Darrell Vickers – Graham Haley Part Two – Wood, Paper, Scissors

In the Cabbage-Patch-Doll-crazed year of 1982, Graham Haley was an unstoppable entrepreneurial force of nature. There wasn’t a world or medium this young, ambitious South African dynamo did not aspire to conquer and dominate. And so it seemed inevitable that he would one day turn his thirsty, dominating eye to the grand old stage. During his rare moments of respite from industrial shows, radio production and imploring the general public to consume Triscuit crackers both hot and cold, Graham’s unstoppable brain concluded that producing a comedy revue was where the real jack was at.

The tepid at best Toronto, Toronto had recently been a minor a hit in the city. It stood to reason that if a big lump of mediocrity could thrive in the playhouses of Hogtown then an actual laugh-out-loud extravaganza would blow the roof off this entertainment-starved burg.

The master plan was to assemble a cast of comedic actors, have Andrew and myself whip up some yucks and Graham would rent out a supper club to showcase this stop-it-you’re-killing-me giggle-fest for a passel of money-bagged backers.

Sounded reasonable.

Mr. Haley enlisted his agent, Rhoda, to aid in gathering up the necessary talent. She was an ungainly, pretentious duck who floated around in a big pond of Hollywood attitude even though she lived in Christie Pits. Rhoda seemed to want people to believe she was sooo impossibly busy that she didn’t even have time to finish half the words in her sentences. Often you’d hear her spout surgically abbreviated pronouncements like, “Well Grah, I’m sure we can have Nick and Vick finish it by Feb.”

I have to admit that Andrew and I did not really cotton to Rhoda’s highfalutin manner. She was just so jam-packed with showbiz flounce and snootiness, it made our gums itch.

During one read-through, a poetic tour de farce declaring our adoration for the feminine form (specifically boobage), one such itchy-gummed instance arose.

A line from our sentimental sonnet read:

“Even some women prefer them to penises.

To realize why, you don’t have to be geniuses.”

Immediately after the reading, which drew a healthy helping of laughs (or titters in this case), Rhoda worriedly sproinged to her high-heeled feet.

“It might be just me,” she tut-tutted, “but I have a real problem with penises.”

I so wanted to sympathetically inquire, “It is the quantity or the quality?” Perhaps I should have, because the bit was cut from the show.      

Keith Knight

Her priggishness aside, she did deserve plaudits for landing us some fairly talented thespians. Rotund funnyman Keith Knight was among their number. Unfortunately (and where have we heard this far too familiar lamentation before?), the actors became a problem. While Andrew and I had been feverishly constructing skit after skit that could be performed on a stage the size of a postage stamp, the cast weren’t really that keen on putting in the time and effort to memorize all those bothersome words.

Our torpid troupe felt that since they were lending their talents for free, which they were, it would be folly in the extreme to bring to bear the requisite amount of sweat and strain to actually make Graham’s brainchild the least bit entertaining. Our apathetic ensemble far preferred to ad lib lines around a premise or dig up old bits they still half-remembered. Sure, if the show did manage to raise the necessary dosh to go into production, then they’d be more than happy to actually practice their craft.

I tried to caution Graham – or Grah – that this was a recipe for disaster.

1: A fundraiser is like a pilot. You have to be willing to glue your nuts to the side of a bus to make it the best it can be because it’s your primary, and oft times, singular selling tool. If the potential backers aren’t wowed by the showcase, then there sure as fuck wouldn’t be any comedic revue for those shiftless dipshits to memorize.

2: Improv only works if the audience knows (or thinks) you’re making it up on the spot. The reason sitcoms are written and not improv-ed is they wouldn’t be fucking funny!

Graham was not immune to these concerns but he couldn’t push the laggardly cast too hard because their requital was little. Practically spittle.

The rehearsals revealed a disturbing stage/audience role reversal. The actors were having the times of their lives but from where Andrew and I sat, the show was about as much fun as licking roadkill.

It’s Showtime!!

On the big night, my girlfriend dropped by to catch an eyeful of the diamonds we had squeezed from coal. Before the grim curtain was due to rise, we three partook in a very pleasant repast at a nearby restaurant. As we insouciantly supped, she inquired how things were progressing. Well… after a week of witnessing more and more of our bits replaced with “Remember the sketch we did for that show in Burlington?”

Andrew and I were ready to unload. For the rest of our prandial refection, we regaled her with story upon story of what rank amateur bastards the cast turned out to be and how they were systematically destroying all that was decent and holy in the universe. It wasn’t ‘til we arose from our table to settle the check that we noticed the systematic-destroying unholy bastard cast were seated in the very next booth to us, hidden by a dividing wall.

Yikes!

Well, this was going to be a night to remember!

If This Is Tuesday, It Must Be Tuesday made its oh-so-brief appearance on this Earth sometime in the winter of 1982. 

Graham had rented out the Black Cat Theatre on Gerrard Street and invited anyone with more that six bucks in their wallet to come watch. Andrew and I did not have six bucks in our wallets. Ever the astute businessmen, we’d wisely agreed to compose our mound of mostly discarded material for a share of the eventual gate.

On the upside, since Graham was luring backers, there was free wine. As the night wore on and sketch after lifeless sketch solicited polite tee-hees and wan applause, it quickly became apparent that we were witnessing the Hindenburg coming into dock at the Lakehurst Naval Station. There was clearly only one further course of action to be taken. Andrew and I steadfastly dedicated the rest of the eve to recovering as much of our non-existent future salary as we could in free plonk.

By the end of the performance (if you can call it that) we were absolutely motherless. Tidal swells of discount chardonnay crashed against the walls of our reeling skulls as we struggled to complete the treacherous journey to my girlfriend’s car. I recall spending a majority of the long and bumpy drive back to Oshawa with my oppressively heavy, dyspeptic head resting on the glove box. Luckily, we were not required to attend a series of congratulatory receptions after the premiere had mercifully drawn its last ugly and unloved breath.

I believe Andrew and I were uncomfortably queasy for the following fortnight, but when we did finally liberate our throbbing pates from the loving embrace of our palliative pillows, we were apprised of the most marvelous story.

It turns out that Graham and Rhoda stayed behind after the last non-investing guest had toddled off home to the manse. The theater was only rented for that one evening and everything had to be out by the next morning.

At the rear of the stage there was a big black drapery. It had been nailed to a long two-by-four and held aloft on a couple of posts. Mr. Haley took one end and his stuffy agent took the other. As he jiggled the weighty backdrop, to see how easily it could be loosed from its perch, the far end of the massive piece of lumber dislodged and landed straight on the top of Rhoda’s head. The guilt stricken Graham then had to drive her to the hospital because she was suffering from a worrying spell of dizziness.

In other words, “Grah had to drive Rho to the hosp because she was dizz.”

When he recounted this sorrowful tale over the phone, I fell off my chair. In fact, its mere remembrance reduces me to an undulating chuckle bucket even now. 

     In my shameful defence, if that vile pine had killed Rhoda or she’d been seriously injured or even suffered a concussion, I would have felt suitably distressed but since it only made her slightly dizzy, I was paralytic with cachinnation. And Graham told the story with such seriousness and concern that I didn’t think I would ever be able to catch my breath again.

     A little light on the empathy front? Perhaps, but aside from politics and women’s field hockey, entertainment is about the cruelest business in the habitable Milky Way.

     An Unexpected Turn 

In addition to being an overflowing ocean of notions, Graham had a devotion to promotion. Stories about The Comedy Bank and its mirthful mission began to appear in newspapers and periodicals hither and yon. Yon in particular.

Meanwhile and unbeknownst, in a tony Harbor Front condo, Alan Thicke’s mother was scanning these very same fluffy journals for articles that might be of interest to her famous and enterprising progeny. And bingo! As her eyes perchanced upon an article extolling Graham’s comedic venture, she reached for her scissors of destiny.

Next week, the beginning of the beginning of a false start.

=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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