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Cantu note: At the end of last month's essay Stevens wrote:
"I was going to write about Jim Edwards, but this is getting too long; nobody needs to read the Encyclopedia Stevensinicus.
However, the Jim Edwards story is my favorite story about being attacked (verbally) by a comedian. Now that I think of it, the next time someone calls me a bastard (it happens to me not infrequently), I think I'm going to say, "I am not a bastard! It's just that I was cloned!" That should confuse him enough that I can escape. It's what I've written (in other essays) - say the unexpected, and you can pretty much get away with damn near anything."
Here is the Jim Edwards story
Jim Edwards had been a sports newscaster at a TV station in, I believe, Indianapolis, where he worked with David Letterman (who was maybe the weatherman?). Letterman went on to get his nationally syndicated TV show. Edwards decided he wanted to try comedy also, as a stand-up. There were three cities to go to if you really wanted to make it: New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco (Boston wasn't bad, either). Edwards came here.
He wasn't a bad beginning comic. His extensive TV work made him comfortable under the spotlight, and that's 90% of the job. But he definitely had a comedian's mentality, and felt put off coming from a well-paying TV job to doing open mikes for free at the Zoo. (Cantu can correct me but I think their "pay" was two free drinks when they signed up to perform.) Rick Reynolds arrived in town at the same time. Rick had been a DJ in Portland, and on a whim, entered the Portland Comedy Competition and won, so he decided to move to SF also.
Since they were both newcomers in town, and comedians tend not to open up to newcomers, they hung out together, much like Danny and I did when we were beginners.
They decided to share an apartment. Rick was definitely the funnier of the two, and eventually stopped doing comedy (in a way) and instead wrote his long running one-man show, "Only The Truth Is Funny," which I saw about five times and took about 50 people to; nobody was bored.
Just as a side note to show you how strange comics can be, in that show, Reynolds says that each year he would compile "a list of my top 20 friends, and place them in order of how they ranked; 'Okay, Jim Edwards is number 5 this year...'. Each year, I would distribute the list to all 20, showing them if they had moved up or down the list." A comic who came with me one night and who knew Reynolds better told me, "He's not making that up. But the thing he's not saying is that he throws a party for them... but only invites the top 10."
One night, after we shut down the "Zoo" at 2:00 AM and had locked the doors, Edwards and Reynolds stuck around to get some (free) advice from Cantu and me. By that time, I had absorbed enough from watching and listening to Cantu and taking his classes and running the open mikes that I could occasionally add something useful. (I once told Marga Gomez to change one word in a joke, and she took great exception to my audacity and said, "That joke works fine in New York!" Because it used New York terminology! I told her, "Marga, you're not in New York anymore." She later told me, "I tried changing the word to what you suggested... and it does get bigger laughs." Cantu taught me well.)
That night, Cantu had Reynolds get up on stage and do his act, and he'd interrupt to make suggestions. "Change the timing" or "Change the wording" or "Use different body language," etc. With each suggestion, Reynolds would stop and think, and say, "Yes, I see where that would be better."
Cantu then put Edwards through the same drill, and each time he made a suggestion - and again, this was valuable free advice, because again, as Billy Farley said, nobody was better than Cantu for telling you how to hone your act - Edwards would make a joke in return. I doubt he was really even listening. That's the kind of person Edwards was.
Cantu was rather brusque in those days (it's amazing how aging and a bout with cancer can mellow some people, although aging is making me crankier - I'm turning into what Cantu was back in 1981). One night Edwards was in his face about something, and Cantu explained why he had done what he did, and basically told Edwards, "If you don't like it, don't bother coming down here to perform. I've got 40 other comics each night. I don't need you."
Edwards was so incensed he called Letterman to explain the outrage of having to put up with Cantu, so he could go back to Cantu and tell him, "Letterman thinks you're an ass!" Letterman said, "Frankly, Jim, he's right, and you're wrong." That's one thing to Edwards' credit. He had the integrity to relate that story to Cantu and admit he had been wrong.
As I mentioned, I always tried to alternate when I put beginning comics up; if they went up late one night, I tried to put them up early the next night they stopped in.But sometimes, depending on how the crowd was, and the other comics who were there, that was hard to do. Plus, I don't have total recall - it was hard keeping track of the 200 or so comics who would stop by in a month and when I had put them up. (Except for the Cosmic Lady - she went up first every night, just to get rid of her. She was the non-comic comedian, but, we guarantied everybody a spot.)
Well, I made the unconscious error of giving Jim Edwards three late spots in a row. He came up to complain - that's about all he did was complain - about why did I have it in for him, why was I sabotaging his career (the comedian mantra) I told him, "Jim, I apologize, it's hard to remember. I'll get you up early tonight."
By this point in the time he had spent coming down to the Zoo, I had begun to tire of his abrasive, "I was a TV personality!" way of dealing with me - it was my show to run it however I wanted to, which really was, whatever helped us keep the audience - so I added, "But you know, Jim, you have a bit of an attitude problem." And I didn't like saying that, because people accuse me of that all the time. But it was true. Hey, only the truth is retaliatory.
The next night, while the show was going on, I was standing outside the Zoo getting actual air and not occasional oxygen mixed with smoke. I was with a bunch of comics waiting to go on, and Jim Edwards came up to me and said, "Don, can I talk to you?" I said, "Sure, Jim." He said, "In private, over here?" I said, "Sure" and he led me about fifteen feet away. By the time we got far enough away, he was shaking with rage. He screamed at me, "Yesterday, when you told me I had an attitude problem, I had to stop myself from throwing you through the fucking wall!" I responded, "Jim, Jim, obviously, I was wrong; I made a mistake. You don't have an attitude problem, and I apologize." He was a bright guy, but he didn't catch the irony or my sarcasm.
The thing is, I told it to a whole slew of comics, and none of them caught the irony either. Each one's stony silence told the story, "Well, how dare you suggest someone has an attitude problem for constantly complaining about not paying attention to a COMIC's personal needs?"
The one exception was Michael Pritchard, who again, Cantu considers the most intelligent comic he's ever met. I told it to him and he just roared with laughter. Jim Edwards? He wasn't a bad guy. Being told he considered helping me do head-first carpentry work didn't change the way I put him on in the show, besides, as I said, he was a decent comic, so I'd put him on where I thought it would help the show the most. We had to keep that audience so we could pay our bills.
Those times at the Zoo were, as the Doors once opined, "Strange Days." And yes, I do have a problem about comedians. Don't like being around them. Accountants. Morticians. I think I'd rather be around them than comics. At least we could have an actual conversation about the two sure things in life. One last thing about Jim Edwards. That night he was screaming at me, he's very, very lucky Danny wasn't there. Danny is very protective of me. Danny don't fight. But if he would have seen Edwards in my face that way, he would have calmly walked over with intensity and said, "I think... maybe you should be finding a more, well, sociable way of communicating with Don."
As I've said, you'd have to know Danny, and know his voice, and see in the look in his eyes. Edwards could have beat the hell out of him - Edwards was an athlete - but he would have been totally intimidated. Danny does that to people. Oh, by the way... I do have an attitude problem. At least five; maybe ten. I've got a list, but haven't edited it yet for publication.
Cantu note: Not only could Danny be intimidating simply with one firmly delivered sentence, if a friend was really being hassled, Danny had acquaintances who could eliminate the hassle - by simply eliminating the hassler - if you get my drift. Danny knew his way around these 'mean streets'. You will meet Danny again in future essays.
"Danny" Cantu note: Danny was a student from my stand-up classes and he and Stevens became good friends. Danny was a member of that infinitesimally small group of comics who could hold a intelligent conversation about things other than comedy and who could actually say three complete sentences in a row without being compelled to make a joke.
Later in this essay, Stevens writes 'Danny was very protective of me' but, you really have no idea of the enormity of that statement. Let me just say that if a friend of Danny's was seriously being hassled and asked Danny for assistance - well, read on...
"Billy Farley" Cantu note: Billy Farley, is one of the genuinely nice guys in the business and was the winner of the first San Francisco International Stand-up Comedy Competition. First runner up was Robin Williams.
"mentioned" ComedyClubDiaries, December 1999. To read issue now click here: