Amazingly, Tommy Dash is still employed by the TV sitcom. Now the foul-mouthed comic is acting on it. 3,484 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Before we begin, congratulations to my show business friend Chris Rock, who is going to host the 88th Academy Awards. I’ve known Chris since he was a Jheri-curled 18-year-old. In 2005, just before he hosted the Oscars for the first time, I pitched this joke to him in the parking lot at the Comedy Store: Do yourself a favor. Go see “Sideways” with an all-black audience. They start talking to the screen like it’s a horror film – “Don’t open that ’68 Pinot, bitch…” He laughed and said, “Tommy Dash! Back on the pipe!” I told you we were friends…
Okay, then. Some egghead once asked Carson (Johnny, not Daly. Jesus, not Daly) how he became a star. “I started out in a gaseous state, and then I cooled,” he said.
Guess whose gaseous state will be cooling once his episode of I Don’t Get It airs next month? Go ahead, guess. And if you guess someone else, don’t worry, I can take it. But can you? Can you take it? Seriously, with all the fuck-ups, misspeaks, oversleeps, bad raps, worse reps, flip phone follies and knocks on Janice’s HR door, can you take it that Tommy Dash just slaughtered a barnful of strangers? (Strangers, and Denard Sharp, who showed up because he “heard some big bad motherfucker-type things.”) Can you handle Danny Musselman putting me in a bear hug and saying, “Thanks a lot, asshole. Now I have to rewrite the finale?” Can you process Sonny Regal asking for the number of MY acting coach? Can you begin to envision the wrap party tableau of Beck Franklin, fucking Beck Franklin, pulling me aside and, as he stared at the floor so I wouldn’t see his glistening eyes, muttering, “Don’t forget me, Tommy. Don’t forget me and Carey. But don’t forget me?” Well, you’ll have to. Because it all happened. I all happened.
You need to believe me. And you need not to believe Chris Rock. I was never on the pipe.
It’s now a little after 1:00 am. The taping ended five hours ago. I just got back to my soon-to-be former apartment, Buenos Arrears, and I had to start writing. I wanted to get it all down and send it to this site while I still remember it as vividly as I do. I’m going to get it all down now, and then there’s half a gram and half a quart of Wild Turkey that do not stand a chance. That is the plan. Right now, I have three beers and a joint in me, so I’m exactly where I need to be. I heard another comic years ago, let’s keep his name out of this, describe his ingredients for a perfect evening: “A hotel room, a gram, a bottle of vodka and a bad relationship.” Well, I’m home, half a gram, bourbon, nothing but alone. And it’s still pretty perfect. It happened, Gladys. Who says I don’t have a plan? Who says I cannot handle this?
I was in every scene except the cold open and the cold close. Come on. The only people who get to be in every scene in a sitcom are Larry David and Bilko. That’s the law. Not only that, in the cold close, you hear my voice. It’s the last line of the entire episode. And it’s a callback. And it gets screams. You hear me say, “Gee, I hope he’s all right…” That’s it. G’night! Boom! 300 chuckleheads in Studio 29B on their feet.
Look, I can’t take all the credit… you know, until the Emmys. Fucking Beck came up with a pretty good idea and Danny went nuts. Morty, the bitter old comic, tells his hot comic son Clark Kogan that his former partner, Johnny V., has to stay with them for a day. They screwed up at the rehab in Laguna Niguel and his bed doesn’t become available for another 24 hours. Morty gets the call on his flip phone, which gives Clark the chance to shotgun a bunch of the cracks the writers had laid on me the last few weeks. Nothing gets wasted on I Don’t Get It. Except me an hour from now. (By the way, the “new” LG VX3450 I bought on eBay is gangster, and came with a free car charger, so everyone can suck my adapted 12-volt DC d-i-c-k.).
I patterned Johnny V. on a comic I knew in New York. Again, no need to mention his name because, now that the limelight is being installed, I have to be responsible with my words. But man, this guy was a trainwreck on a turd hunt who wound up at a pig fuck. One night, around 1983, I lost a coin flip and had to carry him home to my walkup in Hell’s Kitchen. Around 6 am, I am awakened when I hear him on the phone: “Hello, Mrs. Gitluch? I don’t know how I got here, but I’m pretty sure I sodomized your son, Tommy. Does he have a favorite flower?”
(Yeah, I know. I had no intention of ever revealing my real last name, but the story is too distracting if you have the guy say, “Hello, Mrs. Dash?” Like I’m the estranged heir to a salt substitute fortune.)
So, Johnny V. comes in from Barstow and spends a day and a night with Clark and Morty. And of course, he starts out very grateful and eager to entertain. When he shows up two hours late, he bursts in and doesn’t even say hello. Just goes right to it… Germany, 1944. There’s a plot to assassinate Hitler. The underground learns Hitler’s staff car will pass a certain point at exactly 9:10 pm. Six guys get there just after dark and set up. Explosives, guns. Then, they wait in silence. 9:10 comes. No Hitler. 9:15, no Hitler. 9:30, no Hitler. 9:45, no Hitler. 10:00, no Hitler. 10:30, no Hitler. 11:00, no Hitler. 11:30, no Hitler. 12:00, no Hitler. Finally, at 12:10 am, one of the underground guys says, “Gee, I hope he’s all right.”
Johnny V. has a six-pack. On each can is written a time. Noon. 3 pm. 6 pm. 9 pm. Midnight. 6 am. 9 am. He explains he needs to drink a beer every three hours so he doesn’t go into alcoholic shock. He pulls off the “noon” can, even though it’s 10 am, and says, “Let’s all pretend you guys live in Chicago.” And then it’s just non-stop. First, he and Morty do the last lines of most of their now 30-year-old bits. Then, Clark makes the mistake of asking why they broke up and it’s two completely different sides to the story. Morty storms out, and drives off. Now, Clark can’t leave Johnny V., so he takes him up the hills into Highland Park to do Mark Maron’s podcast at his garage.
Wait till you hear this. This is great. It was supposed to be this three-minute scene where Johnny V. (drinking the 6 pm can at noon) is making faces, mouthing “bullshit” and making jerk off motions while Maron interviews Clark, but Maron (who I knew when he was starting out and never ever ever thought shit was gonna happen for him) decides to ad-lib. He points at me and says to Clark, “What is this, Bring Your Dad To Work Day?” Clark stays with it. He says, “That’s not my father. That’s my father’s former partner, Johnny V.” And Maron goes fake nuts. Who knew he could act? He says, “Johnny V.? No shit? You’re the first comic I ever saw. When I was at Emerson, I went to the Ding Ho in Cambridge for the first time and you were emceeing and just ripping people’s asses up front.”
Meanwhile, Danny waves at the director to keep going. They can always reshoot the scene. And he wants to indulge Maron, who is here on a favor. Forget the dollar. That is the basis of the entire show business economy. The fucking favor. I can’t believe I never knew this. And then I realized, well, of course not, Tommy. You never had anything anyone wanted. Until maybe now.
So, Maron keeps going. I wave to acknowledge his “ripping asses” line. And he says, “Johnny V., I haven’t seen you in about 30 years. I can’t believe you’re here in my garage. Hey, I heard a story about you and I’m dying to know if it’s true.” And then Marc Maron, like it was in the friggin’ script, says, “Johnny, I heard years ago, you were running a raffle at a big fundraiser for a rape crisis center, and you came out, and your opening line was, ‘Look at the way you women are dressed. You’re asking for it!’ Is that true?”
Are you ready?
I smile and say, “Yeah, I heard that story. But that wasn’t me. It was Tommy Dash.” Just like that. And Maron, and the kid Clark Keegan, crack up. And so does the crew. You can hear them. Then Maron, right on it, says, “Man, this garage got crowded all of a sudden… Well, I’m glad that mystery is finally solved. Thanks for bringing him along, Clark.”
They leave the garage and Clark gets a call from Morty, apologizing for leaving Johnny V. with him. Clark says, “Where are you? Are you gonna be there long? Okay, I’ll drop him off.”
Guess where they drop Johnny V. off? The Verizon Store! Johnny V, walks in, drinking the “midnight” can at 3 pm. Morty is trying to get his flip phone upgraded and the two of them go into “cock” access code thing with the salesman, but where it was a two-man bit when I told it to Danny Musselman last Thursday, over the weekend he’s turned it into a three-man thing. So now, it goes like this:
MORTY: Did you try cock?
MORTY: Cock. C-o-c-k.
SALESMAN: It won’t accept cock.
MORTY: This makes no sense. I always use cock.
SALESMAN: I tried cock. Cock doesn’t work.
MORTY: Try it again.
JOHNNY V: You know, I tried cock.
JOHNNY V: Once.
MORTY: You say you tried cock once?
JOHNNY V: Yeah, just once. But I really needed a ride to Santa Monica.
SALESMAN: Wait. Let me try something… Ha! We’re in!
MORTY: What did you do?
SALESMAN: 2-6-2-5. The phone keypad equivalent of c-o-c-k. I feel like such an amateur. Cock should have been the first thing I thought of.
JOHNNY V: I thought the phone keypad equivalent of cock was 1-888-SLURPED.
MORTY: Will you behave yourself?
JOHNNY V: Me? You two are the ones who keep talking about cock.
And CUT!!!!!! End of Act One.
The second act comes up and Morty (taking selfies with his new iPhone while driving) and Johnny V. pull the car over and are about to pick up Melanie, Clark’s girlfriend, from acting class. Johnny V. yells, “Quick impression. Martin Lawrence,” then takes off his shirt and runs into traffic, screaming “I need to hydrate!” It’s funny at first, funny enough for Morty to try and film on his phone, then Johnny V. almost gets hit by a car and screams “I was doing a bit!” Morty comes and gets him. Now, he’s a little frightened. Johnny V. settles down and says, “Did you see my Altoids, man?” Morty says no. He tells Johnny V. to wait in the car and by the time he brings out Melanie, Johnny V. is passed out in the back seat, but before he drops off, he has the good sense to put on a sleep mask.
On the way to drop Melanie at her house (this is a frequent B plot of I Don’t Get It, where Morty has to run Melanie around and they end up having a more substantial relationship than her and Clark. Not more romantic, more substantial. It’s a little thing we TV people like to call fucking pathos.) Morty and Melanie are talking about whatever they talk about with Johnny V. passed out in the back with the sleep mask on. They’re almost at her place when Johnny V. comes to, and, mask still on, in his best female What’s My Line? panelist voice, says, “Are you in show business?” and then throws up all over the back seat. Melanie says, “You know, I think I’ll walk the rest of the way.” Morty pulls over, apologizes. She gets out. Johnny V. pulls off the mask and says, “Okay, I’m gonna turn over all the cards. Melanie is a rocket scientist.” Morty tells him to shut up. Johnny V. asks him if he’s seen his Altoids and Morty says, “No. But if I find them, I’m going to crush them and sprinkle them all over the back seat.”
Finally, they’re back in the house. Johnny V. looks in the fridge. There should be two beers left. None. Morty says he put them somewhere. Johnny V. says, “Always looking out for me. Except when it really mattered.” Morty disregards it. He’s getting the mop and bucket and sponges together to go do the car. He throws the bucket at Johnny V. and says, “Be a dear and fill this up.” Johnny throws the bucket back at him. “Give me my Altoids.” Morty doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He goes right into the straight man line, “You say you want your Altoids, Johnny?” Johnny V. is starting to get worked up. (I just thought of every club owner who screwed me out of money.) “You know what I mean,” Johnny says. “My Altoids box. It’s got some things in it to get me through.” Morty says he has no idea what he’s talking about. He starts to say something, but Johnny storms upstairs, and comes back 10 seconds later, with a bottle of witch hazel.
Get ready for pathos up the ying-yang.
JOHNNY V.: By the way, you’re out of the house wine. Listerine 2006. This is all that’s left.
MORTY: What is that, witch hazel? Come on, Johnny. We haven’t done the Kitty Dukakis sketch since 1989.
JOHNNY V.: Sit down. I may be headed to rehab, but before I go, I’m doing an intervention on you.
Johnny V. takes a swig of the witch hazel and launches into a rambling, occasionally sniffling harangue about the last time they worked together. He does both sides of the end of the bits. He talks about the club owner walking over to them after the show at the bar and presenting Morty with a bar tab for $1.500, $1,480 of it Johnny’s. And then presenting Morty with a bill from the hotel for damages to a phone and a wall. And then presenting Morty with a bill from a clinic he’d had to take one of his waitresses four months ago, two months after the last time they’d been booked. “You remember what you said to me?” Tommy asks. Morty nods.
JOHNNY V.: You said, “Hey, let’s do an improv. Okay, I need an occupation…” And before I could answer, you said, “Another occupation.” And you wrote out a check to the club and walked out. And I didn’t see you again for ten years.
MORTY: The airport in Atlanta.
JOHNNY V.: And then 10 years after that. And now, now.
By now, Johnny V. is sobbing. (I was remembering some stuff that happened when Abby was little. No, it was Janey.). Another swig, and Johnny V. becomes the mayor of Self-Pityville. He screams at Morty for not taking care of him. Morty (and who knew Sonny Regal was this talented?) does a perfect Steiger to Brando in the back of the car from On The Waterfront: “I had some bets down for you. You saw some money…” Johnny keeps going, listing various atrocities committed against him. He finishes by saying, “You left because you wanted to be an artist. Well, this is your masterpiece…” And collapses on a chair.
Morty waits about 15 seconds, and then does this line (which I gave to Danny during blocking).
MORTY: Johnny, the last time I saw you, you told me all you wanted was to learn how to smoke crack like a gentleman.
At that moment, Clark walks down from upstairs. “What’s going on here?” He’s drinking the 9 am can of beer. Johnny V. sees it, screams and tackles him. It’s a free-for-all on the floor. The two pin him down. Morty calls 911 and accidentally takes a flash selfie.
The cold close has Morty and Clark on the couch, exhausted. Ambulance lights flash in the window. The EMTs have closed the door behind them with the stretcher. And we hear…
JOHNNY V. (OC): Gee, I hope he’s all right!
The last thing I remember was walking out for a curtain call, the audience jumping to their feet, and me looking around to see who came in. Later, I asked Cory Kahaney, who did the audience warmup, if she had prompted them to stand. “Yeah, like I would fucking risk that for you,” she said.
So, it really did happen.
A million years ago, I was seeing this shrink. Not the shrink I saw before the Hildy Runnels interview. He was out by the airport. The shrink after that. He lived near me. On Fountain. Somebody’s cousin. Older guy. He had been in the business in the ‘60s. I think he was an AD on Card Sharks. He had gone back to school and gotten his Masters in social work and was seeing people out of his guest room. I had been going there for about two years and we’d gotten absolutely nowhere, but the price ($50 a session, which I paid half the time) was right. And, like I said, he was on Fountain. I could walk there. Finally, he says, “Tommy, I don’t know how appropriate this is, but I’d like to come and see you perform.”
He drives down to Hermosa Beach on a Tuesday night, where I’m closing the show at the Comedy & Magic Club. So, I have to do 40 minutes. I want to say there’s 70 people in the house. Good house for a Tuesday. They sit him right up front. My shrink is fucking ringside, sitting alone. Oldest guy in the house by a mile. I actually introduced him and people thought it was a bit. I did a line I lifted from Richard Belzer that I heard him do in a diner one night. “My shrink is a Mafia psychiatrist: ‘Hey, no mothers…’.”
So, I do my 40, and I kill. Kill. Yeah, I kill. Now, maybe I haven’t explained this well enough, but in the 1980s, I was a very solid act. In terms of the people who were around then… Jerry, Garry, Eddie, Jay, Howie, Roseanne, I was a straight B. But every once in a while, when it really didn’t matter and I really really didn’t give a shit, I was an A. Like that Tuesday night in Hermosa, 70 people, mid-Reagan, pre-Dice, this was my meat. I do my 40 and I say whatever I used to say at the end: “Hey, my time is up, you’ve been great, enjoy the Electric Prunes!” and walk off. And they’re screaming. And the emcee (I think it was Ron Robertson) calls me back out. I give a little bow, and Ron hands me the mic. Encore. I got nothing. I tell the lawnmower joke. Ka-boom! They’re up on their feet. And it went on for a little while. Ron Robertson never even came back to close the show.
Now, I know you’re waiting for me to say, “And that was the last standing ovation I got until tonight.” But it wasn’t. I got a few more, especially when I was in Australia, which is another story for another time. Or maybe you’re waiting for me to say, “That was the most memorable thing that ever happened to me in show business until tonight.” Okay, on that, you would be close. The most memorable thing that ever happened to me in show business happened the next day, when I went to see my shrink. I sat down in his guest room and he said two things. First, he apologized for having to leave the Comedy & Magic Club after I’d only been on for 20 minutes. And then he said, “Tommy, I gotta tell you. I cannot believe the guy I saw on stage last night is the same guy who comes in here every week.” And I burst into tears. That. That was the most memorable thing that ever happened to me in show business. Until tonight.
Hang on. The LG VX3450 is sending off tremors…
Son of a bitch. I really wish I had let that go to voicemail. Then, regardless of how this plays out, I’d be able to hear what I just heard forever:
Hi. I never got a chance to tell you how great you were. Um, did you know your buzzer doesn’t work? I’m downstairs. The kids are staying with my ex….