When The Paycheck After This Clears

When The Paycheck Clears,
We’ll Have A New Record

by Bill Scheft

The apologizing comedian Tommy Dash is back boasting about his new gig with a TV sitcom. For now. 3,716 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Happy New Year. Happy High Holidays. I’m planning a real show business Yom Kippur fast. I’m going to try and go 24 hours without having to eat shit.

​I missed the Emmys. Did Caitlin Jenner win for Best Editing? I read in Allure she had surgery to have her Adam’s Apple flattened. Wait a minute. She had something flattened and she calls herself a Kardashian?

I’m sorry we haven’t been in touch for a while. I’ve been busy. Which, if you know me, is not my natural state. I will say, it’s alarming to be this kind of busy, which for me means having to get up early but not because I’m due in housing court.

Oh, enough dawdling: I got the gig…

Actually, I got a few gigs on this series I Don’t Get It. We’ll get to the fucking terrible name of the show later. (And I can say “fuck,” because the show is on a network where it’s okay to do that.) Don’t go nuts. I did not get the big gig. I didn’t bag the part of the father, the bitter old comedian who moves in with his successful young comic son. But I got many little gigs. Three, maybe four. I’m something called a “character consultant,” which means I’m not technically on the writing staff but I sit in on the meetings and they pay me Writers Guild minimum, which is $3,800 a week, but they don’t have to give the Guild its taste. And neither do I, so that’s just beautiful. I have a part in the fourth episode where I play the father’s former partner from when he did a double-act in the 1980s. Somebody told me, it might have been CAA agent Denard Sharp who has swooped back in after firing me, that’s worth about five Gs. If I do well, they bring me back. And, once we start taping, I’m the audience warm-up guy, which is another sweet sweet $500 AFTRA dollars an episode. Now, you’re aware I won’t see a dime of that until Episode Six because of my outstanding dues. But after that, I become a paid-in-full working union stiff for the first time since Luke married Laura.

If you add it all up, which believe me I have a few times, it comes to about $73,000 for 16 weeks. Seventy-three Gs. But calm down. First, the network did not, uh, dig my contentions about income tax. They actually thought I was doing a bit. The gal in accounts payable kept laughing and said, “I heard about you…” Against her advice, I ended up claiming 99 deductions and I’m still getting whacked for about 25 percent a week. So now it looks like 55Gs.

Then, we have my agent Denard Sharp (who I like to call Shylock Homes) and his commission. You’ll love this. First, I made him agree that he would only get commission on the AFTRA work, not the writing. Then I got him to cut his taste from 10 percent to five if I agreed not to tell people he was my agent. So, when all is said and done, he takes away about a grand, which he has to bill me for. And like I have to tell you, so many many things can happen that are beyond your control once you put a bill in the mail.

I’ve been at I Don’t Get It two weeks. There have been some… we’ll call them situations. Two. I’ll get to those. But bottom line, you eat all day long for free, and when the check after this clears, we’ll have a new record for my Wells Fargo account balance.

Let’s back up and get to how I got here at I Don’t Get It.  Jesus, what an awful name. Isn’t that phrase already beaten to death as an Internet meme? I’m asking because I’m not actually sure what a “meme” is. But give me credit. When they told me the name of the series, I didn’t make a face or say anything negative. Actually, I said something quite supportive. I said, “Great working title.” And that’s when Danny, who is the showrunner, said, “No. That’s the title,” and then laughed like I was an old friend just giving him shit.

Danny Musselman is the creator, executive producer and showrunner of I Don’t Get It. He is also a former comic. He is also a former comic who worked with me a couple of times. He is absolutely the reason I got this gig.

Let’s back up some more. I went to the woman’s office for the meeting I told you about. The woman at the network. Her name was Mandy or Sandy. I was nervous, and I was giving her one-word answers, and she asked me why I was nervous and I told her the Hildy Runnels story, and that dropped her. “Oh, I know Hildy,” she said. “I think she’s a massage therapist now.” Well, that got me. So we both relaxed and then she brought in a couple of guys and made me tell them the Hildy Runnels story, which I tagged with her line and everybody was laughing and then Mandy or Sandy says, “Okay, I think we’re ready to put you on tape.” Well, they give me some sides for the old guy, Morty (honest to Christ, Morty? Somebody call the Big Box of Cliches Store…). And she and the two guys (who were those “We’re not gay, we’re just really excited!” type of development lackeys) worked with me. And God bless them, they really tried, but every time they would give me a suggestion like “Can you be a little less angry?” I would stop and do the Clint Eastwood story, which they had heard. And then there was a line where I’m supposed to say, “How’s it hanging?” and again, I stopped and said, “Can I say, ‘How’s your pecker?’” and they said it would upset the writer. Even though you can hear them laughing. So I do the line anyway, and they say, “Come on, Tommy. We don’t want to upset the writer,” and say, very earnestly, “What about upsetting me?”

So this goes on for 15 minutes, and we have nothing. But Mandy or Sandy says, “Well, I was entertained.” And I look at the guys and say, “That’s like the girl who rolls off of you and says, ‘Well, I came…’”

Silence.

I leave there awkwardly, which, if you’ve been paying attention, is pretty much how I leave everywhere, and I’m driving home, figuring I will post an apology on this site to Mandy or Sandy and the two guys who are, for the life of me, not gay.

Remember what I told you about show business? Not the eating shit part up top, the part about how if they want you they find you? Well, I get home, and there’s a message on my machine.

“Tommy, Danny Musselman. Blast from the past. I’m a big shot TV producer asshole now. I saw your video diary, I mean, your audition tape. Three things. First, I want you to come in tomorrow morning and talk to me and the other assholes at I Don’t Get It. Second, stop fucking with my script. Third, you’re right, ‘How’s your pecker?’ is funnier.”

Danny Musselman and I started out as comics around the same time. His dad was a well-known Catskills comic, which is where he got the idea for this show. Danny was not nearly as good a comic as his old man, which is not uncommon. Buddy Hackett’s kid, Sandy, banged around for years. Maybe he still does.

Among comics, Danny was known as a good guy. Which, like I have to tell you, is just about the worst thing to be known as. Because that’s what other comics say about you when you’re not funny. “Who’d you work with last week at the Treehouse?” “John Mendoza and Danny Musselman.” “Mendoza? Now, that’s funny. And Danny’s a good guy….”  Like that. He did it for about 10 years and then got hired by another “good guy” who was working on some show at Witt-Thomas. I want to say The Golden Girls, but I really want to say Empty Nest.  Well, now it’s 20 years later of being a number two man at different half-hours and he’s finally gotten a pilot picked up to series and now he’s running his own shop. I’ve always been happy for Danny, mostly because he was no longer on stage.

The meeting is at 10. In the morning. I had a double espresso and half a joint in the parking lot, and I really need to remember that combo because it worked. Well, it worked that time. I tried it again last week, and then I called one of the girls who works for the director “sweetheart” and that earned me a trip to see Janice in HR. Who really is a sweetheart.

I walk into Danny’s office, and he jumps up and gives me a giant hug, and introduces me to three guys named Seth and two women named Meredith. If you didn’t notice it already, I need to point out that unless it’s a ballplayer or a comic or an agent or some club owner who fucked me, I cannot remember anyone’s name. So, it’s always, “Hiya, pal” for the guys or “Thanks, sweetheart” for the women. But, after my meeting with Janice, I now have to call everyone “pal.”

We all sit down, and Danny says, “I was just telling them a story about the time you and I were working The Dunes in Las Vegas in Mitzi’s show.”

I figure he had told them the blow job story, but I didn’t say anything because he was clearly running the room. (I told you the half-joint/double espresso was working.) So all I did was smile and say, “I think I know the story you told.”

He laughs and says, “I told them how you came up to me between shows and asked me to loan you $300 because you had tapped out at roulette. Then, around 2 a.m., I see you at the elevator with a wad of cash, and I ask you for the $300 back and you said, ‘I can’t. This is my coke money…’”

Well, they’re all laughing even though he has now told the story twice. And even though it was $200, not $300. And even though I never played roulette in a casino in my fucking life. Sucker game. I had dropped the two bills at Keno. I just nodded and chuckled, “Did you ever get the money back from me?” Danny shook his head. And I said, “Well, now you have to hire me!”

The Seths and the Merediths loved that. Well, that was all I needed. I told them how Mitzi Shore had set up a Comedy Store at The Dunes, and she would book six acts to do an 80-minute show. Eighty minutes, not a second over, then back out to the tables. Which means the first five acts would do 8-12 minutes and the headliner did 20. And then I went through the line-up that week. Mind you, this is 25 years ago. Can’t remember anyone’s name now, but I know that show cold. Larry Amoros MC’d and opened the show working the crowd. Where you from? Kenya? Well, Kenya shut the fuck up? Where do you go to school? Is it a real college, or do you have to draw Blinky to get in? That kind of thing. Best MC ever. Ask Chris Rock. Ask Louie CK. Ask Rosie. Larry brought up Danny, who had to go first because he was a good guy. Then me, with 10 minutes of nothing but gambling material. Killed. Then Pam Matteson, who did impressions and destroyed. She just passed away. Fucking shame. Then Roger and Roger, this team who sang and also did impressions and had been around for years and these rubes in Vegas just lapped them up. Closing the show was Ollie Joe Prater, who was a huge road comic from the South who stole material from everyone’s act and no club owner cared because he drew, his audience drank, he drank more, he did over an hour and he obliterated every night. And when I say huge, I mean literally. By then, Ollie Joe Prater weighed over 400 pounds and could no longer do his act standing up. Now, Mitzi wants to book him, but the spot is only 20 minutes. It takes Ollie Joe about 10 minutes to walk to the center of the stage. So, what she came up with, and my hand to God on this one, ask anybody, what Mitzi decided to do was pre-set Ollie Joe on stage but back a bit, sitting in a chair, under a boat tarp, while the other acts performed in front of him. Then, after Roger and Roger went off to screams, Larry Amoros would cross, grab the edge of the boat tarp and say, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your headliner, Ollie Joe Prater!!!!” And Larry would yank off the boat tarp with a flourish and three stagehands would move the chair up to the microphone.

The Seths and the Merediths were dying. They couldn’t believe it, but Danny kept pointing at me and saying, “Absolutely true.” I finish that story, and Danny says, “I can’t believe you remember the lineup. Do you remember how I did?” And I patted him on the knee and said, “You did fine, Danny.” Which the Seths and the Merediths loved even more than the Ollie Joe Prater story. So now, I know my audience and I come back at them with this, “Danny, I thought you were going to tell the story about the night Jim McCawley, the booker for Carson, came to the Dunes to see Pam and you asked me, ‘Tommy, do you think if I give Jim McCawley a blow job he’d put me on The Tonight Show?’ And you remember what I said?”

He squints like he’s trying to remember, but shakes his head.

“I said, ‘Danny, why don’t you blow him first, and then ask him?”

Well, it was like an explosion. Danny’s secretary, wait, assistant, opened the door and said, “Is everybody okay in here?” Which dropped everyone even more. And one of the Merediths looked at me and said, “Can you come by here like every day for an hour?” Then Danny said, “Fuck that, I’m going to hire him.” Which may have gotten a little applause in the room. And he asked everyone to leave so he could talk to me, but I got up as if I was leaving with the others, and that worked, too.

So I sit back down and Danny Musselman comes out from around his desk and sits in the chair next to me, which is a move right out of the Bob Evans playbook. He says, “Danny, we got a guy to play Morty. A legit guy. Maybe you know him. Sonny Regal. And he’s very strong. But he’s not one of us. I mean, he’s not a comic.”

I swear, I did not say anything when he said, “One of us.” No wait. I said, “Who’s playing his son, the hot comic?”

“Clark Keegan.” Jesus. Think Dane Cook, but with more dithering. Danny must have seen my face, because he immediately added, “Don’t worry. He’s not doing his act.”

You’ll never guess what came out of my mouth. “Clark’s got a couple of moves.” If you see anyone who knows me, I’m begging you, don’t tell anyone I said that. But it seemed to work, because Danny continued.

“Okay,” he said. “I’m going to need to get a little creative here. I’m going to hire you as a character consultant on the show. That will be your title. I can’t hire you as a writer because they’d all go nuts. And if I called you a script consultant, the Writers Guild would be up my ass. But you’ll sit in the room with the writers, with us, two days a week, and if something reminds you of a story, you’ll tell us. And if you have a note or a line for Morty, for Sonny, you’ll tell me and we’ll go over and tell him together. I’d send you over alone, but, you know, he’s an actor. He’s not one of us.”

Again, I let “He’s not one of us” go by. Because honestly, all I could think was, How the fuck am I going to get up two days a week?

Danny Musselman went on, “I’ll pay you Guild minimum, which is like $3,700, $3,800, but you won’t be in the Guild. Now, down the line, if you take a crack at writing a script, you’ll have to join the Guild.” And then he kept going, about me playing Morty’s old partner, Johnny V., in Episode Four and how that would be a different rate. And then he added the warm-up gig, which once the show was up would make it three days a week. By this time, I was having trouble paying attention, because I had never been offered three gigs at once. And because the pot and espresso had completely warn off.

“You want a cup of coffee? I got the K-Cup machine in here. I live off it.”

Fucking mindreader. “Yeah. Whatever you have that’s the strongest.”

“I got Dark Magic,” he said. “I think you’ll be pleased with this.”

He actually got up and made me a cup of coffee, and while the pod machine was hocking up at the end, he said, “Speaking of dark magic, which is what you are, Tommy, I think you know what I’m gonna say.”

You have to believe me, I had no idea what he was going to say.

“Tommy, I need you to behave.”

Oh. That.

“I’m not saying you have to be sober or clean. Just behave. Use your head. Show up reasonably on time. Be mindful of who you’re speaking to. Don’t bury some 27-year-old writer because he never heard of Ronnie Shakes or Dennis Wolfberg, or because he thinks Kevin Hart is funny. Or Clark Keegan. Don’t ask for a cash advance. Don’t get high in a stairwell. Don’t give anyone a sip of your soda. Don’t fall asleep in the building. Take a nap in your car in another lot.”

Oh. Another lot.

“Tommy, this is the fucking big leagues. And this is a big deal for me. The first show I’ve run. We know each other, and you knew my old man. He thought you were funny. And he thought I should go into television. I think this is a pretty brilliant idea of mine to have you here. I think you can be really useful to me and the show. Don’t make me regret it. Don’t make me have to explain to people over and over again why you’re here. Because, Tommy, it won’t be over and over again.”

“I get it,” I said. And he corrected me and told me the title was I Don’t Get It and then I explained I meant I got what he had said. And we had a little fake laugh over that as we stood up.

There was one more moment, when Danny Musselman put his hand on my shoulder and said, “And you know, that McCawley blow job story didn’t happen with me. You said that at the Improv bar to Barry Sobel. I was just standing there.”

And you know what? I had.

“Jesus, you’re right, Danny. Sorry.”

“Are you kidding me?” Danny shrieked. “I loved it! You made me look great. These kids here don’t believe I was a comic, let alone someone who almost went up for Carson. And, by the way, that story is now headed straight for Episode Four. Your episode. Although we can’t say blow job.”

“Hummer?” I said.

Danny clasped his hands and said, “That’s why you’re you.” If I was a betting man, and I still am, I’d slap down my Guild minimum that he’s said that line – That’s why you’re you — a couple of thousand times. That’s why I’m me.

That was a month ago. The next day, they messenger a contract to Denard Sharp. A week later, Denard and I finally meet each other at Peet’s Coffee on San Vicente. (I got banned from my Starbucks because of my post here last month, where I called myself “an asshole in the Valley at a sidewalk table” because they thought it was negative publicity. For their store. So, rather than meet at the Starbucks five blocks up on Melrose, I’m boycotting the whole fascist lot of them.) A week after that, I had my chat with the gal in accounts about the Constitution.

As I said, I’ve now been here two weeks. And I think I’ve behaved. I can’t take all the credit. The good folks at 5-hour ENERGY deserve more than a little. For the life of me, how people can sit in a windowless room for 11-12 hours agonizing over how to make a line that was never funny somehow less funny. It’s like being in the joint. I call the writer’s room Bitmo. To myself. We start taping in two weeks, so at least I can come in and do the warm-up and talk in my regular voice.

There’s a lot of things I say to myself. It’s all part of being a solid citizen. Maybe there should be more. I mentioned two “situations.” One was calling the girl “sweetheart.” That went away quickly thanks to Janice in HR. The other one happened this morning, when I came in for the table reading for the pilot. One of the guest stars was Scott Baio. Yes, he was available. He walks up to me at the craft services table and says, “You look familiar.” I say, “I’m Tommy Dash.” He says, “Hi, I’m Scott Baio.” And I say, “I know. Thirty years ago, my daughter Janey had a mask of you.”

Five minutes later, Danny Musselman spoke to me briefly. And that’s how I got out of sitting through the table reading. But, and this is part of behaving, when I see Scott Baio at the taping in two weeks, I owe him an apology. Janey didn’t have the mask of him. It was Abby.

Bill Scheft on twitter
About The Author:
Bill Scheft
Bill Scheft was a 16-time Emmy-nominated writer for David Letterman from 1991 until May 20, 2015. He spent 12 years touring as a stand-up comedian until he was hired as a monologue writer for Late Night With David Letterman on NBC. He has authored 4 novels: The Ringer, Time Won't Let Me (2006 Thurber Prize For American Humor finalist) , Everything Hurts, and his latest Shrink Thyself. @billscheft

About Bill Scheft

Bill Scheft was a 16-time Emmy-nominated writer for David Letterman from 1991 until May 20, 2015. He spent 12 years touring as a stand-up comedian until he was hired as a monologue writer for Late Night With David Letterman on NBC. He has authored 4 novels: The Ringer, Time Won't Let Me (2006 Thurber Prize For American Humor finalist) , Everything Hurts, and his latest Shrink Thyself. @billscheft

  12 comments on “When The Paycheck Clears,
We’ll Have A New Record

  1. "I call the writer’s room Bitmo"– A surprise hit at Sundance, the video diaries of veteran comic Tommy Dash are a twisted look deep into the secret heart of comedy! From the clogged aorta of hope through the ventricles of despair into the atrium of syndication. Coming soon! To a network that has the huevos to say the F-word. Or maybe YouTube. (And Tommy, please tell your pal Bill that he’s a real bastard for making us care so much about you. What can I say, Asshole, we’re proud. Also, Janice has kind of a thing for you, right? But she’s married, right? So now we have that to worry about.)

  2. Great story, fascinating.characters. Kind of abrupt ending. First of a two parter feel. And, frankly, I’ve always felt Scott Baio should apologize to everyone for BEING Scott Baio! But that’s just me.

    1. This is actually the 4th installment here at Hollywood Dementia. More to come. Too much fun, this guy….

  3. Brilliant, mean-spirited and hilarious. I loved every detail, right down to the keurig "hocking up at the end". I’m definitely checking out the book that won the Thurber Prize.

    1. In the spirit of rigorous honesty, TIME WON’T LET ME was a finalist for the Thurber. My friend Alan Zweibel won. That said, I’m proud of all my books, but I think my latest, SHRINK THYSELF, is my best.

      1. Not on the payroll & read "Shrink Thyself" cover to cover, mostly for lines to steal, lol, but also because there’s an intelligent sadness combined with ferocious insightful comedy — all of which is inspiring, wards off writer’s block, raises the funny bar & Thurber was somewhat over-rated, except for "The 13 Clocks," and he crushed it as an illustrator of mainly arch dogs, Scheft is relevant to now, just saying!

  4. Checking out Bill Scheft’s books right now on Amazon — you’ve got a new fan here. Sharing with everyone I know as well, looks like my gift list for the holidays is sorted out. Leave it to Nikki to deliver original new work to the public’s inbox, which I would never have come across otherwise. Evelyn Waugh would be proud to know that biting satire lives on in the 21st century. Thank you!

  5. This is SO perfect, I read it all to my wife (a former actress!) in Paris…dontcha love transatlantic humor??!!

  6. Even with an Emmy’s hangover, you can tell who’s running the room here. "Bitmo??" Bill Scheft writing in his regular voice in his head kills.

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