Years ago when I was waking up at ungodly hours to do a morning radio show in Seattle, I was writing jokes for me to use on the air. It was awesome: I’d come up with something I felt was funny and then just blurt it out. For several decades, it worked like a charm.
Another morning show type across the hall, Matt Riedy, was doing the Smooth Jazz thing and thought with my joke-writing talent, I should hook up with a guy named Frank King. Frank, like Matt, had done his fair share of stand-up and actually submitted jokes to Jay Leno to use on the Tonight Show. I contacted Frank, he introduced me to his buddy Pat and the three of us began submitting one-liners for Jay’s consideration for telling on the show.
For the past ten years, the routine was writing the lines each day and emailing them to Pat, who took what Frank and I had written, combined it with his blend of comedy and every day, like clockwork, a FAX (yep, we were still FAXing) would arrive at Jay’s desk.
The game was simple: Jay tells one of our jokes and his people paid $50 per joke. Eventually that went up to $75. Not bad for a one-liner. It was very hit and miss. One week you’d score twice and then months would pass before the next sale. We’d watch the monologues and wonder why he didn’t use any of the gems we had tossed his way. There were several times when my sister in Arkansas called when she heard Jay tell one of the ones I had sent her that morning in my “Wacky Week” email.
I gotta tell you, as a writer, there’s probably no greater thrill than having a national comedian tell the joke you wrote on a major network. However, there were the frustrations of so much material being left on the floor. What was even more maddening were the times a joke we had written, almost word for word, ended up on another late night show. No idea how that happens, but a thousand joke-writers, a thousand keyboards……
All this to say, while I never actually met Jay face to face, I admire the hell out of him. Actually got to see him perform once down in Hermosa Beach and try out one of my jokes right there. What this experience demonstrated was that I could do it, I could play with the big boys in writing monologue material.
But this past week, everything came to a stop. We had a big day, like FOUR jokes in just a couple of days. I don’t know if someone got ticked, and there are almost as many theories as with the JFK assassination, but soon after selling that many jokes in one swoop we received notice that Jay would no longer be buying jokes from freelancers. My personal theory is that the union writers didn’t like the idea of being shown up by some guys up in Seattle and I’m sure Jay didn’t want to tick off his team.
Getting into that private club is a tough nut to crack, but for the last decade, we were right there with them. The lines I write and that you’ll find each week in the latest edition of “Wacky Week” are still being told by some 2,000 morning guys still doing that early morning wake up. But if you want to hear them from now on, you can go to bed early. For the time being, my material has retired from the late night circuit.
Thanks for the opportunity, Jay! Hope we can play again some day.