The Bellagio Hotel and Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
About a third of the way through the hype surrounding the release of The Comedy Delivery System Lenny found himself sitting at the head table of a party at Picasso, one of the very best restaurants in town.
The party was to celebrate his wedding to his long-time girlfriend, Ann Shelton. The wedding had been a small, tasteful affair at the Big Elvis Wedding Chapel officiated by an Elvis impersonator the size of a small frigate. His best man Larry and another Elvis impersonator attended Lenny; two Caesars Palace showgirls attended the bride.
In attendance were Morty Klineman, Professional Talent Agent, Ray Evans gossip columnist for the Las Vegas Herald, Larry’s father Dan (who just happened to be visiting) and, of course, Jerry the Groupie.
Lenny liked where he was sitting. Professionally he had accomplished all he’d ever dreamed of. More, really, when you got right down to it. When he was a kid dreaming of being a comedian and playing Vegas he certainly hadn’t wasted time wondering what it would be like to play a 4,100-seat arena modeled after the Roman Colosseum. In fact, he hadn’t even thought in terms of what they had had at Las VegasUSA: a large hotel right on The Strip with a nice 1,000 seat theater; as a kid, and even once he had started his career as a comedian, he thought more in terms of playing one of the many comedy clubs in Vegas regularly while spending most of his time on the road.
He looked around the large table, saw the people who were there, and thought he had made it this far despite appearing to fight it every step of the way.
Take his new wife, for instance; he had fought that every step of the way at first. They had met in classic boy-meets-girl fashion when she pulled him over to give him a speeding ticket. She had liked him immediately and only issued him a ticket (instead of a warning) because if she did she might be able to see him in court one day. But it wasn’t love at first sight for Lenny. First off, he was pissed she was giving him a goddamn speeding ticket and even got worked up when Larry, who was just along to pay half the gas money anyway, had the nerve to suggest the cute, blonde police officer liked him, and he had really been annoyed Larry invited her to come see their set later that night.
Lenny really didn’t look upon Officer Shelton as anything more than a pain in the neck until he saw her that night in a sheer black blouse with enough black flowers on it to cover everything up. But he wasn’t interested in her (stupid) suggestion that he and Larry work together and was even less impressed when she jumped on Larry using the phrase ‘regular guys’ and said it would be the perfect stage name.
It wasn’t until a while later when Officer Shelton went out of her way to show up at one of their shows (working together as Lenny and Larry because the name The Regular Guys was still too dumb to consider) and had had a couple of drinks together after Larry had conveniently gone to bed that Lenny began to change his opinion of this female Joe Friday. She made him laugh, and he liked her determination and smarts as much he wanted to see her naked.
And he took in Larry. As usual, he had been wrong about that, too. Only someone who knew absolutely nothing about show business – like Ann Shelton – would suggest that two men pair up and do comedy together. And only a show business neophyte – like Larry, for instance – would think it a good idea, and only someone so completely desperate and going nowhere in his career – like Lenny – would actually concede to doing it.
Looking back, the desire not to do it had been so strong Lenny couldn’t really remember why he had gone through with it in the first place. Every instinct told him it wouldn’t work; however, his instincts over the years had not been noted for their successes and he really didn’t have anything to lose: he had arranged their first performance nowhere near where anyone he knew could possibly see him so when they did bomb it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.
But something happened once they got to the small comedy club that was hosting the open mike night. Larry, for one, had a new spring in his step and he looked more confident than Lenny could remember seeing him when he was working on his own. He actually looked like a performer, and, for reasons Lenny himself couldn’t understand at all, appeared to be exuding confidence. Officially, Lenny still thought they would ‘bomb’ but after seeing the change in Larry he was willing to give him the benefit of his substantial doubt.
Everything changed the second they hit the stage. From that moment Lenny felt completely and utterly at home. He had always felt comfortable in front of a crowd, but from the start with Larry he had felt like he was doing exactly what he should be doing and that everything else he had done in his life had been a waste of time.
In retrospect, the only thing he had been right about from the start had been the hiring of Morty, and even then he had almost botched that up by not hiring him. Morty reputedly hadn’t repped anyone decent since he provided the USO with talent for their big Valley Forge blowout in 1778, but Larry said he trusted Morty and Lenny really liked Morty too and felt comfortable around him.
Morty had done what any good agent does – find appropriate venues, at appropriate fees, for his clients to work their talents in – brilliantly, instinctively knowing when his clients were – and were not – ready to try something bigger. He knew when to cajole them and when to praise them and when they needed to hear they were still pretty funny despite the opinion of that night’s crowd. And while, sure, there had been some luck along the way, Morty had ensured he was in position to take those opportunities for Lenny and Larry before other agents were able to take them for their clients.
After dinner, as everyone was sitting around drinking and not really wanting to leave one of the great dining rooms of the world, Lenny was walking around a bit when he ran into Larry’s dad and Morty sharing a table. Of similar ages, the pair had always enjoyed each other’s company and had retired to a table in a corner for an evening’s conversation; Morty had ordered a bottle of $6,000 champagne with which to accent this conversation, doing so with the same ease it would have taken to order two soda pops from a passing vendor at a ballgame.
“Lenny, do you live like this all the time?” Larry’s dad asked.
“No, no, of course not, Pop,” Lenny said.
Larry’s dad looked reassured.
“Well, at least not more than three or four times a week,” he said with a wink.
Dad had sounded more worried than anything. Dad had always enjoyed a modestly comfortable life and was a subscriber to the early to bed, early to rise philosophy: relax with a good book after dinner, map out tomorrow and then retire for a good night’s sleep. Enjoying a six grand bottle of champagne at a private party at one of the world’s great restaurants was as foreign to him as, well, a $6,000 bottle of champagne and he had seen money change people. He was glad to see that his son and Lenny, while certainly enjoying a standard of living commensurate with their income, weren’t completely out in the stratosphere. They were still basically the same people they had been when he had first seen them perform a few months after teaming up and dinner had been at the hotel coffee shop.
Dad was doing a good job of adapting to the lap of luxury, however. He did not throw a fit and declare a boycott of the $6,000 bottle of champagne; in fact, he seemed to rather enjoy it. And – in his role as Father of one of The Regular Guys and Esteemed Friend to the other – he had been treated royally during his stay in Sin City. He had a luxurious, staffed suite at Caesars Palace that was normally reserved for only the highest of high rollers and – after insisting he was perfectly capable of unpacking his own bags, thank you – he stopped fighting them and allowed himself to be pampered left and right, even developing a fondness for the omelets prepared by the chef assigned to his suite. His son even took him on his first limousine ride.
“When in Rome, or when in Caesars, or something like that,” he was heard to have said while the chauffeur held the door open for him.
He did draw the line at gambling, more because he lacked any competitive instincts than on any moral grounds and he was not so completely worldly that he could order another $6,000 bottle of champagne that he himself was not going to pay for.
“That’s about what I made my first year in the ministry,” he told Morty, who had invited him to order the next round himself, saying it was great fun. “I can’t make my son pay for this.”
“I can,” Morty said, summoning the waiter. “Besides, he’s only paying for half of it; and he can afford it; trust me.”
After dinner Larry and the new Mrs. Lenny found themselves standing on a patio outside Picasso. The Bellagio fountains had just finished performing, and the patio was right on the lake and provided a spectacular view.
“This is making both of us very happy,” Larry said. “You two have come a long way, both together and individually. I, personally, am glad to see you two bound in holy matrimony.”
“I am too. It was time. We’ve been together an awfully long time; my mom had even stopped asking questions about when I was going to get married.”
“Of course she died a few years back,” Larry said. “That sorta put a stop to it.”
Ann Shelton laughed. She remembered both Lenny and Larry dropping everything and coming out to see her right after her mom died. It hadn’t been particularly necessary, but it was touching. Her dad had died about a year after she had joined the police force.
“You’d be surprised. An offspring who never produced grandchildren is always haunted.”
“I was actually beginning to wonder if I’d ever be a best man.”
“There was never any doubt. As long as Lenny and I were one, I couldn’t marry anyone else.”
“You’ve both had others though.” It was a statement, not a question.
Ann Shelton nodded matter-of-factly.
“You never passed judgment though. Never with me, and we’re pretty close, and Lenny said the same thing.”
“You’ll both be going to hell, of course,” he said.
“Really, I can’t even handle my own relationships,” Larry said. “I hardly need to butt in those of others.”
They stood there on the porch and watched the next fountain show begin. It lasted five minutes and was accompanied by the music of Frank Sinatra. After it ended a waiter came by and refilled their champagne glasses.
“I thought you were going to give it a year?” Larry asked. When Lenny had first proposed to Ann, she had accepted but said she had put a lot of work into her career and wanted to become chief of police before she left it. Instead of waiting a year though, their wedding day was just over six months from the day she was promoted to chief.
“I thought I was too. I was prepared to. I was ready after a couple of months actually.”
“Yeah. I was surprised. It was as if on day 61 I was no longer really interested.”
“Any particular reason?”
“Circumstantially, it’s a completely different job. You’re dealing with politicians and other civilians more than you are actually doing any hands-on running of the department, and you’re certainly doing zero policing, as assistant chief of a small force I got out in the field every now and then. But I knew that would happen. That was hardly a surprise.”
Ann took a drink of champagne and considered matters a moment. Larry, and she thought this his very best trait, stood there quietly and let her consider matters at leisure.
“Intrinsically,” she said a moment or two later. “I suppose I came to the end of my interest. I gave it a couple extra months just to be sure.”
“Interesting losing interest in something you worked so long for.”
“Tell me about it; that’s why I gave it a couple of extra months. But I suppose there comes a time when you’ve got to call it a day. Plus, I was tired of being apart from Lenny. This is the best time for this to happen.”
Inevitably, Jerry the Groupie appeared.
“Good evening, Jerry,” Larry said.
“Hey Lar,” Jerry said casually as if they’d grown up together and shared the sort of experiences that two friends who have nothing to prove to each other have gone through. Jerry was the only person on Earth who addressed Larry as Lar, which Larry actually thought rather funny.
“Ann, every congratulation and good wish,” he said before kissing her hand.
“Thank you, Jerry,” Ann Shelton said, her smile indicating her entire life had been a prelude to receiving congratulations from Jerry and she could now move on to more mundane things like being the wife of one of show business’ biggest stars. “We’re glad you could come.”
Jerry muttered something gracious, told Larry he’d see him on the golf course later in the week and then withdrew.
“Who the hell is he again?” Ann Shelton asked.
“A friend of mine.”
“I’ve seen him around for years. Where’d you meet him anyway?”
“I’m not entirely sure; I think we inherited him somewhere around the Toby Flotsam era.”
Ann, her mind accustomed to remembering things, started thinking; Larry could almost hear her ruffling through her mental filing cabinet.
“Interestingly, I can’t remember. What does he do?”
“I don’t know,” Larry said. “Plays golf with me every now and then. Hangs around backstage; scams on women. He has no visible source of income, save what he wins from me on the course. He has some breeding though; I suspect he inherited some money.”
“Do we know his last name?”
Larry laughed. He had, at least, picked that up over the years.
“Wright. Jerry Wright’s his name. I haven’t checked his ID, though, or anything.”
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Los Angeles, California
Two more years passed, two years in which The Regular Guys, already Vegas headliners with the biggest selling comedy album to their credit, became one of the most popular acts in history.
Their shows at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace sold out as far in advance as Caesars Palace cared to sell tickets. In fact, demand for Regular Guy tickets was so great Conglomerate Inc. asked Morty if his boys would mind doing one show a week at the 15,000-seat arena at The Las VegasUSA Hotel and Casino. Lenny and Larry were delighted to return to the scene of their first major crime on the Las Vegas Strip and these sold out just as fast as tickets could be printed, too.
Lenny continued to do supporting roles in really good movies, one of which even included a very small cameo by Larry.
Matters got completely out of hand however when two more Regular Guy CD’s were released, Cool Rockin’ Daddies and No Place Left To Hide.
Cool Rockin’ Daddies went gold about ten minutes after being released and went platinum a couple of hours later. In time it would supplant The Comedy Delivery System as the biggest selling comedy album of all time, eventually pass it as the sixth biggest selling album ever, end up selling a whopping 30 million copies and become the biggest selling recording of all time.
It remained the biggest-selling recording of all time until No Place Left To Hide hit stores.
No Place Left To Hide went gold roughly a nanosecond after being released and platinum sixty seconds later and was multi-platinum by lunch. Like Cool Rockin’ Daddies, it too would pass The Comedy Delivery System, now number seven, on the all-time sales list and eventually sell 33 million copies and dethrone Cool Rockin’ Daddies as the biggest selling album of all time.
Fueled by an endless string of sold-out shows in Vegas and three of the seven biggest selling records ever, including the two biggest in history, The Regular Guys took a few weeks between Caesars Palace contracts to go on a modest national tour.
The tour was a triumph from the start and erased any doubt that The Regular Guys were the biggest act in the world. It played sold-out stadiums from Phoenix to Miami to Boston to Seattle and a lot of places in between, including a show in Lenny’s hometown of Chicago where The Regular Guys sold out the new Soldier Field, which Larry personally thought was the ugliest man-made structure on earth, though he didn’t mention that to the 80,000 Chicagoans in attendance.
Lenny and Larry hadn’t been on the road for years, and they found there was a big difference between two up and coming comedians hitting the road and the biggest act in show business hitting the road.
Both, frankly, found it rather tedious. They were so popular now that even a simple matter like being transported to the stadium or to the radio station that was promoting their gig was a major tactical evolution on par with transporting the Fifth Marines, and the only things they really saw in each town was their hotel and the stadium they were playing.
But traveling aside, it was a spectacular tour. The crowds were insane, and The Regular Guys once again found themselves playing in front of crowds who had come not only expecting to laugh but were also looking to laugh. They could literally, but didn’t, read from the phone book for an hour and still get a few laughs.
The tour ended in Los Angeles with a show at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum where 100,000 strong showed up, a record for comedians, but well short of the stadium record of 134,000 who showed up for a Billy Graham crusade back in the sixties.
It had been a wonderful show; one of their best ever, Morty thought.
“Oh, gee whiz, partner,” Lenny said after the show as they entered a trailer behind the arches in the open end of the stadium. “I have no idea how in the heck we are ever going to top that.”
He was almost short of breath, which was understandable considering 1) they had just kept 100,000 people laughing for an hour and a half, and 2) the walk offstage was about the length of a football field. The stage was in the center of the stadium, and The Regular Guys had to walk towards the open end of the stadium and the Coliseum field is 680 feet, 2 inches long at the floor.
When they arrived at the end of the field, they walked up the stairs that took them to the peristyle and walked to the main arch of the colonnade, right beneath the Olympic flame. They turned and faced the standing, cheering throng and spent a minute or so waving, a minute or so that Larry really didn’t want to end. Then they had turned around and walked under the main arch and entered the trailer.
As he stood in the large, luxurious trailer, Larry considered that 30 seconds ago he was standing at the base of the arch that held the Olympic flame at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and had 100,000 people cheering him. Even Larry, raised to shun any sort of attention – much less the applause of one hundred thousand strong – had to admit it felt pretty good.
“Maybe they can build two of these on top of each other,” he said. “That was great; I had a ball.”
“Now I know why rock stars destroy hotel rooms. I have enough energy to build a freeway overpass right now.”
“It’s LA, Lenny, they could always use another freeway.”
“Good God, a hundred thousand people,” Lenny said, appearing to calm down a bit. “Were we funny? I can’t even remember.”
“I think so,” Larry said truthfully; he couldn’t remember either, the past couple hours were a complete blur. If their memories didn’t improve he could always rely on The Regular Guys Live at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum DVD that would be released in a couple of months.
Lenny went to the bar and poured each of them a glass of port; Lenny swigged his down in one gulp; Larry took two to down his. Lenny produced refills.
Just then Ann and Morty walked in. They had enjoyed the show from a private box in the Coliseum press box. After the show, they had taken the elevator down to the main concourse where a couple of golf carts manned by Los Angeles police officers drove them to the trailer.
“Guys, you knocked ‘em dead,” Morty said. “Totally and completely dead. No one is left standing.”
“Really?” Larry asked.
Morty could tell Larry was at least halfway serious.
“Oh yeah. You had a doubt?”
“We were having some trouble remembering. This is pretty overwhelming.”
“You two were spectacular,” Ann Shelton said. “You were very funny,” Ann said warmly as she kissed her husband and hugged Larry.
“I told you,” Morty said.
“How’d it look from up top?” Larry asked. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was big, really big, and both Lenny and Larry were worried that a stadium with 93 rows and two performers on a stage in the middle of the field might seem rather impersonal. To combat this, the show was also shown on four large video screens that had been installed on all four sides above the stage.
“It looked really good,” Morty reported. “We were as high as you could get and it looked great. As intimate as you could get under the circumstances, really.”
“Good, good. Larry do you want to eat or shall we blow this place?” Lenny asked. Both Lenny and Larry liked to be a little hungry when they took the stage and usually ate soon after their show ended. The trailer was catered, of course, but while Larry was hungry, he could tell Lenny wanted to get home. Besides, their private, chartered plane would be catered, and if there was nothing on the plane to their taste they could call Caesars Palace and have whatever they wanted waiting for them in The Regular Guys suite should they have nothing in their refrigerators at home.
So the Regular Guys, Ann and Morty left the trailer and headed for a nearby helicopter that was waiting to take them to a small airport where their plane was waiting to take them back to Vegas. They would be home within a couple of hours. They were pleased with that. Though The Regular Guys traveled luxuriously, it had been a grueling tour and both were looking forward to a couple of weeks off before their next gig at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace began. Lenny and Ann were going to a private island in the Caribbean. Larry, tired of traveling and desirous of sleeping in his own bed for a while, wasn’t sure what he was going to do, except catch up on his rest and his personal reading and later visit the house he was building in Colorado.