You’re not supposed to worry about your agent. That’s the most appealing thing about the relationship. All you talk about is your career, your money, your opinions of studio executives.
But when lockdown started, I worried about Richard Weitz, co-head of WME’s scripted television department. Weitz is a blast of staccato, fast-talking, gravelly voiced, optimistic confidence that’s sometimes hard to contain long enough to follow what he’s talking about. He goes out every night, to such cool places and with such cool people that you could piece together a history of 21st century Los Angeles solely from his Instagram: Floorside at the Lakers game with Josh Groban, seeing Star Wars with LL Cool J, posing with Jennifer Hudson at the Saban Community Clinic gala, accepting the Bernie Brillstein Legacy Award from Rob Lowe at the Wilshire Country Club. He’s friends with Craig Susser at Craig’s and also Gloria Leon, the 69-year-old waitress at Nate ‘n Al’s. He once, without explanation, handed me a Richard Weitz Funko Pop! figurine.
“Sometimes it was really really frustrating,” says Richard’s 17-year-old daughter Demi about her dad’s schedule. “He was home when he wanted to be home. But I was like, ‘No. Be home the other times when I want to hang out.’” Richard’s wife, Candie and son, Aidan, had struggled with his peripatetic ways as well. The Richard Weitz 2018-2019 Tour shirt, created by WME partner Ari Greenburg, lists 100 events around the world he went to.
I knew that if Richard had to spend two nights in a row in his own house, he was going to lose it. What I didn’t know about was Zoom. If he couldn’t go into the world, he was going to talk the world into coming to his house.
It was less plan than instinct. Like most parents back in the early days of the pandemic, he felt badly that his daughter’s birthday plans were ruined. So on March 27, he threw a virtual surprise party for Demi’s 17th birthday. Richard invited a friend who plays covers at a piano bar in Chicago to sing for her and 40 of her friends and family. When the teens quickly tired of 1980s cover tunes, Richard logged off and came up with a new, Richard-ier plan. He called John Mayer, and Debbie Gibson, and got them to sing happy birthday. This went over much better. The teens eventually signed off, but Richard stayed on with his friends, getting his social fix.
Jonesing again, he invited some more musicians to perform for his friends the following weekend. Soon, Richard had more than 500 people at his weekend Zooms—dubbed “Quarantunes”—to hear songs by Groban, Astley, Thomas Rhett, Billy Ray Cyrus, Boy George, Rick Springfield, and Rev Run.
Demi, who is shy and never completely comfortable with her high school friends, finally found her own platform. She went from binge watching How I Met Your Mother to avoid her loneliness, to talking to powerful people and somehow making jokes around them, and being impressed with her dad’s skill as an agent, seeing him connect people who trusted his advice. “I thought his job was going out and was all fun and games. I’m seeing the hard work and dedication he puts into it,” she says. “I thought he did nothing.”
By April 4, Demi started to feel guilty for having the best pandemic ever. “I felt a little over privileged to be doing this with what is going on now. It wasn’t a good feeling,” Demi says. So she suggested asking guests to donate to the Saban Community Clinic, which was likely to be overwhelmed with virus patients. Richard, who is president of their board, was into it. Demi’s initial goal was to raise $10,000, which they accomplished in an hour. Within 24 hours, they’d raised $100,000.
The Weitzs put on a show nearly every week, often twice on weekends, supporting a new charity each time—Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Heart of Los Angeles, United Way of Greater L.A., the L.A. Food Bank. So far, over the course of 25 Quarantunes Zooms, they’ve collectively raised over $11.5 million. Billboard created an award—the Heroes of the Pandemic Award—just to give it to them. Girls Inc. had Tina Fey present Demi with the Champion for Girls Award, and celebrated her with appearances from the stars of her favorite shows: The Big Bang Theory, New Girl, and How I Met Your Mother. “You really saved your dad’s life,” Fey said on the Zoom, referring to Richard’s “extreme extroversion.” Earlier this month, Bob Iger presented them with the Walt Disney Philanthropists of the Year Award at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles’ during its The Big Night In virtual gala.
As Demi felt empowered by raising money, Richard felt empowered by throwing events. He’d always been a huge music fan, and now he got to live out his dream of hosting Live Aid every week. He turned his Zoom call into a new type of entertainment, a combination music awards shows, variety program, and Hollywood party.
Which was a role Hollywood needed filled. People I’d never met, or hadn’t talked to in a long time, privately messaged in the chat room. I got at least one meeting out of it. Others got more. After playing a song, Jack Antonoff said that the quarantine made him realize he needs animals in his life and talked to songwriter Diane Warren about advice on getting some birds. Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda told Ashanti that she was the inspiration for one of the musical’s songs, and Broadway actress Emmy Raver-Lampman landed two gigs after covering a Lizzo song. When Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez gathered around a piano with their daughters to sing the Frozen songs they wrote, Bob Iger got made fun of in the chat box for typing, “Everyone can find it on Disney+ right now.” It was better than a Hollywood party, because it felt safe to mock Bob Iger.
Paging through Zoom screens, I regularly saw Sherry Lansing, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Tom Werner, Dana Walden, Tina Fey, Amy Adams, Courtney Cox, Rob Lowe, Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, and tennis star Pam Shriver. Nearly 300 performers have played their hits and told stories about writing them: Rod Stewart, Josh Groban, Elvis Costello, Earth Wind & Fire, Florida Georgia Line, Shawn Mendes, Smokey Robinson, and the Killers. At one point, I was convinced that people were coming back from the dead to be on the Zoom, when songwriter Mike Stoller of Leiber and Stoller (“Hound Dog,” “Yakkity Yak”) called in.
Richard plays the role of gushing, well-prepared interviewer. He’ll yell like a teenager at a Beatles concert. He’ll talk to his parents. He’ll cry. His favorite thing is declaring himself a “sniper,” demanding a performer sing something they didn’t prepare in the Zoom rehearsal.
“I snipered Melissa Etheridge to sing a Janis Joplin song. And she didn’t sing one but she sang two! She was going to sing ‘Come Through My Window’ and all of the sudden she’s singing ‘Me and Bobby McGee’!” Richard tells me in disbelief. He has made two producers his de facto cohosts, calling on them not only to book guests, but to ask them questions after they played: 88-year-old music executive Clive Davis, and songwriter and producer Jimmy Jam.
“I don’t think anybody turned us down,” says Davis, who wears a sweater and tie for every event. “Al Stewart was going to do ‘Year of the Cat’ and ‘Time Passages’ but the person coming to set up the Zoom got the virus. So we had to postpone it,” he says.
When Davis asked Barry Manilow to come on, he performed a particularly relevant song he recorded in 1989, ‘When the Good Times Come Again.’ I Facetimed my mom and held my phone up to the Zoom performance. I was not alone. Manilow sang it on The Late Late Show with James Corden and The Today Show and wound up at number 18 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. After Bryan Adams sang, he told Davis he had an unreleased solo version of Aretha Franklin singing ‘Never Gonna Break My Faith,’ a song he wrote for her and Mary J. Blige. A few weeks later, it was number one on Billboard’s gospel chart.
Jam, a calm, professorial presence, became friends with Richard a dozen years ago when he burst into Jam’s meeting at WME yelling, “How come Jimmy Jam is in the building and no one told me!” then naming the most obscure songs that he produced and running out of the room. “He texted me about Demi’s party. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Jam remembers. “The next week he did another one and after the fact mentioned that John Mayer was going to be on. I thought that sounded kind of cool.” Soon, Richard was asking him to book guests and calling on him to deliver commentary after they played. When he’s not talking, he’s scrolling through pages of guests. “ I like watching people listening to music. Watching the emotions wash over them,” he says. “We’re all in the same place feeling the same thing.”
On May 23, instead of hosting from their kitchen—the room in their Beverly Hills house with the best WiFi reception—Richard and Demi popped up at the Hollywood Bowl with Mayor Eric Garcetti and Gustavo Dudamel, as they watched performances from Kenny Loggins, the trumpet section of the L.A. Philharmonic, and members of Youth Orchestra Los Angeles. Billie Eilish zoomed in. The week before Hamilton premiered on Disney+, creator Miranda and the cast reunited to raise money for Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative. A few weeks later John Legend cohosted to support his prison reform nonprofit FreeAmerica. Governor Gavin Newsom came on to talk about COVID. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms discussed how to cut hair during a pandemic. Weitz was set to host from Dodger Stadium to raise money for the team’s Dodgers RBI youth development program until Black Lives Matter protests, followed by the return of Major League Baseball games, led them to cancel.
“Imagine a year ago. I had no writer clients. A year later I’m talking to everyone I’ve ever been a fan of directly. From my kitchen,” Richard told me. A few months later, he went further: “This has been the best year of my life. I solidified a new relationship with my daughter, and a new reputation for me, well beyond being an agent.”
In fact, it’s hard for Richard to log off the Zooms. Really hard. They sometimes last more than seven hours, long after Demi gets exhausted and leaves. Once, she came down to her kitchen near midnight in her sleeping clothes, shocked Richard was still asking Amos Lee to play another song for former Comedy Central head Kent Alterman and 40 other die hards.
When the quarantine ends, Richard vows not to let Quarantunes end with it. He’s already figuring out a way to stage live events and Zoom holiday specials.
But Demi also knows that the quarantine has changed her dad as much as it’s changed her. “My dad is going to want to be home a lot more now,” she told her mom while we were on speakerphone. “I think he’s realizing the simplicity and beauty in life and what’s important.”
“Demi don’t get your hopes up. You’re going to be disappointed,” Candie added.
Hearing this, a newly wisened Richard gives it the millisecond of thought he gives everything. “I’m dying at home every day. I need to go out,” he says.