Darrell Vickers – You Have to Start Somewhere, Why Not Hamilton? (The Place not the Play) …Though There Are Plays Mentioned.

If we’re being truthful, and I realize that that is an astronomic proviso, there is very little that gets accomplished immediately after one is born. You sit around all day, shit in your pants and bitch and cry about the least little thing. Basically, you’re a network executive until your fourth birthday.

Then boom! At the delicate and unsuspecting age of five (15, if you’re from the Deep South), you are unceremoniously drop-kicked into a Kafkaesque educational internment camp that criminally squanders the currency of your youth. You are conscripted to fritter away the morning of your days slogging through massive undulating mounds of unmitigated twaddle and codswollop. And finally, after years of interminable frustration and scrubbing the unmitigated codswollop stains out of your best shirt, they don’t even raise a finger to find you a job. Basically, they are Hollywood agents.

Took 18 Years to Get This Far:

Having run out of schools that were obligated to take me in, it was now time for Darrell Vickers to cast off the immature chains of childhood and bravely venture out into the world of serious-minded folk and seek gainful employ. People had been doing it for centuries. How hard could it be?

It soon became startlingly apparent that all those people in all those centuries possessed vital intangibles that I sorely lacked… namely aptitudes, abilities and that oh-so-illusive college education.

So, faced with a list of vocational avenues as empty as his dance card at the high school prom, there seemed to be no viable alternative for Darrell Vickers other than to quickly re-shackle himself to the immature chains of childhood. In other words, go into show business.

The Original Simon Cowell

In the long and proud tradition of the Trump Corporation, my first real job in the entertainment industry was working for my father. He was a local television producer in Ontario, Canada and worryingly ahead of his time. Darwin Vickers was the Simon Cowell of his day, producing a talent show called New Faces out of Hamilton for more than a decade. In total, he graced the living rooms and wood-paneled dens of Ontarians and beyond, with over 1,600 hours of televisual provender. I know Cowell appears on that much television every few weeks but for Canada, it was pretty darned impressive.

We’re Only Joking

The Cast of the Show

When I was but a rosy-cheeked cherubic chap of 18 or 19 tender years, Darwin was inspired to create a comedy sketch show and nepotized myself and Andrew Nicholls to write for the series. For the first season of We’re Only Joking, our compensation was $50 each per episode. The second year, we were promoted to head writers and received the princely sum of $100 each show.

Sketches of varying quality were largely based on sets we found lying around the studio. The whole thriftily financed shebang was performed before a live audience. At least they were alive most of the time. One fair eve, a particular effort of ours to amuse seemed to be tickling nary a funny bone amongst the bleacher set. This incited our quick-thinking line producer to inveigle the stone-faced crowd to “boo” and toss timbits at the actors as they clawed their way through the silence. I am sad to say, Andrew and I were in that audience.

Yes, it was somewhat harrowing to be flinging deep-fried balls of dough at the fruits of our pen but it was a good lesson learned. If you can’t take the odd brick to the face, then get the fuck out of Dodge. The audience doesn’t owe you shit and if your material isn’t up to snuff – and a lot of times even if it is – that’s precisely what you’ll receive.

The Golden Horseshoe Theatre

Our second stint in entertainment was also thanks to my dear old Pater. This time, Darwin locked onto the idea of staging one-act plays at local high schools and auditoriums and filming them using the CHCH Hockey Night in Canada truck. Little theatre companies in the area were recruited to present these divertissements.

Andrew and I had never written a play in our lives, but for a paycheck – no matter how modest – we were more than happy to take our place beside the likes of Chekhov and O’Neill. In an effort to be fair, my father would offer up a pile of Canadian one-acts from the Samuel French Catalogue and throw a few of ours into the mix. The theatre companies invariably selected the works of Nicholls & Vickers. Remarkably, out of the 12 that were shot, 10 of them were ours.

Again, some painful lessons were learned.

HAMILTON!

The Golden Horseshoe Theatre was a very frugally produced series. On one occasion, my father motored down to Hamilton the day before the shoot to check on the progress of our second play. Darwin discovered to his horror that the theatre company hadn’t built any sets. Jesus, mother of fucking Randolph!!! This wasn’t some avant garde amusement by the Bridge Street Theatre for Christ’s sakes, these people were from Stoney Creek. Equal parts panicked and pissed off, my father frantically careered over to Beaver Lumber and scooped up enough wood and canvas to pound together some rudimentary flats. Andrew and I were then dragooned into painting these pretend walls in the middle of the freezing night in the family garage so the next-day’s audience wouldn’t be distracted by the red light flashing above the fire exit during the performance.

A History of Near Fatal Crashes:

One of the little actors in this particular jocose presentation was a British McMaster exchange student named John. While the audience laughed a bucket, his queen-worshiping self did not share their riotous enthusiasm for our play. Andrew and I were also working as set hands on this production – why not, we’d help build the fucking things – and kept our identities as its author secret.

Johnny-the-Pommy stopped me in the hallway one afternoon and treated moi to a 10-minute snooty diatribe about how unspeakably torturous and degrading it was to be appearing in such a thespionic travesty.

“It’s like these assholes got drunk and wrote it in two hours and then didn’t bother to rewrite.”

I smiled pleasantly and agreed that it was indeed a possibility. I don’t believe he knew that I was one of those drunken un-rewriting assholes because, during the week, he’d treated everyone within earshot and a few of the empty lockers to a healthy dollop of his abject disgruntlement.

Now keep in mind, Johnny Boy had auditioned for this play. He’d happily gone through the callback process. The J-Man had smiled and thanked everyone when he was chosen. Then, the second he was called upon to do the work he had begged to get, it was Bitch, Bitch, Bitch! Alack, this is not an uncommon arrow in the average actor’s quiver of infuriating personality quirks. Those could easily fill a book or possibly an entire library.

Back to Our Story: 

His full name was John Marshall – at the time – but upon returning to Merry Old, he quickly changed his misery moniker to John Sessions. He was a smug little shit when he was young and age and success did not seem make him any less smuggy or shitty. He’s dead now, after a long career playing cuckolds and homosexuals.

What Can We Do About Mother?

Another one of our theatrical undertakings was an eccentric little trifle requiring a modest cast of three. When Andrew and I showed up on the night of the performance, we were a skosh taken aback to discover that the program listed 12 actors! One of the performer’s sole raison d’etre was to prance about the stage in a chef’s outfit, spinning pizza dough above his head (there’s that fucking dough again), screaming “Pasta Fazool!” in an insulting Italian accent. The incoherent disaster flailing about in front of our disbelieving and distraught eyes was unrecognizable. Kind of like George Chuvalo after a fight. The director had taken it upon himself to enrich and enliven our quaint scratchings with his own comedic genius. He’s dead now.

Not that everyone who ever did us dirty has bought a one-way ticket to that toga-wearing cloudy place but it might be something for our future collaborators to keep in mind.

Sadly, CHCH TV was only footing the bill for these plays to fulfill their pesky Canadian Content requirements. Even sadly-er, only three ever aired. Apparently, broadcasters were only obliged to spend a certain amount of money on Canuckian fare, actually showing it on their channel was totally optional.

But that’s not the strange part.

The strange part was; the very same CHCH commissioned an awards night gala for this series that they couldn’t even muster the jam to broadcast. To add insult to incredulity, this glitzy romp also had a budget that veritably dwarfed that of the episodes it was adjudicating.

Three genuinely qualified judges were brought in to watch all the plays. Little did we know when we were penning these comedic treats that our television audience would actually be smaller than the cast.

Pageantry Abounds!

It was an appropriately surreal evening. The director had hired a young woman with breasts the size of tropical islands to dispense the awards. She was decked out in a low cut, tight fitting sparkly dress that made it exceedingly difficult to focus your eyes on anything else in the building. 

Since Andrew and I were the authors of almost all the plays, we were compelled to fabricate alternate appellations to make the series look more legit. Besides being Andrew Nicholls and William Edith Jr. (“Vickers” might have led one to believe that foul nepotism was at play), we were also Terrance Paige, Cheryl and Ronald Cromdyke, Bliv Yornd, Stanley Shaw Bannister and Gottfried Ernstein.

The humbled and flattered team of Nicholls and Edith Jr. garnered a nomination for best playwright but Terrance Paige received two! Fucking showoff. It wasn’t ‘til we were comfortably seated in the auditorium that we realized if Terrance won, we couldn’t both be a single writer. I quickly turned to my roommate, David E., and instructed him to go up and accept the award if the unthinkable happened. The unthinkable happened. Every other male in the audience was sweating into their rented tuxedo but Dave was wearing blue jeans and a striped polo shirt. Not giving a fuck, he bounded up on stage and was handed the 25 cent congratulatory statue by the show’s blindingly busty Faberge Egg.

Dave turned to the audience, smiled like he was in a toothpaste commercial and chirped “Sadly, Terry couldn’t be here tonight but I’m sure he’s very, very proud.”

For our Herculean efforts with pen and paint, we earned 400 bucks per play, the grand prize with someone else’s name on it and two runner-up trophies.

=DV=

DBAWIS_Button

Darrell Vickers started out as one half of Toronto area band, Nobby Clegg.  CFNY fans may remember the cheery song “Me Dad” which still gets airplay.  From there, he valiantly ventured to L.A. and eventually became head writer for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  Since then, he’s created numerous sitcoms and animation shows in Canada and the U.S.  He still writes music and has an internet band called Death of the Author Brigade (members in Croatia, Canada and the U.S.)   Mr. Vickers also had a private music mailing-list where he features new and pre-loved music.  Anyone who would like to be added to his daily mailing list, just write him at Radiovickers1@gmail.com

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