Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Deep Joke (part 2)

This is the second of two excerpts from Deep Joke by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Mark Katz Press in April 2009

I ate dinner at home. Beans on toast. This month I spent a lot of money that was coming in from the Johnny Dillon article. Then he goes and kills himself. Why does everything happen to me?

Oh ya, and Johnny too. I guess he is the real tragedy in this story. Him and the beans on toast.

I ate dinner and hung out for a while thinking about the video fanboy showed me.

It didn’t prove Johnny was murdered.

It did prove that Johnny knew someone in the administration that was feeding him insider information.

Maybe it was an intern trying to impress someone on television and didn’t know very much.

Maybe it was someone that knew much, much that could get someone killed.

Maybe he jumped.

I thought about it till the Daily Show came on and after that drove to the Joker's Wild Komedy Club. I wasn't sure if the Comedy with a K meant it was extra wacky or if it meant this stuff couldn’t legally be referred to as comedy.

It was amateur night and the owner said he couldn't talk till after the show. I wasn’t going to hang around until then watching new comics tell old jokes downloaded off the internet.

It is mandatory to mention Johnny’s early club days in any profile. Johnny started out as a prop comic.

In the hierarchy comedians, the props comics are an untouchable caste. They hover somewhere below pedophiles and just above mimes.

Johnny spent four years working the comedy club circuit, pulling stuff out of trunks and telling puns. Then the President was elected. According to Johnny, nobody else addressed that a war criminal, poon hound, and general moron was in office so he to. Overnight he channelled his rage, dressed in black, paced the stage like a chain smoking panther, and told elaborate jokes about the Monroe Doctrine. His only props were obscenities and the first amendment.

It was said that the President was such a failure that if he didn’t exist comedian would invent him. In this case the president invented Johnny Dillon.

By the time I arrived the last comic took the stage. The MC said they saved the best for last. I was glad I waited at home. I guess some things are sadder than beans on toast.

The owner took me to his office.

“You want a drink” He waved a beer at me.

“No Thanks”

“Oh I guess you missed the show,” he said. “If you stayed you would want a drink.” He took a swig. “Some people drink to forget their misery. I drink to forget my comedy. New Talent Night. Uggh!” He took another deeper swallow.

“What can you tell me about Johnny when he was here?” I asked.

“Well, he always ranted about the truth so I’ll give you that. When he was here, he was average. Not terrible. Not great, but average. Jokes weren’t clever, nut they were accessible, if you know what I mean. You always got them . He had some presence. Nice guy. But I had no idea he would get so good. I normally have a good eye for potential but he snuck past me.”

I wrote notes as quickly as I could.

“I have some old tape if you want to look”

For come reason he still had a VCR in his office. I wondered how much longer the Joker would be open. He put on the tape.

On the TV screen a younger, paler, awkward version of Johnny bound on the stage. He wore khakis which was an offence punishable by death according to the older Johnny Dillon.

“This is a Driver’s Licence for when you cash that giant check after you win the lottery.” He pulled a huge cardboard I.D. out of the trunk on his stage.

Neither of us laughed. The club owner took another swig of his beer. Johnny left the stage. “That’s my time, good night.”

“Where is the remote? “Said the owner and he searched the office while the next comic on the tape stepped up to the mic.

He was skinny and wearing a bow tie and a wine coloured sweater vest.

His eyes were gunning and he clenched his jaw like a boxer’s fist. In many ways being that young and wearing a bow tie was more rebellious than a room full of tattoos and faux hawks.

“Let’s talk about the recent reform to separation of church and state regarding our school system and the teaching of evolution,” He spat.

He was like a pissed off Mark Russell.

“First they came for Twain and I said nothing, then they came for Darwin and I said nothing, then they came for Copernicus—"

“There!” Said the owner. He found the remote and shut of the screen.

“That last dude, you get many guys telling Copernicus jokes in here?” I asked

“Oh no,” the owner shook his head “Just Jack, even his dick jokes were smart. He was guy I thought would make it long before Johnny did.”

“What’s he doing now?” I asked

“He’s got the greatest day job in the world. He’s the President’s joke writer.”


“When he doesn’t want to answer something at a press conference, avoid strait answers, Jack feeds him the lines. I hear Reagan had 50 of them working for him.” Explained the owner

I just found Johnny’s source.

When I told Jack Bird that Entertainment Journal was calling for an interview he responded immediately. I didn’t mention Johnny Dillon.

The interview was scheduled for before breakfast. He needed to meet the President later. It was great for me. Normally I had to wait for dusk to meet a club comic and even then they would still be groggy as they drank their morning coffee.

Jack was bit older than on the tape. His hair was a bit thinner and his face a bit wider, but he still had his bow tie.

“So” I said “You were Johnny Dillon's man on the inside.”

He smiled and leaned back and then took a sip of his coffee.

“I guess someone had to put it together.”

“Ya, you sent him the inside information, he wrote the jokes, and when the government found out they had him killed”

The coloured drained from his face. He leaned over and turned on the tape recorder on the tape recorder on the table. “I want to make sure you get this” he said “#1, fuck you. #2 Johnny wrote nothing. I wrote every one of those jokes. Everything you laughed at, everything you told co-worker about at the water cooler, that was me.”

“So why didn’t the government kill you too?” I asked

Jack threw his arms up in frustrated defeat. “The government doesn’t kill late night comedians.
What kind of journalist are you?”

“I’m not a journalist.” I was an entertainment writer.

“I’m not really a killer either. I can defend my property and those jokes were my property. More valuable that my car or wallet. They were beautiful. You should lay them out on a piece of black felt like a diamond and Johnny would get all coked up and tell them wrong. It was like seeing someone hit your god damn kid. And then he wanted to drop my stuff and start telling his own political shit. He thought Nixon was one of Santa’s reindeer. ”

“Johnny was pushed?” I asked. It sounded sarcastic, like it was reading it off one of those t-shirts but I was sincerely shocked.

“Ya Bernstein” He rolled his eyes.

“But why confess?” I asked “I didn’t put it together.”

“I think I finally deserve some credit here. The one guy that gets close is an idiot that wants to give Johnny all the credit. Johnny was a prop. He told the jokes that the President’s joke writer could never tell. Imagine being the only comedian in the country that couldn’t make fun of that clown.”

“Well, you're going to be out of a job now.” I dialled the police on my phone.

“Thanks,” he said “That’s my time.”

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