It wasn’t a comedy bit, exactly, a wacky routine I submitted as a freelancer or anything like that. But it was the core of a comedy bit, a whole segment, actually. No, it wasn’t something I wrote to be funny on purpose. It was a commercial I wrote for a prescription drug (or wrote part of really, lawyers wrote the bulk of the spot). Let’s say, it was a commercial I was in charge of, a commercial I “over-saw” that Colbert spent seven or eight minutes ripping into tiny, little pieces.
At some point in my past, another lifetime ago, I had dreams of being on television. Writer, actor, something. I did the whole comedy stage thing in Chicago, got myself a few writer gigs on nationally syndicated shows that came through town. I shopped scripts around to agents in hopes of landing a sit-com writer job. I sent stuff to Conan when he was first starting out. I had stuff at Leno. In Living Color.
I ran with a comedy crowd back then. We all took improv classes, everybody, pretty much getting out and hitting the streets at the same time: “AND THEY’RE OFF!” like the Kentucky Derby only with your career, your whole life. It turned out to be a much longer race than the Derby, we found out, more than one lap around.
We formed comedy groups, played in bars, or put up reviews in theaters. Some of the pack pulled ahead fast. This guy got a FOX sit-com. That woman got in Second City. Some went to SNL. The comedy group I started landed a radio show on WLUP. We contributed to Jonathan Brandmeier’s morning show.
But things evened out, the older we got, the further away we got from the starting gate. Some of the pack are still in there, plugging away. Nobody’s famous-famous, there’re no Jim Careys or George Clooneys in the bunch, not yet anyway.
One person from the pack is on Breaking Bad, another one’s on Parks and Rec. One of the pack is that insult dog and one is married to Sponge Bob. Some show up in movies or they’re the voice of a Mini-Wheat in a TV commercial. A few wrote wacky, comedy books. Oh, and there’re a few producers, but you’d never know their names. A couple of them are dead. The rest sort of settled into life. They’re teachers or house painters or they run small businesses.
Me? I’m an ad guy, “over-seeing” TV commercials that Colbert makes fun of.
I didn’t want to be an ad guy. I fell into advertising some years ago while I tried to break into TV. It was fun for a while, here and there. But it was never supposed to be a permanent thing. It was always supposed to be a detour, my Plan B. Now it’s my day job. Now I’m an ad guy eight, ten hours a day, pumping out those 30, 60, 90-second interruptions to shows you’d rather be watching or you skip over entirely with TiVo.
Okay, it makes “good” money as they used to say in 40s movies. I don’t ever wear a suit and there’s no heavy lifting. Yes, it’s not Heart Surgeon but then it’s not Sewer Worker either. So I try and keep it in perspective and count my blessings. But there’s still that 20-something Me hanging around in my memory, schlepping across comedy hellhole stages imagining what his future will bring. I see it in my kids.
I’ve switched careers before. I was a photographer for six or seven years out of college. I did radio and stage comedy, a little TV production. I drove a limo, tended bar, did a cable shopping show, temp secretary, and now I make ads for hipster satirists to launch into the cultural meta-zeitgeist or something like that.
It is like I wrote that bit for Colbert. That’s how I’m seeing it, anyway. I mean, he couldn’t’ve gotten much material out of a good commercial, could he? So, you’re welcome Stephen, glad I could help…
Thanks Colbert for the Bump!