A roomful of actors waiting to go onstage has a very unique vibe. A secret protocol known only to them allows them to jack up each others egos for what is to come and there are strict rules of conduct, never spoken, but set in stone. First and foremost, if you are not in the cast, you do not exist. Sure you can speak, but nobody will hear you. As the piano player, you are technically one of them, but as you do not have lines or a character, participation is futile. As the years go by, you forget how to converse or tell a story.
Thursday nights are comedy nights at the Sidetrack cafe in Edmonton. The world famous Second City Theatre had blown through town a few years earlier to make a few seasons of it’s TV series SCTV, or Second City Television. I was picked up to improvise live music for the dinner show arm of the operation, and in the wake of this tsunami of hilarity a number of local actors learned the trade. Tonight our cast practices random jibber jabber including clever imitations, pop references and horrible puns. I ask myself “How in the name of God can I break the boredom and loneliness of being in the presence of such talent?”
Then it hit me. Twenty years earlier I had been in the same position with my first Second City. Our show that week was opening for Brian Adams who at that time was a complete unknown. One night after his show, Brian offered to buy me a drink and we sat and talked about music. It was so refreshing to hang out with one of my people, and we talked about harmony, lyrics and song writing. As I had a degree in music composition and theory, I was clearly doing him a favour, and I remember laying it on pretty thick that I thought he needed to work on making sure all of his songs had interesting bridges. I didn’t have to explain to him that a verse sets up the story or that the chorus is the part that repeats itself with an identifiable hook. He already had that part down.
About three months later I moved to Toronto to continue my career up the ladder with some very famous actors. So although I wasn’t famous, I felt somehow more important than I had been previous to my new career in comedy theatre. I won’t drop names, not that I don’t want to, but because it seems to cheapen the tale. All of the new actors coming in to replace outgoing cast members wanted a piece of the action, and the atmosphere was brutally competitive. I was then that I noticed on a walk around the theatre that there was a huge billboard on the side of a building with Brian Adams face on it. What the hell! How did he make it past me so quickly and without a degree? I didn’t stop to think that maybe jumping ship completely from the business of writing songs a decade earlier might have had something to do with it. Part of me was still wanting to be back in my first band which had almost made it, and somehow I thought comedy would help me get back and beyond where I was before. Damn you Brian Adams.
So you sit in the Sidetrack and think, this could work. I announce to the room “First actor to buy me a scotch will be imbued to the heavy mojo I gave to Brian Adams 20 years ago.” For the first time ever, the room went completely silent.
“Ten years ago Colm Meany bought me a scotch and I gave him some terrible advice. I told him that to get noticed on set, he had to look at the camera and piss off the director. He ignored that and was immediately hired for Deep Space Nine. I told Brian Adams to write bridges for his songs, and he didn’t listen to me either. So buy me a scotch and let me give you some terrible advice.” One of the actors came over to me with a big smile. “Will bar scotch do it?”
The following week that actor went to LA to see if he could land some work. To my complete surprise, he did. Ron Peterson landed a meeting with the director of a new comedy show called Mad TV, and he was immediately hired.
At this point, you’re thinking, wait a minute. You made up this story about the scotch just to kill some time. You didn’t actually think there was anything to it. OK this is creepy.
A few years go by and I’m in a different show with one of the comedians from the Sidetrack. He’s bitter about not being famous and he writes an obscene song about it called “Please Get Me The F…. Out of Edmonton.” It’s an awful song, full of whining and complaining. In the bridge or middle section, he sings about some guy named Dick Blasucci who it turns out is the fellow who hired Ron for Mad TV.
One night I decide to look up Dick Blasucci on the internet to see if there is some actual reason that my scotch worked. Surely there’s some science involved. The search results pop up, and I read:
Episodes – Series 3 – SCTV Guide
MIDNIGHT EXPRESS SPECIAL
A stranger hands Lou a box of hashish.
Lou Costello – Tony Rosato;
Bud Abbott – Eugene Levy;
Stranger – Rick Moranis;
Guards – Dick Blasucci, Jan Randall, extras
WHAT THE HELL!
This rocked my agnostic/atheistic leanings in a way that had not been shaken since my Dad announced he was giving up being a Jew to become a born again Christian. After my scotch with Brian Adams, I was called in to shoot this sketch for SCTV, a bit about Abbott and Costello as if they were the stars of a movie about drug smuggling that had won a number of awards in 1978 just a few years earlier. How did Ron Peterson know to contact this person Dick Blasucci? I hadn’t mentioned him. The odds that there would be a connection between my BS about Brian Adams and Ron’s success seemed astronomical. The events were nearly 30 years apart.
I had become an expert at ignoring serendipity til then. The Edmonton club we performed Second City shows in had been called Lucifer’s. Shortly after Second City left, it burnt to the ground. The actor complaining that Ron Peterson “made it” and never bought me a scotch, and he’s actually living in a van down by the river. This wouldn’t be that remarkable, except that Chris Farley famously made a sketch about this, and he started out in Second City.
I know this is pure blarney. There is no luck involved here. Every huckster knows that something good comes around the bend for all of us, and that by keeping the prediction general enough, they can take credit for it. Since those early days, I have had many a free scotch from unwary actors thinking to advance themselves with this superstitious nonsense. To prove it is all a big pile of crap, I have invited myself out for a drink. I sit at a table with two chairs, and both are for me. The waiter arrives and I order a scotch for the empty chair. When it arrives, I move around, but not until I have addressed the crowd.
“Please allow me to give you all this advice. Ignore your dreams. Always wear your heart on your sleeve so that people will know how you feel. And if a musician tells you he knows a secret, run for your life. To your health everybody!”
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