My First Real Money As a Comedy Writer
After a really good weekend set at Catch A Rising Star I walked into the bar and was pursued by an audience member who offered to by me a drink. After I accepted he proceeded to lather me with compliments, way too many and far too lofty, which suggested he had way too many drinks or was talking to the wrong comedian. He wore an expensive grey suit with a perfectly matching tie, that didn’t look like a clip on. He didn’t have any evidence of mental illness or homicidal tendencies, something I learned to detect in several years of intense therapy, so I didn’t run to hide behind a circle of comic friends. His compliments led up to telling me that he’d like to be stand-up comedian and wanted me to write jokes for him. He reached in into his pocket and was either ready to pay me or to pull a gun and force me to write for him. When a money clipped emerged I smothered the fear of it being a CIA weapon, and focused in on the protruding green bills. As much as I needed the money, I didn’t want to take advantage of a alcohol deluded patron. I willed myself into talking him out of it, convinced that eight-buck cab fare was plenty to maintain my life style, over-estimating my ability to pay my bills.
A week later, I had finished a set on the first show on a Saturday night at the Improvisation. As usual I walked into the bar ready to talk baseball or more importantly receive advice from my peers. Back then we all helped each other out, or if we bombed consoled each other. No one bombed more than Larry David. Many nights you’d see Larry in his soiled green army jacket standing outside, rubbing his hands across his cheeks with such determination, it was like he was trying to punish his bones, unsuccessfully returning color to his face. Elayne Boosler, Richard Belzer, Richard Lewis and several other comics would stand there pleading with Larry, trying to convince him not to throw himself in front of a cab, or to quit stand-up comedy forever.
I had a great set that night and was too happy about my performance to console Larry, so I stepped back into the bar. As I did the guy with the expansive suit from Catch a week earlier approached me, just as drunk, probably on Irish coffees because he swayed with manic energy while maintaining a look of determination. He insisted, no demanded that I write for him. Before I could talk him out of it he pulled out a roll of hundred dollar bills—minus the threat of a lethal CIA money clip. Surprised, I inhaled and nearly sucked the president’s heads off the bills. He peeled off what he thought was a thousand dollars and handed it to me. It was in fact eleven hundred, so I gave him back the extra c-note and accepted the job. He passed me his work number and told me to call him the next day.
I immediately, told my fellow comedians that I would take them out to eat after the shows, several so hungry they cut their sets short. On the way to the diner I even filled my car with gas, while David Sayh and Rich Overtone yelled out the window that I was rich, covering the sound of my famished car burping. So about eight or nine of us met at the Market Diner, on the West Side of Manhattan, and ate the best food the diner had to offer at two in the morning.
The next day I found the guy’s phone number under a pile of diner napkins (with jokes written on them) and crumbs. I called him, thinking that this is going to be one very rough job. Writing for a nonprofessional is tedious because they have no idea what they want or what is funny. The phone rang several times before a secretary answered. I explained who I was and why I was calling. After putting me on hold for a minute she told me that my benefactor was in a meeting, he’d call me back. The guy didn’t call me back that day and I called him for several days getting the same answer and the same response. I never heard from him again.
So the first real money I made in the comedy writing business was not for TV, and turned out to be the easiest job I ever had. I literally had to do nothing. For months I dreaded seeing him walk out of the showroom after I did a set, wielding a deadly money clip demanding his material or his money back. The thousand dollars filled the bellies of several comics for a week or so and I paid all my bills. I often wonder if the guy had either been embarrassed by his drunken gesture or had given me counterfeit money.