The first nine chapters of The Regular Guys are free. Enjoy.
A Big City In The Midwest
A week or so passed, and one day Larry found himself sitting in Lenny’s living room. Lenny, having decided he was now in possession of a career that wasn’t going anywhere, had relented somewhat on the idea of working with a partner. He wasn’t ready to run out and get Lenny and Larry t-shirts made up, but he was able to discuss the matter without creating force fields.
“What are we going to do for material?” Lenny asked, logically.
“Material’s overrated,” Larry said. “We can wing it.”
“Wing it?” Lenny said as if Larry had recommended Lenny stick a pencil in his ear. “Wing it?”
“Sure, it’s boring reciting the same lines every night; any idiot can do that; we do it every night. If we wing it we can be fresh every night.”
“If we wing it we can be boring every night. It’ll never work,” Lenny said dismissively. “Who the hell wants to hear two losers winging it? We’ll last five minutes.”
Larry heard the sound of what appeared to be a muffled phone ring. Lenny reached into his pocket and fished out his phone. He looked at the screen, saw who was calling and uttered a vulgar term for poop. It was Lenny’s girlfriend of several years.
Larry only got Lenny’s side of the conversation, but he did have the benefit of being able to watch Lenny’s body language. It wasn’t pretty; Lenny was reacting as if someone were trying to poison him.
Lenny actually didn’t talk much. After a couple-three minutes, Lenny said “No, I am not doing that” and “We’ve been through this before!” sternly before yanking the phone from his ear; he looked as if he wanted to hang it up before realizing it was a mobile and turning it off and throwing it into a chair a couple of feet from where Larry was sitting.
Lenny sat slouched; he looked defeated.
“That didn’t sound like a happy conversation,” Larry said.
“It wasn’t. They haven’t been for a while.”
Larry was too Lutheran to ask any questions. If Lenny wanted him to know anything, he’d tell him.
Lenny got up, walked to the kitchen, which wasn’t really a hike in his small apartment, got a surprisingly good bottle of scotch out and made himself a drink. He poured one for Larry too, even though he had no idea whether or not Larry wanted a drink.
“Here,” Lenny said, putting the drink on the coffee table in front of him. “I suppose I could’ve asked if you wanted one or not.”
“That’s all right. I enjoy a good scotch every now and then.” Larry, God bless him, couldn’t tell good scotch from Drano, but in the finest Lutheran tradition he meant well.
“This is good stuff. Single malt, from the highlands.”
Larry nodded knowingly, as if he were the go-to guy on single malts from the highlands. He did not, in fact, know what a single malt from the highlands was and would’ve been hard-pressed to tell the difference between that and a double malted from the local Dairy Queen.
Lenny went and sat back down in his old recliner. Larry settled in and put his feet up on a table. From the looks of the table, his weren’t the first feet to rest there; Lenny’s apartment was pretty dumpy.
“We’ve been going together for a few years,” Lenny said, apropos of nothing. “She would like me to stop performing so I can get a real job and marry her.”
Lenny took a swig of his drink; Larry, not entirely certain what was in his glass, sniffed it and regarded it suspiciously. Lenny noticed.
“Oh, here, let me put some water in that for you.”
Lenny did that and returned.
“You don’t want to get married?”
“Well, I’m not completely averse to that. But now’s not the time.”
“How do you know?”
“I know. One, I’m not ready for a real job yet. Two, look at this place. I can hardly live with myself, much less anyone else.” Lenny made a motion with his head inviting Larry to look at his bachelor pad.
Lenny had a point; his apartment was small and messy and Larry was surprised to hear that Lenny had a girlfriend because the place showed no signs of having had any female influence ever. From the clothes on the floor to the Early Bachelor furniture that had not been bought new, at least by Lenny, the only place that looked like it had had any sort of thought given to it was a bookcase, which, though too small to handle Lenny’s fair-sized personal library, at least showed some signs of organization. Lenny also had a habit of eating fast food, judging by the collection of bags located throughout the apartment.
“She suggests I take the insurance exam and sell insurance. I don’t want to sell insurance. So I’m resisting. Something says it wouldn’t be right. You gotta trust your instincts sometimes.”
Larry nodded. He’d followed an instinct or two in his time as well. It was the main reason he was sitting in Lenny’s living room right now.
“I thought about it long and hard though. She made a compelling case. But I’m a performer; I may not be a particularly good performer, but performers perform and, until nobody books me anymore I’ll probably keep at it.”
Larry felt for his new friend. It appeared he liked his girlfriend, but it was plain he wanted to be on stage. On the other hand, Larry came from a long line of people who did seemingly boring things like sell insurance and teach and seemed to pass worthwhile lives.
“Lenny, people need insurance.”
Lenny sat up, leaned forward, rested his elbows on his knees and cradled his drink in his hand. He nodded significantly. “I know, my friend. I know. I need it, you need it; we all need it. God bless Lloyd’s of London and Allstate. But they shouldn’t have to buy it from me.”
Open Mic Night
Dive Comedy Club
Somewhere In The Midwest
Lenny and Larry, appearing as Lenny and Larry because Lenny still thought the name Regular Guys was ‘gay’, took the stage for the first time at an open mic night in a large town a few hours drive away. They went that far because Lenny fully expected to bomb and he had no desire to do so in the town he lived in, especially if he would need to sell insurance to some of them at a later date.
And, at Lenny’s insistence, they had a few minutes of material prepared. Officially, Lenny was still open to the idea of winging it, but he wanted to be prepared just in case. Though they had reviewed the material, Larry had a copy of the material folded in a pocket; he didn’t expect to need it, but he thought the script might make a nice prop.
The two waited off to the side of the stage while a young man finished a set that was more angry than funny. The emcee came out and began introducing Lenny and Larry.
“OK fans, we got some really funny comedians still to come your way tonight, but before we get to them, let’s bring out our next act…”
That got some good laughs; Larry liked that; it was a good line and he thought that meant the crowd was in the mood to laugh. Lenny didn’t like the fact the emcee was funnier than he and Larry would probably be. He hoped the valet hadn’t parked the car yet because he was sure he would need it within five minutes.
“This had better frigging work, dingwad,” Lenny said. “I do NOT want to sell insurance.”
Larry looked at Lenny and smiled. Lenny noticed Larry had a certain gleam in his eye.
“…seriously, I’m kidding folks. They’re really funny guys, ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Lenny and Larry!”
There was no backstage for amateur night. Comedians waited on the side of the stage next to the audience. Larry took the stairs leading to the stage and jumped on stage as if he were doing Swan Lake; Lenny followed, taking pictures of the crowd with his phone.
Larry, who turned out to be a ham once you put a spotlight on him, was bowing when Lenny came and nudged him out of the way so he could bow and take more pictures, causing Larry to trip and almost fall off the stage, thereby accounting for The Regular Guys’ first laugh.
It went pretty well from there, though since it was Open Mike Night and expectations were rock bottom to begin with so anything above getting pelted with beer would’ve been considered a success.
Lenny and Larry did amateur nights around their area for a while. Though any entertainment act takes time to hone, both were pleased from the start. They were both funny, smart men who took an interest in the world around them and were usually able to say funny things about current events or even banal things like Larry’s trying to buy a new cell phone or Lenny’s losing a dinner plate and later finding it in the microwave.
The only problem was Lenny had – infrequently – tried to reach for the gutter when they weren’t getting immediate laughs. Larry had no desire to reach into the gutter and, typically, counseled patience.
“Lenny, we have to stop going in the toilet. We don’t need to do that.”
“Yeah, I know, but if we go more than 30 seconds without laughs, subconsciously people start thinking we’re not funny.”
“Maybe, but we’re nice guys; people intuitively like us. Or they intuitively like me at least. I think the jury is still out on you, but they appear willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.”
Privately Lenny disagreed with his new partner. People, after all, laughed at the lowest common denominator, especially in a society like 21st-century America where television was now the centerpiece of most homes. Laughs were good for a comedian. Comedians who got laughs worked a lot. Lenny liked working.
But Larry had a point. While they were funny most of the time, their act was still under construction. They were still feeling each other out, getting to know each other personally as well as professionally, and every now and then there were times when they ended up staring at each other blankly for a couple of seconds.
Larry, typically, would try to put that awkward silence to work for them. He would pull out the script he had kept with him since their first performance together.
“Hold on,” Larry would say, pulling out the script when neither could think of anything to say. “We’ve got material prepared.”
“Seriously, folks, we do,” Lenny would say, showing a palm assuredly. “We’ve got comedy coming up. We are trained professionals with a proven comedy delivery system.”
Larry would pretend to be furtively looking for a joke.
“Really, there’s one here somewhere,” he would say.
“Again, we’re trained, professional comedians, ladies and gentlemen. Please don’t try this at home.”
Depending on the audience, there would be either a lot of laughter or a heckler yelling at them. Both Lenny and Larry enjoyed sparring with hecklers and a few minutes of their undivided attention usually got the show back on track and had the added bonus of shutting the heckler up.
Sometimes the audience seemed to enjoy the search for material. In this case, Larry would pretend to find something after ruffling through a few pages.
“Eureka! I have found a joke, my friend.”
“Most excellent. Is it funny?”
Larry would then pretend to review the joke.
“Not really,” he would say, shaking his head sadly. Or he might nod enthusiastically. Invariably he would begin a lame knock-knock joke or have two rabbis and a water salesman walking into a bar. Neither could finish a joke like that but, by then, their minds were humming again and they could wing their way out of it.
U.S. Highway 86
Outside A Medium Sized Town
Somewhere In The Midwest
After a while Lenny and Larry decided it was time to persuade people to pay them for their act. Lenny made some phone calls and got them a gig at the Ramada Inn again. They were booked in for two weeknights.
“I really would’ve preferred a weekend gig,” Lenny said. “Who’s gonna be there on a weeknight?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Larry said. “It’s our first paying gig. Besides, there’s no place to go but up.”
“Do you look on the bright side of everything?” Lenny said. “I’d like to have been with you on the Titanic. ‘Oooh, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to ride in a lifeboat! And they’re going to make a big movie about this, so we’ll all be famous!’”
Lenny had changed his voice to a falsetto while mocking his partner; Larry found himself laughing.
“I had 13 years of Lutheran schooling,” Larry said. “We know no other way. If something goes wrong, just turn it over and look at the bright side. If your Sunday picnic gets rained out, well, there are always ants and no one wants to play softball anyway cause someone is always pulling a muscle running to first; better to stay inside and play Scrabble, but even Scrabble has its dangers if you don’t have a good dictionary. So we’ll take the circumstances that present themselves and make them work for us. We got two weeknights? OK, we’ll take two weeknights and see what happens.”
“I hate you. I want to complain and you hit me with logic.”
“It’s hard to get over that kind of upbringing.”
The pair drove in silence for a while. Lenny liked the exchange because Larry seldom talked about himself. He prodded him some more.
“Thirteen years of Lutheran schooling is a lot. What did it lead to?”
“I was a radio announcer for a few years, actually. It’s what I wanted to do as a kid.”
Larry named the town. It was a fair size town in the Midwest.
“The last couple of years I was the announcer for their minor league baseball team.”
“That sounds interesting.”
“It was, really. I liked it, I had wanted to do it as a kid but then the team got sold and the new owners brought in their own announcer. I got laid off.”
“Couldn’t you have gone back to a station?”
“Yeah, but you know what? I woke up the next morning and didn’t miss it.”
“Really? You didn’t miss something you wanted to do your whole life? That’s interesting.”
“I found it interesting, too,” Larry said.
“So you never wanted to be a comedian?”
Larry shook his head.
“Not really. I did it first at an amateur night to impress a girl.”
“Did it work?”
“No. She would’ve been more impressed had I bussed her table efficiently.”
“What did you do then?”
“I worked as a newspaper reporter for a while. I didn’t take to that, though.”
“I had to spend too much time on the phone. I don’t like to bother people. I figured if someone had something important to tell me they’d call me.”
“Doesn’t work that way?”
“Not really. Consequently, I wasn’t a very good reporter.”
“So you naturally fell into comedy. It would follow. Do you really think two losers who can’t make it on their own can make this work?”
“Who knows? You never really know anything until you dive in and do it. I just want to see what happens. At the very least we’ll see Ann again.”
Lenny looked sharply at Larry.
“Ann? How do you know?”
“I called her and warned her. She probably has the speed trap set up waiting for us right now.”
Instinctively Lenny looked at the speedometer and took his foot off the gas even though he was within a few miles per hour of the established maximum speed for that stretch of U.S. Highway 86.
“Great, just what I need. The fuzz there.”
“Lenny, I think she likes you. She asked about you.”
“Of course she did. I’m a habitual criminal and she has a quota to meet.”
“No really. She seemed interested in you.”
“Well, I am free again,” Lenny said, sighing. Lenny and his now ex-girlfriend had broken up when Lenny had decided to team up with Larry.
The two drove in silence for a while.
“So,” Lenny said after a while. “You weren’t good enough to make the big leagues in radio, and you couldn’t hack it as a reporter. Is there any reason I shouldn’t turn this car around right now and call all this off?”
“Yeah, I’m your only option; it’s either this or sell insurance.”
Lenny again violated the terms of the Second Commandment, but he was smiling as he did it.
Ramada Inn Lounge
A Medium Sized Town
Somewhere In The Midwest
Lenny and Larry’s first professional appearance went fairly well. They delivered 20 minutes of mostly funny comedy, and, for their first time out of the chute both were rather pleased. Lenny and Larry were by far the funniest of the four acts, which is really damning with faint praise because the other three acts were not very good.
“Larry, except for us, this show blew,” Lenny said as they sat sharing a drink at the bar afterward.
“I know, partner, but look at the big picture. It was a live audience, mostly, and a chance to work. It was low pressure. And it was a check, our first professional appearance.”
The two tapped their glasses together to commemorate their first professional appearance together.
“Hey you two reprobates,” a female voice behind them said. “Can I see your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance, please?”
Both Lenny and Larry turned their heads. It was Officer Ann Shelton.
“Oh great, the fuzz,” Larry said unenthusiastically while holding out his arms to hug her. Lenny did the same. Ann, in deference to the warmer weather, was wearing a denim mini skirt and a pink sleeveless blouse and her blonde hair was a little shorter. Lenny was staring at her again.
“At least you had the good sense to take my advice about working together. You guys were really funny.”
“Really?” Lenny asked, as if he were genuinely surprised to hear he and Larry were funny.
“Yeah, really. I enjoyed it. All you need now is a name.”
“We don’t need a name,” Lenny said. “‘Lenny and Larry’ is fine.”
“She has a point, Lenny. Again.”
Lenny waved his hand dismissively. After an hour or so of revelry, Larry, who can’t take much more than an hour of revelry, pleaded exhaustion and retired, leaving Lenny to fend for himself with Ann.
Late the next morning Larry was banging on Lenny’s hotel room door demanding entrance. He had woken up and gone for a run, showered, and was now hungry. He figured Lenny would be up – it was almost noon after all – and they could share a meal together.
To Larry’s great surprise, Ann opened the door to Lenny’s room. She was wearing a robe and her blonde hair was tousled to an extent that suggested a fair amount of recent time might well have been spent on her back. Ann reached out, grabbed Larry’s arm and yanked him into the room
“Get in here! I can’t have people seeing me like this,” Larry glanced behind to see the crowd of people shocked at seeing Ann in a robe and not properly made up but the door was slammed shut too fast for him to see anything.
“You will be pleased to know I got him to agree to the name Regular Guys.”
Ann nodded demurely and actually blushed.
Larry laughed and spread his arms out expansively.
“Hey, whatever it takes, baby. Sometimes you gotta take one for the team.”
“Oh, I took one for the team,” she said. “More than one, actually.”
At that moment the door opened and Lenny breezed in. He had gone out and brought back coffee and some bagels.
“Partner,” Lenny said as he spread breakfast out on the table. “We are now The Regular Guys. I’ve alerted the media.”
“That’s what Ann reported. She said it took a lot of persuading.”
“Larry!” Ann said, shocked at this etiquette breach.
“She, uh, made me see the light, yes. You were both right. I was wrong. The Regular Guys will take the stage for the first time tonight!”