By John Saleeby
July, 16, 2001
The other night some jackass was talking about a movie (Jackasses are always talking about movies.) called "Almost Famous" about a teenage kid in the seventies who got a gig writing for Rolling Stone and I told em "SHUT THE HELL UP!!!", went outside, set their car on fire, and went on a three state "Pokin' People In The Eye With A Corn Dog" spree. Why this intensely negative reaction to a movie about a teenage kid in the seventies who gets a gig writing for a national magazine? Because I was a teenage kid in the seventies who got a gig writing for The National Lampoon and it Ruined Me For Life. I mighta made something of myself if it hadn't been for that damn National Lampoon. But instead I had to spoil it all by saying something stupid like "I'm going to be a comedy writer" and just look at me now - Sitting at the counter of the Waffle House at one o'clock in the morning drinking coffee nasty enough to have dripped off of Stacey Keach's ass, surrounded by exactly the kind of yokels you visualize every time some hack New York stand up comic starts bitching about his last booking in Kentucky, and scribbling foolishness like that bit about coffee dripping off of Stacey Keach's ass on Post It pads because I'm too damn poor to even afford to buy paper. I'm such a loser folksingers make mean cruel fun of me (That's why I had to leave New York.)
The seventies seem to be in fashion these days but not quite as in fashion as the fifties were in the seventies. I remember a lot of guys who were teenagers in the fifties telling everybody in the seventies "Hey! I remember the fifties and they SUCKED!!" so please allow me to be the first guy today to say "Hey! I remember the seventies and I SUCKED!!". Boy, was I a moron in them days. What made me so pathetically out of touch with reality in the seventies? The notion that by the year 2001 I would be rich and successful if I became a comedy writer for one thing. That and smoking pot. But everybody smoked pot in the seventies. That explains the eighties.
In 1978 I went through this dorky fan phase where I sent out letters to Big Time comedy writer guys in New York and Hollywood receiving in return a nice guy note from Tom Davis of the "Saturday Night Live" writing team of Franken And Davis and an actual TV sit com script for my Mom to show all the neighbor ladies from Tom Patchett of "The Bob Newhart Show" writing team of Patchett and Who The Hell Cares, he never sent me nothin' - Why should I bother remembering his name? He never even wrote a book about Rush Limbaugh or a movie about Meg Ryan being an alcoholic (Al Franken jokes!) But the best thing I got in response to my stupid adolescent letters was from Chevy Chase. Now, I know all you young whippersnappers out there have a hard time imagining such a thing but, yes - There was such a time that Chevy Chase was considered a really funny guy. I know, that makes me sound like some old coot talking about the Good Old Days when we thought the world was flat, but - Swear To God! - We really thought Chevy Chase was one of the funniest guys in the whole flat world back then. Anyway, Chase took the letter I sent him, picked up an ink pen, and proceeded to GRADE my punctuation and grammar errors as if he was one of my English teachers, gave me a C-, and sent it right back to me. At the time I thought "Oh, ha ha, Mister Hollywood Wise Ass! Very funny! Very, very funny!" but now I can see that for what it truly was - A strangled cry of warning from a tortured soul whose existence would soon be revealed as the miserable nightmare it truly was: "Noooooooo, stay away! Don't make the same mistake I did! Don't be like meeee! Be a doctor! Be a lawyer! Get outta comedy!" And perhaps I could have escaped that horrible fate, if only I hadn't sent that damn letter to The National Lampoon, The Letter That Ruined My Life. Oh, Damn You, Letter To The National Lampoon! Damn you straight to Hell!
But I was too young and foolish to understand what Chevy Chase was trying to tell me and look at me now - As screwed up and pathetic as he is - Yeah, I'm not as rich and famous as he is, but that's only because I'm not as tall and good looking as he is. I'm a little skinny guy with glasses. How come I'm not as rich and famous as Woody Allen is? Hey, are you trying to get your ass kicked with all those questions? Do you mind? Hillary is on "Fresh Prince Of Bel Aire" right now and I'm trying to work up a stiffie for a little interracial masturbacial. CRAP! They cut to a scene with Will and the fag butler! Crap! Crap! Crap! I hate being a comedy writer! I HATE IT!!
Saleeby grabs a pile of spiral notebooks full of his stupid comedy routines, runs out into the parking lot, sets the notebooks on fire, and jumps up and down on them screaming "Shit! Shit! Shit!" while the little black kids cheer and applaud. "Yeah! Go on! Cheer and applaud! They cheered and applauded when I auditioned at the Comic Strip and The Improv, too! And a lotta good that did me, a lotta goddam stinking good it did me! A lotta good! Ha!" Saleeby falls exhausted onto the pavement. The little black kids look on with pity. "What the heck are you guy's looking at? Hillary is on 'Fresh Prince Of Beverly Hills Or Bel Aire Or Wherever The Shit All The Rich Black People Live' right now! Maybe you'll be able to bag a babe like that one day, but it's too late for me! Stay outta comedy! Be a doctor! Be a lawyer! Stay outta comedy!"
So . . . Back in the seventies, one day I was reading The National Lampoon and particularly enjoyed an article written by a Lampoon editor named Ted Mann ( Many years later Mann created the ABC cop show "NYPD Blue" with Steve Bochco ). Still in the midst of my letter writing frenzy ( If you were a pro comedy writer in the seventies and never got a letter from a kid named Saleeby you weren't shit! Yeah! You, Gary Marshall! You ain't shit!!! Ha ha! You ain't worth the price of a late seventies postage stamp! Eat me, hack! Eat me!! ), I fired one off to Ted Mann.
The National Lampoon was showing evidence of being past it's prime at this point, it's most influential writers Henry Beard, Doug Kenney, and Michael O'Donaghue having left and the not all that funny P.J. O'Rourke having been appointed Editor In Chief. Yes, something was wrong, The National Lampoon was in desperate need of something new - A fresh new voice to bring the magazine out of the seventies and into the future! And at that crucial moment Ted Mann sat down in his office, opened a letter which had been sent to him in the mail, and read "Hey, Ted - Screw that shitty magazine. Let's get together and make a new TV show! Get outta comedy! Be a doctor! Be a lawyer! Be a TV producer! Get outta comedy! Your Pal, Steve." But the day before that Ted Mann sat down in his office, opened a letter which had been sent to him in the mail, and it was the same one I had already sent to Franken And Davis, Patchett And What's His Ass (Only thanks to Chevy Chase's expert editing I had polished it up a bit), and now . . . TED MANN!! Damn that letter! Damn - Oh, I already did that bit. Sorry.
In a shining display of the kind of spiritual generosity that would one day prompt "NYPD BLUE" star Jimmy Smits to call him "The only white man I could ever spend more than one hour with before I wanted to slice him open and dance barefoot in a puddle of his blood.", Ted The Mann set me up with a sweet deal contributing bits to The National Lampoon's "Letters From The Editors" column at fifty bucks a pop ( Fifty bucks in the seventies was worth one hundred thousand dollars at 2001 rates. Really. ). "Letters From The Editors" was a phony letters column full of joke letters like this one that I wrote - "Sirs, Elvis Costello is me in a bad mood and a cheap suit. Sincerely, Bruce Springsteen." Hey, that was funny twenty-three years ago. Guess we were still bummed out over that Vietnam thing. Hey, we'll see how funny all those Puff Daddy jokes are to people in 2024. Or you will, I will certainly have been thrown off of a cliff or something by then. Probably by Puff Daddy.
So, everything was cool until my parents got the bright idea for us to take a vacation to New York so I could go to The National Lampoon office and do whatever the hell they thought was gonna happen when I went to the crazy place. I think they were hoping The National Lampoon people would give me a full time job and let me live in a storage closet and then they wouldn't have to put me through college. I dunno what the hell goes on inside those people's heads - They don't even like Blue Oyster Cult, for Christ's sake! So, we're in New York ( Don't wanna talk about the car trip up there from Louisiana. I already messed up and told those National Lampoon freaks all about it when I went up to their office and next thing I know the bastards are making a whole series of Chevy Chase movies out of it. I can't prove that to ya, but my lawyer says he might do something for me after he gets me out of trouble for sending that videotape to Reese Witherspoon. ) and when I get up to The National Lampoon office they just looked at me like I was a pizza delivery boy who had shown up with an empty box and anchovies spilled all over the front of his shirt. Apparently Ted Mann had forgotten to tell anybody that I was seventeen years old. This is how the biggest business meeting of my entire career went -
"I thought you were the pizza delivery boy."
"No, I'm John Saleeby."
"From New Orleans."
"Oh. How old are you?"
"Is that the pizza delivery boy?"
"No, I'm John Saleeby. From New Orleans."
"How old are you?"
"Love was meant for beauty queens."
Okay, that last part never happened. It took me twenty three years to come up with something funny to say to those douche bags. If you ever want to get rid of a teenage kid just make a big goddam deal out of how they are a teenage kid and it won't be long until they spontaneously combust in a bright orange mushroom cloud or say "Yeah . . . well . . . I gotta go . . . um . . . ".
According to Wil Forbis, Acid Logic Editor And Leading Authority On Everything I Don't Want To Fuckin' Know About, at the end of "Almost Famous" the teenage kid who has been writing for Rolling Stone through the mail turns up at the Rolling Stone editorial offices and - Even though everyone is shocked that he is just a kid - he becomes a regular member of the staff, gets to hang out with all the really big rock stars, writes "Fast Times At Ridgemont High", gets married to the really hot looking Wilson sister from Heart, writes and directs "Jerry McGuire", wins the Academy Award for the "Almost Famous" screenplay, makes a hundred million dollars, and every little bit of it just to PISS ME OFF because when I turned up at The National Lampoon editorial offices everybody just stood around looking tense and nervous and once I went back to New Orleans I never heard another word from them again no matter how much stuff I sent em. I mean, I may not have been Doug Kenney but I was at least as funny as Cameron Friggin' Crowe, shit! Yeah, yeah, yeah, everybody loves the "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" movie, but do you think it's possible to WRITE a pair of titties as pretty as Pheobe Cates' in that swimming pool scene? Man. I've got a dozen comedy scripts full of the prettiest bounciest funniest tits ever written, but I can't get anybody to read em anymore than I can get Pheobe Cate's tits carved onto Mount Rushmore ( One set of Pheobe titties for each one of the Presidents up there. An entire metropolis will sprout up at the foot of Mount Rushmore overnight. We'll call it "Hooterville". ) Aw shit, I just remembered how funny Sean Penn and Ray Walston are in that movie. I get more depressed the more I work on this damn article. Damn you, Wil Forbis! Damn your black soul!
So, there you have it - John Saleeby, the funniest comedy writer of our time, BLACKLISTED because of AGEISM!! Dumped by The National Lampoon because I was only seventeen, not hired to take over "Late Night" from David Letterman because I was only seventeen, passed up as Cameron Diaz's love interest in "Something About Mary" because I'm only seventeen! That's why they didn't want me hanging around those comedy clubs in New York - I was only seventeen years old and if they put me onstage regularly they'd lost their liquor license. Yeah, yeah, that explains everything. I'm not any better than I was in 1978 because I've been a seventeen year old kid the whole time! You know, after all the time I've spent writing comedy routines in the past twenty five years you'd think I'd have learned by now when I have pushed a premise about as far as it will go but, you know how us seventeen year old guys are, nothin' gets through our skulls - Nothin'! Uh oh! My girlfriend's at the door! She needs help with her algebra homework. Yeah, I'll help you out with your algebra, baby, heh heh heh . . .
(Saleeby looks into the camera with a sinister smile)
(MUSIC: Ominous, foreboding chords)
(Fade to black)
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John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines Schmuck.com, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer now than he was when you met him earlier. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org