Editor's note: Barry Friedman was a New Times columnist for more than six years, and in that time perpetrated a number of memorable hoaxes. His latest and possibly greatest, which he wrote under the pseudonym Manfried Barry, claimed gold had been discovered under the Scottsdale Galleria; national headlines ensued. Friedman has written material for comedians ranging from Phyllis Diller to Jay Leno and is a former staff writer for The Arsenio Hall Show. He's currently co-writing the bizarre syndicated science show Beakman's World for Columbia Pictures/TV.
Unlike many of Friedman's stories, this account is actually true.
The cycle of madness began with a telephone call from comedian Richard Lewis, who, among his other neuroses, thinks he is godfather to my daughter, Taylor, but can never remember her name. His most recent guesses have been Miss Helen Hayes, Connie Stevens and, in a moment of singular desperation, Ferrante or Teicher.
Lewis had been actively working for the Clinton campaign, apparently in some kind of Psychotics for Clinton capacity. Forgive me, but I don't think that many voters were brought into the Democratic fold by the typical Lewis campaign appearance consisting of Richard mumbling ancient Hebrew folk songs in Esperanto while his therapist square-danced by himself.
Clearly, the Democrats needed help from additional quarters and, as always, when the clarion call for free jokes is sounded, everyone in Hollywood immediately thinks Friedman. After all, certainly no other writer can boast of job interviews with two different television shows in the same season that pay virtually nothing and star--yes, that's right--puppets.
Following these meetings, which were both highlighted by a truly uncanny simulation of Tourette's syndrome on my part, I perhaps ungratefully asked my agents, "Is it at all possible I could work for a show where the star isn't kept in a gunnysack?"
So my career was going swimmingly when Richard Lewis called to ask if I would be interested in writing jokes for Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Hey, it would take up all of my time, there was no pay and, since I would have to write during the hours I was contractually obligated to write for Columbia TV, it would also seriously jeopardize my only source of income. Naturally, I said I'd be delighted.
I was given a secret number to call and, after declaring that indeed I was sufficiently stupid enough to work for nothing, a strange and mysterious visitor flew in from the East to brief me and my television writing partner, one Philip J. Walsh, on the task ahead.
Phil is unquestionably the angriest young man in America, a human powder keg who hates Bush and Quayle with every fiber of his being and holds them personally responsible for creating the dismal economic climate that forces him to work with me. We listened spellbound as our mission was outlined in hushed tones.
Our visitor must, for security reasons, go unnamed. (My security reasons; if I use her name, her husband will beat me bloody.) Let's just say she's a lovely woman quite well-known within the Democratic hierarchy. What the hell, for the purposes of this article, let's say her name is Toaster Oven. It's not a great name, but it's surely not a ridiculous moniker like Waffle Iron.
She explained she represented a clandestine Democratic campaign organization known as WAT Squad/CEO, an acronym for We're Americans, Too . . . Counter Events Operations. In plain English, dirty tricks.
Wherever Bush or Quayle were, our collective job was to orchestrate some diversionary tactic that would make the national news and unnerve the Republicans. Every morning for the remaining six weeks of the campaign, Phil and I were briefed on the whereabouts of Bush and Quayle and would fax WAT Squad headquarters with slogans, jokes and ideas for pranks that would derail the Republican effort.
Enter the chicken. Bush had been refusing to debate Clinton, and it was time to force the issue. At WAT Squad's suggestion, a Michigan Democratic volunteer dressed as a chicken confronted Bush at a Republican rally. George was so shaken that he proceeded to refer to his opponent as President Clinton.
Toaster Oven smelled blood. Wherever Bush appeared, so did giant chickens. When the true story of this election campaign is written, let it be duly recorded that many Democrats gladly dressed up as farm animals.
When I initially proposed penning this article, the crafty editors of this paper were concerned that it really had no local tie-in. Not to worry. After Bush spoke in Houston (and by Houston, of course, I mean Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe or Deer Valley), he was shaking hands in a receiving line, and in that receiving line was a very large, very yellow chicken. What followed was the President of the United States actually screaming at a chicken. Onlookers reported it was like watching a twisted outtake from Green Acres.
Bush agreed to debate shortly thereafter, and I am proud to say Bill Clinton used a line or two we had written. Perhaps they were not delivered with the murderous, humorous intent we had envisioned, but let's face it, we know Shecky Greene, and Bill Clinton's no Shecky Greene. However, to keep things in perspective, it should be noted that Shecky Greene is no Lorne Greene.
Following the debates, Toaster Oven retired the chicken, and we unveiled the Harry Truman Truth Squad. Bush had equated himself with Truman earlier in the campaign, and now he found Democrats in Harry Truman masks dogging his every ill-conceived move.
Phil and I harbor a very special kind of rage toward J. Danforth Quayle and, as the vice presidential debate loomed, we prepared some heartfelt material for Al Gore. Although we understand Al laughed his environmentally correct ass off, he restrained himself from using our best efforts and therefore deprived all Americans the opportunity of hearing Quayle described as being a deadbeat away from the presidency.
The race was beginning to tighten and Bush was hammering away on the subject of character. The Democratic brain trust decided to counter with some reflections on the president's character. Toaster Oven proceeded to mobilize a battalion of volunteers dressed as Pinocchio, all sporting placards reminding America of Iraqgate, Iran-contra and all of the various and sundry pledges the president had broken.
It was all-out war at this point. Both campaigns were going for the jugular. The president and his sidekick, Mr. Potatoehead, wouldn't go away. It seemed incredible that many Americans wanted to give them four more years after suffering through four poor years.
Toaster Oven had declared a hands-off policy on Ross Perot. Perot obviously loathed Bush and had not attacked Clinton personally, but some polls showed that Perot was taking votes out of Clinton's pocket, and a strategy was devised to point out that a vote for Perot was a wasted vote since he had no realistic chance of winning. It was at this critical juncture that Perot lost his mind and said he had dropped out of the race previously because of a Republican conspiracy to disrupt his daughter's wedding. Perot's excuse was soundly rejected by the majority of earthlings.
And, hello, Arizona angle! The only disclosed source of Perot's information regarding the alleged Republican plot was Prescott's very own resident nutbag Scott Barnes, once profiled by Soldier of Fortune magazine in an article titled "My Favorite Flake."
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Great numbers of Perot supporters immediately embraced Clinton as their candidate of choice, and the small gap between the governor and Bush threatened to become a chasm. Perhaps for the first time truly realizing his plight, a desperate George Bush snapped and alienated many voters by referring to Clinton and Gore as "crazy" and "bozos." We responded by faxing numerous retorts, including my personal favorite, "The only thing missing from the Bush/Quayle ticket is Shemp."
Toaster Oven smelled victory. On election eve, she dispatched fat ladies to sing in front of the White House.
After contributing--count em, no exaggeration--3,000 jokes to the Clinton/Gore campaign, we awaited the outcome on Election Day in a state of high anxiety. We called Toaster Oven at noon California time. Not a single vote had been counted anywhere. It's over, she informed us. Democratic exit polls had it as Clinton in a landslide.
Phil and I now await our appointments. We think Supreme Court Jesters would be appropriate.