I Need To Find Mr. Cousineau and Become Barry Block
By David Metcalfe
May 14, 2020
In the HBO series, “Barry”, Bill Hader stars as a hitman named Barry Berkman who has to make a hit on a guy who is sleeping with a mobster’s wife. The target, Ryan Madisen, happens to be an aspiring actor, so Barry travels down to Los Angeles, goes to his acting class, and plans to follow him home from there and kill him. But intrigued to see what’s going on, Barry walks into the class, and gets mistaken for a student, and is asked to read some lines for a scene.
Barry enjoys the acting, and even more, enjoys the social comradery from the acting students, who quickly welcome Barry and encourage him to prepare a monologue for the next class. He enjoys it so much that he forgets about even making the hit on Ryan Madisen altogether, and decides he wants to quit being a hitman and become an actor instead. To capture his new identity, he changes his name to “Barry Block”, since he feels it’s a good stage name. Of course, he is not able to easily escape the hitman life, and the entire plot of the show centres around the interplay of his two separate worlds- killing and acting.
The teacher of the acting class, Mr. Cousineau (played by Henry Winkler), begins as an eccentric side character- an odd, artsy, passionate acting instructor who pushes his students to succeed. We later learn that Mr. Cousineau has written an entire book on acting; one that the students consider to be the “Bible of acting”. As the story goes on, Mr. Cousineau takes on a gradually more prominent role; his character eventually being developed to the same extent as Barry himself. He is not just a teacher, but also a father figure, role model, coach, and friend to Barry and the rest of the students. But most importantly, his harsh approach combined with his genius for acting pushes the students to succeed.
I think if you want to be great at something, you need two key things: commitment and instruction. But not just any “commitment” and “instruction”.
I think the commitment it takes to be great at something requires an embracing of the identity of the goal itself. Sidney Crosby is a hockey player from age 2 until he makes the NHL, and for the rest of his playing career. Bill Gates is a computer nerd from elementary school until Microsoft becomes a multibillion dollar company. Commitment is more than just doing a thing a lot, it’s also about being a thing; embracing it, letting it flow through who you are and who you ultimately become.
Instruction is just as important. Does Sidney Crosby make the NHL by practicing on his own? Does Bill Gates come up with Microsoft by tinkering with computers on his own? No, both of them had tons of coaching and mentorship from people who were really good at teaching it.
I feel like I work so hard on my writing. I write some new 250-500 word status on Facebook nearly every day, a new 1000-5000 word blog post nearly every week, submit at least one letter to the editor of a newspaper or magazine every week, and submit a full length article to a newspaper or magazine about once a month. The preparation time is massive. For my last article about Bill Gates, I read 3 books and several articles. I’m reading books, magazines and newspapers constantly.
I’ve been doing this for nearly two years now, and what do I have to show for it? Nothing. Sure, it was nice when Maclean’s published my letter to the editor on the SNC Lavalin case, and I’m glad my blog post about Jason Allan Ross somehow got over 2,000 views, and I’m glad my last podcast was popular, but like, there’s not much tangibility to it. I can’t really call myself a journalist. When people ask me what I do for work, what am I going to tell them? I write articles on my blog that like 100 people read and I make no money for it? Nah, it’s not a job. So I usually tell people that I do Airbnb, even though I spend dramatically less time on that than I do reading and writing.
Honestly, there’s almost nothing in the entire world that I want more than to be a real journalist. And just like how Barry wants nothing more than to be an actor but is hindered by his hitman life, I feel like I’m hindered from achieving my potential. I feel like I’m a brand new Ferrari engine inside of a junkyard scrap exterior with no wheels. I feel like my brain has so much power in it, but I lack a forum and the direction to make that power count.
I know there’s something wrong with the way that I write. There’s a lack of refinement- like a kid who grows up shooting hoops all the time in the park with his friends, but never plays on an actual team with a proper coach. He might be an ok player, but his fundamentals are off. He does the steps for a right hand layup when he’s on the left side of the basket. He plays defence on the heels of his shoes and swipes at the ball too much. It might be fine on the playground, but at the higher levels, he’s going to get destroyed. And it’s not necessarily a lack of athleticism, but a lack of the refinement that comes with honing the fundamentals under proper direction. I know I make some errors with the points I make or the way I present them, but I have no one who provides me accurate feedback on how to improve.
Mr. Cousineau provides that direction to his students, and Barry Block has the emotions and the drive to commit to following it. I need that for myself. I want to be immersed in that lifestyle, with other students who are wanting the same thing as me- who challenge and compete with me. And with instructors that really know what it takes to write for publications like The Atlantic and The New Yorker, and who can push me to get there, or, if I really don’t have what it takes and need to pursue something different in life, for them to be able to accurately make that assessment for me.
Where is my “acting class”? Where is my “Mr. Cousineau”? What commitment to identity is my “Barry Block”?
I do not know. I don’t think it’s some journalism diploma at a trade school, where you learn how to be some robot who collects data on basic stories and presents it in a simple way in a basic news format. I don’t think it’s in a master’s degree at a university, where you learn to write in an extremely academic fashion (aka boring and unreadable by the public), and amount enormous debt.
Is there some creative writing class out there with a genius, passionate instructor who pushes his students to succeed? Or is it just a bunch of extremely left wing weirdos who want you to write out your feelings about the patriarchy? Or is it some simpletons who don’t understand my writing and have zero ability to properly critique it? Or is it a “just for fun” class where no one is devoted to becoming a professional?
Is there an internship that would develop my potential and allow me to pursue where I want to go? Or would they all be like the internship at Axis, who wanted to limit me into a little box?
I do not know if the ideal place for me exists. But the world is a big place, and it must be out there somewhere. But how am I to find it? Where do I even start?
The fact is, Barry is nothing more than a hitman without Mr. Cousineau’s class. I’m nothing more than some weirdo writing articles that people don’t really care about without proper instruction and identity. Barry doesn’t have an easy time breaking out of his old life and becoming an actor, and I don’t expect any different. But I think, to have a chance, I need something, or someone, to push me forward; to take an athletic kid on the playground and turn him into an NBA player, to put the Ferrari engine in a proper vehicle for it to unleash its power, to make a hitman into a Hollywood actor, to make a weird kid who can’t stop reading and writing and turn him into a successful staff writer.