My opening bit Sunday night:
Roger Navy 4-0-9er. You sit facing a TV screen – but it is unlike any TV screen you’ve seen before. For one thing there are no commercials and a sweeping white band circles the screen every five seconds. Bogie’s bearing 5-4-9 50 miles! Suddenly, you realize it’s not just a simulation – you’re under actual enemy attack!
I flailed around the stage, evoking young cadets smoking joints and then suddenly getting blown apart by bombs and heavy artillery. I made shooting and exploding sound effects.
The Navy. It’s not just a job – it’s a life or death struggle for survival.
Math Lab. Monday morning.
Half a dozen nerds congregated. Dave absently sucked the jelly out of a donut. Doug Borges leaned over to him.
“Not supposed to eat in here,” he whispered.
“Bite me,” whispered Dave back.
“So, I opened with The Navy last night,” I said.
“The Navy? Roger Navy four-oh-niner?”
“Yeah – I like acted the whole bit out by myself.”
“Yeah – it went pretty well. Little bizarre – but it – ”
“That’s Bob’s bit, isn’t it? Didn’t he write that?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Huh. I didn’t even think about who wrote it. I just thought it’d work as a one-person bit.”
“So you didn’t ask him?”
“You think that’s bad?”
“It’s Bob. If it was me or Bucky – we could’ve cared less.”
“Yeah. You may be fucked.”
Bucky came in with two milks and his large teeth.
“He’s fucked,” said Dave.
“Why are you fucked, Al?”
“He performed The Navy in his act last night.”
Bucky nodded: “You’re fucked.”
Then Bob came in.
“What?” he asked, in a Kentucky twang.
“Late for class!” said Dave. And he and Bucky ran out. Bob glared at me, sideways.
“What did you do?” he asked.
“I – uhm – so, I performed last night. Was a good show. Very solid. And I was trying out some new bits. And – I had the idea – of doing a Pistol’s bit – of, like, acting the whole thing out by myself – “
“Yeah. And so…the one I did was…The Navy. But! I didn’t know it was yours! I swear!”
“Who’s did you think it was?”
“No idea. Dave D? I dunno. I wasn’t thinking – I was just looking for material.”
“So you took mine?”
“I didn’t know it was yours!”
“So, you would’ve taken anybody’s?”
“Well – yeah. Yes. Basically. I mean I was just sifting through bits. And this one was just sitting there. And I thought it would work as a one-person thing. I don’t know if it even had your name on it! Although, maybe.”
“So, your own stuff wasn’t good enough?”
“My stuff was fine! I just wanted another piece, that’s all.”
“How’d it do?”
“Good. Great! It went over great. Look, Bob, I’m really sorry I didn’t ask. I didn’t – ”
“How’d you do the sound effects?”
“With my mouth and a kazoo.”
“How’d that work out?”
“Fine. Fine. Look – I swear I won’t do it again, okay? I promise.”
“You can do it again.”
“I won’t. I promise. Seriously.”
“Just tell me if you do.”
“Sure. If I do, I will.”
“Before you do it.”
“Absolutely. I will. Thanks for not giving me a hard time.”
“They really laughed?”
“So you owe me like a cut, then.”
I stared at him, stupidly.
“I performed it.”
“I wrote it!”
“Fine.” I reached in my pocket, dropped fifty cents on the table.
“I made five bucks. The Navy was – what? – 10% of my act? Less? Technically, I owe you a tenth of a glass of Coke, too. But I’m good for it.”
“No – no – I’ll get it to you. Don’t worry.”
Realizing I had stolen Bob’s bit made me crazy and I decided to never use The Navy again. It wasn’t worth the stress. Was using the bit unethical? Was I stealing? Who knows? I wasn’t thinking about stealing or ethics or ownership. I was simply trying to figure out how to fill five goddamn minutes onstage. And honestly, I did feel a certain amount of ownership of the Pistols’ material. I was the one that forced them all to write bits month after month, like some nagging den mother. I’d gotten them a radio show for God sakes! All they did was complain about having to write all the time! And except for that one, single time on the radio, we never even played The Navy again! Bob had no plans to use it. Like everything else we’d written, it was just lying there, languishing. Why not get more mileage out of it? Wasn’t using it, in a way, a favor to Bob? Was I not, in some way, publicizing his bit? If he’d used one of my bits, I’d have been flattered!
At least that’s what I told myself.
So, what had all this taught me?
Coming up with new material week after week was going to be harder than I thought.
The Navy © Bob Bence