The incorrigible Tommy Dash appears to be up to old tricks. But he also has some new ones. 3,742 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
I’m writing this in the Admirals Club at LAX. Normally, I would just wait at the gate and time my Placidyl for ten minutes before I think they’ll start to board. But the red-eye to Newark isn’t for another three hours and I need to be clear-headed in case Sean Penn shows up to interview me.
That’s why I gave the guy checking names 50 bucks, and I can now drink for free and eat my weight in party mix.
I feel the need to write this post here, at the airport, because I’m still technically in LA. If you’re going to run your mouth on a show business site called “Hollywood Dementia,” you really should be here. Here. The Greater Hollywood Area. Actually, the Greater and Less Than Hollywood Area, which extends all the way to the prison where Liberace’s old boyfriend has a time-share. And you really should be in show business: film, television, long-playing records. They have yet to rule on whether stand-up is show business, although a maître d’ in a Vegas lounge once said to me, “You’re just a buffet that tells jokes.” Where I’m going doesn’t count, and whatever I’ll do when I get there certainly doesn’t qualify. Reminds me of The Odd Couple when Felix, who has been ghosting Broadway reviews for Oscar, appears on a TV panel posing as Oscar’s doctor while Oscar feigns laryngitis. At one point, he snaps at John Simon, “You call what you have in Los Angeles theater?” Same thing.
Jesus, I haven’t even finished my first Wild Turkey and I’m quoting a 40-year-old sitcom? What a fucking hack.
Maybe that’s why I finally got shit-canned three weeks ago. Because I’m a hack.
Not that you need proof by now that I’m a hack, but you may need proof that’s why I was fired. During the last show at the Tempe Improv the Sunday before Christmas, when Clark Keegan went out for his encore and did the lawnmower joke for the fourth fucking time and got his fourth standing ovation, they couldn’t find the local emcee to close the show. So, Clark’s manager, this untucked turd, tells me to go out and say goodnight. He doesn’t ask. He tells. So, I go out, and I say, like the pro that I am, “One more time for Clark Keegan! Let him know!” And as they’re screaming and applauding, for much too long, I add, “Nice to see my act is still working…” A throw-away. Then I do some schmaltz about supporting the Tempe Improv because I have 360 holes in my 2016 date book. Wait a minute. It’s January 15. I have 351 holes.
In other words, I gave a comic shit from the stage for doing an old joke that I usually do, which I lifted from some other comic I heard do it 31 years ago in Houston. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a hack. And I believe that’s what got me fired from the cable sitcom I Don’t Get It. Because I didn’t just lose the writing job and my return as Johnny V. in the final episode, I lost the audience warmup gig as well. And the lawnmower joke got permanently relocated to the public domain file in Clark Keegan’s pocket.
Actually, I lost the warmup job, got it back, then they lost it. We’ll get to that. It just happened. Like a half-hour ago just happened.
I’m not saying Clark Keegan pulled a Clint Eastwood on the set of Bird about me (which, if you remember, is the story that brought us all together here in the first place) and walked up to Danny Musselman and said, “Get rid of him.” I think Clark waited until he found out they had whacked Danny and then he realized there was another menu he could order from. The non-kosher menu. That’s when I think he called Beck, the new showrunner on I Don’t Get It, fucking Beck Franklin, and said, “Hey, I just spent a weekend with Tommy Dash and he could not stop shitting all over our show. Who needs him?” Or something much less clever.
Look, I have no way of knowing this. But the odds of it happening that way are much better than, say, Bill Cosby getting a cellmate name Camille. All I know is that I got fired over the phone, by fucking Beck four days after Danny was let go. Christmas Day.
You would have thought Beck would have taken great Dickensian joy in flushing me. But his tone was not one of triumph. “Hey, man. eah, well, we’re letting you go, Tommy,” his phone message began. “You pissed off the wrong people. I know I piss off people, but it’s never the wrong people. It’s everybody else. Like, well, people like you. But I want you to know I never meant anything by it. It’s what I do. I know I’m an asshole, but it works. The only time it backfires is when I end up having to rewrite a good script, like the finale, because we lost your character. A good character, man. So, that’ll be my New Year’s. Cleaning up your fuck-up. Okay then, cool…”
It takes a unique quality of character in a man to fire someone in a voicemail, and before that voicemail ends, have the presence of mind to wind up feeling sorry for himself. That quality is what frequently separates a producer from an executive producer.
I have to assume when Beck said I pissed off the wrong people, he meant Clark Keegan. Sure, it could mean any one of a number of faceless pieces of shit at the network (and remember, it’s a network where you can say “piece of shit”), but that just wouldn’t be as good a story as getting fired for taking a side of the mouth swipe at the series star at some chuckle hut in Tempe. And if you know anything about me by now, I’m in this for the stories.
They paid me for the last two weeks, which they didn’t have to do. Or maybe they did, because that’s the kind of thing I would write about here. Usually, I’m one of those guys that cannot be bought, you know, until I endorse the back of the check. But there it was. Seven Gs for going away quietly.
And technically, I did go away quietly. So quietly, no one knew I was gone. Until about twenty minutes ago, when I had to turn off my flip phone because it was vibrating so relentlessly it met the criteria for admission into Amy Schumer’s nightstand drawer.
Two days ago, I get a call from Danny’s right-hand guy who never showered. Now, he’s Beck’s right-hand guy and may have hosed down to usher in the New Year. He calls and says they never thought to get anyone to replace me as the audience warmup guy and at the last minute they wound up hiring Clark Keegan’s regular opening act, the guitar song parody idiot, and it was a disaster. The mid-concept humor that was being served up on the sound stage couldn’t follow the brilliance in the bleachers like, “You folks like Elton John? Don’t let your son go down on me…” and the studio response to Episode 9 “landed a little soft.”
I had a phenomenal comeback, even for me. “So, why are you calling me?” I say, “You want to borrow a cup of sweetener?”
He says, “Uh, Beck wants to know if you would come do the warmup for the finale. Uh, you know, as a favor. You know, since we paid you.”
I say, “Absolutely!” Just like that. “What time you need me there? 4:00 Friday? I’ll be there!” And I really leaned on the “I’ll be there!”
The right-hand guy was stunned. “Wow, Tommy. Thanks. Beck had me call because he never thought you’d do it. You’re really saving us.”
And then I had to add, “I’m gonna hop in the shower right now. Why don’t you join me?”
“Now, that’s the Tommy Dash I know,” he said. “I almost didn’t think it was you, so agreeable. Janice must be good for you.”
She is, but that had nothing to do with why I was so agreeable. I never got the chance to leave I Don’t Get It on my own terms. Sure, it had ended badly for me. But leaving on my own terms meant it also had to end badly for them. That. That’s the Tommy Dash I know.
The whole thing cost me $120. I had booked the flight to Newark a week ago, which was a week after I’d gotten off the phone with my daughter Janey. And I mean Janey. The flight departed Friday, January 15, at 3:07 pm. No good now because the taping starts at 4:30. I call American and say something came up, can I switch to the red-eye? $120 for the change? Absolutely!
Again, I can hear you people. Hey Tommy, wait a minute. The red-eye departs at ten pm. How can you do the warm-up, which you yourself said involves keeping the studio audience energized, focused and loose during every break, retake and set change within a taping that usually lasts four hours, and make your flight in time? You’d have to leave early.
And that’s what I did. I left early. Just a little bit. About three hours and 45 minutes before I was supposed to leave. I showed up at four and got my hugs from the Latin guy at reception and the crew and the cast, and Cindy the female writer, who was on the set and mumbled, “Sucks what happened.” I hit my mark at 4:30 pm with infomercial host energy. I welcomed everyone and explained what was about to take place and introduced the cast and took some questions, did the Hitler joke (“Gee, I hope he’s alright….”) as a request and reminded them to laugh just like that. Then I pointed out all the monitors and cautioned them again about no photos and no naked selfies and yeah, laugh like that, and are you ready????? Here we go!!!!
And by “we,” I meant them. I was gone. Moved, left, no forwarding address.
The lights came down in the bleachers, and you know that quiet that descends right before all the magic starts? I never heard it. By then, 4:48, I had slipped through a fire door that was always cracked open for the crew guys to smoke, into my car and on my way to LAX long-term parking by the Bradley International Terminal and Mexican Embassy. It still took another 15 minutes for the calls to start, but by then I had hit rush hour traffic on the 10. And the law is clear. You have to have a hands-free device on your cellphone. And I don’t. And, as we all should know by now, I am all about playing along.
Before I shut off my phone, there were 17 voice mails, which I promise I’ll get to, after I finish this post. I’m pretty confident they’re all variations on the “Where the fuck are you?” theme. I’m even more confident my little scamper cost I Don’t Get It a good hour of production time sheckles, not to mention some social anxiety-ridden stage manager taking over for me and trying to keep the audience herded between takes. Seventeen voice mails. And one text. From Janice, which I read during a bottleneck at the exit for La Tijera Blvd. I’ve gotten three frantic calls from people we used to work for, all looking for you. I don’t know what you did, but I am smiling. Call me when you land…
Janice knew I was going to Newark, but had not known about the last-minute flight switch and my plan to leave on my own terms. I can tell you that I spared her because I didn’t want to involve her. But the truth was, the night before was our last night together and I didn’t want to tell her and have her talk me out of it. Okay, that’s a lie. She couldn’t have talked me out of it. I didn’t want her to think badly of me. You want to call that love, I’ll let you. You know what I call love? The words I don’t know what you did, but I am smiling.
It was Janice’s idea for me to go. She does this thing, Janice, where I talk for like ten, fifteen, twenty, an hour, non-fucking-stop, and she just listens and at the end of it says something like, “Yeah, that sucks. But you know what? That’s all it does. It just sucks. It doesn’t do anything else.” Not something like, exactly like that. There are others that she uses. “Tommy, it’s fucking Tuesday.” That would be after I go on and on about something up my ass that doesn’t happen until next month or something that happened a thousand years ago, in which case, she says, “Tommy, it’s fucking Tuesday 2016.” But since we’ve been together, the one she has trotted out the most is, “You know what to do.” Just like that. You know what to do. Three times I’ve heard it. And, you have to believe me, every single time, I’ve had absolutely no friggin’ idea what to do.
Every time, a funny thing happens. Let me just say, I loathe when people say “a funny thing happens” and it’s nowhere near funny. It is three times zones and a bus ride from funny. But in this case, I’ll break my own rule, because the funny thing that happens is funny to no one but me. Right after Janice says, “You know what to do.” (And I don’t. I’m telling you, I don’t.) She puts a finger to her mouth, Shhh, and we get real quiet. And I start to think about the last fucking thing I want to do. And I start to giggle. Me, Tommy Dash. Giggling. Don’t tell anyone. And the giggling does not stop, in fact, it grows, as I say, “Do what? What? Like call him and apologize?” Or, “Do what? What? Like pay them?” That’s when both of Janice Meagher’s unfairly attractive eyebrows rise and she gives the littlest nod.
So, when I say it was Janice’s idea for me to go, what I mean is I told her all about my conversation with Janey and then I got You know what to do. Then me giggling, then me “Do what? What? Get on a fucking plane and fly to New Jersey?” Then her, the eyebrows and the nod.
Janey called me the day after New Year’s. As I’ve mentioned, she hadn’t spoken to me since 2008, after she came to see Dear Old Dad one Sunday at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach and I made her pay the cover. I’m pretty confident that was not the reason she stopped speaking to me, it was just the last entry in the atrocity log. I tried calling a couple of times, but then I decided when she wanted to talk, she’d find me. One time, I made the mistake of telling her sister Abby that she’d find me, and Abby said, “Yeah, like they found the guy who was on Hogan’s Heroes…”
I would keep track of Janey through Abby, but then they stopped talking four years ago. That might have ended. I might have heard something about that ending. But really, I can’t keep their names straight, you’re going to hold me on when or if they’re speaking? And, by the way, Abby still isn’t speaking to me over the 27-year-old girlfriend thing, which you probably forgot about, so really, who’s the one not paying fucking attention?
Enough. It wasn’t a very long call. It came late Saturday afternoon, and God help me, I had just staggered into my apartment from the go-kart track in Torrance, where I spent four hours with Janice and her two kids. Please. I am begging you. Do not ask me their names.
I cannot recreate the entire conversation because it’s almost two weeks later and phrases are still coming back to me, or coming back rewritten. And it was not a conversation. It was Janey talking and me saying little more than, “That’s great, Janey.” I can tell you the very last line she said. “Hey, you didn’t call me Abby once. Nice going, Dad.”
She wanted me to know she was clean and sober three years that day. She wanted me to know she had stolen money out of my wallet whenever she had visited me and I took a shower. She wanted me to know she had stolen pills out of my medicine cabinet, but always left enough so I could get back to the pharmacy. She wanted me to know that when she was 20 and said she needed $500 for an abortion, she just needed $500. And she said she was telling me all of this just to let me know she doesn’t behave that way anymore. She said she’s been going to meetings almost every day for three years and she helps a lot of other women. Most days, she was happy. Today had been a good day.
She said the toughest thing to learn the last three years, the most elusive thing, is the notion that what other people think of her is none of her business. So, here was the worst of it, Pop. The worst of her. Do with it what you will. And here was the best of it. She ain’t like that anymore.
Oh, and one more item. Her daughter, Sally, turns one on Monday, January 18. The party is Sunday afternoon, 1-3 pm. 1301 Wall Street. But not that Wall Street. Wall Street in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.
Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Three time zones and a bus ride from funny.
Oh, and just one more item. Her friggin’ daughter Sally?!?!?
I wanted to say many things to Janey, few of them helpful. After the medicine cabinet admission. I was dying to ask her, “Did I get that move from you, or did you get that move from me?” After she mentioned meetings, I really wanted to tell her something a sober comic once told me. He said, without question, the greatest opening line of an AA qualification he ever heard was, “My name is so-and-so, and, I’m an alcoholic. My father started molesting me when I was six, and that led to my bottom….” And the few times Janey began to choke up, I almost, almost, said, “So, you had a problem with drugs and alcohol. I always knew there was something about you I liked.”
There was none of that. (I just typed “There was none of that” and still can’t believe it.) I kept my mouth shut. I let my daughter have this phone call, this connection, and somehow, I managed to not feel as if the moment was only happening to me.
Other than her saying, “Hey, you didn’t call me Abby once. Nice going, Dad.” I have no idea what she thinks of me. I know now what other people think of me is none of my business. Which is all well and good, but what if other people think I’m a fucking grandfather?
Maybe now, here at the Admirals Club, would be a good time to point out that I’m flying to Newark a day after I cashed my last two checks for seven Gs and cleaned all but $2,202 out of my bank account just before I sent a check for $2,200 to my pals at the IRS, who I owed $22,000. I can’t take all the credit for that. It’s a technique I picked up from that scumbag who owned the Islanders for twenty minutes in the early ‘90s. He had a $17 million payment due and wired $1,700, which makes my play look like a JV scrimmage.
And I’m flying out forty hours after I had a brief conversation in front of my building with a couple of well-meaning detectives from the LAPD, who found my number in my drug dealer Flacco’s cellphone, which was sitting on the floor of his abandoned car in the Carl’s Jr parking lot on Vineland. It’s probably nothing, one of them said, but be available if we want to talk to you. Sure. I’m nothing but available.
Then, the other detective said, “Tommy Dash. Comic?”
“What have I seen you in?”
“Well” I said, “you haven’t seen me in the fucking parking lot of Carl’s Jr on Vineland.” You won’t believe the laugh that got from the two of them.
“It’ll come to me,” he said.
“No it won’t,” I said. Another laugh.
Last night, around five, and well within the pre-passion stage with Janice in the 818 area code where it is still okay to receive calls, U hear my flip phone sizzle. I figured it was some PA from the show confirming I was coming in for the taping.
“Mr. Dash, Detective Pelland, LAPD. I Don’t Get It, right?”
“Yeah, you got me.”
“We found your friend. Flacco.”
“Good. Well, you said it was probably nothing.” ”Did I say that?”
“You or your partner.”
“Well,” Detective Pelland said, “we say things like that.”
And then, and you really have to believe this one, for the first time in my professional life, or since we’ve known each other, I said something as seriously as I could possibly say it. Whatever the furthest point is from a joke, that’s how I meant it. “Well,” I said, “I hope he’s alright…”
It took Pelland a few seconds to stop coughing. “From the show! Hitler! Jesus, good one. I needed that. Shitty day. We may need to talk to you again. Have a good evening.”
“Who was that?” said Janice.
“Some cop,” I said.
She put her head in the crook of my neck, where the phone had just been. “I hope he told you not to leave town,” she purred.
He hadn’t said that. You heard him. Well, you heard what I wrote. That would have been something if the detective had said that. That might have been some story. And, we’ve been over this, I’m in this for the stories.