Transcript of Podcast: Interview with Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen

Listen to the podcast interview with Tim Reid and Tom Dreeson.

Megan Smith: Hi, I’m Megan Smith, the television contributing editor for BlogHer.com, and today I have the pleasure of interviewing Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen. You may remember Tim Reid as the hip Black disc jockey, Venus Flytrap, on the hit TV show WKRP in Cincinnati, or as the star and executive producer of the critically acclaimed show Frank’s Place. Today, he’s a director and producer with his own production company, New Millennium Studios, in Virginia.

You may remember comic Tom Dreesen from his many appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, or as the opening act for performers such as Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra. Today, he’s a frequent guest on The Late Show with David Letterman and works 200 days a year as a comedian, master of ceremonies and motivational speaker. What you may not know is that in the late ’60s and early ‘70s, during the height of the civil rights movement, Tim and Tom had the first interracial standup comedy act and toured all over the country.

The pair had a lot in common. Both grew up in harrowing circumstances: Tim in Norfolk, Virginia; Tom, one of eight, as he says, “raggedy-ass poor kids who often had to fend for themselves” in the small town of Harvey, Illinois. When Tim and Tom met as adults, they teamed up to create an antidrug program for the local JCs. That successful pairing eventually led to their six-year-long comedy act. Their material incorporated the racial upheaval that was going on at the time and was totally unique.

Now, the story of how they got together, what went on backstage, and how their individual careers developed separately is chronicled in their new book, Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White. Welcome, Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen! How are you?

Tim Reid: Fine, thank you.

Tom Dreesen: I’m just so impressed with that introduction. I didn’t know Tim did all those things.

Megan Smith: I didn’t know that, either, until I really started looking ‘em up, but –

Tim Reid: I’m exhausted! I think they’re very old!

[Laughter]

Megan Smith: I have to tell you, reading this book was like kind of a flashback to my childhood TV watching. Everything you were describing, I was like, “Oh, I saw that. Oh, yeah! I saw that. Oh, I remember when he was on The Tonight Show. Oh, I remember that.” But first, let me start with something a little topical. You guys were recently on Jay Leno, and Jay Leno was one of the people who was coming up – up-and-coming when you guys were touring.

What do you think about NBC’s decision to move The Tonight Show to primetime at 10:00 p.m. next fall?

Tom Dreesen: I don’t know who you want to answer it first, but I will – my opinion –

Megan Smith: Tom, that’s fine.

Tom Dreesen: It was genius. It was absolute genius!

Megan Smith: Yeah, yeah.

Tom Dreesen: Yeah, because I know the whole story of how they railroaded Jay in the beginning and signed that five-year contract, and then when Conan heard about it, he said, “That’s it! I’m outta here. My contract’s up in two years. I’m outta here. I’m not waiting five years.” So then they called Jay back in and told him, “You’re leaving in five years,” and Jay said, “Well, can we make it my idea that it looks like I’m retiring?”

“Oh, yeah! Sure, we’ll do that.” And then before he got to his office, they released to the press that they’re bringing Jay down – or bringing Conan down. So I thought Jay got railroaded. Now, in the meantime, he’s been number one in late-night for 12 years, and so all of a sudden FOX is now interested, and ABC is certainly interested in him, and then NBC had a problem. How do you get rid of the number one late-night talk-show host? How do you justify that?

And when I read – I was in Denver, and when I read that at the airport, I said, “It’s gen – bringing him down to 10:00 p.m.” First of all, they’re saving millions of dollars on production that they normally spend on that time, plus for Jay it’ll give him two million more viewers. So if you’re an author or a moviemaker or whatever you are – an actor – and you’re trying to promote something, whose show do you wanna go on: one that has two million more viewers than the other shows? I mean, I think it was genius on their part. They saved face.

Megan Smith: Mm-hmm. Tim, what do you think?

Tim Reid: I don’t care about Jay. I just wonder if it’s gonna mean that I get a job.

[Laughter]

Megan Smith: Well, if you have to plug another book...
Tim Reid: Jay’s got enough money! He can’t buy any more cars!

Megan Smith: ... you’ll have two million more viewers there!

[Laughter]

Megan Smith: Speaking of the book, tell me about the book. How does that come about? Why now?

Tim Reid: Well, it was really Tom’s idea. He pestered me for about ten years to do the book, and I kept saying, “No, no, no. I don’t care. They don’t care. Let’s just keep moving on.” And finally one day he – I could hear the passion in his voice, and I said, “Okay, as long as we find someone to join us who will help us make the book compelling and help us with the narrative,” because I didn’t want it to be just a typical book where – you know, “And then they did this, and then in 19-so-and-so they did that.”

You know, most of these autobiographical books are just show-and-tell. I wanted it to have some sort of storytelling narrative theme to it and wasn’t sure that just he and I could just do it alone. And fortunately enough for us, Tom knew Ron Rapoport, brought him onboard, and that’s how it all started, and it took us about just under two years to get it written. Well, it took us a little longer to find someone who would publish it, and then once that was found about just under two years to get it done.

Megan Smith: Uh-huh. I really enjoyed the book. I really got emotionally caught up in it and what was going on with you guys, and I really felt the relationship. I thought it was really well done.

Tom Dreesen: Thank you. I agree, going back to what Tim said. Tim always looks forward. He always has that “let’s go forward, and what happened in the past has happened,” and that was his one line to me. He said, “They weren’t interested in us then. Why would they be interested in us now?” And but what happened was – I always tell this story – I really believed it was gonna be a good book. I really believed it would make a great movie.

I went to see a movie called Remember the Titans, and I was sitting in the movie, and there was a line in the movie that the hair on the back of my neck stood up, and that was when the White guy who’d befriended the Black guy – if you remember the whole movie – but when he was in the hospital paralyzed with a spinal cord injury and his Black friend come running in the hospital to see him, and the nurse said, “You can’t go in there, son. That’s for family only.”

And the White boy in the room said, “Nurse, what’s wrong with you! Can’t you see he’s my brother?” You know, after all the hardships they endured that that relationship – and I walked – the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I walked out, and I got Tim on the phone, and I said, “We’ve got to do that book because that’s our story.”

Megan Smith: Uh-huh. I think it would make a great movie, absolutely. Both of you were married and had families when you decided to team up. Tim, your wife was very supportive. Tom, yours, not so much. What was like, Tom, when you walk in the house and say, “Honey, I’m going on the road with this Black guy, and we’re gonna do a comedy act”?

Tom Dreesen: Well, it would have been a lot worse if I’d have said, “Honey, I’m going on the road with this Black woman”!

[Laughter]

Tim Reid: Which was his first choice, by the way!

[Laughter]

Tom Dreesen: Yeah! But, you know, unfortunately – what was her name? My mind is blank. But, unfortunately, Leslie Uggams was busy at the time.

[Laughter]

Tom Dreesen: But, you know, it wasn’t that I was going on the road with “a Black guy,” or a White guy, or whatever. It was that she did not want me to go into show business. She was a small-town girl who wanted me to work in the factory that – going into such a precarious business as show business when – I was in the insurance business selling life insurance, she just – she thought it was the dumbest idea she’d ever heard of.

It wasn’t nothing to do with Black or White, because she liked Tim. She knew Tim. In fact, I’m convinced now they had an affair, and my son looks a lot like Tim.

[Laughter]

Tom Dreesen: But – no, but, I mean, she was – it was – it just – she couldn’t believe that I would give up this – and go into such a precarious business as show business. That’s all.

Megan Smith: Uh-huh. With all the hot-button racial material you guys performed there never seemed to be any racial tension between the two of you. Why do you think that was?

Tim Reid: Well, I think we were so involved in the struggle of trying to make it as a – in entertainment, and our backgrounds had prepared us for all kinds of confrontational situations that I think we just focused on standing together and fighting – I don’t think – you know, the odds against us: not so much he and I. We knew that in order – if anything was gonna work, we had to stick together and face it together. So it just never really – it’s hard to explain. In that time, it just never really seemed to be of an issue.

Megan Smith: Mm-hmm.

Tom Dreesen: Tim always says, and he’s right, we were very comfortable in our own skins as to who we were. So, I mean, the – Tim and I, we rarely ever had – we had discussions about race, but we never got angry with each other about race. It was creative differences, but if anything the harder they hit us, the more we dug in as opposed to backing down or for – look, on the fourth time we ever went onstage a guy put a lit cigarette on Tim’s face and tried to beat me half to death.

If we didn’t quit then, the fourth time – if you’d have said, “Well, yeah, you were already together four years, and by that time you knew” – you know, the fourth time should have scared us both back, and it didn’t. So, you know, it was never about race. The other thing that Tim has pointed out many times, when the young girl who saw us said, “You guys are so funny! You outta become a comedy team!” she didn’t say, “You’ve gotta become a Black-and-White comedy team.”

So she suggested we become a comedy team. All we were into in those days was, “Let’s go out and get some laughs. Let’s make people laugh.” It wasn’t about, “Let’s go change their attitude toward race.” If they got that, that’s great, but that wasn’t what our goal – our goal was to make them laugh.

Megan Smith: And that’s probably why your comedy was so good, too, yeah, because that was the ultimate – you weren’t trying to put a message out there. You were trying to make people laugh and put out good comedy. You, Tom, were more of a natural standup comic, it seems, than Tim was, and according to the book that’s part of what eventually led to the breakup of the act. What gave you the satisfaction from standup for you, Tom?

Tom Dreesen: Well, for me there’s no greater joy in the world than to be a standup comedian, for me. I’m an impatient sort of guy. Do you mean that I could write something during the day and that evening go up on the stage and try it out, and if it works the overwhelming joy – standup comedy is the highest of highs and the lowest of lows: the highest of highs when it works, and the lowest of lows when it doesn’t.

But if you think of an artist, they paint these beautiful – Tim’s a sculptor, and he’s very artistic in that area. Maybe his work would maybe get appreciated by a few, maybe by thousands after he’s dead and gone or millions, you know, like __________. But a standup comic, the moment he writes that joke that evening he can go see how that painting flourishes. It’s just – it’s just the most exciting, to me, profession on the planet.

Megan Smith: Wow! It’s funny, because I remember one of your routines – the difference between White girls and Black girls when they’re jumping rope – could you give me that routine there?

Tom Dreesen: Well, if I remember right, I think I did it on my first Tonight Show, and I can’t – it was something to the effect that how growing up watching how the Black girls jump rope and how the White girls jump rope – you know the White girls would jump rope with like one rope and they’d be – it would be, “Down in the valley where the green grass grows” – you know, something like that.

Black girls would jump rope with like five ropes all going at the same time, you know, “You know I’m alive! I’m jumping with five. You got a bald-headed mamma. That ain’t no jive!”

Megan Smith: (Laughing)

Tom Dreesen: They called it “Double Dutch” if you remember, Megan.

Megan Smith: Yes, I do remember it!

Tom Dreesen: But watching them was unbelievable!

Megan Smith: Yes! Tim, I’ve heard you say that now with Barack Obama being elected, first Black president of the United States, which is fabulous, Black men and Black comedians are gonna have to clean themselves up. You’ve said, “Brothers are gonna have to pull up their pants and stop showing their nasty drawers, and comics are gonna have to give up the F-word. We rely too much on cursing in comedy.” I was thrilled to hear you say that. I was saying, “Amen,” all up and down the block. Why do you feel that way?

Tim Reid: Well, it’s time, for one, and secondly, you know, when Cosby said it – I’m not the only person who feels that way. I think Cosby was the first to say it and took all of the heat from it, you know. As a matter of fact, they focused on Cosby and not what he was saying – the message. And so it’s time that – as an elder, it’s time that I do what elders did for me.

I mean, back in the day when I was running around in the street trying to be some kind of little teenage hoodlum, it was the elders who said, “Hey, boy, why don’t you just clean your act up.” I mean, they weren’t afraid of us. They would say – now, we didn’t necessarily listen to all of that, but we – you have to hear it. And all I’m saying to the young guys is that they’ve crossed the line. They’ve erased the line.

I said this to some of the younger guys. I was on The Foxxhole with Jamie Foxx. I brought it up, and they don’t like to hear it, but the truth of the matter is, you know, you can’t – you gotta give up the B-word and the “hoes” and all that stuff, because it has no place in the future. It has no place in the 21st century. I mean, you – people are gonna still use it – some comics, because, you know, vulgar is vulgar.

However, if you want to move and be about change, then you have to change, and I think that comics who are doing – I’ve already seen some of the comics. I saw some of the – I hate Chocolate News. As I watch it and I see him do this stuff about Obama he’s still doing the ancient “cooking chicken in the bathtub” kind of jokes, I mean, about what the White House is gonna be like. This ain’t that guy.

This is a new sheriff. It ain’t the same kind of sheriff that we’ve always had. It ain’t the same White sheriff. It ain’t the same Black sheriff. This is a whole new deal. We’ve never had anything like this. We never even allowed ourselves to dream of this possibility. So if we’re gonna march into this and feel proud about it, then we have to reflect – look at ourselves and say, “How do we be a part of this? How can we enhance the value of this?”

And one way is not not be funny. We gotta do humor about the first family, but let’s do it in context to where it is. Let’s not keep dragging that old Moms Mabley and that old Pigmeat Markham routine into the 21st century. It’s time to change. Be funny, but you just gotta change.

Megan Smith: Well, Tom, for example, there’s all these White comics now who are saying, “Oh, you know, we can’t do comedy about Obama. It’s too hard. He’s too clean. He’s too” – you know, whatever. What do you think about that?

Tom Dreesen: Well, they can’t do any stereotypical. Tim just explained exactly why, you know, because of who he is. But you can do humor about his policies, about “the other day he did this.” You know, believe me – I’m an Italian. I’m Irish-Italian, but I always think of myself more as an Italian. We’ve never had an Italian president. There’s so much pressure that’s in this nation against us Italians. I just can’t stand it, but anyhow – by the way, put in parentheses “that’s a joke,” you know.

[Laughter]

Tom Dreesen: But, you know, if there was an Italian president could you say, “Oh, President Meatball the other day said” – you know, could you use Italian slurs? You probably could, but if that wasn’t the guy – if it was Mario Cuomo or something it doesn’t fit – the comedy doesn’t fit the character. That’s the problem with the comics today. They don’t take time to research and also to – if you’re gonna go for the cheap laugh, weak material, take yourself to the next level.

This guy did, and you can, too, as a comedian. You can certainly criticize his policies, because that’s what they’re there for. By the way, Tim brought out something very clear on an interview a while back, and it should be – I hope anybody who listens to this – you – for you Black comics out there or you rappers out there, you have a beautiful Black woman in the White House with two beautiful daughters. Are you still gonna write material about “bitches” and “hoes.”

Megan Smith: Oh, please – yeah.

Tom Dreesen: How dare you?!? How dare you?!? I mean, you know, I would think not only are Black people offended by it, I think White people are offended by that as well. We are Americans first, you know. Anyhow, that’s the end of that.

Tim Reid: _____________ ________ realize that Obama is funny.

Megan Smith: Yeah, he is very funny.

Tim Reid: I mean, he has a great sense of humor.

Megan Smith: Yes!

Tim Reid: He is bold. I mean, I’m looking at a picture today in the paper, and he’s strutting outside of his apartment. He’s got on sunglasses, a pair of shorts, he’s bare-chested. I mean, who would think that a President of the United States would even appear knowing he’s gonna be photographed. I like his style. He has an urban style. You can argue about what he is, and whether he’s half Black, half White. I don’t care about all that.

I look at the man’s attitude and style. He has an urban, 21st century style. He is a multiracial person in a multiracial world.

Tom Dreesen: You know what he is?

Megan Smith: Hmm?

Tom Dreesen: He’s Tim and Tom in one body!

Megan Smith: Right! Is that right?!?

[Laughter]

Tim Reid: But, I mean, he’s gonna –

Megan Smith: No, but I think you’re right.

Tim Reid: There’s gonna be humor. There’s humor there.

Megan Smith: Mm-hmm.

Tom Dreesen: That’s my point. That’s my point.

Tim Reid: He still can’t catch a cab in New York, by the way.

[Laughter]

Tom Dreesen: You know, somebody’s gotta tell them Arabs that drive them cabs. It used to be they blamed the Irish cab drivers. Now they gotta blame the Arab cab drivers.

Tim Reid: He still can’t catch a cab. There’s humor still there.

[Laughter]

Megan Smith: Well, I think if comics had a little more creativity, you know, it’s like you could do stuff about the flip-flops, and him on the beach, and do Hawaii and, you know, pull that in.

Tim Reid: Well, most of the comics are too bitter. I mean, where is today’s Will Rogers? You know, Will Rogers was – he came about during the time of the Depression and – with his humor, and he made fun of everyone: presidents, congressmen, ordinary people. But in order to do that, you’ve gotta have a sense of humor within your own being. Most of these comics today – I find most of the comics angry and bitter.

Their whole presentation is shouting and angry, and I think that they have to wake up. They have to – you know, Tom loves what he’s doing. I hate nightclubs. I mean, I hate sitting in front of a bunch of – standing in front of people saying, “Make me laugh.” I wanna say – not my – you know, “Let’s have a drink and talk about this,” you know.

Megan Smith: Uh-huh.

Tom Dreesen: You know, if you read what Will Rogers wrote – if I were to read it to you right now, you’d say, “Oh, Tom, that’s brilliant.” You’d think that if I was doing his act, you’d say, “Oh, Tom, that’s brilliant.” That’s – material that he wrote years ago works today: absolutely works today.

Megan Smith: Right, right, yeah. I think you got it totally right. Tim, I wanna ask you right now about Frank’s Place for the moment: a show that I absolutely loved – still am angry that it was cancelled. For people who don’t know, it aired on CBS in 1987 and 1988, and it was about a northern professor who goes down to New Orleans to take over his late father’s restaurant.

You and Hugh Wilson, from WKRP in Cincinnati, created it and wrote it, and it was a half-hour show that was kind of a dramedy slash – dramedy – drama/comedy, and it was the first time I ever saw a range of different Black people represented on a TV show in a realistic way. In the book –

Tim Reid: Tragically, it hasn’t been one since!

Megan Smith: Right, yeah – and in the book there’s finally an answer of why it was cancelled, and it came as a shock to me, and it came from, of all people, Walter Cronkite. Tell me a little bit about that conversation.

Tim Reid: Yeah. Well, first of all, I’m honored. Here we are 20 years later, and we’re still talking about a show that only lasted 22 episodes, which is an amazing feat in itself. But, yeah, the show was – had been picked up for a second season. Most people don’t know that. And we were literally two days before taping the first of what would have been the second season – the first episode. I mean, we were building sets, had cast it and everything, and we were cancelled.

And I was shocked, of course, and bitter and all, but about a year later I was in New York pitching another show that had been picked up called Snoops: sort of a Black Nick and Nora Charles. And as I left the building, Walter Cronkite called my name, which was a shock in itself: to hear that name being called with that familiar voice from my childhood, you know. And I turned around.

He says – introduced himself, which I thought was kind of funny, and we went into the 21, a little restaurant right near the Black Rock in New York – or CBS Building. And as we went in he said, “Let’s go to the bar. I want to tell you something. You need to know this. You are owed a real reason for having your show cancelled,” and he told me the story: that it was cancelled not because of what normal shows are cancelled; it was cancelled because we went over the line.

We did something that infuriated the then-owner. We did a show about junk bonds, and it was wonderful, called “The King of Wall Street,” which, by the way, is what’s going on today with – what’s the name – Makeoff or whatever his –

Tom Dreesen: Madoff – yeah.

Tim Reid: Yeah – but imagine, he got all the money; he made off with it! But it was that kind of a show, talking about what has become the national news today. We talked about it 20 years ago, and someone who had bought a network with junk bonds got very upset and cancelled the show because we insulted him.

Megan Smith: Well, I was shocked, because I had not heard that story anywhere before, and I said, “That’s the reason!”

Tim Reid: Yep, that’s the reason.

Megan Smith: And why isn’t the show on DVD? I have VHS copies of that sitting around in my little collection, but it’s still not out on DVD.

Tim Reid: Well, you can blame music business for that. Back in the day when we were doing that show, and when we were doing WKRP, and of course when Miami Vice was – record companies would do anything to get you to play their music – would do anything, and they’d give it to you. And they – I mean, I have a record collection today that bars none because every day I received a box of records from all over the world.

But what we did not know, and what they did not know was that there would be such need for profits to come from anywhere they could find it that they would – that the license fee for this music would go up so astronomically as it has. So it literally costs more now to get the music rights for the music we put in the show than it did – the cost of doing the show at the time we did it.

Megan Smith: Ah, okay.

Tim Reid: So because there’s so much music in Frank’s Place, we – I actually had the rights and negotiated for them, and then when I looked at what it would cost – I’m still trying to figure out a way to get around the music issue. For instance, the opening song, “What Does it Means” by Louis Armstrong, “Miss New Orleans,” that alone cost us even then $2,300.00 a week.

We always called him “the twelfth character.” He got more than I get paid the first two years of KRP, and he’s dead!

[Laughter]

Tim Reid: So you could imagine what it costs now just for that one song.

Megan Smith: God – oh, God! Well, hopefully it will happen at some point. I wanna ask you both, why do you think it’s so tough for women comedians to catch a break on television? For example, in late night, I mean, nothing against Jimmy Kimmel, but before ABC gave him a show I had never heard of him. You can’t tell me there aren’t some talented young women –

Tim Reid: I still haven’t heard of him. (Laughing)

Tom Dreesen: No, you’re right in – and it used to be – first of all, Joan Rivers had her own show for a while, too –

Megan Smith: Yes, I remember that.

Tom Dreesen: – if you remember. And I agree with you. You see the – probably the strongest talk show host in the land is Oprah Winfrey and what she’s done with it, so you can’t say, “Well, because it hasn’t been done before.” It has been done. I don’t know. Women standup comedians, it’s always – if you – for many, many years it was mostly all men because standup comedy is a – it was a very – a masculine profession for this reason: that it’s a control position.

When you go out onstage in front of all these strangers, as Tim pointed out earlier, in the night – these are all the – you have to take charge. You have to be in control. The audience can’t sense for one second that you’re not in control because if you are, it isn’t that they’re like animals and come and eat you alive. It’s that they get scared for you.

Now, men are in control positions, for the most part, in this nation: heads of corporations, most of our Congress, your President of the United States. Males are in the control positions. So now females are coming more and more prominent, but not so much in control, so I think that maybe that might be subconsciously the prejudice that they have toward women.

Megan Smith: Well, that’s what I – I kind of thought it was kind of like – you know, because it’s a little bit of a boys’ club because everybody looks after each other, and women breaking into that, like anywhere, it’s difficult even if she’s very funny.

Tim Reid: Well, I tell you what. They need some new blood, and I think some feminine control and point of view in comedy would be a major help right now, because let’s face it: the guys have screwed it up. I mean, I’m glad to see Obama – if you look at most of his appointments, quite a few of them – he’s probably appointed more females in major positions early into appointment than just about any president, and I’m glad to see that.

You know, we guys need to just sit down for a minute, take a deep breath, because we have screwed up this country. We have screwed up oil, comedy – you name it, we got our hands in it. We need to just back up.

[Laughter]

Tim Reid: I didn’t say “quit”: just take a step back. Let somebody else get in charge for a minute. If they could – you know, look at the network television – my God! These young people who run the television – they don’t know what they’re doing. The stuff that they’re putting on television is amazingly stupid. I mean, only – to get on the show __________ all you’d be able to spit far, and you’ve got a reality show. Look at these shows!

Tom Dreesen: Well, that’s – the fact is – what Tim is saying is right. It used to be that you lay down on the couch. You set a – television wasn’t very big. It was ABC, NBC, CBS, and an independent. You lay down on the couch, and you put a TV show, and it stayed on for the night that station because it was too much work to get up and go change it. Today with that remote and 800 stations to choose from, it’s become the land of mediocrity. There’s no question about that.

Tim Reid: Oh, God, it’s so bad, and it’s getting worse. They don’t read. They aren’t well read. They don’t know what’s going on in the world. They aren’t thinking globally, and I think it’s time for some women to get – let them get in there and have a good time and screw it up for a while.

Megan Smith: Well, I think a lot of the creativity is happening in cable on True Blood – shows like True Blood, or shows like The Closer, or shows like Nip/Tuck, or those kinds of things. At least they’re taking some chances. They’re trying to be a little more creative, but they still need some more women and Black _____________

Tim Reid: We need – you know what? It’s like my grandmother would tell everybody, “Just go sit in the corner.” These young guys running the – they don’t know what the hell. Go just sit down.

Tom Dreesen: Do you know what it’s like to be a standup comedian for almost 40 years and to write material – original material – you know, hours upon hours that I had on TV, and to go to some network and have some 26-year-old kid tell me, “That’s not funny” – you know, you don’t know what that’s like to have to sit there and say, “No, it is.” I mean, I’ve had them try to tell me not to do this on a show. Like for The Tonight Show, there was a guy named Jimmy McCauley, after I had done 50 Tonight Shows he’d say, “I don’t think that’s funny.”

I’d say, “Jimmy, you don’t think that I would come on this show with something that’s not funny. My livelihood – my life depends on it. You don’t think I haven’t tried this material out across the land before I bring it here.” “Well, I don’t see where the humor” – “Well, I’ve tested it and proved it that it” – I mean, I would have to explain to somebody who knew nothing about my profession, and it’s very difficult. It’s very painful.

Megan Smith: Yeah, I have a cousin who’s lived in L.A. for three years now, and she’s trying to make it as a sitcom writer. And she said the toughest thing is not knowing when you’re close to getting a break. She’s had an agent. She’s lost an agent. She had a manager. She lost a manager. And as a Black woman, she was saying, “People hire people they feel comfortable around, and sometimes that’s not Black people, and you’re not an insider, and it’s really tough.” What kind of advice would you give to somebody like her?

Tim Reid: Well, I’ve got some bad news for her. She’s gonna never know if she’s made it. I’ve been in the business next year 40 years. I still don’t know, so that part she can give up. There is no satisfaction in knowing in show business. You never know. You’re only as good as your last performance, and get used to it. That’s the fact. If you’re gonna stay in it, you’ve gotta toughen up. You know, there is that wonderful line you can attribute in this profession: “There’s no crying in baseball.”

I’m sorry! You chose this path. Become a doctor. You don’t want – you want a job? Spend 12 years learning to cut somebody open and take something out.

Tom Dreesen: Tell her this, that Bertram Russell once said, “There are people in show business who become major stars simply because they didn’t have sense enough to quit when they should have.”

Tim Reid: Yeah.

Tom Dreesen: And that’s what it’s about: it’s about determination, perseverance, never giving up, always believing. And you know, the fact that she’s a Black woman writing sitcoms – you know, all of life is about perception. You might perceive that as, “Oh, my God! You don’t stand a chance because there’s not a lot of you.” On the other hand you might say, “Look how unique I am!”

Megan Smith: Well, that’s what she chooses to think.

Tom Dreesen: Yes.

Megan Smith: That’s the way she chooses to approach things.

Tom Dreesen: Good, then she’s a winner, because life is all about how you perceive it. It isn’t what it is; it’s the way you perceive it to be. And if you perceive yourself as a winner – you can’t perceive yourself as a loser and then go out and try to sell yourself as a winner.

Megan Smith: Right, right.

Tim Reid: But I can tell you, in today’s world, and current today – 21st century world, those old fears and those old hanging-on crutches about “because I’m Black” – hey, it’s just not gonna work. Nobody cares anymore. I mean, I guarantee you in the next four years any person who stands up and says, “Well, it’s because I’m Black,” they’re gonna say, “Shut up! You got a president!”

[Laughter]

Tom Dreesen: By the way, you just took the words right out of my mouth! That’s exactly what they’re gonna say.

Tim Reid: It’s over!

Tom Dreesen: You know, I know –

Tim Reid: Black is no longer an excuse, even if it’s real.

Tom Dreesen: I tell you what, I know Black folks because I grew up around Black folks, and I know White folks. But one thing I know about White folks is the moment he became president those said, “That’s it now! We don’t wanna hear no more! Now, that’s it!”

[Laughter]

Tim Reid: All those niggers in jail, well, you got a Black president. Is everybody happy?

Tom Dreesen: That’s it.

Tim Reid: White folks happy! Black folks happy!

Tom Dreesen: But you know what? On the other hand, that is such a blessing in a way, too, because it – there’s no business I think that gives you more rejection than show business. It’s full of rejection. It’s constant rejection, and it’s not for the timid or the weak at heart. So if you’ve got a – I could come up with a thousand reasons every day why I wouldn’t make it, but none of them fit. You know, you make it – it’s funny.

The oldest cliché in the world is, you know, “The harder I work, the luckier I get,” you know, and it works in our business. It – nobody – no comedy team in the history of show business ever paid the dues that Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen paid. It’s in our book. Read our book.

Megan Smith: Oh, God, you’ve paid some dues, I’ll tell you!

Tom Dreesen: And yet, you know, we succeeded. You know, we succeeded even as a team, and we went further than most would give us because we wouldn’t give up, and even when we went our separate ways we still succeeded. You know, so – and the book is full of rejections.

Tim Reid: I’ll tell you something about tenacity and sticking in there, and I don’t recommend this for people, but it’s a fact; Tom and I, 40 years ago, did everything we could to get on The Tonight Show. We went to New York I don’t know how many times by bus; sat behind farting nuns all the way from Chicago to New York, and everybody thought we did it, and they never said, “We did it.” But all those things – driving cars in the show to go to New York to audition for the night – and never got it.

And a few months ago, November, we did our first Tonight Show together. So it took us 40 years. Now, I’m not suggesting anybody take 40 years to accomplish anything, but your dreams do come true: a little longer than most would hope, but it’s all about, as he said, surviving and sticking and staying. Are you gonna have problems? You bet. Are they gonna be racial if you’re Black? Yes.

If – you know, they’ll be racial if you’re White if you’re in the wrong group. They’re racial if you’re gay if you’re in the wrong group – I mean, not racial, but problems for you: prejudice. So, yeah, there are gonna be – right now, I think one of the problems in television is that because they won’t allow a lot of people who have experience – Suzanne De Passe should be running a network.

Megan Smith: Oh, absolutely!

Tim Reid: She has more experience than any person in network business right now.

Megan Smith: Absolutely, I agree.

Tim Reid: She’s never been given a chance to run a net – I think it’s absurd that this woman has never been allowed to run TV one, BET, let alone a network – a major network. So she hasn’t been given a shot. So yes, there’s a lot of prejudice, and they need to change that. When you start putting people of color in positions of being able to choose the kinds of content that they’re gonna give the masses, television will get better.

As long as we allow these young, strange, bizarre young people who play – who go to the Laker games to run television, you’re gonna see what it is now: a white-washing of America. It’s not a global view. It’s not an international view. It just isn’t.

Megan Smith: Mm-hmm. For people who don’t know, Suzanne De Passe was on of the executive producers and brought Lonesome Dove to television.

Tim Reid: She also created and discovered the Jackson Five.

Megan Smith: Yes.

Tom Dreesen: She was a major force –

Tim Reid: And got nominated for an Oscar for writing in Lady Sings the Blues.

Megan Smith: Yeah

[Crosstalk]

Tom Dreesen: At Motown, when toured with Smokey Robinson, I saw her all the time, and – which was amazing because still running the country but taking time to service each act.

Tim Reid: She knows talent and never been given a chance to run a network. I think it’s – was it racial? You betcha, but, I mean – so there’s a lot of people who haven’t gotten their shot because of race, but it hasn’t stopped her.

Megan Smith: Right, right.

Tim Reid: She still is – I saw her the other day pitching something. She’s still in the game fighting as hard as she possibly can.

Tom Dreesen: Well, again, Oprah – I think Oprah is a classic example also: someone who had all the reasons why you shouldn’t get there, and today she’s one of the five richest women in the world.

Megan Smith: Oh, absolutely – absolutely.

Tom Dreesen: I mean, so you – you know – but anyhow.

Megan Smith: Before we –

Tom Dreesen: And no one has brought more quality television – quality to television than Oprah Winfrey. No one in the history of our business consistently over that many years has brought – if you watched Oprah Winfrey’s show every day of your life – or in your life, you have grown as a human being – not Black, not White. You have become a better human being on this planet because that’s what she brought to you, helping you to learn how to be a better human being.

Tim Reid: She’s only made one mistake, and that’s not having Tim and Tom on to talk about their book.

Megan Smith: Well, you know, and maybe she will at some point.

Tim Reid: Ah, I doubt it. She’s bitter.

Megan Smith: Before we end up, I had a couple of quick questions from a couple of BlogHer readers. Candelaria Silva wants to know have you guys maintained your friendship all these years, and if you did your act today, how might it be different.

Tim Reid: I’m gonna be friends with him until he pays me all the money he owes me!

Megan Smith: Oh, that might be a while.

Tom Dreesen: We’ll be friends for a long time – a long – you know, that – not only are we still friends. I’m his biggest fan. When the team split up, I didn’t – I’ve always felt like – I’ve said this so many times, but I felt like the movie with Tony Curtis and Sydney Poitier, The Defiant Ones, that when they cut the chains from those two guys there was still a chain there, and it’s always been that way with Tim and I, from my point of view, that he’s my friend, and I’m his biggest fan. I wanted him to succeed.

I’d watch him on the road. I’d be in some – in Vegas inside my hotel room, and he’d be on a show or a rerun, and I’d be watching it and rooting for him. His children, I love his – I always say this, too. I say I loved his first wife. I love his second wife, and I’ll love his third wife, too. But his children, Tim and Tory, they call me “Uncle Tom,” and rightfully so. But – so, I mean – yeah, we’re the best – I think we’re the best of friends.

Tim Reid: We definitely are, yeah.

Megan Smith: One other question – my fellow contributing editor, Kim Pearson, would like to know, Tim, if you did Frank’s Place today, do you think it would be more successful, and how would you change it if you were to do it today.

Tim Reid: Well, if I did it today it would certainly, I think, be successful as long as the writing stayed as poignant as it was then. However, there would have to be some changes. We would have to reflect what is happening to New Orleans after the flood. I would also think it would be hard-pressed to find some of the talent that we had. I mean, when you look back at that show, not in the history of television has there been a half-hour show to have a variety of talent from the ages that we had.

I mean, three of our talent – three of our actors were over 70 when we hired them to play – Miss Marie, who studied with Stanislofsky in Russia. She was an incredible person. She, as a matter of fact, is the one who was responsible for Maya Angelou becoming a writer.

Megan Smith: Oh, wow!

Tim Reid: She trained some of the most incredible actors. She was a confidante of Paul Robeson. And you look at her – you look at Charles Lampkin, a major jazz artist dating back to ragtime. I mean, all these people were in part of the show. Virginia Capers, Tony Award winner – we had an incredible group of actors, and to try to – those who are no longer with us – we’ve lost about three of them – four of them: Lincoln Kilpatrick being the fourth. It would be hard-pressed to replace them, but I think we would have to reflect what’s going on in New Orleans today.

[Crosstalk]

Tom Dreesen: And, of course, we’d have to get a role on there for some evil White man that I might be able to play.

Tim Reid: Yeah, and the other half would be Hispanic, which is changing in the world.

Megan Smith: Well, you did play the only White guy at a newspaper when you did WKRP in Cincinnati.

Tom Dreesen: Yeah, that was fun to do. That’s on our website. If somebody wants to go to our website, TimAndTomComedy.com, you can see not a lot of appearances Tim and I, but that one particular episode.

Megan Smith: That’s great.

Tom Dreesen: One thing you – Megan, I looked on your list of questions – you didn’t ask, but it was about Frank Sinatra, and the only reason I’m bringing it up is because in our book there’s a lot of great stories about where Tim went after our breakup and where I went after our breakup. And there’s a lot of great stories in there, if you’re a Sinatra fan, about Frank that are in the book that no one has ever read before because it’s the first time I’ve ever talked about it.

Megan Smith: It was really interesting. I really had not known a lot about him behind the scenes, and that was really great to –

Tom Dreesen: Yeah, your question was, “What was there about Frank Sinatra that most of his fans wouldn’t know about?” and that was his deep compassion for his fellow man. I mean, he always came off as this hard-rock tough guy, but down deep in his heart he was so way before his time, especially with civil rights. And The House I Live In, he won the Academy Award for that. As you know, that was about prejudice and, of course, his relationship with Sammy and some of the things that he did.

But he did a lot of other things unbeknownst to anyone because he had a secret sort of private group that would – could get things done without you knowing that Frank Sinatra did it. He just believed in it. There was a book called The Magnificent Obsession years ago that he read by Lloyd C. Douglas. It later became a movie, and it is a secret of success, and it’s trying to find someone every day of your life to help privately and quietly so they won’t know.

And if they don’t know, within 30 days your master rewards you toward your endeavor if you can help them: you know, his “less fortunate children” theory thing. And that’s what – Frank Sinatra was a very compassionate man and had a real sensitive soul, which you’ll find in his songs that you – sometimes when you hear him – he would immerse himself so much into the lyric in his song and become that lonely, desperate guy in the bar whose woman left him. You can feel that sensitivity about him.

Megan Smith: Mm-hmm, he was a major talent – major talent. It must have been so special to spend all those years with him.

Tom Dreesen: Yeah, it was. Comedians are observations of character. That’s what we do. We observe other characters and then we recreate them on the stage. It’s interesting to study people and listen to people and then you try to work that into your comedy. Studying Frank Sinatra was a very, very enjoyable and unique experience – 45-50 cities a year, I’d be alone with him in jets and stuff like that. He was a very interesting guy, to say the least.

Megan Smith: Yeah, yeah. Guys, I’m sorry. We’re running out of time, and I just wanna thank you so much for joining me today. I had such a ball. This has been so much fun. To all our listeners and readers, BlogHer is the community for women who blog. You say it. We share it. To learn more, be sure to visit Blogher.com.

As for Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen, the book is called Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White. I highly recommend it. I loved it. And guys, thanks so much for being my guests today.

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