It feels like in this day and age of cynicism and somewhere in between losing faith and feeling powerless, that our voice as citizens gets buried. I am proud of AN UNREASONABLE MAN for trying to address the issues of citizenship and what it means to be a U.S. citizen. We can all be heard. Ralph Nader, whether you agree or disagree with him, has championed the voice of the citizen his entire life. I am grateful that we are being shown to millions of Americans who watch PBS and I hope the viewers enjoy it.
My whole part in AN UNREASONABLE MAN seems to have started when I was in seventh grade in Vermont, where I grew up, and my oldest brother wanted Unsafe At Any Speed for Christmas. To make a long story short, lost at age 21, I read it, wrote to Ralph for a job, and got one.
From early 1978 to late 1979 I worked as an “office manager” for Ralph at the Center for Study of Responsive Law for 125 dollars a week plus health insurance. I answered his phone, stacked his mail and talked to millions of insane people who thought Ralph was the answer to everything wrong with their lives. I met some of the most interesting people in my life during those years—and not just on the phone. I found the people working for Ralph to be the most dedicated-to-making-the-world-a-better-place people I have ever known. They continue to amaze me with their selfless contributions to our planet.
In late 1979 my brother was killed. I quit the job with Ralph to return to Vermont. Once again I was lost but this time (since I wasn’t sure I would ever laugh again) I decided to become a stand-up comedian. Shortly after that I met Steve Skrovan in the comedy clubs in New York. He always wanted to chat about my Ralph experience which wasn’t really funny but certainly a nice break from joke, joke, joke.
Cut to: Fifteen years later we run into each other in L.A. Steve needs a sitcom idea. What’s funnier than a consumer advocate’s office? The sitcom didn’t get made but it evolved into this documentary which is a true labor of love (and comedy money). We plugged along in a tiny apartment with our producers in the kitchen and a Final Cut Pro set up in the main room.
One of the gifts I was given on this movie is that the story of Ralph’s life is stronger than anything else. Steve and I worked really hard to collaborate but the story was the boss. It just kept rising up and being the leader. From sitcom idea to documentary, this story has its own path and will be told the way the story-gods think it should be—it was and continues to be bigger than both of us.
So many people have SCREAMED at me since the 2000 election and almost as many have screamed at me since they were asked to even CONSIDER watching AN UNREASONABLE MAN. This movie is for them. They can hate Ralph or love Ralph, I don’t care. I just want them to know who he was, and who he is now. That way, if they still feel the need to yell at me some more, they are at least doing so from an informed standpoint. But more than that, I truly hope this movie inspires people to become involved in civic duties, big or small. We can make a difference.
Four years ago, I was a TV writer on Everybody Loves Raymond when I got a development deal and was looking for an idea for a sitcom.
My old friend from my days as a stand-up comic in New York, Henriette Mantel, used to tell me stories about how she worked for Ralph Nader as an office manager her first job out of college. In L.A. 15 years later, I ran into Henriette and asked her again about Ralph. She told me more stories and introduced me to people she had worked with at the time. I didn’t know much about Nader, but started doing some reading on my own. The more I read the more I was impressed with all he had accomplished and intrigued by the fact that everyone seemed to be so mad at him, especially his friends and former allies. That seemed like an interesting conflict to me. There had never been a definitive documentary done on someone I considered to be one of the most important figures of the 20th century. I found myself in the unique position through Henriette to get access to his story. That’s when the documentary took over from the sitcom. Someday, I may still do the sitcom and write this whole movie off as research.
I have learned so much about the history of this country in these past 50 years, mainly the largely untold story of the modern consumer movement, led by Nader but manned (and womanned) by countless unsung heroes, mostly young people who did the grunt work that provided the rest of us with so many protections and privileges we take for granted today. I also learned much about the way our electoral system works or in many instances doesn’t work. And I had the thrill of learning it directly from the people who lived it.
I hope that people seeing this film will be inspired. It’s the story of how one person can make a difference and how a lot of people working together can make a big difference. Nader’s last speech in the movie about how you have “to keep fighting, there’s never a hill you won’t have to climb in the name of justice” still affects me because it is so simply stated. He’s not declaiming it from a mountaintop. It’s matter of fact. It’s genuine. It brings tears to my eyes.