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Authors: Jim Breuer

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BOOK: I'm Not High
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Then he opened his middle finger. “This is faith. Never turn your back on your faith. God will get you through the toughest spots.”
His ring finger was next. “Morals. Just because you’re away from home, don’t go boozing and losing your mind.”
He finally got to his pinkie finger and said, “Sacrifice. It takes sacrifice to get to the top. Your time. Your life. Your family. You’ve got to be ready to leave stuff behind.”
The whole time he spoke I couldn’t figure out why Steve was singling me out. Did he see something deeper in me than just the comedian? Why me? Why not the guy in the middle of the lineup? Or one of the open mic guys? At that time in my life, I was a deep believer in God sending messages, and I felt like this encounter with Steve Harvey was one of those messages. I’d never seen a comedian get this deep or even address anything like faith. For years, I would tell people about his speech, and what I thought it meant, and where I thought it came from (angels). Some would say, “I totally believe that,” and others would say, “You’re an idiot.”
“You’re going to think this is nuts,” he said. “And maybe you can’t envision it now, but there are going to be times when you’re on the road by yourself in some dive-ass motel and you will not be able to do
anything
but sob like a baby, wondering what in the hell you’ve done with your life. Those are moments where you’ve got to remember this conversation and persevere. You don’t gotta remember
me.
You’ve just gotta remember the spirit of this conversation and get through it. If you really want to get out there and change lives with your comedy, you’ve got to accept that you will encounter these hurdles.”
What he said was a tremendous help when those feelings and emotions eventually did come my way, because, let me tell you, they did, and there’s nothing more depressing and soul crushing than sitting in a Super 8 motel out in the Midwest somewhere not being sure if a gig is even gonna happen. You’re fourteen or fifteen hours from home. Everyone else you know is working or in college. And you’re eating three meals a day at a Waffle House because you can’t afford Cracker Barrel, or you’re sitting by yourself in your motel room eating microwaved frozen White Castles, wondering, “Am I gonna make it? What, exactly, am I
doing
with my life? ” And then you start thinking about your family. Missing them. Bit by bit, two-week chunks of your family life go missing and then you get home and your parents have gotten a little bit older and slower, and it breeds a sense of dread inside of you.
“As for me,” Steve said, “my pop lives in Cleveland, which is where I’m headed this week. He’s getting older and it’s my mission to make it before he passes on. I’m going to show him it was all worth it. That’s why I’m out here, working my ass off.”
Gradually the conversation got lighter, but what he said stuck with me my whole career. All I wanted to do for about a decade and a half was meet up with him again so I could tell him what a tremendous influence he was.
When I got on TV later on, I kept figuring we’d run into each other. We both worked in Harlem at the same time—me at the
Uptown Comedy Club
show and he hosting
Showtime at the Apollo.
But it never happened. When I got on
SNL,
I assumed he’d host at some point and we’d talk. That, too, never came to be. But I was always hoping he was somewhere watching me.
Three or four years ago, I took my sister Dorene to Los Angeles for the first time. The minute we landed, I insisted that we drive over to Burbank, to a great little hole-in-the-wall restaurant near NBC Studios called Ribs USA. Driving there from the airport, I told Dorene the whole Steve Harvey story for probably the forty-fifth time.
We parked and walked inside Ribs USA. It was nearly empty. I ordered my ribs and iced tea and insisted Dorene do the same. As we ate, who walks in with an entourage and sits down two tables away from us but Steve Harvey? He and his whole crew were wearing these amazingly tailored pinstripe suits and fedoras.
“Dorene,” I said, dropping my rib bone onto my plate. “Guess who just walked in?”
“Mel Gibson,” she said, her eyes dancing at the thought of it.
“Steve Harvey,” I whispered.
“Come on,” she said with a frown. “Are you messing with me? For real? ” She turned around and had a look. “That’s not him, Jimbo,” she said, shaking her head.
“It sure is,” I said. “And now’s my chance.” I got up and walked over to where he’d sat down. There wasn’t room for me to squeeze into his booth—that might have been presumptuous anyway—so I crouched down next to it. The guys in his entourage shot me some funny looks, wondering what I was up to. Steve set his menu down and looked over at me. I smiled.
“Mr. Harvey,” I began. “I know you’re probably not going to remember this, but I met you a long time ago in Clearwater, Florida, at the Comedy Scene.”
“Oh, yeah? ” he said, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” I said. “Maybe 1989 or ’90.”
“Okay ...”
And I told him who I was and repeated what he’d told me that night. I did the fist, opening and closing it. I told him that what he’d said had touched my life. He had no idea who I was, but I could see that he was really putting his brain to work trying to remember me.
“You talked a lot about your father that night,” I said. “I was curious, did he ever get to see your success before he passed away?”
“Yeah!” he said. That hit him like a revelation. “He did. You know, I do remember the club you’re talking about. And I don’t remember the exact moment, but I feel you. Do you still do comedy?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve been on TV. I did a movie. I tour.”
“That’s great,” he said. Again, the wheels in his head started turning. “You know, I’ve got a little project I’m working on—”
“Oh, no, no, no.” I cut him off. I didn’t need him to throw me a bone, and I didn’t want him to think that was what this was about. “Listen, I’m not here to get work. I’m just here to say thank you.”
Then one of his friends took off his hat and started laughing. “Oh, I know you. You got a special on Comedy Central!” He looked at the rest of his group. “Yo, he funny. The white boy really funny.” Steve still couldn’t place me, even as the rest of his buddies caught on. “You were in
Half Baked
with Chappelle,” another one added, and started reciting lines from the movie.
It didn’t matter that Steve didn’t know who I was. Point is, I got to tell him what I’d been waiting to tell him for fifteen years. I shook Steve’s hand and thanked him again.
When Steve talked about sobbing on the road, at the time, I really had no point of reference. My first road trip was a flight to Cincinnati, to open up for a
Star Search
winner, Mike Saccone, for a couple of nights. One of the bookers at the Comedy Scene set it up for me to season me. It didn’t do much seasoning. A limo picked me up at the airport, I got put up at a nice condo, and I wound up sucking face with a chick at the bar after my first set. I felt like I’d won the lottery.
As I made out with the girl, Mike walked up. “Hear that?” he asked, smiling and pointing at the PA. “Rock’N Me” by the Steve Miller Band was pumping out of the speakers. Miller sang the lyrics, “I went from Phoenix, Arizona, all the way to Tacoma, Philadelphia, Atlanta, L.A.,” and then Mike said, “That’s your song, kid. Welcome to the road.”
But as I went out on the road more and more, I often thought about what Steve (Harvey, not Miller) said and relied on his wisdom when things weren’t pretty. I drove around in my van, the first vehicle I’d ever purchased (which I’d rigged with speakers from my home stereo), until it died, and then a Buick Skylark my mom sold me, and then a 1989 Ford Probe that got excellent gas mileage and had a CD player. Queensrÿche, Metallica, the Cult, and Judas Priest were my copilots. If I didn’t want to spend money on a hotel, having those CDs along would buy me four to six hours of alert driving easily. If I was down in Miami,
Operation: Mindcrime
would get me up to Orlando, then Metallica’s . . .
And Justice for All
would take me from there to Clearwater. That was how fellow comedian Lou Angelwolf and I would measure distance.
“How long’s the trip?”
“Two Metallicas, a Queensrÿche, and maybe a live Eagles.”
That was the fun part. Sometimes I’d go out on the road by myself and wind up in hotel rooms where other comedians were tripping on acid, taking ecstasy, smoking crack, or bringing in hookers. There were times when I’d check into another motel even though I had no money, just because I was scared to go back to the club-provided condo. Eighty percent of them were total flophouses, and I lived in constant fear of bedbug and rodent infestations. I relied on Steve Harvey’s lessons to get through it.
Lou Angelwolf was a tremendous help and mentor. I was a young guy full of energy, and he was a crusty, long-haired, rock ’n’ roller comedian who ruled the roost at the Comedy Scene. He was forever an optimist and always had something nice to say. He’d always throw work my way.
One Friday I got a call from him. “Hey, Breuski. Wanna come do this gig with me in Daytona?” I had the night off from my day job waiting tables at the Innisbrook golf resort, so I agreed.
We each drove across Florida, and when we arrived, we saw that the club was not really a club, but a nasty biker bar without much of a stage. None of its patrons gave a shit about a comedy night. You know a gig is never going to be good when the bartender has to stand on the bar and bang on a glass for five minutes to get everyone’s attention.
“So who wants to see some comedy?” he yelled. There was no human response, just the sounds emanating from the pinball machine and video games.
“Can y’all stop playing pool and pinball?” the bartender said patiently. “I’ll give you your quarters back. We’re gonna turn the TVs off, too. We just need an hour of your time. And when the laughs are all done, you can do your thing.”
No threats were issued, but I was pretty sure the bikers were going to murder the bartender. Thank God I was opening, so all I had to do was twenty minutes. It was painful. No one paid any attention. When I finished, I walked past Lou and was like, “Good luck!”
The only thing I remember after that is crashing at some flop-house in Daytona, waking up the next morning, grabbing some coffee, and feeling pretty good about getting home. I walked into Lou’s room to see if he was ready to go. His mattress was on the floor and he was still fully clothed from the night before, half under the covers, sparking up a fat bowl of weed. “Breuski, you want some?” he rasped, precious smoke escaping from his mouth.
“Lou,” I said. “God no. It’s ten in the morning. How do you even enjoy that?”
He started laughing, not out of joy but just at what he perceived as my naïveté. “You’re young, man!”
“What does that have to do with anything?” I asked.
He exhaled and said plainly, “Life sucks, Jimbo. You’ll embrace this one day.”
“Come on, Lou. Look at what we’re doing, man!” I said. I’d never seen him so negative. To me this was way out of character. “Okay,” I continued. “So we’re not in the best place in the world, but at the same time, last night you earned in forty-five minutes what some people get paid over two or three days.”
He packed another bowl and shrugged. He took a hit and then said, “I’m a little disappointed in God. In fact, I’m bummed about what God has to offer me.”
“Don’t say that, Lou,” I said, chiding him. “Don’t bring Him into this.”
“God sucks,” Lou said.
“What? ” he continued, surprised that young Breuski had an opinion about God.
“You’re just cranky, Lou. Today’s a new day.”
“You just don’t get it, do ya?”
“Quit feeling sorry for yourself.”
“You’ll see,” he said, starting to hack again. “By the time you’re my age, you’re gonna realize God’s got nothing to offer. And life’s got nothing to offer.”
“Lou,” I said, trying to be patient, “there’s a lot to look forward to. Don’t blame it on God. You gotta stop talking this way.”

Ohh-
kay, buddy,” Lou said, starting to laugh harder. “I guess that’s where we disagree.”
“Good-bye, Lou.” I’d had enough. I was going to drive back home.
“Safe travels, kid,” he said. “Be sure to pray for me!”
Lou had his own car, and more gigs, so he’d get back to Clearwater on his own. I couldn’t figure out why he was so bitter. It was a side he’d kept hidden. A couple of months went by, and I was emceeing at the Comedy Scene. I had not seen Lou since Daytona, so I asked a comedian named Kevin, who was standing around with a couple of other comedians and waitresses, how everyone was doing.
“You didn’t hear what happened?” Kevin said with a look of disbelief. Everyone’s jaw dropped.
“No,” I said. “What are you talking about? Why are you guys acting so weird?”
“Oh God, bro,” Kevin groaned. “Lou got in a terrible car accident. He was supposed to be dead. He’s born again now.”
BOOK: I'm Not High
2.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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