"Grab me a beer from the bar, buuudddy?”
“Sorry, I’m only 19. I can’t buy alcohol,” I mumbled without looking up from the game of Tetris I was playing on my flip-phone. “Say it’s for Pauly. Tell the bartender you’re my intern.” And so, it was 8PM on a Sunday night after the Comedy Store’s Potluck Open Mic Night in mid-2009 that a gullible and obese 19-year-old aspiring comic finally achieved the American dream: doing Pauly Shore’s bitch work for free.
It had been a year since I had dropped out of Pierce Community College to try my hand at standup comedy, and things weren’t going particularly well. The biggest comedy clubs in LA like the Comedy Store and the Laugh Factory use what’s basically a half-lottery, half-friendship system for their open mics. I would very rarely get picked. Unlike smart comedians, who would grumble off and leave looking for another place to do a set when they were rejected, I would stick around and watch the show. Partially because I wanted to learn from the performers, but mainly because I had no friends. I was having a conversation with one of the few Potluck regulars who tolerated me when the Weasel himself anointed me as his indentured servant.
I showed up the next morning for my first day of interning and stood around for 15 minutes, waiting for Pauly to arrive. Finally, a beatup car pulled into the lot. Pauly stepped out wearing a worn-out T-Shirt with a drawing of his face on it and "PAULYWOOD" written underneath. “Hey duuuude!” he announced, pointing to a massive suitcase in the backseat of his car, “Carry this in for me, Intern.”
I dragged Pauly’s stuff up the stairs to his office where I met his assistant, Mark, who was already hard at work going through contracts from comedy clubs all over the country. I snuck a peek at one of them and was, as embarrassing as this sounds, a little jealous. Even years after his glory days, Pauly made a decent living on tour, while I still had to ask my parents' permission to use their credit card when I wanted to eat at Subway. The office was a mess. There were papers and binders scattered all over the floor. Posters for Pauly’s movies littered the walls. “I love A Goofy Movie.” I told him, “I grew up on that one.” “I never saw it,” he told me, “I don’t watch cartoons.”
Pauly never referred to be my name, I was always “Intern.” He handed me a container full of blank discs and a DVD of Son In Law. “Hey, Intern. There’s a computer with a DVD drive downstairs. I need you to make 100 of these.” So I went downstairs, got on an old PC with Windows XP installed, and spent the next four hours making bootlegs of a film released in 1993. After I finished that, I was done for the day.
I stuck around until 6PM for the Monday Potluck open mic hoping to get a spot but I didn’t get called up.
Day two started with me making 100 copies of Encino Man. Pauly, wearing the same T-shirt as the day before, then gave me access to his MySpace, where he had an absolutely insane amount of messages, the majority of which were from extraordinarily beautiful women. I was instructed to interact with the fans, but was quickly criticised for not writing in his style (i.e., I spelled too many things correctly.) “Hey there. How are you?” turned into “hey pretty gurl, whatsup with u” and “Come to the show!” turned into “u shuld make it out to the show, buddddyyy.” I was genuinely impressed with his commitment to staying true to his act no matter how dated and shitty it was. It reminded me in a way of Captain America, a man out of his own era and lost in the new world, but with less Super Soldier Serum and more complaining about how critics didn't "understand" him and how I couldn’t find the right bed for his dog online.
Day three was the same mind-numbing and repetitive shit, but day four was special. On day four, Pauly called me into his office and declared that he was going to sue Sacha Baron Cohen and the producers of Bruno for stealing the idea for a mockumentary he shot in 2007 called Adopted. In the film, Pauly plays himself as he travels to Africa to adopt a child while engaging in wacky stunts like dressing up as Michael Jackson and making lots of AIDS jokes. Bruno had apparently begun production a few months after Adopted, so this was definitely a worthy use of our court system. “This will be great publicity for the film!” one of the lawyers told me.
It had been a few days and I still hadn’t had the chance to do any standup yet, so I decided to see if I could get some stage time: “Uh, Pauly. I don’t mean to be rude, but you said I’d get to do five-minute sets on the days I helped you out.” Pauly erupted, “Hey, what the fuck, dude! Don’t bitch at me. Don’t you wanna be part of the Store, man? Part of the family? I can make that happen, dude. Stick it out and keep working hard and maybe in a few months I can throw you a few bucks now and then.” I told him I just wanted to be able to perform in front of an audience. “The Comedy Store is the place to be for that, dude.” Then Pauly asked me to go for a coffee run. He gave me enough cash to just buy one.
On day five, the Monday of the next week, I got to sit in on a "joke writing session". This consisted of Pauly breathlessly ranting while his assistant transcribed. He would talk for five minutes without stopping about a million topics while still managing to say absolutely nothing of substance, then his assistant would mould what he wrote down into jokes with setups, punchlines and tags. By the end of the hour, Pauly had five minutes of new material to wheeze the juice with. I asked Pauly if I could finish my shift in time to do the Potluck show, but Pauly told me he needed a burrito.
After returning from Baja Fresh (where I'd been sent with just enough cash to buy one burrito, obviously) he informed me it was my lucky day and that he could get me on a show at midnight if I spoke to the host, a comic named Don Barris. It was 7PM and my parents' house was an hour away, so there I was, again, awkwardly sitting outside of the bar playing Tetris on my phone. Back to square one.
After a few hours of waiting, I met Don, a tall and husky bald man in his forties, and he informed me that Pauly was mistaken about me getting any stage time. The shows he hosted were the Ding Dong Show and the Barris-Kennedy Overdrive, one of which is a panel show featuring mentally ill people for the audience to make fun of, and the other was an air guitar “concert”. I reluctantly stuck around, helping set up the chairs and laughing at all the jokes because the only other member of the audience was sleeping and may or may not have been a male prostitute.
After the show, the comedians all got together to hang out in the Green Room and I was invited to join. I’m not really sure why, but Don kept getting into a boxing stance and smacking me in the shoulder, yelling “Fight me! Fight me!” Every time I would back away, he would smack me again. Eventually he slapped me in the face while his friends pointed and laughed. It was one of the most humiliating things I have ever experienced, and I totally cried in my bed that night. The next morning, I decided not to show up, ignoring Pauly’s voicemail. He did not call me back after that.
A few weeks later while standing in line for the open mic at another comedy club, I was approached by one of the Comedy Store employees I was vaguely acquainted with, “You’re Pauly’s new intern, right?” “Not any more. It was awful," I told him. After running him through the experience and how I never managed to get a spot at the Potluck, he told me, “Oof, yeah. You know, if you wanted to do the open mic on Sunday and Monday, you should have just asked. You didn’t have to put yourself through all of that shit. Just say so next time and I’ll squeeze you in.” Lesson learned.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanDBrown
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