Darrell Vickers – A Trip to Not Very Bountiful

There were some mega, whopping and ultra ginormous Scooby-doings goin’ down at The Comedy Bank! Mr. Haley was practically vibrating when he called us. He’d just concluded a convivial chin-wag with THE Alan Thicke. Alan had read an article his mother had snipped from a local publication and wished to sample the wares of Graham’s stable of sardonic scribes. Al generously provided areas of his public persona that could be mined for levity and was anxious to see what the jolly jesters at the Bank would come up with. This was precisely the kind of phone call I’d been dreaming about since my parents replaced the crib in my nursery with a foosball table. In fact, I still have a birthmark in the shape of a left midfielder’s head.

But I digress:

Well, well! This sounded far more propitious than the potential take-home pay from Breakdown Tapes. With a laser focus usually reserved for peering up a braless cashier’s sleeve, we began to furiously type up a mountain of amusing.

Sample Alan Jokes:

Apparently Alan’s mother Joan was far from an all-star in the kitchen.

“When I was a kid, my mother burned everything she tried to cook. If you are what you eat, I’d be black.”

“Until I was 14, I thought Pepto Bismol was a dessert.”

“The dog used to put his leftovers on our plates.”

His physician father was keen to have Alan follow in his medical footsteps.

“When I played doctor as a kid, he told me to make sure I overcharged.”

“When I built a tree fort, he made me put in a waiting room.”

“When I told him I couldn’t stand the sight of blood, my dad said, ‘So, operate with your eyes closed.’”

We poured every molecule of nard butter we possessed into those jokes. Luckily, we had amassed a massive reserve of lap jam that had gone tragically unwanted during our high school years.

So far, on every project that had come down Graham’s entrepreneurial pipe, Andrew and I had outpaced all the other writers at the Comedy Bank and we were now determined to absolutely swamp the competition. This may sound a little heartless, but every day of your life as a television writer is a dog eat dog struggle to stay in the business.

When an Olympic athlete is lengths ahead of her fellow backstrokers, that soggy swimmer doesn’t slow down to give everyone else a chance at a medal. She smokes the fuckers. It took us six long years of hard slog and scant remuneration just to get to the starting line. Now that the gun had gone off, you couldn’t have beaten us across that pool with an Evinrude.  

After a week or so, Graham gathered up the proffered whimsical works from half of Toronto and the surrounding boroughs and mailed them down to the land of golden dreams and Angelyne. And… we waited. Many anxious Torontonian fingers were crossed and Buddha tummies rubbed in hopes of hearing glittering words of approbation from Sparkleville.

And then…

Oh rapturous of days! Alan responded favorably to our material in particular purchased 10 jokes for the princely sum of $200 U.S. The first crack leading to the major leagues had finally opened up for us. Time for a celebratory feast at Mr. Burger or perhaps even the Ponderosa Steakhouse!

Andrew and I quickly went about not quitting while we were ahead. A few maniacally productive days later, we handed Graham a second plump parcel of pee-inducers to wing westward. And bingo, as quickly as the U.S. and Canadian postal services could traverse the fecund hills and dales that are now mostly drought stricken wastelands, we received a second complimentary appraisal of our words and punctuation from Mr. Famous. Alan graciously thanked us for the new set of one-liners and informed us he was purchasing five additional gems of jocularity. This would now adjust his initial payment from $20 a joke to $13.33 a joke. Unlike us, he wasn’t kidding.

Yet More Good News

At about the same time that Andrew and I began selling flat-fee jokes to Kirkland Lake’s Renaissance man, I received a phone call from a woman named Andrea at The Fifth Estate (the 60 Minutes of Canada). She was doing some preliminary research for a piece on comedy writing in the Great White North. The esteemed newsmagazine was scouring the land for gag writers and Andrew and I were the only two Canucks they could find that were actually making a living at it. Zowza! Getting featured on The Fifth Estate would surely add a healthy helping of bacon bits and salad dressing to our career sandwich!

And a Side of Slaw:

After years of fruitlessly knocking at their disinterested door, Andrew and I had finally made some inroads at CBC Radio and sold them three mini-series. Could it be that the splendiferous days of our lambent transcendence were just about to dawn?

The Poker Game:

Andrew’s laughably limited income had caused him to abide in an appalling shoebox-shaped building on Mary Street in Oshawa. There were two life-force-sucking one-bedroom apartments on each dreary, aluminum-sided floor. Our good friend David (Bernie) Beirness occupied the other upper flat. One late spring eve, Andrew, Dave Siksay and I were playing poker in Bernie’s abysmal abode. While the four of us avariciously coveted our jacks and aces, Mr. Nicholls had left his door ajar in the pathetic hope that the phone might ring. But ring it did, like the silver bells of Wye. When Andrew reentered the room, he was sporting the stone face of a man trying not to spontaneously combust.

“That was Alan Thicke,” he calmly reported. “He wants us to fly down to L.A. and work on his Fast Company show for two weeks.”

I felt like Barbarella when the orgasmatron was cranked up to 11.

MOTHERFUCKER!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Alan was the fresh-faced, puffy-haired host of an afternoon talk show in Canada at the time. Fast Company would mine clips from his celebrity chats and edit them into composites on single topics with Alan doing a humorous wraparound. Basically double-dipping on the footage. One week it would be dogs, the next would be humorous plastic surgery accidents and so on. We were being employed to whip up these witty wraparounds in a room with three other writers. Real, honest-to-goodness L.A. writers!

But…

Andrew and I didn’t have an agent in those days – we didn’t even find one that wanted us until we became the head writers of The Tonight Show. I have no idea why. Perhaps they’d been talking to all the girls we knew in high school?

Without proper representation, we were prepared to accept whatever Alan offered. That whatever was $500 for the two weeks… between us! And he wasn’t going to pay for our flights. This offer made the recompense we’d received from We’re Only Joking at CHCH seem positively lavish in comparison.

There was another minor wrinkle in our victory shirt. Because we had so little time between his surprise call and our expected arrival, there were no cheap flights available. The bottom line was; if we traveled by air, it was actually going to cost us money to work for a big famous TV star in Los Angeles.

Since Andrew and I couldn’t afford to lose money on this comedic adventure, we decided to lose years off our lives instead by enduring the unspeakable Greyhound bus-ride from Hogtown to Glitzville.

Sure, this trip wasn’t going to make us rich but it was bound to catapult Nicholls & Vickers into the upper echelons of Canadian writerdom. Whoop-de-doo! Perhaps we’d even be allowed to write for Canadian television again! Not only did we spread the word to everyone within earshot about our come-hither call from the Holy Land, I also rang The Fifth Estate. “Hey, we just happen to be heading down to Los Angeles – the one in California – to work on a show. Thought you might be interested.”

It was a dream beyond a dream. The Fifth Estate was very interested and arranged to meet us at Alan’s house in L.A. so they could use it as the backdrop for the interview. What a string of unprecedented gold-plated luck. We were going to have our faces slapped on a Canadian coin if this kept up!

The three-day bus trip – while much more frugally priced than a semi-comfortable jet flight – was like something out of the Saw movie franchise. Jaunting about the town on public transit can be a novel outing, casually partaking in the least pleasant aromas of the human condition but a 72-hour cross-continental expedition in a rolling, rancid, malodorous, mutant asylum will leave scars on your soul the size of the Valles Marineris. The glacial and unrelenting air conditioning was blasted into the carriage through vents under the windows so that any attempt to rest your weary head against the glass shot a ferocious stream of icy cold air directly into your ear-drum. There was no sleep, no chance to bathe and they only served domestic cabernets in the dining section. This, of course, is a joke. The only marginal nutrition available was from small-town bus station canteens.

Picture If You Will:

It’s two o’clock in the morning and you find yourself attempting to gnaw though food with a half-life that dwarfs primordial bismuth. The piquant scent of disinfectant bravely battles toxic clouds of wiffy pong emanating from the putrefying remains of fellow passengers. A nocturnal crust stuck to your eyelids mercifully prevents you from fully witnessing the subhuman troll that you’ve devolved into. The cafeteria’s oppressively cheery fluorescent lighting is dulled by the sadness, despair and regret that permeates every table, chair and floor tile in the place. And I haven’t even mentioned the coffee!!!

But as murderously monstrous as all this all sounds, it is Brig-a-fucking-doon compared to having to get back on that cocksucking bus.

More Happy Travels:    

Two-and-a-half days in, half-starved and barely able to remember our names, we washed our matted, grease-stained hair in the Phoenix Bus Terminal toilet so we wouldn’t frighten the bejesus out of all who gazed upon our grizzled countenance in the prettiest city on Earth.  

Finally, with our cryogenic crucible at an end, Andrew and I triumphantly strode out of the station into the blaring L.A. sunshine and right there beside us was a cop beating the shit out of a hobo. Nicholls & Vickers had done it. Those two socially awkward oddballs from the R.S. McLaughlin Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Oshawa, Ontario, had made it to Hollywood!

Coming up: Bangin’ with the big boys, getting’ booted from the little house, pokin’ at a hooch hound and scorching with a topless model.

=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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