Fired! by Bill Maher, Felicity Huffman, and Bob Saget by Bill Maher, Felicity Huffman, and Bob Saget - Read Online

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Fired! - Bill Maher

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part.

Chapter 1

The Job So Terrible

You Can Only Hope to

Be Fired

Work is the province of cattle.

Dorothy Parker

I do not like work, even when someone else does it.

Mark Twain

I have only been fired once. I was let go from an office job where the boss told me that he was firing me because he wanted someone to work for him who, when he said, Jump! would say, How high? Ironically, the job was in the offices of the multiple sclerosis society, where the majority of our clients scooted around in motorized wheelchairs.

Rainn Wilson, actor

That’s a Fact

Andy Borowitz

I did a number of things in the ’80s I’m not proud of. On more than one occasion I shouted out the phrase, Everybody Wang Chung tonight. But there’s one thing I did that was so heinous, I’ve never told anyone about it. In 1984 I wrote for the TV showThe Facts of Life.

I’m sure everyone remembers the cultural phenomenon that wasThe Facts of Life. But for those of you who somehow missed it,The Facts of Life was a coming-of-age saga about four teenage girls at an exclusive boarding school in Peekskill, New York. There was Blair, the sarcastic beautiful one; Natalie, the sarcastic chubby one; Jo, the sarcastic tomboy; and Tootie, the sarcastic sistah. Watching over all of them was their mentor, Edna Garrett, also known as Mrs. Garrett or, when the girls were in full Fonzie mode, Mrs. G.

Oh, and here’s one more piece ofFacts of Life trivia: It was the worst television show ever produced. Now, given how monumentally it sucked, you may wonder, why did I agree to work on it? Well, quite simply, for the money. You see, I was the sarcastic whore onThe Facts of Life. But you have to give me a break: I was just out of college, I was broke, I didn’t have a car. I had to take the bus, which in L.A. is tantamount to eating out of a Dumpster.

I remember my first day on the show, going in to pitch stories to the producers. These were two middle-aged women charged with the responsibility of making sureThe Facts of Life did not lose its edge. And the show was at a critical point: It was moving from the safe confines of the boarding school to a whole new setting, a gourmet cheese shop cleverly named Edna’s Edibles. It was a move fraught with risk. There was no margin for error. And that was the hornets’ nest I was stepping into.

As I sat down in the producers’ office, I noticed that they each had coffee mugs with theFacts of Life logo on them. I was like, Cool mugs, where’d you get them? Mrs. Garrett gave them to us, one of them explained. It turns out that Charlotte Rae, the actress who played Mrs. Garrett, liked to reward the writers by giving themFacts of Life logo mugs, and the better job you did, the more mugs you got. Now, you want to talk about an incentive!

I started pitching my story, entitled Gamma Gamma or Bust, in which Blair, the sarcastic beautiful one, pulls out all the stops to get into the Gamma Gamma sorority. The producers took it in, chewed it over, and then one of them finally spoke. It’s an interesting story, Andy, she said. But what’s the ‘fact’?

Say what? I said.

The ‘fact,’ she said. "EveryFacts of Life story has a fact, a moral lesson, if you will, a deeper truth that the audience can take away with them."

Suddenly the room started to spin. I realized: They don’t know the show sucks. They think they’re doing Molière here. And I’m a comedian, I don’t really do moral lessons, so I just started spinning my wheels…A stitch in time saves nine? Neither a borrower nor a lender be? Finally, with their help, we agreed that the fact of my story would be Be yourself.

I started to write the script and I thought to myself, I’m going to try something that’s never been tried before onThe Facts of Life : I’m going to write funny things for the girls to say. I finished it up, handed it in, and didn’t hear anything back from the producers for a week. Finally I went up to one of them and said, Did you get a chance to look at my script?

Well, we did, Andy, she said, and quite frankly, we were disappointed in it.

What was wrong with it? I said.

Well, you didn’t get Tootie at all.

I asked her what she meant.

The way you wrote Tootie, she sounds exactly like Natalie.

I said, Well, maybe that’s because they’re both, you know, kind of sarcastic characters.

They’re not sarcastic, she said, genuinely offended. Natalie is wisecracking and Tootie is sassy. The way you’ve written them, you can’t tell them apart.

And I was like, Well, the audience will be able to tell them apart because one’s fat and one’s black. But I didn’t say that. Instead I said, Well, I’ll try to fix it in the next draft.

That’s all right, Andy, she said. We’ll take it from here.

All of a sudden I felt something I hadn’t felt since I started working there: I cared. I wanted to prove that I could writeThe Facts of Life. I wanted to prove that I got Tootie.

Well, as the season wore on, it became clear that the decision to move the show to a cheese shop was an unmitigated disaster. The girls were gaining weight at an alarming pace. To counteract this, the producers removed the muffins and cookies from the snack table and replaced them with carrots, celery, and lettuce. It was like we were being catered by Farmer McGregor. The girls noticed, and they were pissed.

At this point I was given one last chance to prove myself. The producers no longer trusted me to write a script on my own, so they teamed me up with their two pet writers, a team of eager-to-please suck-ups known only as the Two Jims. Our assignment: to write a fantasy sequence set twenty-five years in the future, when Jo, the sarcastic tomboy, would be Jo, a sarcastic high-powered businesswoman.

Now, I thought to myself, finally I’m being given a chance to play to my strengths. No facts, no moral lessons, just unbridled wackiness. So, with the Two Jims’ agreement, we wrote a scene in which Jo, inhabiting a futuristic world much like the Jetsons did, attempts a leveraged buyout of Spacely Sprockets.

The producers never told me what they thought of the scene, but the Two Jims later told me that they had been called into the producers’ office. We’re very disappointed in the Jo fantasy scene, the producers told them. But we don’t blame you—because we know Andy was in the room when it was written. I couldn’t believe it—I had become a cancer onThe Facts of Life !

Needless to say, I wasn’t asked back for a second season, which means I totally missed the arrival of the young George Clooney, who played a sarcastic handyman. But as I cleaned out my office on the last day of work, I noticed a gift box on the desk. I opened it and inside were twoFacts of Life mugs. Could it be that Mrs. Garrett, in her infinite wisdom, had seen something in me that no one else had? I was so excited, I picked them up and ran into the Two Jims’ office—and saw that each of them had received ten mugs.

As I look back on that year, I ask myself, Is there any moral lesson, any deeper truth that we can take away from this? I think it’s this: The only thing worse than being a whore is being a whore and totally sucking at it. And that, my friends, is a fact.

After being fired fromThe Facts of Life, Andy Borowitz was fired up, as often happens in Hollywood, and created the series that launched Will Smith’s acting career,The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He currently writes forThe New Yorker, The New York Times, and CNN, and is the creator of the very popular Web site and series of booksThe Borowitz Report.

FIRED FACT

Increased risk of heart attack faced by employer firing an employee in the week after wielding the ax: 100 percent.¹

The Big Red Shoe Diaries

Paul Feig

I was a teenage Ronald McDonald.

The summer after my freshman year of college, I was recruited by Tom Shaker, the director of my local repertory theater, to be a Ronald McDonald. Tom was the Ronald McDonald for the Detroit area and had become famous in the Ronald ranks when the helicopter he was riding in for an appearance hit some power lines as it was landing and crashed upside down in front of a parking lot full of horrified children. Tom crawled out of the wreckage, straightened his red wig, waved hello to the kids, and then proceeded to do his magic show as if nothing had happened. Because of this, he was given the Big Gold Shoe Award by the McDonald’s Corporation, an honor that had only been given out once before. I don’t know who the previous recipient was, but I have to assume that particular Ronald must have saved his platoon in Vietnam to have topped Tom’s accomplishment.

Tom was a big shot in the Ronald world after that, and so when he discovered that nearby Toledo, Ohio, had no Ronald of their own, he easily persuaded his bosses to give him this territory. They agreed, as long as he could find someone to don the red wig whenever he wasn’t available. Knowing I was an amateur magician, he immediately recruited me.

He told the McDonald’s people that I had been a professional clown for years and would be perfect for the job. The only problem was that I hadn’t been a professional clown for years.

I hadn’t been a clown ever.

True, I had taught myself to juggle three balls in a simple pattern, but that was the extent of my experience with professional buffoonery. However, Tom was convinced I could do it and so he put me into full Ronald costume and makeup and drove me down to the corporate offices in Toledo to show them what an amazing Ronald I would make.

As I nervously sat down outside of the boardroom to put on my clown shoes, Tom handed me three colorful balls and told me to walk in, juggle, be funny with the board members, and then get out. He went inside and, just as I finished tying my big red shoes, the boardroom doors flew open and Tom presented me grandly to the room.

I headed in with my mind racing and quickly realized that I had never walked in large clown shoes in my life. I immediately started tripping and catching the fronts of the shoes on the conference room carpeting. I stumbled like a drunk over to the board of directors as my wig slid forward, giving me an Elephant Man–shaped head. Seeing my trouble, Tom quickly started laughing uproariously, as if the inability to walk was part of my clown act. I tripped up to the table and immediately started to juggle. Unfortunately Tom had given me hollow plastic balls that were too light. I might have been able to juggle them with my bare hands, but Ronald McDonald wears gloves, and so the balls went everywhere, one hitting the conference table and bouncing all the way down to the CEO. Once again Tom howled with laughter to indicate that another part of my clown act was incompetent juggling. I then tried to be funny but quickly realized I didn’t know what was funny about Ronald McDonald. I’d seen him in commercials for years but had never found him the least bit amusing. He was usually enthusiastic about pushing hamburgers, but I’d never seen him actually make anybody laugh. So, at a loss, I just walked around the table and for some reason turned into a greasepainted Don Rickles. I hurled barbs around the room, making fun of the men’s ties and the women’s earrings, and I even pinched the fleshy cheeks of the CEO as if he were a fat baby. I then turned and tripped back out of the room, falling out the door and belly flopping onto the carpet. And once again I heard Tom screaming with laughter, conning the board of directors into believing that their new prospective Ronald was a comic genius.

And believe it or not, I actually got the job. I guess finding guys who were willing to be Ronald McDonald was more difficult than I had imagined. And I was about to find out why.

My first appearance as Ronald was at an elementary school on their last day before summer vacation. I was terrified because not only was it my first gig as Ronald but a gang of McDonald’s representatives had come down to watch my act. I came out in front of a gym full of rowdy children, for whom the only thing separating them from three months of vacation was me. I quickly started my magic show with a funny trick I had made up the night before. I told the kids I was going to make Chicken McNuggets. I pulled out a pan and slapped on the lid, then said a few magic words. I pulled off the lid and out popped a skinny rubber chicken. The kids all laughed uproariously, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

That was, until I heard a loud voice from the back of the room yell, Ha ha ha, that’s very funny, Ronald, but that’s not a Chicken McNugget! Chicken McNuggets are tender and delicious.

I looked up to see one of the McDonald’s reps standing at the back of the gym glaring at me as he waved to the kids, trying to cover his anger. I immediately started to sweat, realizing that every trick in my act had been based around some form of making fun of McDonald’s food.

As I continued with my show, which I was now desperately editing on the fly, the kids became restless. The McDonald’s reps scribbled notes on their legal pads, as sweat poured from under my wig, turning my clown makeup into a Francis Bacon painting.

By the time I finished, I looked like Alice Cooper, and I knew I had to get out of there.

As I started to head for the door, the principal announced that I, Ronald, was going to give out coupons for free hamburgers, which I had completely forgotten about. In an instant, two hundred kids screamed and rushed me, pushing me into a corner. I desperately tried to hand out the pocketful of coupons as the frenzy grew and the kids ignored the pleas of their teachers to stop crushing me. Fearing for my life, I threw the coupons up into the air. The kids all screamed again and ran to catch the free hamburger vouchers that fluttered down on them like propaganda leaflets dropped over an enemy battlefield. I pushed my way out of the corner, grabbed my magic gear, and ran for the door. Having snatched up all the coupons, the kids turned and saw me fleeing. Free hamburgers! they all yelled as they ran after me like the girls chasing the Beatles inA Hard Day’s Night. I fled through a fire exit, sprinted through the parking lot, and jumped in my Dodge Coronet. Kids were pouring out of the school, screaming and celebrating their release. They saw me and surged toward my car. As I put the Coronet in gear, I saw the head corporate rep for McDonald’s push through the kids and bound toward me with a big insane smile on his face.

Ronald! he yelled as he ran up, Ronald, I just wanted to shake your hand!

He reached in the window and grabbed my hand, squeezing it as hard as he could, like he was trying to break my fingers, then leaned in and hissed angrily in my face, Ronald—doesn’t—drive!

Believe it or not, they didn’t fire me. I wanted them to but they wouldn’t. They simply wouldn’t fire me because no one else wanted the job and because I was too young to realize I could actually fire myself. My summer turned into a nightmare of parades in which I was mercilessly heckled by the crowd, and in-store appearances at which kids either punched me, pulled off my wig, or burst into tears when I came near. I even got booed when I threw out the opening pitch at a Toledo Mud-hens game. Who knew Ronald McDonald commanded so little respect in the real world?

When my Ronald summer ended, I gave Tom back the bright yellow suit, striped socks, big red shoes, and bright red wig and told him I was finished. Like a soldier completing his tour of duty in a war zone, I was retiring back to civilian life in the hopes of putting my battlefield trauma behind me. I had attempted to make children laugh, and I had paid dearly.

You see, sometimes not getting fired is worse than being fired, and to this day, whenever I see a clown, any clown—be he a corporate shill or a birthday clown, dunking-tank fodder or simply one of those clowns you incongruously see driving a dirty old van on the way to some low-paying gig—I always feel sorry for him or her, knowing that the world of kid comedy is a seamy, greasepainted Babylon.

And whenever I see a Ronald McDonald in a TV commercial, surrounded by kids who are paid to pretend that they actually like him and find him funny, I always think, You poor sucker. They’ve got you living in a dream world.

Oh, well. At least he’s not driving around in a dirty old van.

Yet.

Paul Feig is not driving around in a dirty old van. He created the cult hit TV showFreaks and Geeks and is currently directing episodes of the Emmy Award–winning showArrested Development and The Office. He is the author ofKick Me and SuperStud.

FIRED FACT

Two former caretakers for Koko, the gorilla who communicates with humans using sign language, claim they were fired for refusing to perform bizarre sexual acts with the famous gorilla, citing Koko’s alleged nipple fetish. They are seeking more than $1 million in damages for sexual discrimination and wrongful termination. Kendra Keller, one of the women suing, was quoted as saying, Koko’s celebrity status doesn’t give her a pass for inappropriate behavior.²

Bimmy in Training

Larry Charles

I had just gotten my driver’s license but still had never really driven when I got my first job as a cab driver for Yellow Cab in Monticello. Yellow Cab was the biggest cab company in the Catskills and was always in desperate need of drivers. Driver demographics broke down along two lines, lifers (guys who lived in the area, were never leaving, and drank their paychecks away) and guys like me (summer-job types with lives back in the city, girlfriends, college, but who with one false move could