Darrell Vickers – Graham Haley Part One – Regret-O-Grams, I’ve Had A Few

Preface:

Right off the top, I’d like to state that Graham Haley is a confrere of the highest standing. Besides being a talented actor and voiceover specialist, Mr. Haley possesses a heart and soul that are thoroughly imbued with the entrepreneurial spirit. In the grand tradition of Ford, Carnegie and Edison before him, a passel of his epiphanies were absolute corkers, like his massively successful series of Haley’s Handy Hints books but some of the money-making seeds he enthusiastically planted fell well short of a bumper harvest. In this column, I shall be recounting our involvement in some of his lesser endeavors. 

The Handy Graham Haley

Back to Our Story:

Andrew and I were huffing and puffing on either end of a weighty pressboard desk and about to heave-ho the fucker onto the back of a large rusty truck. I looked up at my pain-racked, ruby-faced partner in comedic crime and sighed, “You know, it’s going to be a sad day when we have to give up joke writing because we’re too old to lift heavy furniture.” He chuckled at my white-knuckled mirth, but I was depressingly spot on. While banging out sketches and plays for my father had hardly made us Bridle Path residents, not working for my father was poverty on a level seldom seen outside of Dostoevsky novels.

Frank and Ernest

Since CHCH TV had chosen the woefully unfunny Smith & Smith to be their sole foray into Canadian-content-mandated humor, we had flogged the odd cartoon to Bob Thaves (Frank & Ernest) and Ben Wicks (The Outcasts) but our career was in serious need of cardiac paddles and an anal ice cube infusion.

Ice Cubes or a Drill? 

One brisk and cloudy winter’s morn, the secondhand dial phone in my hideously carpeted apartment rang out its clarion call. Andrew had news. Well, more like a newspaper. He had spied a promulgation in the Toronto Star classifieds that had veritably set his heart aflutter.

COMEDY WRITERS NEEDED 

The Comedy Bank needs experienced, talented writers for syndicated radio show.  Please call Graham Haley after 6 p.m. or answering service 929-0516 between 8 a.m.-5 p.m

“Hey, we used to write comedy for a living!” he nostalgically recalled, “We should look into this.”

Right away I smelled a rat. Who puts a notice in the paper in search of joke writers? Probably the same tricksters who post ads about lonely married women desperate for sex. On the other hand, we were at present, breath-takingly unemployed so what did we have to lose, besides the last shreds of our dignity and self-worth? It was time to take a quick trek into the Big Smoke.

Thirty-six undignified hours later, we arrived at the appointed meeting place where any number of self-worthless guffaw monkeys had congregated.

Call me Nostradamus:

The Comedy Bank – exactly as I had olfactorily sensed – did not have a radio show that urgently required writers. These jerk-offs were just actors. Their plan was to inveigle and induce we comedic scribes into making significant free deposits in their “bank” so they could use our risible resources to sell a show that they could act in.

The assembled dupees perched on their freshly augered anuses while this uber-slicky twat with an FM DJ voice blathered on and on about the shocking need for comedy and the fact that, should we be of sufficient talent, they would have no other recourse but to pay us recompense untold to retain we jest jockeys in their desperate employ. 

Now I smelled two rats.

But Andrew had brought along our big book of sample jokes so, what the heck, we left it with Graham, one of the quieter and more sincere ad placers. Mr. Haley phoned me a few days later and was absolutely laudatory about our sizable selection of side-splitters. At the time, my robust penury dictated a quotidian diet of revolting Loblaws generic fishcakes and Scotch Brand frozen peas. It was either that or fashion a rudimentary soup out of my apartment’s green and orange shag-rug tassels. While his plaudits were truly appreciated, ugly commerce and the prospects of another indescribably bleak dinner menu somewhat dulled my expected exultation.

Graham turned out to be a very different kind of hombre, however. He was a hustler, he was charming and he was persistent. Much to my utter Nostradamian astonishment, the doggedly industrious Mr. Haley managed to convince the Carling Breweries to sponsor a show on a string of radio stations to be entitled The Alleged Report. It consisted of 4-5 minutes of news-oriented quips and buffoonery surrounded by Black Label commercials. 

Eureka, an honest to heck job! But all was not pineapple chunks and pinto beans for Nicholls and Vickers. This wasn’t salaried employment. It paid four dollars-a-joke – not per submitted joke – per used one! Holy tough way to make a living, Batman! But, even with this sub-sweatshop fee structure, it was theoretically possible to maintain our indigent modus vivendi. The sticking point was the math. There were 8-12 other writers on the show also gleefully submitting mountains of merriment in the hopes of securing the very same scant remuneration. The Alleged Report purchased approximately 50 jokes-a-week, of which a daunting 40 had to be of our creation to keep me gnawing on no-name fishcake gristle. It was a murderous mental grind. Andrew and I would begin at 9am and write gag after fucking gag until our brains began to squirm around in our skulls from the non-stop epigram extraction. We used to call this crushing cranial condition “Deadly Snakes.”

It got so insanely torturous that we began to play backgammon… but with a hitch. With each roll of the dice you had to compose a useable joke before you could move your stones. The better the dice roll, the better the gag had to be. While it did help squeeze a few extra bon mots from of our scarred and traumatized psyches, neither of us has been able to play a single game of backgammon since.

At some point Graham generously raised the pay to six bucks-a-joke but, regrettably, our yuck yokes were not lightened. In a sobering six month period we submitted in excess of 6,800 gags to The Alleged Report and sold 800.

At the very same time, Mr. Haley was peddling our comical keisters all over town. Forthwith, we found ourselves plunked down in the knee-slapping world of industrial shows and corporate weekend retreats. Graham partnered with a company that created a two dimensional, wisecracking, real-time animated cartoon character named “Tiny” that was capable of interacting with the host and audience. We supplied the wisecracks. Generating spit-take-inducing grin grenades about pages of sales figures and quarterly increases in market share in the wine industry was not as easy as it sounds.

Besides Chateau Gai, we also tackled, not to mention tickled, The Eaton’s Centre, C.I.L. Paints, The Ontario Department of Employment and Immigration (damnably hard and painful work), Ontario Hydro, Cadbury’s, Coppertone, Nabisco, Clamato Juice, IBM and Shell Oil.

You’d imagine, what with writing for all these major corporations, I could afford to up my gastronomic game to fish sticks and a premium tartar sauce dip, but you’d be incorrect. The warm weather and the fact that it only rains once every three years aren’t the only reasons Canadian word wizards flock to L.A. like hookers to a party at Charlie Sheen’s house. Writers like money too.

The Aftermath of a Sheen Soiree. There are 2 more in the Hall Closet and another one in the downstairs bathroom.

There’s Even More:  

Mr. Haley also had us tapping our Olivettis senseless over a little novelty item of his contrivance called Regret-O-Grams. Similar to many of my father’s innovative brainwaves – this was an inspiration waaaay ahead of its time. It was not unlike the hugely successful Cameo, but instead of having a personalized video of a real live celebrity wishing you a happy birthday or well-sliced circumcision; Graham provided an audio cassette of celebrity impressions cracking wise on your ass. John Wayne, Richard Nixon, Jack Nicholson… ah, John Wayne. You name it! Plus, instead of racking up 100s of millions in sales per annum, it took in 100s in sales.

On one particular inventive afternoon, the ever-creative Mr. Haley phoned with yet another blockbuster money-making proposal. “Breakdown Tapes!” These handy cassettes could be slipped on at a moment’s notice in boardrooms across Toronto – and possibly as far away as Guelph – to keep execs and clients amused and attentive anytime the video projector or phone connection failed. Upon hearing the pitch, Andrew congratulated Graham. “You’ve finally come up with an idea so nose-bleedingly bad, even we won’t write it.”

But there was something else we did write. Alas, that story will have to wait for Part Two.

=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

One Response to “Darrell Vickers – Graham Haley Part One – Regret-O-Grams, I’ve Had A Few”

  1. Gerry Young Says:

    Funny!

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