28 February 2003, Moth Presents, Aspen, Colorado, USA
Charles Dickens' classic tale, 'Tale of Two Cities' starts off with the phrase 'It was the best the times. It was the worst times'.
In 1990 I moved from Chicago with my family to LA to seek my fame and fortune and and (within) a couple weeks of being there I got two important phone calls: one was from the talent coordinator for The Tonight Show offering me to have a spot as a comedian of on The Tonight Show and the second call was that my daughter's doctor had called up to say that her cancer had resurfaced.
A year prior she was diagnosed with cancer and we fought it and it went into remission and now it was back. And for that next year my life was pretty surreal -- its was like two different personalities, during the day, in order to keep my daughter at home with me I would have to learn CPR and how to work a heart monitor and administer medicine, and all these technical terms -- take her back and forth to get her platelets and blood and check up on her.
And at night I would go from club to club with the talent coordinator and I would work on my set, and try to perfect it and I would meet veterans like George Wallace and Seinfeld and Roseanne, and I thought that everything was great because we had beat the cancer
before, and we would beat it again, and this was the first time that I was going to be in front of millions of people on The Tonight Show.
And the first time on The Tonight Show I was extremely nervous. All I could think about while I was backstage being introduced was 'don't mess up, just don't mess up - whatever you do don't mess up'. And then the curtains opened up and there were 600 people, and the camera and Johnny's over there and the band is over there, and I don't know what I said for the next six minutes but I get six applause breaks.
And the great part of that night was that I was going to my car and I met Johnny who was going to his car, and it was just a private moment between us in a parking lot, of him saying, "you were very funny, were extremely funny -- start working on your second Tonight Show, because I want you back.
By the time I get the official call for my second Tonight Show, my daughter was admitted to the hospital. If you don't know about cancer when it comes back, it comes back hard. It's like beating up a gang banger for the first time, and then he's coming back, and he's coming back meaner and stronger and he's coming with his friends.
So in order to compensate for that you have to raise the chemo and you have to raise the medicine, and you have to raise the radiation which is difficult for an adult but she was only two.
So she was bald, which she doesn't mind cuz every kid in the ward is bald, and she thinks this is just part of life, and she can't keep her food down and ... you're not prepared for this ... there's no books, there's no home ed class to teach you how to deal with this. And you can't go to a therapist because in the black world a therapist is taboo -- reserved for rich white people.
So you're tryin to figure it out -- what did I do? Maybe it's something I did. Maybe it's something my wife did. Maybe my doctor diagnosed it erroneously. Something.
But at night I still have to be a comic, I have to work The Tonight Show, because that's what I do, I'm a clown. I'm a clown whose medical bills are raising, whose one step from being evicted, whose one step from getting his car repo'ed -- and I have to come out and make you laugh because no-one wants to hear the clown in pain. 'Cause that's not funny!
And my humor is becoming dark and it's becoming biting and it's becoming hateful and the talent coordinator is seeing that there's a problem because NBC is all about 'nice' and 'everything is going to be okay' and we're starting to buck horns because he wants everything light and I wanna be honest and tell life, and I'm hurting, and I want everybody else to hurt!
Because somebody is to blame for this!
So I buck up, and I suppress my anger and I form and develop a nice cute routine for the second Tonight Show. And i get applause breaks and I get asked to come back for a third time. And I'm perfecting my third set when a doctor asked me to come in, and I know something's wrong because even the doctor is crying. And doctors don't cry.
And he says 'We've done all we can. There's nothing else for us to do.'
And I say 'how much time does she have?'
And he says 'at the most, at the most, six weeks'. And I should plan for that.
And I'm thinking how do I plan for that?
I have a plan to buy her her first bicycle. I have a plan to walk her to school. I have a plan to take pictures of her on her prom. I have a plan to walk her down the aisle to get married ... how am I going to plan to buy her a dress to be buried in.
And I'm trying to keep it together, 'cause I'm the man, and I'm the man of the house, and I don't wanna cry but it's coming, and I'm trying to tell myself, 'Tony', I'm trying to beg the world 'just give me a chance, just give me a chance, just let me take a breath. Stop just for a minute. I wanna call my parents, and tell em 'what do I do'? I don't know what to do. I'm a grown man, and I don't know what to do.
And a voice in me, comes up like Denzel from Training Day 'man up nigga! You think you're the only one losing kids today! Twenty five kids walked in here with cancer, only five walkin out! This aint no sit com. It don't wrap up all nice and tidy in thirty minutes. This is life. Welcome to the real world!'
And he was right. So I bucked up. Because that's what I'm supposed to do. And on my third Tonight Show, and by that time my daughter had died, and I had six applause breaks that night.
No one knew that I was mourning. No one knew that I could care less about The Tonight Show or Johnny Carson. In 1990 I had three appearances with the legendary Johnny Carson and a total of 14 applause breaks. And I would have given it all if I could have just one more day sharing a bag of french fries with my daughter.
It was the best of times.
It was the worst of times.