Believe Me It’s Better This Way

by Bill Scheft

The  comedian who says what Hollywood doesn’t want to hear is at it again – apologizing. 3,375 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.

"Hollywood Dementia Exclusive: Tommy Dash Responds."

Okay, this did not go quite the way I wanted it to go.

Let’s catch up.

Two weeks ago, I published a letter of apology on this site to Clint Eastwood. I was trying to – what’s the expression, make amends? – for some past behavior in the hopes (I’d say “in the hope” but there was more than one incident) my agent could send me up for his new movie. Well, we still haven’t heard from Clint, Clint’s people, or Clint’s people’s people.

But that’s the least of it.

There was some other stuff around the letter of apology, which I rambled on into a tape recorder. Colorful stuff. Colorful stuff that I may or may not have meant to be included. But I never gave any specific instructions to my daughter, Janey. I mean Abby. So, Abby just transcribed everything and sent it in and the website posted everything. All of it. That was not my intention. I’m not exactly sure what my intention was, but it was definitely not that. I think I was trying to figuratively clear my throat as I worked my way up to the letter of apology. If I had seen the transcript before it was sent, I might have edited some things out. Some of the more colorful things. Like saying my agent sounded like a black guy. He is, but that’s not the point. Just like it’s not the point that he called me a “Jew motherfucker.” Or just like it’s not the point that he is no longer my agent.

The point is Abby should have shown it to me before she sent it, before it came out, before I asked her, “Were you ever going to get around to showing me what I said, Janey?” and before she answered, “First of all, I’m Abby. And I was planning on showing it to you when you got around to telling me you had a new girlfriend, not when I had to hear it on the fucking tape.” So, I had that jackpot to deal with, which turned into the friggin Powerball when she asked how old my new girlfriend is (27, which is the Powerball number). So now, Abby is not speaking to me, which kind of simplifies things because Janey, the daughter I keep confusing her with, hasn’t spoken to me since 2008, when I did a show at Hermosa Beach and made her pay the cover.

Let’s run through the good news. Last week, I got a SAG/AFTRA foreign residual check for an episode of Ed I did in 2000. Usually, they hold all the checks and apply them to your outstanding dues. And frankly, my dues may be the only outstanding thing about me. But this residual slid under the tent flap. $42.86. I used the money to buy one of those cigarette lighter-shaped routers that finds free Wi-Fi. I’m now one of those assholes in the Valley who sits at a sidewalk table staring at an old laptop that looks like something he has to return to the Church library by four. But I can do my own typing and submitting through my new email account:

Here endeth the good news.

You have no idea how many people read this last post. No idea. Let me tell you, it was a lot. A lot. I had no idea I was a draw. I’m not, but it was a big house. On the one hand, it was humbling how many people still remembered me. How many people remembered Tommy Dash. It’s the kind of thing I would love to share with my daughters, if we were talking.

Here’s something that was even more humbling: How many people were still looking for me. This site received close to 100 emails from different outfits that I may or may not have an outstanding balance with. The site was thrilled with the response, but the woman in charge told Denard Sharp that, if I wanted to keep posting, I had to put something in about not trying to contact me through the site for any reason. That I am an independent contractor. So, Denard Sharp suggested I put this in, up top, that I am an independent contractor, and take care of that business. So here it is: Tommy Dash is an independent contractor. Maybe it should be further up. We’ll let the woman in charge decide.

Denard also suggested I put something in about not trying to contact me through him or CAA. That was just before he told me he was no longer my agent and just after he told me he was sending this letter of apology for me to sign and post.

To Whom It May Concern:

In my initial post on this site, I wrote that a CAA talent associate, Denard Sharp, referred to me as a “Jew” and/or “motherfucker.” That never happened. I am a satirist (and an independent contractor) and was depicting an imagined, extremely exaggerated conversation between myself and Mr. Sharp, who I have never met in person, nor who has ever officially represented me. In fact, I have never been represented by anyone at CAA, a fine service-based organization that bore the brunt of my thoughtlessness. I deeply apologize for any part I had in this misunderstanding.

Sincerely, Tommy Dash

What does all of this mean? It means I am back out on my own, as I have been for the better part of four decades. Believe me, it’s better this way, especially now that I can represent myself in this forum. It gives me the chance to straighten out whatever other misunderstandings there have been and maybe get my career back on track to where it was before I accidentally pissed myself onstage opening for Sheena Easton in Atlantic City in 1992. There’s nothing to straighten out there. I admit that happened. Everybody knows about it. Google “Tommy Dash” and if it’s not the first item, it’s the second. Hang on… I just Googled myself and it’s moved way down because of all the traffic the last post got. So, I got that going for me. But it happened. I don’t deny it. Everyone knows the story.

I had thrown out my back in my room at the Nugget while taking advantage of the comped Spectravision. I took an extra muscle relaxant and it, uh, relaxed an extra muscle. I said my “I’m sorry”s to everyone and believe me, I learned my lesson. The lesson: It doesn’t matter what the calendar says. Never wear the white suit onstage.

I’ll be honest. For years, it drove me nuts that Frank Zappa could still have a career after some fan takes a dump on stage and he eats it, and yet I couldn’t get a Friday club date or a callback. But then I found out that thing with Zappa never happened. Which infuriated me even more because a lot of things never happened with me that are regularly attributed to me. By other comics, writers, producers, managers and publicists.

Jesus Christ, the fucking publicists. I understand the other people, but publicists? Let me get this straight. You’re not busy enough lying on behalf of your client that you have to take a side gig and lie about me? More specifically, why would you tell people that I went on the Bob And Tom Show and said I was replacing your client in a Showtime pilot because he was a hermaphrodite when I haven’t been allowed on Bob And Tom since 1994? And if I had said it, that would be me accusing Showtime of discrimination. And I have never been sued by Showtime. And I never referred to him as Jane Doe Stamos. Not my line. Wish it was, but it ain’t mine. I know whose line it is. And the comic whose line it is? He’s the same guy who went on Bob And Tom and did the bit. I’m not going to bother giving his name because that would be just another headache for me. I will say our names are similar and leave it that. I see him all the time. Saw him last week in La Jolla. He said the same thing he always says to me for the last 20 years. “Hey, Tommy. Sorry, man. But it’s a better story with you.” That’s the point. Why would a publicist scream at some hair-plugged, trust-funded middle act when he can work up some kind of faux victimization that his client was recklessly savaged by the same guy who couldn’t control his bladder or his wardrobe 23 years ago?

So, that, the hermaphrodite thing, never happened with me, but it’s credited to me, and it’s a credit right up there with an under-five on a procedural. And it’s not a one-time misunderstanding, or here and there. It’s a regular occurrence, like cicadas or an option lapsing on A Confederacy of Dunces. It always starts with some comic or actor saying to me, “Hey, I heard a story about you. Is it true?”

Here’s another thing that never happened with me. Another utterance, another musing, another quip I swear to God I wasn’t within 52 miles of. Before I start in, let me say, I don’t know whether this actually happened or not. I don’t know if, once again, it is someone else’s bag of rocks with my luggage tag. I’ve never been able to confirm the story, only the version that has me, which is a fucking lie.

This is, again, mid-90s. Well, that’s when I first heard about it. They were going to build a women’s shelter somewhere in Orange County. Okay, I started wrong. It’s not a homeless shelter for women, but a whole rape victim/battered wife clinic and rehab. It’s more like a refuge. See, this is my point. I have nothing to do with this story, so I have no idea where the premise begins, or what the mission statement was. There may have never been a women’s facility. This thing may have all been constructed just to fuck with me. Because, as I said, nobody can confirm anything, just that I said what I said. Which I didn’t.

Anyway, they have a huge black-tie fundraiser for the proposed women’s facility at one of the hotels. A lot of celebrities and their wives and it’s giant. One of those deals where they get someone like Sting or Elton John to do someone a favor and close the show and then they really don’t have to go nuts booking the rest of the night.

I’ve heard two versions of this story, one with a raffle and one without. They both end the same way. I’ll tell the one with the raffle. They’ve got the whole evening booked — the silent auction, the celebrity auction, a couple of singers, Sting or Elton, but they don’t have anyone to announce the raffle. One of the organizer’s husbands is going to do it. He’s a radio guy. Perfect. He gets sick and falls out at the last minute. Somebody says, “Let’s get a comic.” Somebody else says, “They cost too much.” Somebody else says, “Call the Improv in Irvine and ask if one of the acts can come over and just announce the raffle. We’ll give him a meal and a goodie bag and he’ll be back for his show. And we’ll pay for the tux rental.”

Before we go on, let me explain where this story collapses in terms of me. First of all, I would never do a raffle. Ever. Second, I would never do a raffle for just a meal and a goodie bag, unless there’s trip in there or a free guitar, which they would never put in a goodie bag at a fundraiser cheesy enough to have a raffle. Third, I never rented a tux in my life. I own a tux. Own it, Jackson. I don’t have the shoes, but I have the jacket and pants. And they still fit. Or they did the last time I wore them. New Year’s Eve 2006. Lastly, and most important, I only worked at the Improv in Irvine once. November, 1989. I headlined the first two nights, and then the “real” headliners, this team, Mullet Mike and Freebase Fred, worked the weekend. Before the first show Friday night (in front of half a house, I should add), one of them, Mullet Mike or Freebase Fred, says to me, “Hey, if you do well, at the end of the weekend, I’ll show you my check.” I got right up in his face and said, “Say that again,” which I was told works well on guys who run their mouth. Makes them back down. That’s what I was told. But this guy, Mike or Fred, head-butted me and broke my nose, and the emcee at the Improv just wound up doing 15 minutes longer. I went home straight from the ER. I’d already been paid for the first two nights and had run up a couple hundred-dollar tab at the bar. Almost a wash. Never called to get rebooked. Hey, maybe it’s time.

So, that was 1989, at least seven years before this thing happens. Seven years before I’m there and I said the thing I said. Which I never did. Which is a fucking lie.

You know what? I just realized that the story really doesn’t work unless it’s me, so I’ll continue the way it’s been told all these years. And I’ll use the word allegedly. Allegedly, they book me to do the raffle. Allegedly, I show up at the ballroom, and everything is running late, and they send me out there with the bin full of tickets, right in the middle of when they’re clearing dishes for dessert. Allegedly, I beg them to wait until dessert is served, but they only have the room for so long and Elton or Sting has to be at the airport at 10:45. It’s one of those things. So, and this is how it’s been told all these years, I go out there and try to get them quieted down before I start the raffle. And I do “Hi, how are you?” and the first five minutes of my act, which is a bit about the 405 and how people in LA lie about how close things are. How everyone lives “five minutes from the Hollywood sign.” Always works. But they won’t shut up. And you can hear every plate clinking and every piece of silverware. So, I do a couple of old jokes. I do the 95-year-old man at the whorehouse and the kid at the hardware store. Maybe 20 people laugh. That’s enough, so I try the first raffle item, and they’re yelling “What? What?” after every number. Finally, I say, loud, “You know what? I’m just going start over again. Hey, great to be here at this black-tie fundraising gala for the battered women’s shelter and rape crisis center. And as I survey this beautiful crowd here tonight, all I can think is, ‘Look at the way you women are dressed. You’re asking for it…’”

That’s the story. That’s how it ends. “Look at the way you women are dressed. You’re asking for it….” If anyone asks, “What happened then?” you just say, “I don’t know. Does it matter?” And it doesn’t, because it’s over after that line. Which means the next thing anyone asks is, “Yeah, you’re right. Hey, what was the name of that comic again?” And that’s when I come up. Tommy Dash. And I go to the joint for a crime I didn’t commit.

Save it. I can hear you. You’re thinking, Tommy, you’ve been around. You know a lot of people. How come you couldn’t kill the story? Hey, ask Zappa. I might have been able to do it. Tell some comedy pope like Jay or Dreesen it never happened. But the problem was when the story started to go into orbit, I wasn’t even in LA. I was in Canada. I was supposed to be there for two weeks, playing a club in Winnipeg and emceeing a hockey quiz show in Hamilton, but I had to stay another couple of days. I might have said something stupid to a guy at customs. I might have said something like, “I have two American twenty-dollar bills. Doesn’t that make me your owner?” The point is, by the time I got back, the story was everywhere. I think I was the last one to hear about it.

The first two nights after I got back, I walked into the parking lot at Comedy Store, and both times, whoever is hanging out yells, “Tommy Dash! Look at the way you’re dressed. You’re asking for it!” and everyone laughs. Same way, both nights. Finally, I go up to the doorman, some former Argentinian middleweight with gold teeth Mitzi had hired, and said, “What the fuck is with this?” And this guy tells me the story. Not the whole story. All he says is, “You bomb at some rape gig, amigo.”

I was thinking of just holing up in my apartment with a bunch of coke until this thing blew over, but a week later, I ran into Roland Jacobs, the legendary old manager, who was getting out of his car at the Hyatt next the Comedy Store. I was waiting outside to meet my dealer. I told Jacobs the story and the line that was being credited to me. He waited for me to finish, and in between re-lighting his cigar, said, “Hmm. Neither effective nor winning.” Then he smiled, patted me on the shoulder and said, “Tommy, a month from now nobody will remember this, because another comic will have done something even more stupid. And it’ll really be him. Until then, if I were you, I would book myself on a cruise.”

I felt completely different after that conversation. First, that Roland Jacobs remembered who I was, second, that he gave me advice, and third, that he actually thought I could get myself booked on a cruise that week. He was wrong about that, but not much else. A month to the day after we spoke, a comic, a big legit star with his own TV show, wandered naked into traffic. I heard about it while I was holed up in my apartment with the last of the coke. And that was it. That was all anyone talked about. From then on, maybe four times a year, somebody would bust my balls about the big women’s fundraiser and I wouldn’t correct them. So now, became like a tattoo. But if I think about it, no one has brought it up since 2000. Except me. Now.

Okay, so we’re clear now? Of course, now that I reread this, it probably wasn’t necessary to straighten out a story that everyone forgot. But you know what? I just figured out how Roland Jacobs remembered who I was. Ten years before, like 1984, I had a meeting with him in New York. He saw me at Catch and asked me to come by the office. And bring my most recent tape. I’m staying at Bill Maher’s apartment, which was right around the corner from his office. I’m in a rush, and I throw the VHS tape in my bag and get there 15 minutes late, which is great for me. I walk in, I’m sweating. Roland Jacobs waves me to a chair, spits out a couple of pieces of tobacco and says, “Tommy, before I tell you what the project is, let’s take a look at the tape.” He has his girl put it in the machine and turn on the TV. And instead of watching me kill at Rascals in New Jersey two months before, we watch…  the beginning of Footloose.

Why am I bringing this up? Because there are versions of that story where the girl puts in the tape and it’s The Killing Fields, which came out the same year. Some asshole thought that was funnier that Footloose. Some hack. It’s not funnier, and it’s not true. I think I know the correct wrong VHS tape I took. It was Footloose. Footloose! Foot-fucking-loose!

We clear?

I’m not sure this helped, but I’ll be honest – I feel, I feel better.

Your move, Clint.

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

  7 comments on “Believe Me It’s Better This Way

  1. Uhm. Samuel Beckett said ‘why wait to be hunted to hide.’ Clint Eastwood, at eightysomething, can still show up at your house, ps.

  2. If "Tommy Dash" doesn’t go to series, there is no God. No, wait, Tommy’s a Jew, so he doesn’t believe in. God. No, wait, it’s Jesus Christ Jews don’t believe in, right? Wait, now I’m confused…

    1. Don’t worry, ‘Tommy Dash’ will be on your HBO in 2016. Because in real life God’s a comedian. (That’s the big secret the Vatican’s been hiding.) Big question is, who’s playing Tommy? Did Chapelle pass on Denard, or what? Just how did David Chase get Clint for Ep. 1? Oh, this’ll be fun! Maybe the world won’t end on Sept. 23 after all! Then again, now that L.A. comics have something to live for, it probably will. Because God.

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