THE CHINA FIXBy Marty Sherman
Regular readers will know by now, that Pat Sajak and I go waaaaaay back. From now on, I’ll refer to my good friend and drinkin’ buddy as merely "Pat" or "Pat S." just to save some skin on these worked-to-the-bone digits of mine.The China Fix - Part I
Good news in the "Bet Your Bottom Quatloo" Dept...
After striking out with the MAJOR majors on Friday, it looked like Pat and I were shit-out-of-luck in the game show biz. FOX, CBS, ABC, NBC and UPN expressed no interest in our Sci-Fi game show concept. We had one more meeting with BET. The drive across town in my Mini Cooper convertible was brutal as Pat pissed and moaned about the money. "Listen, man, if you th’ow ‘nuff shit ‘gainst the wall, some of it bound to stick", I said while giving him a hearty laugh and a knowing wink. That got a smile out of Pat just as we slid into a parking spot at the end of the BET lot.
Long story short...they bought the concept...with a few changes, of course. Let’s just say that BET inked a contract with SURE-JACK PRODUCTIONS (a cleverly twisted amalgam of mine and Pat’s last names...Get it? SUREman and SaJACK?...Jack wanted to call it SAY-MAN, but we voted amongst family and he lost) to produce eight episodes of the series "Clockin’ Dolluhs". Loosely based on "Bet Your Bottom Quatloo", "...Dolluhs" will be the first combination game show / reality show and, instead of Sci-Fi trivia questions, it will feature questions about music and entertainment in general with a focus on Hip-Hop and Rap. Contestants will live together for a month while answering trivia questions at all hours of the day or night. Each will be removed from the running by a combination of test scores and audience voting until one is left standing to "clock" all the "dolluhs!". A flurry of phone calls produced scheduled appearances by G-Unit, Kanye West, Obie Trice, Digital Underground and Gwen Stefani, among others. Pat and I get Co-Producer credits.
Look for our newest project: A website with all the jokes of the Western World catalogued for easy access. JOKE-A-HOLIC.COM will feature every joke ever told in the English language separated into categories and cross-referenced by the name of the comedian who first performed and/or wrote the joke. Coming soon to an Internet near you.The China Fix – Part II
Joke Website Put on Hold While China Glitch Gets Quick Fix
After Pat and I each took a handsome payday from our BET development deal there was still enough cash left over to get the ball rolling on our next big project, JOKAHOLIC.com., the website on which we planned to catalogue and cross-reference every joke ever written in the English language.
The material would be compiled not only from joke books and hand-written notes (for example: Buddy Hackett often wrote jokes on bar napkins, which he saved in numbered shoe boxes and kept locked in a closet) but also from TV shows, movies and comedy records. The books were easy, but the rest would take considerable time. Millions of man hours would need to be spent watching or listening to the source material and then faithfully transcribing each joke.
Outsourcing the labor to China seemed like the right thing to do at the time. We’d get a lot of bang for our buck and bolster the global economy at the same time. Pat and I saw ourselves as cagey and benevolent investors. Mostly cagey. We knocked off for the day and headed for Twingo’s West where we celebrated our savvy with a couple dozen oysters, some nice Cobb Salads and a pitcher of margaritas.
Life was good...until the first batch of completed transcripts arrived late last week.
"What is this shit?!" Pat exclaimed after ripping into the first box. "It’s English alright, but I don’t get it." He handed me the top booklet, which was neatly typewritten, about two hundred pages thick and bound together with three brass clasps. The cover page read: "Henny Youngman (A)". I quickly opened it and was stunned when I saw the first joke...
"Please to remove spouse."
I flipped through the booklet, stopping at random, but they were all the same.
"Doctor say I die in six moons."
"I say cannot pay."
"Doctor say he allow one moon more."
Meanwhile, Pat’s going through the rest of the box. Don Rickles...Sam Kinison...Pigmeat Markham...Rusty Warren. They were all there. And they were all wrong.China Fix – Part III:
Pat Freaks While Marty Calmly Picks Up The Pieces
The boxes kept coming... one or two a day until we could pull the plug on our save-a-buck Chinese joke transcription scheme. After several confusing phone calls I was able to get some kind of explanation as to what went wrong.
Turns out the thousands of tapes we sent to China of all the comedians telling jokes were watched or listened to by workers who translated the English into a variety of dialects from Mandarin to Cantonese to Pinghua. This, in turn, produced thousands of audio tapes with all the jokes in some form of Chinese.
The audio tapes were then sent to stenographers who speedily translated and transcribed what they heard through headphones back into English. According to my contact at China Snafu, the translating company that came in as the low bidder, they had been using several hundred people working in shifts round the clock for weeks and were nearly done with our job.
After explaining that what we received was unusable I negotiated a compromise payment.
"I’ll give you $500," I said.
"No. One thousand dollah."
"Six-fifty," I countered.
"Eight hundred dollah."
"Seven hundred and fifty dollah."
"Seven fifty it is," I said.
"Prus shipping! Prus shipping!"
Pat would be happy that the whole mess would cost us less than a grand. Those Chinese drove a hard bargain. Thank god they worked cheap.
That settled, I set about trying to figure out how to use the material with as little additional work as possible. Letter C.)’s suggestion to make them all Confucius jokes was looking pretty good. ConfuciusSay.com has a nice ring to it.
Pat, the silent partner in the majority of our development deals, was busy with his day gig taping Wheel of Fortune, so I dove in and attempted to re-write what I could. The task was overwhelming. I never knew so many jokes existed. During my heyday as a standup comedian I had a repertoire of maybe two dozen killer jokes at any one time.
Now I was looking at dozens of boxes filled with reams of paper that must represent well over a million punch lines. It just wasn’t possible that they could all be funny.
So to cut back on potential work I separated the jokes into stacks: one pile for well-known and respected comics and another for also-rans, which we could probably get away with excluding. Andrew Dice Clay, Carrot Top, Steve Harvey and Soupy Sales were among those who didn’t make the cut.
Out of curiosity I flipped through the Andrew Dice Clay booklet...
"Old woman who live in shoe have many offspring. So many that internal birth organ descend to ground." Wait a minute. This stuff was actually funnier than his original jokes. A light bulb went off in my head.
All we needed now was a funny Asian guy to do the material and we could clean up. Letterman...The Tonight Show...Comedy Central...America is ready for an Asian comedian. But who? Who could it be?
I called my agent to see if he could get a meeting with William Hung.China Fix - Part IV:
Wherein We Smoke Some Reefer, Drink Some Beers And Meet Mr. William Hung
"...you know I been takin’ care of you baby... since I met you. Yeah, I always look out for you. What you need?... No, I’m at the club. The Palace... I can be there in...where you at?...South Central?...yeah, I know it...I can be there in a half hour...So how many? Two? That it? You sure?... Alright, baby, but you know you’ll be calling me again tomorrow. Hah!" Black dude. About five-ten, white suit, white hat, gold tooth. Brown shoes. I shook my head and smiled.
Bathroom cell phone drug deal going down.
I finished my piss, washed up, took a good, long look at myself in the mirror and cracked up laughing. ‘You’re one lucky bastard, Marty,’ I thought. ‘Lucky, lucky bastard.’
"I’m leavin’ right now, man. Hah!"
I dried my face and followed him out of the can into the action. I’m N Luv (Wit A Stripper) was shaking the floor, guys were clapping and Kat was on-stage, working the pole and lighting up the room. Pat and I had already been at the Lap Dance Palace for an hour or so when Hung had shown up. We were playing hardball with the bastard, and he was knocking doubles off the fence in left.
"Listen, I like you, Bill," I said after sitting down. "I really do."
"William. I call myself William."
"William...sorry...But a 65 / 35 split is the best we can do. I mean, a lot of this is intellectual property, which Pat and I own. We just need an actor, basically. And it’s more than generous on our part to cut you in at all."
"I buy and sell you. Remember, I sing on American Idol. I want 50 / 50 or nothing. My agent say this legitimate deal."
Pat jumped in. "For Christ’s sake, don’t you recognize me? I’m the freaking host of Wheel of Fortune! Of course this is legitimate! You’re lucky I’m even allowing myself to be seen in the same room as you! And you can’t buy and sell ME you no-name washed-up fuck!"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," I said, holding Pat back. "Say, William, you like to smoke pot?"
"I smoke some. Why?"
"Well, let’s leave Pat out here to stew and talk some business in the Men’s Room, if you know what I mean. He’ll be cool." I held up my right hand to my lips, index finger and thumb holding an imaginary joint. "I’m sure we can reach some kind of agreement." I winked.
I gave Pat a bundle of ones and told him to knock himself out. William and I headed for the can.
Inside, I whipped out a fatty of some of Vancouver’s finest, offered it to the kid and lit him up. After three or four passes, it was obvious that he was getting pretty fucked up. I made my move. "Like I said, William, 75 / 25 is more than fair. I think Pat and I can make you a star."
"I already a star. You think I a fool?" His eyes widened. "Or maybe too high to know what you
"No, man. It’s nothing like that," I said. But it was exactly like that. The bastard.
"You not fool me," he said as he headed out the door. "And you can say to Pat he one fucking asshole! I piss on his grave!"
He was out the door before I could catch him. I looked towards the stage and Pat was using his mouth to tuck a wad of rolled bills into Mystery’s G-string. I sat down at the bar, ordered a double shot of Patron and a Corona to chase it. Oh well, Plan C.The China Fix - Part V:Featuring More Hung, Hypnotism And A Happy Game Show Host
By the time I was able to get Pat out of the Lap Dance Palace he was well on his way to being snockered. I gave him a quick overview of where we stood with Hung on the way back to his place in my Mini Cooper convertible.
"He’s pissed at you, Pat. He stormed out."
"Fuggim. We’ll get shumbody elsh." Pat was pissed, too. "That lil prick can’t buy and shell me...Goddamn ungrateful no talent shit!"
"Who, Pat? Who else are we going to get?"
"Let’sh call Gzheorgzh..."
"Takei? No way will that work. Stern’s already put his comedy stamp on him. Besides, he doesn’t have that cute, semi-retarded quality that Hung has. Plus he’s old. And he speaks impeccable English. Uh-uh. No way. Hung’s the man and we have to make it work."
"You take care of it, Marty. I’m gonna get shum shleep," said Pat as he nodded off.
It was a thirty minute drive to Pat’s house and I put every second to use brainstorming. By the time I dropped Pat, I had an idea. "Straighten your tie," I said to Pat as he stumbled up his driveway. "And for God’s sake comb that hair before the old lady gets home."
Pat gave me the finger as I backed down the drive. Once on the street I stomped on the gas, thumbed Sal Bensen’s number into my cell phone and hit send. He answered.
"Hey, Sal. How’s it hanging?"
"Not bad, man. What’s up?"
"I need a little favor. You still doing that hypnotist schtick?"
"It’s not a shtick, Marty. I use Dr. Franz Mesmer’s theories and modern hypnosis techniques to..."
"Wasn’t Mesmer the guy who drew Felix the Cat?" I interrupted.
"That was Otto Mesmer."
"Mesmer, shmesmer. As long as it works. I’ve got eight large that says you can’t do it to my buddy, Bill."
Phase one of plan C was complete. Next I called Hung’s agent and gave her a sob story about how it was all a mistake and Pat was really sorry. I really turned on the old Sherman charm and she bought it hook, line and sinker. Before I hung up I had arranged another meeting with our man, Hung, and she had given me her home phone number.
Two days later, Hung met us at Twingo’s West for lunch. He was hesitant at first when he saw Sal instead of Pat, but after a couple of Fuzzy Navels the little guy loosened up. Hung was so glad Pat didn’t show that he forgot all about Sal. When he went to the bathroom, I said to Sal, "Okay, I think he’s ready. Now remember, he needs to agree to a 75 / 25 split, dig? And I’ve got the paperwork for him to sign."
"Not even a problem," said Sal. "It’s showtime!"
"Hold it down. Here he comes."
Sal’s act was a thing of beauty. I can’t even describe it fully because I had to be careful and look away so that I didn’t get the treatment, but he definitely had Hung eating out of his hand in a matter of minutes. There were two women sitting at the next table who were also deeply affected and I made a mental note not to let that go to waste.
"Yes, I excited to start!" enthused Hung. "Where do I sign?"
"Right here, my man," I said while producing the contract and my favorite Caran d'Ache fountain pen. "Press hard. You’re making four copies."
After I called Pat and told him the good news, we left with the two women and headed back to Sal’s for more drinks. Sal had his arm around the brunette in the back seat while I squeezed the blonde’s thigh. Both the girls were laughing and enjoying themselves. "So you’re sure he won’t remember being put under?" I asked again.
"Not a chance. I planted a suggestion that he did the whole thing of his own free will. If anyone asks, that’s exactly what he’ll say. And he’ll believe it, too, unless I clap my hands and bring him out of it. And trust me, I don’t plan on ever seeing him again. Nice touch giving him the pen."
"I hated to part with it, but this guy could be the next big thing in comedy."
With that, we all laughed. And the girls didn’t even know what they were laughing about.The China Fix - The Conclusion
Hung Follows Bo Bice on Late Night, Bombs Big Time
We managed to get Hung his first big break on the Conan O’Brien show.
"He’s not going to be funnier than me, is he?" was the only thing Conan was worried about.
"Are you kidding?" I said. "Nobody’s funnier than you, baby. But this kid’s got a good routine. You watch."
As we sat in the green room it was obvious that Hung wasn’t the least bit nervous. I had spent a couple of weeks working with him and he had his stuff down pat. "This more fun than American Idol," he said while we sipped Evian and watched Bo Bice do his number. "I don’t get Bob Ice, though. He have funny name for rock star."
The music was over and I said to him, "Okay, Bill. You’re on in three minutes. Break a leg."
After the commercial break, I watched from the side as Conan introduced him. "Hey folks, we got an all American Idol show for you tonight. This next guy was on Idol a few years ago. Well, he’s doing comedy now. Wait a minute. I’m not sure he knew it, but wasn’t he doing comedy before? Anyway, let’s hear it for the very funny William Hung!"
When the crowd applauded Hung’s face went blank. He looked like he didn’t even know where he was and began stammering, "Hello, how you do...uh...please to take..uh...where is this? Where I at?" The crowd went silent.
I looked around the audience. Sal Bensen was standing right in the middle, still clapping like there was no tomorrow. "This’ll fix you, Sherman you bastard! I’ll show you to screw your friend’s wife! Wake up you little prick! Wake up and remember!"
Of course the wife he was referring to was his ex-wife, Monica. And I never knew that he knew.
"Payback’s a bitch, ain’t it Sherman!" screamed Sal as security hauled him away. "I hope you rot in hell!" Conan had quickly gone to commercial and the kid was standing on the stage sobbing. The audience was just then beginning to realize that none of this was part of the show.
Oh well. If I had it to do over I wouldn’t change a thing. Sal’s wife was one sweet piece of ass.
But I sure wasn’t looking forward to making that phone call to Pat....(MARTY SHERMAN)