Comedian Tommy Dash is back, this time with a shot at a TV series. If he doesn’t blow it. 3,554 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Before we start with all the promising news, look, I’m the last guy to compare myself to Bill Murray, but remember when there was all that talk about him getting nominated for Lost In Translation and he kept saying, “Please don’t make me want this?” Same thing…
If you know anything about me, and you should by now, you know I can be a tad resentful. In fact, if I made the move over to porn, and I haven’t ruled that out, that would be my adult film name. Tad Resentful. Maybe I should go into porn, with all the people who have fucked me. I used to do a line in my act that I not only have a Shit List, I have a Shit Waiting List. Never worked, because they were idiots. Again, I am not bitter, just realistic. As Lou Gehrig said, “I know I’ve gotten a bad break.” Speaking of which, I used to do a line in my act that I went to the doctor, they did some tests and he told me I might have Babe Dahlgren Disease. I said, “Wasn’t Babe Dahlgren the guy who replaced Lou Gehrig?” And the doctor said, “Yeah. Nobody usually gets that.” So I said, “Well, what’s Babe Dahlgren Disease?” And he said, “I don’t know, but nobody gets it.” Again, it never worked, because they were idiots.
Enough. Tad Resentful out. Back to Bill Murray “Please don’t make me want this.” Guess who called? Come on, guess. That’s right. Denard Sharp. My former black agent. I mean my former agent. He’s still black. He got a call from a woman at one of the networks. I can’t tell you which network, but it’s one of the places you can say “cock.” She’s the head of development there. They’ve committed to eight episodes about a single father, an out-of-work bitter comic, who moves in with his estranged son, a successful young stand-up starring in his own new series. I know, I know. Where do they come up with these incredibly original ideas?
Let me back up for a second and just wonder out loud about why no one is allowed to live alone on television. Apparently, it’s some kind of fake law. Like paying your income tax. (Let me do a little housecleaning with my new email friends from Sacramento. Fellas or gals, when you can show me the line in the constitution where it says the government has a right to collect income tax, I will gladly pay my income tax. And by the constitution, I mean The U.S. Constitution, not whatever Schwarzenegger shot list you’re working off of.) Everyone has to move in with someone on television. Or back to their hometown. It’s one or the other. Either way, you’re fucking moving. That’s the first thing I’m going to ask this woman. Were there no affordable apartments in this guy’s hometown? Honest to Christ.
No, I’m not going to ask that. Because I want this. It’s too late for Bill Murray. They’ve made me want this. Okay, I want this. And it doesn’t go well when I ask things like that.
Denard Sharp says the woman read my first two posts at this site and. at the very least, she wants to use the Clint Eastwood story and the rape fundraiser story, and at the very most, wants me for the old bitter comic. She needs to meet me. I tell Denard Sharp, set it up. He says, “I’m not your agent. You set it up.” I ask him why the woman didn’t contact me via email if he told her he’s not my agent. He coughed a couple of times and said, “Well, people seem to think you made all this up about me. I’m not going to disabuse them of that notion. So, here’s how we’ll do it. Tommy, you set up the meeting. If they make you an offer, I’ll do the deal.”
Two things. First, they believe the rape fundraiser story, which is a fucking lie, but they don’t believe I got let go by CAA. And second, how about Denard Sharp busting out the word “disabuse?” I bet he has disabused a few people of the notion he’s from West Piru Street.
If you remember anything I say, remember this about agents. They don’t get you the gig, they get you the deal. You know why people think agents get you the gig? Because a fucking agent told them that. That’s why when straight people – people not in show business – would ask me, “Do you have an agent?” I would say, “Why? Do you have a gig for me? Because only if you do, then I might need an agent.” Might. In case, you know, there’s a force majeure or a nolo contendere or a pedicabo atque irrumabo or some other Vatican I nonsense that has to be negotiated. Otherwise, I can handle it. I took enough Latin to know pedicabo atque irrumabo, which means “I will blow you and fuck you up the ass.” It’s not a legal term, but it really should be.
(Listen, from now on, when I say “straight people,” remember that’s what I mean. People not in show business. It will never refer to heterosexuals. Never. I don’t want to have to explain it every time I use it. I don’t have the time. Actually, I have nothing but time, but it would be like Horace Silver saying, “Okay, whenever I say ‘dig,’ it can mean ‘like’ or ;understand’.” You may wonder why I used Horace Silver as a reference and not someone like Miles Davis. Two reasons. 1) Horace Silver is a funnier name, 2) Only a friggin’ hack would go with Miles Davis.)
When my dad was still alive, I brought Janey down from camp in Maine to see him. No, wait. It was Abby. No, wait. It was Janey. Abby wasn’t born yet. Wait, she was. Hmm. Where was she? I’ll get it… This is, I don’t know, 2000. My dad and I were sitting on the porch or the patio or whatever it was at the assisted living facility. And Janey is running through the sprinkler. My dad, who never gave a shit about my career except to ask me, “How’s the routine doing?” says, out of nowhere, “You know who you should get? Ortiz.”
“Who is Ortiz?”
”The big agent. Ortiz.”
It took me about 15 seconds. “Michael Ovitz?”
“Yeah. That’s the guy. You sure it’s Ovitz?”
“Yeah, Dad. And he’s not really an agent anymore.”
My dad shook his head. “That’s too bad.” And then he laughed. “But I’m glad he’s not Puerto Rican anymore.”
Like I have to tell you, that was the last good conversation we ever had.
Look, if this woman wants me for the part or wants the Clint Eastwood story or the rape fundraiser story or anything in between, Denard Sharp can have his 30 pieces of Ron Silver. I’m not going to give her name or the network because I don’t want to fuck this up. I don’t want it to go down the road I went down with Hildy Runnels. Good things are happening. This is not some horoscope jujitsu. George Carlin had a great bit about how some people will accept anything their horoscope says. Today is a good day to ask for a raise… “Well, if I had a job, I would ask for a raise!” I met Carlin once. In Hermosa Beach. He gave me a big hello and moved in for a hug, and I said, “I’m Tommy Dash. You think I’m someone else, don’t you?” And Carlin laughed and said, “You should do that.” Which is a real comic thing. Half the time it means “You should do that on stage,” and the other half the time it means “I gotta go.”
Wait a minute. I was in a wank movie years ago. Had no idea. Some guy, Josh, who booked a club in Rockland County and used to drive us up there, Mr. N’s, asked me if I would be in this film he was making. I’d play a bartender. It was one day of work, noon to six. I asked how much and Josh says, “Uh, nothing, but it’s a real bar, so you can drink from noon to six.” Well, that was my quote back then.
So, I show up. The bar turns out to be the bar at Mr. N’s. Maybe I have three lines. “You okay?” “Here’s your change.” “It’s in the back by the payphone.” Like that. Mostly, it’s the other actors talking at the bar. The dialogue is strange. Mostly, everyone keeps pretending to look out the window and asking each other what time it is. I don’t give a shit because I don’t have to, and I’m drinking Mr. N’s liquor. Soon enough, it’s after six and we’re all done and I have a good bag on. I walk up to Josh and say, “You know, I never asked you what the movie is about.” And he says, like it’s nothing, “Oh, I didn’t tell you? It’s a fetish film.” I say, “What’s the name?” And if it’s possible, Josh says, even more matter-of-factly, "Count Footula 6."
That’s right. Count Footula…6. I said, “Josh, is that the title, or the point spread?” And he said, “Huh? Oh, good one.” I tried it on stage two years ago with Fast & Furious 6. “Is that the title or the point spread?” But the audience stared. In my defense, they were fucking two years old. The comic waiting to go on after me laughed. He was four.
You’re dying to hear the Hildy Runnels story, aren’t you? I don’t blame you. Let me tell you, the Hildy Runnels story makes the story of me bringing Footloose instead of my tape to Roland Jacobs’ office look like a gypsy run-through. You know what I just thought of? If I had only waited a few years, instead of Footloose, I could have shown up at Roland Jacobs’ office with Count Footula 6.
Two years before the Footloose nonsense, 1982, I get a call in my apartment on Yucca. I hear “Please hold for Hildy Runnels.” Now, I don’t think this is a joke, I know it’s a joke. First of all, in 1982, there was nobody bigger than Hildy Runnels. She was the head of casting at… I want to say Paramount, I want to say Warner’s, but it was probably New Line or some place with pictures on the wall that doesn’t exist anymore. (Thank you, Dennis Quaid at the end of The Right Stuff.) Second, nobody ever called me and did that “Please hold for…” unless it was another comic doing a bit. A New York comic. I’m telling you, this is right out of the Joe Bolster or Jon Hayman playbook. “Please hold for Caryl Chessman…” “Please hold for Ed Spezio…” “Please hold for Megan Marshack…” They’re three hours ahead, so it’s nothing for them to call at noon and wake you up with this shit. And by you, I mean me. So, the call comes in, “Please hold for Hildy Runnels…” and even though it sounds like a woman, and not one of those guys holding their noses, I say, “Fuck you, Hayman” and hang up.
Around one, after I plug the phone back in, it rings again. Again, “Please hold for Hildy Runnels.” Now, this time, I begin to think it might not be a joke, because those guys would never use the same name twice, and because the woman, who’s an actual woman, says, “Please don’t hang up.” I’m quick that way.
“Tommy Dash? Hi, it’s Hildy Runnels. I got your number from Mark Lonow.” This sounds like something Lonow would do, so I say, “Uh huh?” or something quick like that. What I should have said was what Jonathan Katz said to Adrianne Tolsch, the house MC at Catch A Rising Star, when she called him with a spot. “How many times have I told you not to call me at home!”
But it’s “uh-huh?” and she starts in. “I’m Hildy Runnels. We haven’t met, but you know me. I’ll be brief. I just saw some tape on you and I’d love you to come in and we could meet. How’s tomorrow at two?”
I say, “There’s tape of me? Where?” She laughs. Big laugh. Like she’s rehearsing for when she might need to laugh at a meeting later that day. I want to make a remark, but instead I say 2:00 is fine and she gives me the address and her number and I hang up. Which any pro will tell you was exactly the right thing to do.
Like I have to tell you, that was the last right thing I did.
First, I realize I have a shrink appointment the next day at 1:00. There’s no way I can get out of there and over the to studio by 2:00. This guy was in the Valley. No, wait. That was the guy after him. This guy was out by the airport. I call the guy, Dennis. No, Steve. No, Steve Dennis. That’s the guy. I cannot believe I remember the name of the shrink I had 33 years ago but I have no idea where I left my fucking mailbox key yesterday. I call Steve Dennis to tell him about the meeting and cancel the appointment and he says, “Well, Tommy, this is less than 24 hours, so I’m going to have to charge you.” I say, “Steve, it’s 23 hours and 40 minutes. Really? Are we gonna do this?” And he says, “Hey, what if I moved you to 10:50? That way, you’d have plenty of time to get to your other appointment. And it’ll just be a rescheduling, not a cancellation.” I say, “Well, what if we rescheduled for tomorrow, after the meeting?” He comes back with, “So, you want to cancel tomorrow at 1:00. Well, I’ll have to charge you because it’s less than 24 hours.”
You see where this is going. I take the 10:50. Let me explain something. To make the 10:50 down by the airport, I gotta be in my car by 10:00. Which means I have to be out of bed by 9:30 at the latest. In 1982, 9:30 am was not a time that existed for Tommy Dash, unless I was just getting in. But I do it. I get up at 9:30. And this gives you an idea how serious I was, I get up with just an alarm clock and no coke. No wait. I had enough coke for the drive to the shrink. But that was it. So, I was pretty proud of myself. I really was.
And that pride lasted until about 10:51. Steve Dennis opened the session by saying, “I know you have a big meeting today, but before we begin, I’d like to talk about what happened on the phone yesterday.” And, honest to Christ, we did a solid 46 minutes on the difference between a cancellation and a rescheduling. And how it made him feel when I tried to cancel and take money out of his pocket. How it made HIM feel. “It’s like you want me to fail, Tommy.” That line I remember, because he must have said it a couple dozen times. When I finally said, “How much for you to shut the fuck up?” He was all hurt. So, I had to apologize. Which you know is something I don’t always get to right away. The only time we talked about my meeting with Hildy Runnels was when I got up to leave and Steve Dennis said, “Hey, good luck this afternoon with your get-together. I’ll be thinking about you.” Well, between that, and the apology and being out of coke, I felt like two cents.
And by the way, “Good luck with your get-together?” “Get-together?????” You know who calls it a get-together? Straight people.
So, I am in no shape for this, the fucking get-together, and by the time I make it to the studio, I’m in no shape and I have an hour to kill. No coke, and an hour to kill. Which means I had to go to Plan B: two tacos, a can of Tango and a nap in the car.
If you asked me for my best quality back then, it would be tough to narrow it down to one, but if I had to, I would say it was the ability, back then, to not look like I had just woken up from a nap in my car. Which is dynamite, and means Plan B is a success, until you have to sit on a couch outside of Hildy Runnels office for 45 minutes in 1982. And by you, I mean me. I had two options to occupy myself enough to stay awake on the couch: A) Think about what I wanted to say in the meeting; or B) Think about Steve Dennis the shrink saying, “It’s like you want me to fail, Tommy.” Again, I went with B.
For you straight people, when a stand-up comic is called in for a meeting, any meeting, with someone in the business who might be interested in him or her, that someone wants one thing. They want to be entertained. They want you to do any impression you have, even if it’s some straight guy who grew up across the street. They want you to make a few noises. Maybe a line or two from a song. They want you to pick up the stapler on the desk and yell, “Hello?” They want you to do material from your act, but as if it’s conversation. You know what I’m thinking of seeing? Fast & Furious 6. Is that the name or the point spread? Like that, but not like that because it’s 19-fucking-80-fucking-2 and I didn’t roll up to Lot 9 in my time machine.
These people have been having discussions all day with accountants and union delegates and ass bandits from marketing and they just want some stooge to come in and do nonsense for 20 minutes. Twenty minutes. That’s what they want. And that’s what they mean when they say they want to meet you. They want to meet the idea of you. Everybody knows this. Even straight people.
I, uh, I wasn’t in there for 20 minutes. I walked in and Hildy Runnels stood up and took off her glasses. She was ex-wife pretty, so that threw me. Or threw me farther. Or further. Or both.
“So, Tommy,” she begins. “I saw this tape of you. From Pomona, I think.”
I don’t say anything. I kind of nod. If she’s talking about Pomona, I think, that was six months ago. I was emceeing a student talent show in the middle of the afternoon. 100 bucks. I thought they were just filming the acts. I almost say, “They had no fucking right to tape me!” Luckily, Hildy Runnels keeps talking.
“My son is a sophomore. He did the Bette Midler lip-sync. He finished sixth. Well, you hosted and you were very funny. Very funny. I don’t remember ever seeing you at Mitzi’s or Budd’s.”
I give her credit for saying Mitzi’s and Budd’s rather than The Comedy Store or The Improv, but I want to say, “We’ll maybe you might have seen me if you stuck around after 10:15 and hadn’t run out to blow Shandling….” I don’t, because she keeps talking, so give me credit.
“Anyway, Tommy, I just wanted you to come in so I could meet you and ask you if we find something that we think you’d be right for if you wouldn’t mind coming in and reading for us.”
Let me say something here that probably doesn’t need to be said. There was only one response to Hildy Runnels at that moment. Only one. “Sure.” There might have been variations. “Absolutely!” “Great!” “Of course!” You could have even picked up the stapler and yelled “Hello? I’ll be right over!” Not me, but you. And, at that moment, it all would have been the same. It all would have been yes. Yes.
Here now is what I said. (I hope they have bold on this site, because I’m putting it in bold.)
“Okay, let me just say something here. I am not a clown. And I will not be treated like a clown. So, forget the wig. I have my own hair. If you have something for me, like the kind of thing my friend Paul Reiser just did in Diner, that would be dynamite. But I’m not a clown. And…and I’m not a clown.”
I have been around people all my life. I never saw a person get up out of a chair as quickly as Hildy Runnels did.
“Great then! We will get back to you!” Big handshake. Glasses on.
Here now is what’s sad. I thought it went well. I swear to God. I didn’t realize until I got to the Improv that night and told a bunch of comics. Let’s say I told 10. Nine of them burst out laughing and said, “What the fuck is the matter with you, Dash?” And the other guy said, “Since when are you friends with Reiser?”
So, that is what I don’t want to happen. It’s 33 years later, but it might as well be five minutes ago. They still want to be entertained.
You know what? Maybe I’ll tell her the Hildy Runnels story.