Friday, December 11, 2009
Could OLC be the Second City of Law?
I just finished reading a new book on Second City called The Second City Unscripted: Revolution and Revelation at the World's Famous Comedy Theater, by Mike Thomas. It was great fun to read. For one thing, it made me nostalgic for Chicago, my favorite city in the U.S. (when I was going to start work in DC and so needed only to pass a bar somewhere, I decided to take the Illinois bar basically so I could spend a few days in Chicago). Also felt nostalgic for the Old Town Ale House, which makes three appearances in the book. I love comedy and improv and Second City in particular (though the one year I did live in Chicago I favored the more absurdist Annoyance Theater, which I see is now up and running again and even rerunning Coed Prison Sluts, which I remember as being maybe the funniest thing I had ever seen back in 1992 (anyone seen the new version? is it any good?)).
The book, like Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller's earlier book on Saturday Night Live, is told through snippets of interviews that the author/editor Thomas did with cast members and various other people connected to the theater over some long period of time. Thomas writes introductions to the various chapters and little transition paragraphs, but other than that he lets the people involved speak for themselves and weaves excerpts from all the interviews together to create a really easy to read and interesting narrative. It's a great technique, at least for a book like this, because you get the feeling that you're hearing the inside story directly from the mouths of the really fascinating, often bizarre and always talented people who made the theater the institution that it's become over the past 50 years. Though I should note that the parts about Chris Farley's apartment are not for the squeamish.
As I was reading the book, I was wondering whether one might do a similar kind of book for some legal institution, and having worked at Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department for a couple of years, it struck me that a book on OLC told in this format might actually work. Obviously it wouldn't be as funny (though it wouldn't be totally unfunny either--I mean, don't forget that Cass Sunstein was a member of the Harvard Lampoon) but it might be even more interesting. OLC shares a lot of characteristics with Second City--both are small and prestigious institutions in their fields where for the most part talented people spend short parts of their careers, usually early on, before going on to bigger things (like being Supreme Court justices, as at least 3 OLC alumni have done). At the same time, both places have critical long-term players who give the institutions continuity and can speak to the changes in the places over time. And while OLCers are not as quirky perhaps as Second Cityers, anyone who has worked there knows that it's certainly seen (and continues to see) its share of absolutely brilliant, one-of-a-kind characters (hi, Marty!). I guess the big question is whether it would be possible to tell a compelling part of the real story of OLC--what it's done, how it's changed, what it's like to work there, etc.--without disclosing confidential information. Some things obviously can't be told and careful attention would clearly need to be paid to figuring out what can and what cannot be said. But I have a feeling that the story could still work, and work well, without giving away particulars that would go over the line.
I wonder if anyone has any thoughts on this. Can it be done? Would you want to read it? Would you be able to convince someone who wasn't a lawyer to read it? If you have worked at OLC, would you do an interview?
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