I Was A Late Night TV Star
My buddy “PeeWee” wanted to be a comedian. No, seriously. In the late 80s/early 90s he was finishing up law school, working his butt off as a bartender in the Poconos, and made plans to chase his dream, bust out, and be the next big funny thing 🙂
Knowing there were already at least 400,000 amateur newbie comedians with agents nationwide, he devised a clever plan to jump past all of them. He picked up the phone, and called the FOX affiliate in Wilkes-Barre – WOLF TV – and asked if he could BUY a time slot and a crew to produce a 30-minute “show”.
Of course, we call those time slots “infomercials”. PeeWee just wanted to buy ONE time slot, so he could put on his resume’ that he had appeared on TV, and of course he’d set his VCR and make copies of the tape to prove it to anybody and everybody who might hire him for his new career. He even convinced (a/k/a PAID) the Ramada Inn on the square in Wilkes-Barre (it’s part of Kings College now) to let him rent their bar for the “taping”.
As the big day came closer and closer, PeeWee asked me to be master of ceremonies. Dear God, I hope I didn’t tell any jokes – I honestly don’t remember. I do remember that the show started with a closeup of me, decked out in a tapered burgundy suit (it was the late 80s/early 90s, RELAX). Sooner than later I introduced the star of the show, and PeeWee came out to a raucous (a/k/a PAID) applause from the assembled (a/k/a PAID) standing room only crowd.
I was not “in” on what was to happen next. PeeWee’s first joke was something along the lines of, “thanks Dave, it looks like that AIDS you have is just about all cleared up”, referencing my svelte, six-foot, buck-40 starving musician physique at the time. NOW at least I knew why he asked me to be master of ceremonies: he needed a joke to get rolling. I don’t remember anything between that and the finale – PeeWee was prematurely bald and had someone come up and paint his head red as his final bit. Of course, I got back up on the stage and sent him off to a thunderous (a/k/a PAID) applause. The “show” ran in its one time slot, immediately following Joan Rivers or Arsenio Hall – whatever the last FOX show of late night was back then.
What happened next was the best part. It turns out that “time slot” was tough for the local station to sell and they decided to RE-RUN PeeWee’s comedy show for no charge. OFTEN. So there I’d be, sitting in a bar on a random weeknight at 1:30am and everybody would go, “Look, Dave’s show is on!” Of course, nobody actually LISTENED – they all figured it was a regularly scheduled show and I clearly only owned one red suit.
It became a thing. “Hey Dave, I LOVE your show”, like I was Ed McMahon taping a show at a TV studio every day. To me, it was an exercise in public perception. Nobody was actually paying attention, they never heard me talk, they never heard the AIDS joke or any of PeeWee’s act – they just saw me on TV on a stage with a mic in my hand and figured I was working hard. By the time PeeWee got his head painted red, it was past last call and past 2:00am on bar clocks and nobody was still there to realize it was the same damn show getting replayed. I should have asked for residuals 🙂
In a way, I got them. Out of nowhere I started getting gigs all over the region. In the days of having to go to bars and leave a demo CD, I was now a commodity because… I was regularly appearing on TV! That damn show led to me trading off Billy Joel and Elton John songs at Market Street Square (what everyone now calls “dueling pianos”) as well all sorts of other cool gigs.
On the other hand, the taping was PeeWee’s first and LAST “live” comedy show. But don’t feel bad for him, he’s happily ever after these days as a commercial real estate mogul down here in Florida. And here I am, playing piano before and after a comedy show every Wednesday night at the 88Live Piano Bar in Bradenton 🙂