November 8, 2011 | 8:00am
No one quite captures the true neurotic inadequate essence of the classic American schlub better than playwright Neil Simon. His plays were filled with gobs of schlubs. All of them down-on-their-luck, trying desperately to get by while walking a tightrope between sanity and crazy, all while we laugh and laugh as their lives slowly crumble before our very eyes. He lost his wife, his job, and whatever meager amount of self-respect he had left? Oh the hilarity!
This pretty much sums up all of Simon's plays. But that doesn't mean they're not funny, or clever.
Here now are our five favorite Neil Simon schlubs:
5. Joseph Benjamin (God's Favorite): The character of Joe Benjamin is loosely based on the Biblical Job, the original schlub who had a lot of bad shit happen to him when he refused to forsake God. Much like Job, Joe is a wealthy and respected businessman. And, much like Job, all of Joe's wealth and hard-earned success goes down the shitter after Satan bets God that Joe wouldn't be such a pious dude if things went from bad to ludicrously bad. And thus Joe becomes an unwitting schlub thanks in large part to a cosmic wager between God and the Devil. Dick move? You bet! But it gives us a memorable schlub in Joseph Benjamin.
4. Barney Cashman (The Last of The Red Hot Lovers): Barney is the classic neurotic and angst-ridden schlub that would make Woody Allen's nebbish losers envious. A middle-aged married man, Barney up and decides he wants to shake things up in his life and dives headlong into the world of adultery. In classic schlub fashion, Barney uses his elderly mother's apartment to arrange his trysts, and tries three separate times to get his infidelity on. He makes a run at a chain-smoker, a pothead, and one of his buddy's neglected wives and, of course, he suffers epic fails at getting any of them in the sack.
3. Roy Hubley (Plaza Suite): Roy Hubley doesn't start out as much of a schlub. He's a self-made man who is apparently well enough off to pay for his daughter's wedding at the renowned Plaza Hotel in New York. But when the big day arrives, his little girl locks herself in the hotel suite bathroom and refuses to come out or even speak. Mrs. Hubley is a kindly woman who tries to reason with their daughter, but Roy does all he can to force her out. He threatens her, dislocates his shoulder trying to break the door down, climbs out the ledge to sneak through the bathroom window, tears his expensive tuxedo to shreds, and generally loses his shit trying to pry her out. Eventually, Roy's future son-in-law has to step in and solve the situation, which really brings Roy's schlubness full circle.
2. Mel Edison (The Prisoner of Second Avenue): Mel is another of Simon's characters whose everyday troubles turn into a miserable endless shitstorm. Mel has to deal with middle age, unemployment, asshole neighbors, and a hot-as-balls heat wave currently ravaging the city of New York. Meanwhile, a prolonged sanitation department strike has the entire city smelling like garbage, and his apartment gets robbed in broad daylight while his psychiatrist is found dead with a crapload of Mel's money in his possession. But Mel somehow chugs along. How can you not love a schlub that won't quit? Also, how can you not love a schlub that yells out "I've got respect for my ass!" at his neighbors?
1. Felix Unger (The Odd Couple): Felix Unger is a suicidal, divorced, self-loathing, neurotic, neat freak who also happens to be a hypochondriac. In other words, he's the world's most perfect schlub! His schlubbyness is made all the more evident when he tries to commit suicide by jumping from a hotel window, only to pull a muscle in his back trying to open the window. Felix eventually moves in with his slovenly pal Oscar, who happens to be the complete opposite of Felix in every way. Oscar tries to help Felix move on with his life by setting up a double date with the pretty next-door neighbors. But when Oscar leaves Felix alone with his date, the despondent Felix begins to talk about his ex-wife and breaks down in front of the girl. Eventually, Felix's pitiful schlubness is too much for even Oscar to bear, and he demands that he moves out.