” monologue with Jarett Smithwrick
(following celebrity interviews).
Ae13U: Were any of the celebrity interviews made available to the writers during the writing process? It seems that could have been helpful in writing the sketches but given the fact the writers were on the East coast and the interviews on the West coast, and the state of technology, that doesn’t seem likely. Can you shed any light on this?
Richard Camp: From what I remember, we were given the celebrity interviews, and then created sketches or songs based on the subject of the interviews. That feels like the logical sequence, since it would’ve been difficult to write a sketch about masturbation, for example, then ask Kareem to talk about it. But, if the subject first talked about it then we could riff on it.
Ae13U: I see you’ve worked extensively in theater, including playwriting and staging, and working with some of my favorite actors including Jean Smart and Bruce Davison. Your playwriting includes work on the book for Diamonds, which was directed by the legendary Harold Prince. Can you share with us some of your other work in theater?
Richard Camp: As Playwright:
- “Cuckoo Birds,” Off Broadway
- “Credo,” with Jean Smart and Richard Gilliland, staged at the Odyssey in L.A.
- “The Big Get,” staged at the Flying H Theater in Ventura, CA
- “Bless Your Heart,” produced at the Ojai Art Center Theater in Ojai, CA (winner of the 4-Star Theater Award)
I was Artistic Director of the Art Center Theater for three years, directed “Black Comedy, “33 Variations,” “On Golden Pond,” “Zero Hour,” “See How They Run,” “Night Must Fall,” et. al. while overseeing a season of six plays/year.
Ae13U: In addition to the Emmy for Hot Hero Sandwich you also won Writers Guild Citation for the CBS daytime drama, Capitol. Writer’s credits aren’t very comprehensive on The Internet Movie Database, aside from the other shows you’ve already mentioned, what other TV shows have you worked on?
Richard Camp: Down to Earth, ABC News, E! News Daily, the OJ Simpson Trials for E!, Graham Kerr’s Farewell to TV, Extreme Cuisine for the Food Network.
Ae13U: I see that you produced shows for The Food Network, which is something of a coincidence in that Richie Annunizato from the Hot Hero Band produced music for The Food Network [see On the Flip Side with Guitarist Richie Annunizato]. His work was made available in a music library accessible by the producers. So, maybe possible you even used, or heard, something he did!
Back to your work with The Food Network, can you provide names of some titles for our foodie fans?
Richard Camp: Graham Kerr’s Farewell to TV (he was the Galloping Gourmet on TV back in the 60s).
Extreme Cuisine: for this show I traveled through Europe for a month, eating and drinking some of the best foods and wines in the world. Did features on Ruinart Champagne . . . Paul Bocuse, the heir to Escoffier in French cuisine . . . the Alba, Italy Truffle Festival . . . etc.
Ae13U: What kind of advice would you provide a young writer interested in getting into — and staying in — the entertainment industry?
Richard Camp: Most definitely, be flexible. I have worked as an actor, writer, producer, director. If an opportunity comes along, take it. Work at it. Do your best at it. Find people that you respect and who will respect you. It was a wonderful experience to work with Bruce and Carole, they allowed us to grow with the show and feel we were a part of the team and not just adjuncts or cogs. And as a team, we respected each other as well. “We’re in this together” was the pervasive feel of the writers’ room.”
Another example: while working with Harold Prince I wrote several sketches for the “Diamonds” revue in NY. While in rehearsals I needed to go to L.A. for a few days, and while I was away I received a call from Prince’s office, asking my permission to change the title of one of my sketches. Not one of the lines, just the title. An atmosphere of respect.
Camp continues his long career in the theater with his most recent critically acclaimed play, “Bless Your Heart,” which premiered at the Ojai Art Center Theater (CA) in 2019 and explores the clash of faith, agnosticism, evolution, religion, and an Elvis liquor decanter/music box.
It actually sounds a lot like my family.
Learning to laugh at ourselves can bring moments of insight into the human condition and help bridge the gap between people and our differences . . . and in these times especially that’s one thing we sure could use. For more information, please visit www.richardbcamp.com.
Many thanks to Richard Camp for sharing with us information about Hot Hero Sandwich, his life, and his insight and experience in theater.
Related Content — Ym and Ur Segments:
- Episode 3: Parades, Religion and Staying Young
- Episode 4: Politics and Beauty Contests
- Episode 8: Race, Slang, and Communicating
- Episode 11: Parting Comments. Going home with special guest stars producer Howard Malley as the alien dad and writer Andy Breckman (creator of the TV show Monk) as the Puberty Fairy!
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Once again a great article. Very interesting how it all came together. Thank you for continuing the story!ReplyDelete
Thank you! An interview with Dr. Tom Cottle is coming up next!Delete
Love the insight on Ym and Ur thinking politicians are picked from beauty pageants. Great. And it seems to me, how true. Good piece. Respect the hard work and dedication of Richard Camp.Delete
Appreciate the theatrical quality, and setting, of the N-word sketch. A powerful and timeless message. Well done.ReplyDelete