5 Famous People Whose Best Work Was Motivated By Revenge
The question all artists seem to hate the most (after "Hey, can you whip out a logo for my band real quick?") is "Where do you get your ideas?" They'll tell you that inspiration is a hard thing to explain, like it's some strange magical dimension us talentless mortals could never grasp -- but the truth is, they just hate admitting that sometimes the greatest movies, songs, or books were made for the most hilariously shitty reasons. For instance, I'm pretty sure Michelangelo had a buddy named David who once ate the last slice of goat pie, so he made a sculpture for the specific purpose of linking that guy's name to tiny dicks for all eternity.
Don't believe me? Check out the petty-as-hell reasons for some great pop culture milestones you probably enjoy (or, like, are aware of large amounts of people enjoying. Don't be a dick, dude.)
Judd Apatow's Entire Film Career Is Revenge Against NBC
From the perspective of us living in this motherfucking Jetsons year of 2014, the career progression of comedy mogul Judd Apatow seems perfectly logical: First he and Paul Feig made the beloved cult show Freaks and Geeks on NBC, starring young unknowns with names like James Franco, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segel, and then everyone immediately loved those guys and said, "Hey, let's put them in movies," so now Apatow and his kids rule Hollywood.
However, "beloved cult show" is almost always synonymous with "good shit no one watched," and that was exactly the case with Freaks and Geeks -- in great part because NBC aired it on Saturdays at 8 p.m., a time when us socially active people are usually out ... um, ahh ... something with parties? Parties-ing with other socially active people.
Typical party, like the ones I've attended many times.
When Freaks and Geeks was canceled, Apatow did not take it well. His wife says he acted like he "just lost a family member." And what do you do when someone murders your family? You spend the next decade carefully executing your revenge, yes. As soon as Apatow hit it big with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, he started working on turning the talent of his old show into movie stars, just to spite NBC. Not only has every movie he's directed featured at least one Freaks and Geeks cast member, he also used his producing powers to help make films like Rogen's Superbad and Pineapple Express (both starring Franco), Segel's Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Feig's Bridesmaids. All of those movies made over $100 million, but more importantly they also made an NBC executive cry.
In Apatow's resentful mind, he pretended the show was still on and his movies were "the continuous adventures of those characters" -- for him, Knocked Up is "just an episode of Seth's character getting a girl pregnant." Which, since Freaks and Geeks was set in 1980, would make the guy Rogen played there a very youthful 45-year-old.
Then again, I'm pretty sure that if you cut off Seth Rogen's head, lightning bolts come out.
At the same time, you can definitely tell there was a change in the focus of Apatow's work: When he was doing Freaks and Geeks the executives accused him of making the show too depressing, but suddenly he started doing hilarious movies where the slob gets the girl in the end and there's a baffling musical sequence. And, apparently, he did them just to shove the resulting millions in NBC's face. Now that Segel, Rogen, Franco, and Feig have all gone on to make their own $200 million films, Apatow doesn't feel such a need to make money, and he's gone back to doing the depressing, meandering comedies he probably wanted to do all along.
David Bowie Becomes a Megastar to Piss Off His Old Manager
Everyone who was cool in the '70s ended up selling out in the '80s, but no one did it better than David Bowie -- dude went all the way. Within a few years, Bowie went from an unsettling and mysterious figure making bizarre experimental music in Berlin, to a pop superstar filling stadiums all over the world. It's like if one day Nine Inch Nails turned into Beyonce. Most people assume Bowie sold out because he wanted money, but there's another unconfirmed, yet irresistibly logical explanation: He wanted money, probably, but also to piss off the cigar-chomping bastard here:
Also pictured: David Bowie and his wife, in some order.
That's Tony Defries, Bowie's old manager and by most accounts as big a sleazebag as he looks in that picture. In 1975 Bowie realized that perhaps using up all his own money on touring and promotion while only his manager made a profit wasn't the best arrangement, so he split with Defries ... only to find out that, because of his contract, he still had to give Defries' company 50 percent of the royalties for everything he made until September 1982. Bowie reportedly spent a week locked in his attic, screaming. And, perhaps, plotting.
You see, it just so happens that between 1976 and 1980 Bowie would make the most intentionally uncommercial records of his career: Low and "Heroes" were half instrumental tracks (and not the kind you can play in an elevator), while Lodger was just brain-meltingly weird. When Defries heard Low, presumably expecting the next Space Oddity or Ziggy Stardust-type hit, he angrily called it a "piece of crap" and voluntarily excluded it from the contract. Between 1981 and 1982 Bowie just sat quietly and released no songs, except "Under Pressure" with Queen, but he happily gave up the royalties to the band so that Defries didn't get squat.
And then, as soon as the contract with Defries was over and Bowie didn't have to give up half his money anymore, he went back to the studio and did the pop-est album imaginable, Let's Dance. It sold 10 million copies and made him a multimillionaire. I like to imagine that as soon as the clock struck midnight on Sept. 30, 1982, Bowie washed the lipstick from his face, took off his dress to reveal a perfectly ironed suit and tie underneath, and said, "Gentlemen, let's business."
He was alone.
To be clear, I'm not saying Bowie pulled his late '70s albums out of his ass: Critics agree that they are among his best (and I would drop the "among"). But, you know, this does explain all the instrumentals.
Paul Reubens Creates The Pee-wee Herman Show Because SNL Turned Him Down
Paul Reubens is the guy behind Pee-wee Herman, the man-child with severe modulation problems who starred in a number of things with the words "Pee-wee" on them in the '80s. Say what you will about Reubens, but his show Pee-wee's Playhouse is still great to watch, in large part because this children's program from 1986 has better jokes than many sitcoms today (and better special effects than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Also, Laurence Fishburne is fucking suave as Cowboy Curtis.
So, what inspired Reubens to create this thing that has brought so much joy to so many people? Anger, bitterness, and revenge. According to Pee-wee himself: "The Pee-wee Herman Show was 100 percent created out of spite for not getting Saturday Night Live."
Keep in mind that in the '70s Reubens hadn't yet fully descended into his Pee-wee persona -- that was just a character he did sometimes during his improv routines. After years of obscurity, in 1980 it seemed like Reubens was finally going to get his big break when he was selected as one of the finalists for the new season of Saturday Night Live ... but then they turned him down. The worst part wasn't that he got rejected -- it's that he got rejected in favor of Gilbert Gottfried.
"Sorry, if we have both of you on the same show our sound guy will kill himself."
What pissed off Reubens the most was that he felt Gottfried got selected only because he was friends with the producer. I have to question the veracity of any statement implying anyone could tolerate Gottfried enough to call him a friend, but in any case, Reubens was "so bitter and angry" that he spent the whole plane ride back from New York thinking about what he was going to do to make them sorry. Finally, he decided to borrow $5,000 from his parents to start his own damn show. It's pretty clear that the experience warped him -- presumably a red bow tie crashed through the plane window at that point, and Reubens said, "Yes, father. I shall become a Pee-wee." (And then everyone in the plane died.)
The same year, Reubens and some improv pals put together The Pee-wee Herman Show as a stage attraction, which led to an HBO special, which led to a movie, which led to a hit TV show. Pee-wee's Playhouse won 15 Emmys in its five seasons -- that's 12 more than SNL won in the same period. Oh, and to this day the seasons with Gottfried are considered the shittiest in the history of the show.
Wait, I forgot to do some "Paul Reubens wanked in a porno theater" jokes. Have ... have you noticed how "Pee-wee" could refer to both his character and his penis? Yeah. (Aced it.)
H. Rider Haggard Invents a Literary Genre on a Petty Bet
I'm 100 percent sure that no one reading this has ever, ever heard of H. Rider Haggard (sure hope this sentence doesn't get me any angry comments!), but you've definitely heard of the stuff he's inspired. Haggard created a literary genre -- as in, he sat down to write one day and came up with something no one had ever thought of before, and then other people kept writing about that for hundreds of years. Those people include everyone from H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Rice Burroughs, to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, to the dudes who make the Uncharted games.
Here's the best way I can communicate this guy's importance: If it wasn't for him, there wouldn't be a comic where Wolverine fights mutant dinosaurs.
And what would be the point of living?
Haggard created the "Lost World" genre, in which rich white people find some exotic new land and proceed to have sexy adventures in it. Apparently, no one in the history of literature had tried to combine this magical sequence of events before, and the thing that led humanity to finally make this breakthrough was a stupid, petty bet between brothers.
Have you ever declared that something you've just read/watched/heard/tried to masturbate to sucks, only for someone to say, "Oh yeah? Why don't you make something better?" That's exactly what happened in 1885 when Haggard, then a lawyer and amateur novelist (he'd written two books which netted him exactly 60 pounds), finished reading Treasure Island and said he wasn't that impressed to his brother, whose name I don't know, so let's call him Chet.
Portrait of Chet Haggard, Esq.
Chet bet Haggard that he couldn't write a better book, and after what must have been a solid hour of "I can too" and "nuh-uh," Haggard agreed to the bet. According to a contemporary of Haggard, "The bet was made casually, to prove it possible for someone, not at all known in authorship, to do a 'thriller' as successful as Treasure Island." And so Haggard spent the next six weeks (the same time it takes you to finish a longish game) writing a book called King Solomon's Mines. Again, he wrote it just to prove any random jackass could crap out something better than the most popular book of the era, and he totally fucking did. The book "far eclipsed Treasure Island in popularity" and spawned 13 sequels and 14 movies (or 15, if you count Sean Connery's career-ending portrayal of the main character in LXG). The next year Haggard followed it up with another novel in the same genre called She, which made him popular and a critically acclaimed author.
Anyway, Chet had to tell people his name was "Farty McPoopbutt" for a month, probably.
The Best Looney Tunes Cartoons Were Made to Disobey One Producer
We've all experienced that crucial moment when you're watching Looney Tunes cartoons late at night, perhaps with your mind in a slightly impaired state, and you go, "Man, this shit is great. This is high art. They should, like, give this stuff awards." Well, they did. As in, Academy Awards. In total, five Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoons won Oscars in the "Best Short Subject (Cartoon)" category, otherwise known as "Most Hilarious Animal-Related Bullshit." And here's the thing: None of those cartoons would exist if it wasn't for a single producer everyone hated, and the animators' burning desire to do the exact opposite of everything he said.
"Let's have Bugs dress more manly, and make out with lots of women."
"We'll get right on that."
Eddie Selzer was a Warner Bros. producer who reportedly liked barging into the animators' room, shouting random orders, and then apparently not checking to see if anyone followed them. Shortly after being assigned to oversee the Warner Bros. cartoons in 1947, Selzer decided that the animators couldn't pair Sylvester the cat with Tweety the bird in the same short -- they should use a woodpecker instead, because woodpeckers are a riot. When the short's director, Friz Freleng, threatened to quit over this important issue, Selzer relented and let him make the damn cartoon ... which gave Warner Bros. its first Academy Award for animation.
Later, Selzer announced that they absolutely couldn't do a short starring a skunk. According to animator Chuck Jones, "If Eddie said no, we knew we had to do it." Boom, Oscar No. 2. And the best part is that it was Selzer who had to go up and accept all the awards for the stuff he specifically said not to do.
"Did ... did you guys not see the latest Droopy?"
At different points, Selzer also came in and declared, for no discernible reason, that he didn't want any shorts with camels or bullfighting. The animators just shrugged and did exactly that, resulting in two Bugs Bunny classics. Friz Freleng then remade the camel short (without the camel), and what do you know? Another fucking Oscar. Two other Merrie Melodies shorts won Academy Awards, and both of them featured Freleng and Sylvester -- two names that probably wouldn't be at Warner Bros. at that point if anyone had followed one of the basic rules of filmmaking and obeyed the freaking producer.
And it's not like this was a guy who had absolutely no power: In 1954, he effectively banned the Tasmanian Devil from appearing on any cartoons for three years because he thought he was too obnoxious, until the president of Warner Bros. himself came down with the Taz-mania and the only cure was more Taz. Upon Selzer's death, his Oscars were distributed among the crews of the cartoons, so maybe there's justice in this world after all.
Maxwell Yezpitelok has a comic series you can read and a Twitter you can follow.
Be sure to check out 19 Game of Thrones Plot Twists That Would Break the Internet for more ideas on how to get revenge on your friends and loved ones.