Category Archives: Comedians

Tyrannis Rex
Part Two

by Richard Natale

The screenwriter of the studio mogul’s biopic works on Act One. 2,036 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

Hollywood – 1969

Weak, Dave, weak. Just like your ex-wife said. Or soft, as Jules used to say. Driving out the front gate was like stepping from inside a fun-house mirror. He felt a headache coming on, the kind he used to get when he worked at Hollywood mogul Jules Azenberg’s Argot Pictures – like a nail being hammered into old plaster, making a hole twice its size and sending dust flying everywhere. He never did work for anyone remotely like Jules after leaving the movie business. Television was a completely different animal. Writers like Dave were hired for a series episode for one reason only: to fill in the intervals between commercials. There was no pretense of making art, or quality entertainment. It was called programming for a reason. The beats were all laid out; writers merely inserted new words inbetween. No one expected Dave to pour his heart and soul into a teleplay the way he had with a movie script in the vague hope that a scintilla of what he’d written actually made it to the screen intact. It never did but it never stopped screenwriters from trying. Keeping that kind of delusion going took a great deal of energy. And Dave had paid for it with big plaster cracks.

The next night, over dinner, Dave and his friend Joel Rodgers discussed Azenberg’s offer to write a warts and all biopic of Jules’ life and career.

“You said yes, I hope,” Joel said.

Dave nodded, but couldn’t conceal his unease.

“Good. For once in your life, maybe you’ll be smart,” Joel chided him. “Take the money and run.”

“It’s not that simple, Joel. It’s just that I’ve never been a leech.”

“It’s a wonder you’ve survived,” Joel chortled. “In this town you need to be either a leech or a lemming. Or a rat. So tell your agent to squeeze that little fucker’s balls until he screams. Then, once you have your money, write whatever the hell you want. He gave you permission. Now call him on it.”

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Lenny’s Last Laugh
Part Two

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

Hollywood’s best P.I. McNulty helps a comedian corpse get one best laugh. 1,848 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

“Okay, let’s do this,” McNulty said aloud as the sun slowly rose over the San Gabriel Mountains.

Seated in a florist’s van rented from a movie vehicle supply house, Hollywood’s most in-demand private eye waited to see if the first minor obstacle, namely getting screen siren Eden La Peer’s actor fiancé out of the house, had been successfully handled. The answer came shortly after 7 a.m. when the gate to their Beverly Hills home opened and the fiancé’s Jaguar convertible headed off to Palm Springs for a two-day gig that McNulty had arranged through a TV producer who, like most people in the industry, owed the P.I. a favor.

So far so good, McNulty thought.

A few minutes later, the florist van rolled up to the gate intercom and buzzed.

“Yes?” a woman’s tinny voice asked.

“Floral delivery for Miss La Peer,” the uniformed driver said.

The gate opened slowly. But, before the van moved, the side door slid open and one of McNulty’s men hopped out wearing a rented security guard uniform. His job was to keep any unwanted visitors from passing through the gate while the van headed to the house.

A few moments later, the van driver carried a large floral arrangement wrapped in clear cellophane to the front door. McNulty followed but hid himself off to the side. The door opened and Eden La Peer was standing there in a low-cut satin nightgown, her hair tousled and her eyes sleepy from the early hour.

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Lenny’s Last Laugh
Part One

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

Hollywood investigator McNulty must fulfill a comedian’s final wish. 2,287 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

Lenny Hazeltine was dead.

“How dead was he?” echoed the voices of a phantom TV audience in McNulty’s head.

So dead he stopped getting robo calls from politicians.

So dead Nigerian Princes quit emailing him.

So dead his three ex-wives stopped suing him for more spousal support.

Yes, Lenny Hazeltine, one of America’s most beloved funny men, was truly, absolutely and undeniably dead. Not that he wasn’t used to it.

“I’ve died so many times on stage,” he would joke, “my undertaker’s on speed dial.”

But now, in the truest sense of the word, Lenny Hazeltine, the man who claimed he’d been cited by the Center For Disease Control for spreading infectious laughter, was dead. And that was bad news for McNulty, Hollywood’s most infamous private eye. Not only because a close friend had passed away, but also because the day had finally come when McNulty had to make good on his marker.

The IOU had come about a few years earlier when Lenny, one of the more notorious and self-admitted degenerate showbiz gamblers, invited McNulty to sit in on one of several underground poker games that had become a high-stakes pastime among A-list celebs, high-rollers and other moneyed mucky-mucks. McNulty’s invitation was a so-called “bonus” after he’d saved Lenny a bundle in outrageous spousal support from his second wife. To prove that she had been the unfaithful party, McNulty’s team of Nerd Ninjas had hacked into her cell phone and downloaded explicit photos and videos of her and a soap opera hunk engaged in a catalog of Kama Sutra positions.

“They were tied up in so many knots,” Lenny joked, “the Boy Scouts awarded them merit badges.”

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Mae And Billy

by Matthew Licht

Billy Wilder wants an older and isolated Mae West to star in his next film. Or does he? 2,062 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.

He was on a drive down the street where dreams die whole. The diminutive movie director steered his serious white car towards the stately Art Deco pile at 570 North Rossmore Avenue that had been named for black birds in trees. He didn’t need a map of the movie star homes. Rabenswald, he thought, as he looked for the doorbell. He’d been in Hollywood over twenty years but still couldn’t desist from mental translations. He wasn’t born into the German-speaking world by accident. Billy Wilder had never really left Berlin.

He was on his way up to Apartment 611 to see Mae West. She’d lived there for decades, resolutely in Hollywood — hanging on, hanging tough, out of the limelight, nebulously entrenched in the collective imagination. The easy life at a ranch or a beach or a mountain resort was unthinkable for the sex goddess. For Broadway Mae had been bound for Hollywood the instant she froze, hands on hips, at the center of a pitted nickelodeon stage near Times Square and demanded her spotlight. Shadowy stagehands did her bidding and swung their beams her way. Light was the semen and ovum of her showbiz. Stars are born from light. They burn and shine and can’t last forever. Actors who are really stars illuminate till they burn out. What’s left, on reflection, is ashes, smoke, in her case, a nostalgic perfume.

Billy knew a thing or two about stars, even though he never took any astronomy classes at any fancy-pants East Coast college. He knew sex, power, mystery. He was a writer, basically: a storyteller who made his creations reflect the world’s darkness under brilliant piercing light. His imagination cut through the shadows and fog of the erotic swamp.

So Billy rang her doorbell and lit a fuse.

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The Larry David Code
Part Two

by Steve Young

An escalating mystery threatens to end the increasingly difficult sitcom industry. 3,189 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.

That day, I set out to find Larry David. I had seen Curb Your Enthusiasm enough to know what Larry’s house looked like but how to get there was the problem. I GPS’d “Larry’s House” but ended up at Larry The Cable Guy’s mansion. I headed down to Sunset to meet with my undercover celebrity map guy. I followed the map’s directions to an inconspicuous mansion sitting in the middle of a drive-thru cul de sac. If not for the fifty-foot hedges sculpted into the shapes of some of Larry’s top neuroses, I might have missed the house altogether. Shame and Paranoia flanked each side of the massive front doors.

On Larry’s front step was a stack of old People magazines. I picked up one and walked towards the threshold. I hoped that my magazine delivery ruse might get me through the portals and I would soon meet the man who had changed television. I swallowed hard, unsuccessfully attempting to dislodge the ever present glob of anxiety-generated saliva that seemed to have taken up permanent residence in my throat. With a deep breath that seemed to carry a toxic mixture of excitement and nervousness, I raised my hand to knock. But before my fist reached it, the door opened.

As if I had just become Curly (it could have been Shemp, but definitely not Curly Joe who ended up on Abbott and Costello’s show), I ended up knocking on Larry David’s head.

“Is something wrong with you?” he said. “What are you trying to do? Who are you?”

People magazine delivery boy.”

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The Larry David Code
Part One

by Steve Young

A great sitcom writer has disappeared. Who or what caused it? And why? 2,449 words. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Was that a backfire or a punch thrown by an animated super hero? Perhaps I was in an Adam West Batman episode. I had no idea what was real and what was a cult classic.


Of course it could have been both a backfire and a punch happening simultaneously, a contrived scenario much like the moment a sitcom character alludes to “the one thing that would never happen,” and much to the surprise of the viewer – wait for it – it does. You never see it coming, that is, unless you’ve ever seen any film or television show.


No, that was definitely a backfire. I have got to find some mechanic I can trust.

Christ. I’m staked out in front of the mega-mansion owned by Larry David, the celebrated star/creator of Curb Your Enthusiasm and co-creator of Seinfeld, just hoping I might be able to snag that long-awaited magazine interview we’d arranged. Now I’m stinking up the driveway with explosions produced by a running internal combustion engine that occurs in the air intake or exhaust system rather than inside the combustion chamber. Wikipedia is such a great source for car repair information.

I turned off the engine and jumped out of my car. My heady prudence came coincidentally from my friend Prudence who once revealed to me the secret that had prevented me from putting courage ahead of safety: “The only thing worse than an unemployed writer? An ignored unemployed writer.”

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Does Carol Burnett Come With Salad?

by Jim Piazza

What’s worse than writing for the worst TV show? Writing for dinner theater. 2,182 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.

“I knew Bret was gay!”

“You don’t know anything,” Mickey snapped.

“He blew me a kiss last night!”

“Actors do that all the time.”

“In a deserted parking lot at two in the morning?”

There was a pause on the other end of the line. “They gave you a car?”

Mickey may have been dying, he may have been richer than Dolores Hope, but give anybody else a dented Volvo rental or a day-old donut and he wanted one, too – with sprinkles.

While Mickey was enduring the final days of a mysterious cancer in New York, I was trapped down in Neptune, Florida, with the Sam Shepard send-up we’d written together. It was my first foray in theater after four years of uncredited script-polishing in a forgotten woodshed on the Paramount lot. I was eager to see my name on something besides a summons from Traffic Court. The play was purposely “so bad it’s funny”– but nobody seemed to get it except us. Even the Alaska Rep passed despite Mickey’s marquee cred: three Oscar noms, two Tonys and a Pulitzer.

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Part Two

by Howard Rosenberg

A stand-up comedian reviews his painful adolescence and the person who caused it. 3,308 words. Part One. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.

Kansas City – 2016

His name is advertised in white lights on a marquee out front, under the heading, COMEDY COLOSSUS. Mainstream sexy is what they want on this circuit. A lot of it, and he delivers. It’s been a nice run so far, the kind of good crowds and boisterous laughs that promise a return gig. But he knows that won’t happen.

He hasn’t been to Kansas City for two years, not since the funeral. And this is his first gig at Chez Vegas. It’s a booking he sought, inexplicably drawn back to Kansas City like a criminal to the scene of his crime, while hoping this would compel him to take care of unfinished business he’d put off far too long. He hadn’t known the unfinished business would devastate him.

He knows the Chez Vegas terrain by heart, could chart and navigate it blindfolded. The pattern for these smallish clubs and their flashy decors rarely changes, whether the curtain he stands behind is red, green or polka-dot.

The smug superior stiff-upper-lips will drink and laugh the least. But he can count on a spillover of loud boozy conventioneers up front along with screaming Hadassah ladies and their husbands who always hang on his words. The closer they are the better, so he can absorb their energy. He knows a few will push hard to meet him afterwards. They’ll want to buy him drinks and, thinking they’re hip, bore him with their own favorite dumb jokes and bleed out their life stories like hemophiliacs. Yeah, sure, Kansas City hip; last month Toledo hip, and before that Louisville.

Hurling insults from the back of the room will be the hecklers: gutless, talentless and mindless with bull’s eyes on their foreheads. They sicken him, but are easy to top and humiliate when they get out of line. Which is why he always hopes they do. He pictures pulling a trigger and blowing them away, all of them, the entire fucking room, thirty seconds of euphoric release.

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Part One

by Howard Rosenberg

A stand-up comedian is booked into his hometown club which stirs up memories. 2,380 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

Kansas City – 2016

It’s hot, as July nights always are in his hometown. Hot and sticky, the air stagnant and wet, as if he is bathing with his clothes on. It reminds Davey of his childhood, age six or seven perhaps. They would flee their sweltering second-floor flat and join neighbors on the grassy slope of Gilliam Park, reclining on a blanket under the stars with a thermos of iced tea while hoping to catch a breeze. Their rumbling window air-conditioner cooled erratically even when working, and a new one wasn’t in the budget. Not that Davey cared. Drifting off in the park was his air-conditioning as a young boy.

“Thanks,” Davey tells the driver named Pete who wears a Kansas City Royals cap backwards, a retard look for middle-aged white guys. Davey peels off a ten, and Pete accepts the tip with eyes forward, right palm up; he never says much, and his shoulders slump. Davey doesn’t care about him at all, but wonders if anyone could be content driving a town car for a living at age what, forty or forty-five? He decides Pete is dead man driving. Reality check: Pete’s passenger is dead, too.

He puts the driver out of his mind, slings his vinyl wardrobe bag over his shoulder and approaches the rear door of Chez Vegas, a popular nightspot in the sprawling upscale mid-town district known as County Club Plaza. It’s been dark for hours, yet the heavy hair presses against his unshaven face as he jabs a red button, enunciates his name clearly into a small rusted speaker and is buzzed inside where the plunge in temperature brings immediate relief.

Stranded in the middle-earth of show business, he’s been at it for 10 years, so he knows the drill. His drill: slip in and disappear into a dressing room, this one next door to a kitchen whose pungent smells of nachos and spicy fried foods escape through the vent and almost make him gag. As always, he’ll avoid contact and be invisible. Then wait behind the green curtain with his opening joke on the tip of his tongue until he hears his name announced followed by applause.

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The Raw Vote Is In

by Bill Scheft

TV FICTION PACKAGE: Politically incorrect comedian Tommy Dash horrifies the panelists on a cable news show about the Presidential primary race. 2,759 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.

Okay, enough chit-chat. Here are the jokes I never got to on the air:

  • I’m now taking orders for my new t-shirt: “TRUMP: He’s David Duke, But With A Higher Thread Count.”
  • Ted Cruz may win Indiana. It all depends on whether he can get the heavy Gestapo turnout.
  • If you don’t count Ohio, the only time John Kasich has finished first is when he was jerking off
  • Bernie Sanders spent $46 million in the month of March. And half of that was on fiber.
  • Remember, the Hillary Clinton email scandal started because she didn’t want to carry around an extra device. It’s the same thing that happened with Bruce Jenner.

Before we continue, I have several philosophical questions:

If someone is on cable television news and is under the impression that it’s okay to curse because it is cable television, is that person wrong for cursing? Strictly speaking, is the phrase “cock yahtzee” cursing? Okay, what about “turd parade”? Okay, what about “muff” or “snatch”?

Okay, I know you’re going to say “snatch” is a bit vulgar. And perhaps that’s what got me hustled back onto Sixth Avenue. I was vulgar. And you can’t be vulgar on television. You can be dirty. You can be suggestive. You can be naughty, and we hope you are. But you can’t be vulgar on TV. It’s a public trust, or whatever other hypocritical oxymoronic term you can come up with, like “rectal itching” at the end of a pharmaceutical commercial.

Gee, I hope I’m not giving away what happened last Friday when I got booked to appear on the cable news political roundtable, Right Cross.

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The Writer’s Cut
Part Three

by Eric Idle

From the Monty Python legend: the film/TV comedian delays writing his Hollywood reality novel to accept a TV assignment. Part One and Part Two. 2,642 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

Los Angeles – 2003

My writing partner Sam and I are in an early morning meeting at the Disney Executive block. Execution block more like. Over the main doorway, wide enough for a football band to march through, Seven Dwarves bend, holding the weight of the world on their shoulders. Sam and I are in imminent danger of joining them. It feels like being back in high school.

In order to make up for what we promised to deliver by last week, Sam and I have just agreed to write all weekend, and all night if need be, which is something of a problem for me, since I now have a novel to write.

That’s right. Pangloss Publisher Richard Hume bought my fucking reality novel The Writer’s Cut from my pitch. My agent Morty Mortenson called to tell me the good news. It’s music to my ears. “He loves it. They’re going with a first printing of 30,000 copies. And I got you a quarter of a mill on delivery,” said Morty. “It is finished right?”

“Virtually” I said. Compounding the problem. Lying to agents may be common in the executive class but lying to your own agent can lead to trouble. Rest assured. It will.

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Sucker Punch

by Leslie Epstein

A family member imagines the Epstein brothers’ screenwriting process for Casablanca. 3,673 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.

July 1942
Hedda Hopper

I went over to the Warner’s lot yesterday morning and right away ran into Ingrid Bergman, my favorite sexy Swede, on the set of Seas Of Sand. I should say Casablanca, since that is the new name of her picture. There she was. on Stage 1, clad in a stodgy suit with pockets that a kangaroo would have felt at home in and a schoolmarm’s white collar. "Oh, Hedda," she declared. "I am so angry!"

"I don’t blame you, Ingrid, having to wear an outfit like that."

"Oh, it’s not my clothes, though of course they are not glamorous," she replied. "It’s because no one will tell me my lines. How can I act when I do not know who I am supposed to be in love with — Rick or Victor?" She meant Humphrey Bogart or Paul Henreid, who were playing the men in her life. "I am supposed to be flying off in that plane, but I don’t know whether it’s with my husband or with my lover!"

That’s when I noticed for the first time how the set had been transformed into an airport. The plane Ingrid mentioned was a cardboard cut-out, complete with the Air France flying horse on its tail and a bunch of white-clothed mechanics gathered around it. Why, they were midgets, cute as munchkins. That’s the magic of our business! In the pea soup that the fog machines were pumping out, it all looked so real. Whoa, Nelly! Fog in Morocco? That’s a pretty tall order!

"Look, Hedda. Just look at this!" The actress reached into one of her outsized pockets and pulled out a handful of papers, all of them in different colors: brown and blue and salmon and pink and a bright magenta. "See? Each color has a different ending. As soon as I memorize one line, they come up with another. It’s driving me crazy! Until they make up their minds, there’s nothing for us to do but sit on our hands."

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The Writer’s Cut
Part Two

by Eric Idle

Part Two of a book excerpt from the Monty Python legend: the film/TV comedian tries for a Hollywood kiss-and-sell publishing deal. Part One. 2,352 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

Los Angeles – 2003

I’m very good at bullshit.

It’s what I do best.

And that’s not just me speaking. My writing partner Sam says I have dropped more bull than a Spanish matador. That’s not insulting by the way. Bullshit is the art of Hollywood. I’m really good at it. If you can’t pitch you’re dead. That’s what they do all day, all night, on the phone, in their cars, at the office, in the bedroom. After you’ve been to a hundred Hollywood pitches you can do it in your sleep. It’s akin to advertising. Or stripping. I call it laptop dancing. You have to tease the customer into paying something without showing anything. You lure. You tempt. You paint a dream they can’t possibly imagine living without, which they need to own right now. It’s a hooker’s art,

I’m driving along Sunset when a perfect parking slot opens up in front of Book Soup. I’m still intending to go home and start work immediately on my Hollywood reality novel, but I’m high from the conversation with my William Morris agent Morty who’s set up a lunch tomorrow at Le Dome for me with a New York publisher. But you should never look a gift parking slot in the mouth. So I decide to give myself a reward. I make a U-turn and take it.

I’m an inkoholic, you see.

I love books. And I really love bookshops. I find them sexy places. Warm. Comfortable. Filled with intimate thoughts. I love the way everyone tilts their heads as they scan the shelves. That’s how I think of us book readers: we’re head tilters. Magazine readers don’t do that. They tilt the magazine, or flick through them backwards. You don’t do that with a book. Book Soup is my closest, but Dutton’s in Brentwood is very good, and there’s another Dutton’s in the Valley which has second hand books as well.

One book, and then I’m home all night writing. I’ve got to be prepared for tomorrow.

I’m feeding the meter when I see her.

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My Time Is Up, You’ve Been Great

by Bill Scheft

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.

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It’s Just An Honor To Be Implicated

by Bill Scheft

Comedian Tommy Dash is on a losing streak again, getting two pals fired. 4,211 words. Art by Mark Fearing.

Okay, just by a show of hands, how many of you know about the rule that if you’re dating a co-worker, you have to officially report it to the Human Resources Department so that the company is not liable for any potential sexual harassment claims down the road?

Just as I thought. Nobody knows about this rule. And by rule, I mean racket.

I hadn’t run into Janice in the building  the Tuesday or Thursday before the Christmas break, but we had gone out that Wednesday night. She took me to some Korean place that, again, I’d never been to and was crazy good. It’s hard to fuck up beef, barbecue sauce and beer, but it’s impossible to make the combination so good you go back into the kitchen and ask for a job. And by you, I mean me. Then we went to see Trumbo, and we ended up making out through the second half because, well, we got it. He writes in the bathtub and is a shitty dad. And I would have liked to see more from the Benzadrine. Don’t get me wrong. Bryan Cranston is phenomenal and should get his tux cleaned. This one was not his fault. But I’d like to see him do two hours of reading Trumbo’s letters like I saw Nathan Lane rip through in some Manhattan basement with my ex-wife one night in the early ’90s. See you next time on Kritic’s Korner…

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54 Hours To Bulletproof

by Bill Scheft

Now that Tommy Dash has found professional success, he’s focused on his personal life: a new girlfriend. 3,332 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.

Happy 11 days after Thanksgiving. Please email me if you would like the recipe for Charlie Sheen’s Sage-Oyster-AZT stuffing.

Here’s how you know things are different with me: 1) I’ll get to the bad stuff later, 2) Turns out it isn’t that bad, 3) Turns out I may wind up a hero.

I can hear you: “Tommy, you really need to do better than that. You can’t tease us like some news haircut on KTLA: ‘When we come back: The lighter side of a mudslide….’ We come here for your fuck-ups. And we’ve gone too long without one. What could possibly be the reason for the delay?”

Well, I think I found someone and I’d like to talk about her.

Again, I can hear you: “Look, Tommy. We all know it’s Janice. And we’re all thrilled you might have gotten laid by the HR gal at your cable network. But again, we did not and do not come here for middle-aged romance. Frankly, we’re still trying to get over what appears to be some kind of winning streak for you. And now you hit us with the word ‘hero’? And you’re not being ironic? And we have to wait? Fuck you. This isn’t the friggin’ Laemmle Noho 7 where we have to sit through some barfworthy Nancy Meyers preview before the Coen Brothers show up. Out with it!”

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