ventually I got happily divorced. I'll tell you what went wrong.
She got convinced in her crazy head that I had sex with this girl in Columbus, Ohio. And I did, and I'll tell ya why.
When you enter into a monogamous relationship with somebody, you usually do it at a point in the relationship when you're having a lot of sex. So you're willing to sign the papers. I'll only have sex with you, ever, ever, ever. Ever.
Well, if that person stops having sex altogether, why, you find yourself in quite a pickle. I'm a pretty good dog, but if you don't pet me every once in a while it's hard to keep me under the porch. I'm not as flexible as a real dog.
I'll tell ya what happened too. I was in Columbus, Ohio. I hadn't been laid in three months. Three months! You can't go three months without having sex with me; I'll go have sex with somebody else. I know, I've seen me do it.
I did a show one night. I came offstage. There was a gorgeous woman, maybe thirty-five, forty years old, long black dress slit up to her waist,
She goes, "I thought you were hilarious. I want to buy you a drink."
I'm like, "Aw, I can't do that, I'm married."
She goes, "I didn't ask if you wanted to have sex, big boy, I asked if you wanted to have a drink at my place."
Well, you know that little guy that sits on your shoulder that reminds you of your prior commitments and your moral fortitude? I didn't hear a peep out of that guy.
He hadn't been laid in three months either. He was speechless for like twenty minutes, then he was like, "Suck her titty."
I'm like, "I was gonna." I'm having a three-way with my conscience. Soon as the whole thing's over, he's back at his post.
"That was wrong, mister."
"Hey, twenty minutes ago you were beating off on my shoulder, monkey boy."
I hate him. He smokes pot. He burned a hole in my other jacket.
BACKSTAGE: HOW I BECAME A COMEDIAN
he short answer to how I became a comedian is that nothing else quite worked out. My daddy was a supervisor in a refinery, and a lot of our relatives had jobs in the oil patch. When Dad asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I just thought, "Something different."
I was born in a little town called Fritch, Texas, north of Amarillo. But I grew up mostly in and around Houston. So that made a big difference between my father and me, because he was born and raised in a little town, whereas I had all the distractions of a big metropolitan area.
I got into all the usual growing-up behavior and misbehavior--maybe sometimes a little unusual misbehavior, given my problems with impulse control. Like a lot of comedians, I guess I was a bit of an odd-ball compared to most other kids.
One of my buddies from the time I was about seven years old was the nephew of a professional football player, a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. I thought it was so cool to know an NFL player in person, and as a result of meeting him, I became a Green Bay Packers fan. Being a Packers fan in Texas during the mid-1960s, when the Dallas Cowboys were having these epic battles with Green Bay, put me in a minority of two with my buddy.
It's really one of the strongest memories of my childhood, realizing how un-OK it was to like the Packers just because you knew one of 'em, if everybody else was against 'em. That started a pattern where on any football game, wherever my family's rooting interest was, I tended to lean the other way.
And I guess I tended to go across the grain in some other ways as well. I never worried what other people were gonna think or what trouble I was gonna wind up in. I just thought, "Oh, hey, that'll be fun." I kind of enjoyed the reactions my behavior--and more than that, my comments--could provoke in people. But I didn't enjoy the trouble I got in with my parents, the neighbors, or my teachers. I was just always looking for something fun to do and not thinking through the implications.
You know that expression "Look before you leap"? I didn't often take a very good look first. And as a result, I wound up leaping into a ton of shit as a boy.
I really had no idea what I was going to do with myself in life. I never thought, "I'm going to be a performer." That wasn't on the list on career day at school.
When I was seventeen I went into the Navy. It was the very tail end of the Vietnam War, and I was assigned to an ARS--an auxiliary rescue and salvage ship--the USS
(ARS-39), commissioned in 1936. It was less than a hundred yards long, and it had a crew of eighty-seven. It was a genuine piece of shit, with eight big old loud Caterpillar engines, slow as it could be. To go from our home port in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to Korea it took us thirty-one days. That's with a motor, not a paddle.
We were having a family day picnic on our ship one day in Hawaii, and I didn't have any family coming from Texas for that, so I was on watch. This guy Hoskins was supposed to take the next watch, and I yelled down to him, "Hey, Hoskins, get up here and relieve me before somebody eats all that tater salad."
Hoskins started calling me "Tater Salad," and pretty soon the whole ship was doing it. I kind of thought I was gonna leave that nickname behind in the Navy, but it followed me, as I've talked about onstage.
We also went to the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, and all over the western Pacific. We had great duty in great ports. We went to some neat smaller ports that the big ships couldn't get into. Meanwhile I was seventeen, fat, and stupid, making every mistake I could possibly make.
For a while we were stationed on Grande Island in Subic Bay in the Philippines. That was a big drop-off point for bringing civilian South Vietnamese refugees out of Vietnam. I had a little supply hut where I handed out tampons and toilet paper and toothpaste and so on. I would try to give the tampons to eighty-year-old women, 'cause I didn't know any better, and they would laugh.
My shipmates and I always found ways to amuse ourselves. And I picked up a nasty little drug habit, one I'd put up against anybody's who wasn't a professional musician.
After that I needed a rehab program, and eventually I went into one in Houston. When I completed the program, I went to work for that same program as a counselor, and that led to my becoming one of their primary public speakers. My job was telling my life story onstage in high schools full of kids.
I never saw anybody take to anything as quickly as I took to doing that, three or four times a day. I loved the responses of the kids, and I believe I did 'em some good.
We started getting complaints, though. Some school principals thought my stories shouldn't be so funny. That was the major criticism. I'd say, "Go tell 'em
story, and see if they wind up facing in the right direction." But I knew there's no better way to teach somebody something than with a funny story.
That still didn't equate in my mind with making a living doing stand-up. I genuinely didn't get that that was an opportunity for anybody who wanted to try it. After a while I stopped working for the drug treatment program, and I began to do other things, like selling windows.
I was a great point-of-contact salesperson. If you knew you needed windows, and you were sitting there across from me, I could sell you the windows for sure. But you'd usually have to come find me in a titty bar. Figure that in, and I really wasn't all that great at sales. To be a successful salesperson, you've got to have a really strong work ethic.
At that time I was married to Marshall's mother, Terry, although Marshall hadn't been born yet. We were living in Abilene, and I was working for a company that had made big promises, but they had no money. They had no money at all. Instead they had a trade system going with these things called barter units, so we could only eat at two restaurants that would take this not-real money. And we were completely broke.
The company kept saying they were gonna get us a check and gonna get us a check. And we owed everybody money. So when they finally did get us a check, we were really excited, we paid all our bills. Then that check bounced, and every check that we wrote bounced, and then we had exactly no money.
So we had to go drive this little Mustang of Terry's to Amarillo to borrow money from my father. And we were so broke that if we got to a downhill we turned off the engine and coasted as long as we could, and then we jump-started the engine again at the bottom of the hill. We borrowed enough money from Dad to rent a truck and pay off most of our bills, but we had to leave our apartment in the middle of the night. This apartment was so tiny that we used to crawl out a window and sit on the roof of the unit next to it at night, 'cause it had no air-conditioning.
As we were leaving in the middle of the night--and I know nobody else has ever done this--the two of us couldn't get the couch out the door. We couldn't remember how we got it in, but it was in, so we must have done it. But it was getting light outside, and we actually left our couch hanging in the doorway. We're like, "Let's just go."
We drove this big U-Haul truck full of our stuff to Dallas. And when we got to Dallas, we had no job, we had no place to stay. All our stuff's on a truck that's fifty bucks a day, and we don't have the fifty bucks a day. And we go over to a friend of my wife's who lived in Arlington, and she isn't home.
It's a hundred degrees outside, and we're filthy dirty and sweating from moving and just need a shower and clean clothes. And her house is locked. So we decide we'll go stand in the backyard in the shade. We go in the backyard, and her dog--this big Doberman pinscher--is back there. We know the dog, and as soon as we walk into the backyard, he comes over to me and lifts a leg and just pees all down my leg.
So now we're broke, we're hungry, we're thirsty and filthy, and I'm peed on. We're looking for a place to stay. And we didn't qualify to stay anywhere. Any apartment, even the lowest one, you couldn't say, "Well, I don't have any money, and I don't have a job. And I don't have a prospect of a job. But I'm sure I'll get a job."
We found this little duplex house in Arlington. Two fences down on the back side of the house there was an ax murderer who killed a gas station attendant with a hatchet. It was a really nice area.
Our friends Danny and Sherry Davidson and their dogs lived on one side. And then Terry and I and Sluggo lived on the other side. It was quite comfortable, and we liked living there. And we couldn't afford the place, to tell you the truth. We had to con the land-lord into letting us move in, 'cause we didn't have enough money to float it off 'em week to week.
I started selling storm windows with a fellow named Sam Bartholomew. Sammy and I made our sales calls in his Datsun B210. He weighed 305 pounds, I weighed 270, and this thing would barely get moving. It ran on three cylinders. It wasn't all the same color. It had a fender that was basically just primer and rust. And since Sammy weighed nearly forty pounds more than me, it always leaned a little bit in Sammy's direction.
And we would trudge off down the road--with no money. Sammy was as broke as me. He was comin' out of bankruptcy with a grocery store and he had tax debts.
We were quite a pair. We were just trying to find a way to build a life.
We would go to the highest end part of Dallas, called Highland Park, in the Datsun B210, and try to sell these expensive windows to builders. And at lunch every day we would sit on the hood of his Datsun B210 in front of a 7-Eleven in Highland Park, and eat one 7-Eleven hot dog each.