How a Late Night Call From a New England Comedy Legend Changed My Life
In the fall of 2005, I was fired from newspaper job because someone in my hometown got upset about a joke I’d written. As I was just out of college, I was caught between a jerk and my parents’ place, and finally called our friend Barry.
Barry’s close to my family, as his daughter and my younger sister were, and still are, best friends. Like my mom, he grew up on the North Shore, and was good friends with someone my mom grew up hearing stories about throughout high school.
He was a “terror” as my aunt, an English teacher, had described him, and a Fonzie-like character who would interrupt class doing donuts with his car outside Andover High School. A “hood” by the name of Jay Leno.
By the '80s, the tide had shifted in favor of Mr. Leno, as he was now guest-hosting “The Tonight Show” for Johnny Carson. In fact, he even told the first grownup joke I ever understood: “The Dodgers had their old-timers’ game over the weekend. It had a fun slogan: ‘I slid, and I can’t get up!’”
In 2005, Jay Leno was king of late night, back when “The Tonight Show” was number one. And as I’d done so many times, I asked Barry if he would put in a word with Jay, but this time, I came armed with jokes I’d written over the summer.
On a Saturday morning, Barry let me know he’d sent the jokes, along with a very nice recommendation, to Mr. Leno. And, we’d see what happened.
That Monday night, I was watching “Monday Night Raw” and working on a truly terrible “Simpsons” script I was going to send around when the phone rang. Since it was about 11 p.m., I figured it was probably my grandmother or sister, and thought nothing of it.
Then, there was a knock at the door.
Dad was standing there, holding the phone. With the same look he had in his eyes whenever I stepped up to shoot free throws or got up to bat with two outs, he said, “It’s Jay Leno.”
Jay and I talked for about 45 minutes – mainly just a feeling out process for him, and a freakout process for me. He gave me several pieces of advice I still follow to this day, and finally, he asked if I’d be up for faxing in some jokes for his monologue.
Again, we’d see what happened.
On November 18th, the paperwork was processed, and that night, I got my first two jokes on “The Tonight Show.” One of them: “NBC is launching its own mystery network. The first mystery? ‘Whatever Happened to the People Who Used to Watch NBC?”
The more things change, folks…
Unlike with some late night shows, where staff turnover occurs at an alarming rate, nobody ever wanted to leave Jay’s show. Consequently, there were never any full-time openings in my three-plus years as a faxer.
But, knowing Jay Leno is reading your jokes every day kind of lights a fire that isn’t there when you’re just tossing stuff into the abyss. So, I got better, and eventually, spent nine years writing for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and the “Tonight Show” that succeeded Jay’s.
There were lot of hell gigs like one I had in Lowell in between, but it was worth it.
So if you’re an aspiring comedy writer, and you get a call from a restricted number at an odd hour, pick up. At worst, you’ll get a funny story out of it. At best, it could change your life...