(A story of a young, ill-fated comedy team. The names of these stand up comics involved here have been dramatically altered to protect those who were innocent…but in truth, I’m Jerk!)
Once upon a time, in a land far away called Texas, there began a comedy team named Herk and Jerk. One was small and angry, with lots of red hair, while the other was tall, loud, and quite crazy. These two were zany, and energetic, and almost as if by accident… and often, Herk and Jerk were LAUGH OUT LOUD funny!
But mostly, they’d argue under their breath, then, one would up and smack the other one, and then a quick chase would ensue. A wry comment or two would be hurled, they’d laugh, and then settle down back to the chore at hand. Such was life in Herk & Jerk land.
One of them just wanted to be funny; the other just wanted to be rich. Peering, with 20-20 hindsight, way back to then, it doesn’t matter which wanted which. Poor little guys, they had no idea that most comedy teams break up, because the only way two comics can live on one paycheck, is with a whole lot of useless fighting. Again, such was life in their obscure niche of this crazy old world.
One day, because, you know…life just wasn’t tough enough in Texas, Herk and Jerk decided to move to Hollywood and try their hand at the professional show biz racquet. With Lens-Crafter’s-like clarity, we can all look back and realize, even then, around eleven hundred and eighty hopeful souls barge into Los Angeles EVERY freaking day. But these two wackos were sure they would do OK. I wish I could warn them even now. But, life don’t work that way.
With a sleight of hand and a twist of fate, Jerk actually got a job as MC, and Mitzi’s assistant on the bed of nails that was The World famous Comedy Store. Herk got a job there too, answering phones, until he scheduled one too many 9 a.m. meetings for the late rising owner. In the mid 70’s, the art, as well as the hardcore business of selling one’s stand up act, was booming large at all of the industry showcase clubs, but the Sunset Comedy Store was the prime hot spot to hit the big time on TV. Many there did hit it big.
These were formative times for Herk and Jerk. Having more than fifteen clubs welcome them to open their shows, our fellas began to do private gigs, including a pilot’s fly-in at the famous castle in Lancaster. H & J were so excited to get paid two hundred whole dollars; they worked off some tensions with their pilot, while she tried to do her pre-flight checklist. Herk found the t-bar, used to pivot the front landing wheel, and began to measure his cranial width, while Jerk tried to sneak the team bong aboard. Flustered on the ground, the lady pilot was worse in the air. At landing, she stalled at about twenty feet, and the Cessna slapped the ground, rolling only ten yards. Herk freaked out and refused to perform. Hey, this was how Lynard Skynard died. Jerk went on alone and did OK. The next day, the same woman insisted she fly Herk and Jerk home herself. Herk freaked even louder this time. So, do you two little boys still want to be in show business?
About this time, our favorite nuts, H & J wrote one of their feature routines: “How to roll the perfect joint!” An innovative, Monty Python inspired gag, with Herk announcing the methodology, and Jerk donning a Volkswagen-size baggie, and becoming the weed itself. H & J did an enlarged version of this bit, when they opened for the visionary punk band: The Dickies at The Whisky A Go-go.
Punk fans of the time rejected everything and advocated violence.
Hundreds of pissed off punks began to verbally abuse our two heroes, and crowded onto that famous stage. Herk & Jerk lived to see another funny day only because: as Herk reached the climax of the whole gag, he substituted for the striking match, a regulation road flare! If everybody hadn’t been stunned with the ferocity and heat of the moment, as well as the heat from the road flare, Herk would not have been able to cover Jerk’s hopping exit and narrow escape. The lesson here was to be prepared for your shows. If you do a show for The NRA, don’t go onstage, until you get a gun too.
As mental and financial problems started to plague our nutty boys, several breaks came their way. Richard Pryor was all over The Comedy Store on Sunset, so were Herk and Jerk. At the Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills, Joan Rivers’ spot to work out her new jokes, Herk and Jerk opened the show when Diane Keaton rehearsed the two songs she would later sing in the movie Annie Hall!
When The Rolling Stones released the controversial album: Black and Blue, Herk and Jerk responded in a similar tone with their infamous song parody: Violence is a Girl’s Best Friend! The opening lyrics are listed here for historical posterity.
(Sung to the tune of Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend!)
SOME HANDCUFFS WITH LACE,
MIGHT BE QUITE CONTINENTAL
BUT, VIOLENCE IS A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND.
A SLAP IN THE FACE…FROM AN ORIENTAL
IS OH, SO NICE…PLEASE DO IT TWICE!
MEN GROW OLD, WHEN BOTTOMS GROW COLD
CUZ, WE ALL LIKE TO SPANK ON THAT END.
BUT, SQUARE CUT, OR PEAR SHAPE…
THESE SHOCKS DON’T LOSE THEIR TASTE…
CUZ, VIOLENCE IS A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND!
Are you getting my drift here? These two escapees from The Twilight Zone thought outrageousness is funny. Back then, it was.
One dark day, most of the newly famous comedians decided to blackmail the showcase industry into paying gigs. Most L.A. acts went On Strike against the clubs who couldn’t, or wouldn’t pay.
When push came to shove, as it almost always did between these two knuckleheads, Herk and Jerk experienced this labor dispute, the same way they did everything else. One went one way, and the other, the other. One chose schizophrenia and supported the strike, the other chose his delusions, and supported The Comedy Store. This, despite a chance to play with The Comedy Store basketball team in The Los Angeles Forum, sadly heralded the last of the zany performing days of the scrappy twosome, Herk and Jerk.
Again, which did which, is lost to history, and really unimportant.
What is important, though each went his own way, is what they shared: the courage, the desire, and the huevos to leave the known, and chase dreams in the unknown, is alive and well, more than 30 years later. They were and still are a unique Band of Brothers. OK, I’ll admit, maybe a quite looney little Band of Brothers.
We pity the fools abed, who must hold their manhood cheap, that they did not stand with Herk and Jerk in that St. Crispins’ Day caldron. Thanks, Herk! The spirit of Herk and Jerk is STILL out there. Long live those brave comedy soldiers. Long life to all those who risk what they have, every day, to move towards their deepest dreams…at any cost.